IN DEFENCE OF: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

New Nightmare…

After the 1980’s, horror took a major hit with constant churned out sequels and rip-offs of cash churning franchises. The victims in these films were no longer the ones that the audience associated with out of familiarity, but rather the monsters themselves became the focal point and ‘anti-heroes’ of the genre. No longer were they intimidating, instead there were children’s toys being mass produced of icons who should be feared rather than taken into the family living room, from a moral stand point, anyway. What is without a doubt, the best example of this, is what happened with Freddy Krueger from the ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ franchise.

In 1984, Krueger was a child murdering bastard, in 1989 there were four year old kids wearing green and red striped pyjamas, running around with plastic gloves. This is something quite alarming for a character who has heavily underlying themes of sexual abuse towards these very ages groups. The creator of the ‘Nightmare’ franchise, Wes Craven has now embraced the general public’s love of his Frankenstein monster, but around the time between ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child’ and ‘Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare’, things were out of control, Freddy actually became one of the most famous characters in the world. Think about that, a heavily burned, child murdering, psychopath became very much like a late night talk show host; puns here, puns there, slice and dice, next sequel please!

Craven was not silent on how disapproving he was of New Line Cinema’s choice to market Freddy as the loveable goof ball who, on occasion, disembowels a teenage girl with dreams of being a model and feeding it to her. After 1991, it appeared that the franchise was done and dusted. No more Freddy Krueger…for the moment at least. What was happening behind the doors of New Line Cinema were discussions of teaming Krueger up against Jason Voorhees from the ‘Friday The 13th’ franchise, something we wouldn’t see for another decade. Instead, New Line reached out to Craven, offering some compensation cash that he felt he was entitled to with the success of his franchise (rightly so, too), words were battered back and forth between both parties and from that, Craven decided to use an idea that he had been spinning around in his head since ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors’ several years earlier. To bring Freddy into the real world. Now, I know, they did this in ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge’ in 1985, but this time it really would be the real world. Our world. This concept developed into ‘Wes Craven’s New Nightmare’, a film that I feel is still very much underrated despite the fact that more people are beginning to see how good this entry really is.

You may ask why I’m reviewing this, ‘New Nightmare’ currently holds a 77% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it can’t be that under appreciated, surely? Actually, many feel that it’s very disjointed from the franchise and is a stand-alone title, rather the opposite, this film is the perfect ending to the entire Elm Street franchise and it’s still not fully understood, at the helm, ‘New Nightmare’ is a very intelligent film that surpasses any subtext that 90% of horror films manage to achieve. Where the previous Nightmare films made you question what was real and what was a dream, this film makes you question what is real and what is part of a film. Reality and fiction start to blend into one another. The actors of the original Nightmare begin to merge with their film counterpart, slowly but surely throughout the course of the plot until they have eventually become the embodiment of the character they portrayed. This is basically the plot of the film, although it’s not technically Freddy who’s actually Freddy…if that makes sense. Basically, Craven has been having a lack of nightmares, his inspiration to make horror films and the original Nightmare film itself. Freddy is in fact a very real demon that Craven has dreamt of, the demon will every so often take a liking to a particular story, become attached and eventually try to become the story. The only way to keep the demon at bay is through the use to continuously passing on the story and telling it, but since there are no more sequels being made to the Nightmare franchise, the demon is trying to break loose into reality using Freddy’s image and personality.

Whether or not Craven is a good film maker is up to personal opinion, but when the man gets something right, god damn does he get it right. The acting might get a little hammy in some places and the plot can go on without much happening from time to time, but really, are you going to say that Freddy doing a Margaret Hamilton routing or driving a bus is better than this film?

As stated, ‘Wes Craven’s New Nightmare’ takes place in contemporary Los Angeles. It’s the tenth anniversary of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise and Heather Langenkamp, who plays herself, is beginning to have odd dreams that heavily involve her child, Dylan and a new five bladed version of the Freddy glove. This film is radically different in tone from the rest of the franchise and from any other horror film, now that it springs to mind. I won’t go on about the history of the making of this film, you can watch ‘Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy’ for that, but what Craven managed to conceive was the first meta-horror film. Hell, the trailer for this film includes some of the making-of footage from the film!

‘Freddy’ has a complete redesign. The basics are still there, but his sweater is now more tightly sewn together, he wears a large trench coat with the green and red pattern on the inside fabric, his burns are more like demonic scars, his hat is now a faded green and his signature glove now looks very organic, looking like it is part of his actual hand, with the aforementioned five blades stemming from the fingertips, instead of four. Also, leather pants. Come on, this look is fucking amazing. I really want to say it’s my favourite look of Freddy, ever, but nostalgia still pushes me towards classic glove Freddy, but damn is his redesign brilliant, far better than Voldemort-Krueger from ye remake that shall not be named. It’s safe to say, he’s once again a scary presence in this film and fits the appearance of Craven’s original vision for the character.

At its core, New Nightmare is a commentary on violence in the media. Craven himself has been accused numerous times of being a perpetrator of violent entertainment, leading to violent behaviour. We’ve all heard the dross that the paparazzi like to attach to horror entertainment. Although this is a very early blueprint for his other smash horror series, ‘Scream’, New Nightmare makes a mark for itself by exploring these issues through the Heather Langenkamp and her son. Some of the events in this film are factual to Heather’s life and it’s clear they gave her the push to give a fantastic performance, outdoing the strong female presence of Nancy in any other appearance within the franchise. We explore the ideas of what message violent entertainment is sending to the younger generation with Heather’s son gradually becoming more and more odd, is it just the aftershock of seeing a brutal horror film or is it something more sinister? One scene shows us Dylan coming after Heather with four kitchen knives taped to his fingertips, hissing and growling in a Freddy-like way, another shows us a live television interview featuring an audience all dressed in Freddy merchandise who lose their shit when Robert Englund comes out in full make-up (in their defence though, I would too), relishing in the fandom and proclaiming; “You are all my children now!”.

Craven gave birth to this monster of a franchise and he gives it some much needed nourishment, the whole film still feels really fresh twenty years later, despite the obvious technical aging, the effects are some of the most elaborate seen in the entire Nightmare franchise, the highway scene is absolute madness. This is the first time that Krueger actually goes after his target victim, a child, and the danger is heavily built up throughout the course of the film, Langenkamp and Miko Hughes have a very convincing mother-son relationship, I will say outright that Langenkamp is her absolute best in this film. Robert Englund again gives a phenomenal performance as Freddy, bringing him back to his frightening roots and having a very serpent-like performance with his movement, the new glove gets a lot of screen time with movements that almost seem hypnotic.

New Nightmare isn’t without its problems, as I mentioned, some of the acting can be a bit over the top and hammy, but what horror film doesn’t have this? Look at Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it’s a modern masterpiece that’s utterly flamboyant with the cast portrayal. I will admit, where the final act takes place is totally off the rails and should’ve been a boiler room (spoiler alert, it isn’t). How could it NOT be a boiler room?! But I do rank this film in my top ten horror films (and films in general) of all time, I really cannot recommend it enough. I’m glad to see that more and more people are beginning to appreciate how good and intelligent this film is, but I still feel that there is room for more appreciation. For those who hated it at first to not look at it as another slasher sequel, but rather another horror stemming from the Nightmare on Elm Street series, a horror very real and very present today, which we all embrace.

Follow Jozef on Twitter: @TheEvilBread

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