Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994)

Wes Craven

Heather Langenkamp - Herself
Miko Hughes - Dylan Langenkamp
Robert Englund - Freddy Krueger/Himself
David Newsome - Chase Porter
John Saxon - Himself
Wes Craven - Himself
Tracy Middendorf - Julie

Year - 1994

Score - 3.5 Howls Outta 4

Wes Craven is known as one of the Masters of Modern Horror. He started in the early 1970s with films like THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, THE HILLS HAVE EYES, and SWAMP THING. His career would thrive on with the likes of DEADLY FRIEND, SHOCKER, THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW, THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, RED EYE, MUSIC OF THE HEART, and of course the beloved SCREAM trilogy of the late 1990s. But Craven's masterpiece will always be 1984's A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, where he introduced one of the most famous horror icons of all time - Freddy Krueger. The film made a pretty good profit back at the time, which eventually led to sequels. Craven would only return for one of them as producer and co-writer for the awesome second sequel, DREAM WARRIORS, erasing the crap that was the first sequel, FREDDY'S REVENGE. Craven had intended for DREAM WARRIORS to be the final NIGHTMARE film, but the film made a lot of dough and [the now defunct] New Line Cinema continued to make three more sequels until burying Freddy in 1991's FREDDY'S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE. Obviously every NIGHTMARE film was inferior in every way to DREAM WARRIORS [and even the original] to the point where Craven didn't even bother watching them. That is until 1993.

New Line, getting a good profit out of FREDDY'S REVENGE and realizing that the NIGHTMARE franchise was their meal ticket at the time, asked Craven to return to the franchise one more time. Unlike DREAM WARRIORS, Craven was given creative freedom this time, which made his decision an easy one. Craven had sat down and watched the sequels after DREAM WARRIORS, not understanding the timeline or what the hell was even going on within the NIGHTMARE universe. Feeling he couldn't continue down that road, Craven dusted off his original idea for the second sequel: a film-within-a-film. Feeling the film would be released in 1994 and would coincide with the tenth anniversary of the original NIGHTMARE, Craven invited Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, and Robert Englund to play themselves and their famous characters. Craven would also appear, giving the film a more realistic feel, as he would portray Freddy Krueger as the semblence of all evil that was dying to break out of the reel world and invade the real world. With the total support of New Line Cinema, Craven got his wish: Wes Craven's NEW NIGHTMARE. And while the film was the least financially successful film in the franchise [some people have no taste], it brought back what the NIGHTMARE franchise had been lacking for many years: scares and chills.

Heather Langenkamp, Nancy from the original A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, is being pressured into starring in another film based on the exploits of Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund). Heather wants no part of it. While she's proud of her role in the franchise, a stalker who speaks like Freddy is sending her calls and notes that just scare the crap out of her. These issues seem to be having a toll on Heather, as she starts dreaming about Freddy killing her loved ones, mainly her husband Chase (David Newsome). What's weird is that her son Dylan (Miko Hughes) is also having dreams about Freddy, even though he's never watched the films. Not only that, but he's acting like Freddy as well.

Heather's world grows more chaotic when Chase ends up getting killed by a Freddy knived-glove mechanism that had suddenly taken a life of its own, which is exactly what she had dreamed about. Heather learns that Robert Englund, Freddy himself, is having nightmares of the character he created. Wes Craven, director of the original film, is suffering the same fate. He believes that by creating Freddy and putting him on film, that he has unleashed a powerful evil that's usually given form by great storytellers. Craven claims every film kept the evil contained, but once Freddy was killed off, the evil was finally able to unleash itself into reality. Using her son as a gateway, Freddy is trying to get revenge on the woman who embarrassed him in the first film, giving Heather a reason to come back to Elm Street.

Wes Craven's NEW NIGHTMARE is a pleasant surprise. I don't think anyone believed the franchise would feel fresh again after the likes of THE DREAM CHILD and FREDDY'S DEAD. But here it is - like a phoenix rising from the ashes. Before remakes were needed to reboot a horror franchise, Wes Craven proves that as long as you have a great story, great direction, great acting, and just a love for the material that you helped create into a brand name, you can keep a franchise feeling new even in its seventh installment. And boy, is this the kick in the ass the NIGHTMARE franchise needed or what?

The best thing about this film is the script/story written by Wes Craven himself. The whole film-within-a-film concept had never been done to this extent previously in a film, but it greatly works here. Having all the original actors and even members of New Line play themselves is a stroke of genius. Following Heather Langenkamp's "life" after 10 years of becoming a horror icon, adjusting to married life to a SFX crew member, and dealing with her son's episodes, gives us insight as to who this woman is. She's a mother and wife first, and an actress second. She's being stalked by someone [which actually happened to her because of her role as Nancy] and she's having nightmares of the original, scary Freddy. It's like full circle here, giving us actors we have already identified with due to the previous films. Sure, she's not Nancy here, but that's how we see her and we already feel a connection to her. And to John Saxon. And even to Robert Englund, who plays himself as the total opposite of Freddy Krueger. That chemistry that was missing on-screen is officially back here and it feels like a real NIGHTMARE film again.

I consider NEW NIGHTMARE pretty much how the original film would have played out in "reality". We get the intro with the formation of the new claws [robotic version], which is in fact a homage to how the original NIGHTMARE started with Krueger making his gloved weapon. We get other scenes that are recreated from the original, like Julie getting killed by Freddy as she's dragged across the floor, on to the wall, and on the ceiling like Tina from the original. The scene before the ending sequence where Heather and John all of a sudden become Nancy and Lt. Thompson again, wearing same clothes and all. And it all works flawlessly. I think that's because this film is never treated as a spoof or as a joke. This is a serious horror film and the characters don't joke around or make asses of themselves. They're scared of Freddy and because of that, we're kind of scared of him too. He's barely seen in this film, yet he's a major presence. Why no one bothered to do this after DREAM WARRIORS is beyond my comprehension. Craven took what was so wrong about those sequels and corrected it for the most part in this film. Kudos.

I also like the reasoning for this new sequel. Freddy is an embodiment of some ancient evil created by people telling stories about him, but once the stories stop being told, the evil needs to make its presence felt again by exiting our subconscious and bringing itself forth to reality. Brilliant. I'm totally sold right there. Who likes being forgotten? No one. So why should a film character feel any different? And by haunting the people who made him, it makes for a convincing and interesting premise. I mean, when we say bad things and gossip about people we've only hurt about but don't really know, aren't we keeping that "evil" between a circle of friends until it becomes something so big we can't contain? Telling these "stories" is something we all do on a daily basis and sometimes because of it, bad things happen. It's human nature and Craven is playing on that part of us. Who would have thought that horror films could be so smart and intuitive?

I think the best part of the story is the analogy of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET to Hansel & Gretel. Freddy Krueger is a fairy tale monster stalking innocent kids to feed on their souls. Wasn't that the primary idea in Hansel & Gretel? It gives the film a gothic feel and something we can all relate to: fairy [or like I call them - cautionary] tales. Hansel & Gretel is a dark story that we tell kids about strangers being wicked witches who want to eat them for dinner. Freddy is that witch to the Springwood children. But here, Dylan is the target and Heather has to protect him from going into those woods and landing on Freddy's front porch. It's really ironic if you think about it. Nancy was the child in the original NIGHTMARE, whose parents had burnt Freddy to protect her and other children. Now, Heather is the parent and she has to protect her son from the same thing. Again, a sign of NEW NIGHTMARE being full circle. The ending is pretty much taken from Hansel & Gretel, with the oven. Yeah, you can probably guess how Freddy gets it but it works quite effortlessly.

Wes Craven's direction for this film is perfect. Absolutely perfect. You're caught up in it from beginning to end. It's incredibly moody, creepy as hell, full of suspense and tension, and extremely smartly paced. You never get bored from watching NEW NIGHTMARE, which I can't say for the last two sequels. Like I said, we don't see much of Freddy until the end of the film, but his presence is truly felt more powerfully than any sequel after DREAM WARRIORS. He's on the phone. He's on the TV. He's in people's dreams. Robert Englund paints him. Rex, the dinosaur doll, is clawed up. It builds and builds until he's finally reborn in a homage to NOSFERATU, where you only see his shadow on the wall getting bigger and bigger in such a creepy way until he finally appears. This Freddy isn't really messing around [although the end kind of ruined that but I'll get to that soon]. I also loved how Craven had the dialogue coming out of the real people seem like a script he was writing for this actual film. I think the most perfect example is when Nancy looks at Craven's computer, realizing what they had said to each other was exactly what he had written on his word processor before she showed up to talk to him. And at the end it reads "Fade to Black". And what does the film do? Fade to black. That gives the film an eerie feeling, as if your whole life is just one big film and you're nothing but someone else's puppet. And it's all straight-faced, which is much appreciated. It's just a wonderfully directed film that you would expect from Wes Craven. He knows his characters and he knows his audience. This obviously gave him confidence and motivation for the SCREAM trilogy, which in itself, is a great set of films that pretty much reinvented horror for an umpteenth time.

The special effects are pretty good here. If you look at them now, they look pretty silly, but hey it's a NIGHTMARE movie. I can forgive that. I will say that Freddy Krueger has never looked better in my opinion. He truly looks evil here and you can tell this isn't really the same Freddy that had terrorized those idiots in THE DREAM MASTER, THE DREAM CHILD, or FREDDY'S DEAD. He looks meaner and actually more demonic. I'm down with that. Plus I liked the realistic earthquake scenes and the scenes with the robotic Freddy claw. I also loved the homages to the original. The Tina-esque wall drag of death is still cool after all these years [though it was less bloody]. The tongue through the phone is always a good one. The drool after it reminded me of the Breather in STUDENT BODIES. The scene where Freddy forms in the clouds and picks up Dylan by his pajamas is a really great visual. I didn't really dig the Freddy Lair all that much. Just made THE EVIL DEAD films more realistic with their effects. But other than that, I liked what I saw.

The acting is awesome here. Heather Langenkamp rocks as herself [well I would hope so]. She's totally sympathetic as a character and you want her to succeed and win no matter what. This is probably her most serious role in a film and I bought it every second. She's not the greatest actress in the world but she has this innocence about her that I just love. John Saxon is always awesome, even as himself. I can't get enough of this guy and I don't even know why. He's just too cool. Miko Hughes is awesome as Dylan. He totally creeped me out when he acted possessed. Plus he was a cute kid that doesn't annoy you. Tracy Middendorf was good as Julie. She's very cute and very appealing. She got the best death scene too. Lucky her. And Robert Englund is still the man as both Freddy Krueger and himself. I personally would have loved to have seen more Robert scenes in the film but seeing him play Freddy in a more serious way than those inferior sequels made up for it.

My only complaint about the film is the ending. While it's a cool ending and fitting for a NIGHTMARE film, Freddy is portrayed as an idiot. I mean, he's built up throughout the entire film and he's finally scary again. But when he starts stalking Heather and Dylan, he starts making cute remarks and easily gets outsmarted by both of them. The original Freddy would have just killed the two of them, but this Freddy reminded me of the one in the sequels. You know? "Let Me Be A Clown" Freddy? It just made him less scary and effective at that point. At least Craven didn't go overboard with the whole thing like THE DREAM CHILD and FREDDY'S DEAD did. I guess Craven had to show Freddy as how the fans remember him, but I would have prefered a more subtle and "business-minded" Freddy rather than the mainstream Freddy.

Wes Craven's NEW NIGHTMARE is not only an intelligent and moody horror film, but it's original as well. Shocking, I know. This film is a perfect companion piece to the original NIGHTMARE and makes that first film feel truly special in the horror genre. If you loved the original, I'm sure you'll love this one as well. Freddy was finally made to be scary again! Yay! Too bad the ending had to be left in, but at least I was entertained by it. But I'm glad Freddy got the proper exit he deserved from the man who created him.

That is until 2003 with FREDDY VS. JASON.

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