Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2008-03-19 14:56

Written and Directed by: Wes Craven
Produced by: Robert Shaye and Wes Craven

Reviewed by: Brett G.

In this day and age, itís hard for me to be surprised about a film anymore. With the internet, Iím able to track the development of a film from the scripting stage all the way through post-production. This wasnít the case back in 1994, when Wes Cravenís New Nightmare literally came out of nowhere. I can still remember sitting in the living room in my old house when my dad called me to check something out on the TV. I didnít quite know what I was looking at until the end of the ad when Freddy emerged from the shadows and asked, ďmiss me?Ē Seeing as how I thought Freddy was dead for good after the events in Freddyís Dead, I was a wicked excited ten year old. To make things even better, my dad offered to take me to see it, which would mark my first experience with Freddy theatrically.

Of course, anyone who has seen Wes Cravenís New Nightmare has to know what a bewildering experience that ended up being at such a young age. I had no clue what the film was about going into the theater that night. All I knew was that Freddy was back, so when the film opened with him apparently constructing a new glove, I was absolutely hooked. However, as soon as the camera pulled back to reveal that it wasnít Freddy at all, but rather, some guy wearing Freddyís sweater, I was a bit confused. It turns out that we were actually watching the making of a new Freddy movie rather than the actual movie itself. The film didnít give me time to process everything that was going on here, as the new Freddy glove gained sentience and was in the process of slaughtering the crew until all of this is revealed to be Heather Langenkampís nightmare.

If youíre not familiar with the film, the last paragraph is probably even more confusing for you, so let me run down the plot. Instead of being a proper sequel to the Nightmare on Elm Street series, this film serves as more of a spin-off that involves Freddy invading ďour reality.Ē To do this, it would appear that he has to go through the principal cast of the original film, especially the aforementioned Langenkamp who stars as herself here. It turns out she is (fictionally) married to Chase Porter, an effects supervisor on the new Freddy film, a fact that Heather is not made privy to. All the while, we also learn that Heather has been harassed by an apparent stalker who has been posing as Freddy, and she has been experience Freddy nightmares like the one described above to boot.

Heather herself soon learns about the new Nightmare film thatís in development when sheís called in for a meeting with everyoneís favorite Hollywood exec, Bob Shaye, who informs her that Wes Craven himself has begun work on a new script. Shaye canít tell Heather much more than this, and even Shaye himself seems a little spooked by the whole thing. Heather is reluctant to sign on, as she insists that sheís through with horror films.

However, it soon becomes clear that something diabolical is at work here, as Heatherís life begins to imitate her former art. First, her husband is killed when he falls asleep at the wheel, and his corpse displays four very familiar slash marks. After this, her soon begins to exhibit abnormal behavior, sleeping disorders, and even claims to have met a scary man in his dreams. Heather then begins to have dreams of Freddy as well, and her stalker becomes more aggressive. To get to the bottom of all of this, she decides to visit Craven who reveals that he, too, has been having nightmares; furthermore, these nightmares are the basis of his new script.

During this scene, Craven also spills the beans to the audience, as he reveals that what weíre dealing with in the film is not Freddy at all, but rather an ancient entity whose essence was captured by the character of Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street series. Craven claims that Freddyís death in the films released the ancient demon and has allowed it to cross over from films into reality. Even worse for Heather, the demon must go through her to gain full access because she gave the fictional Nancy Thompson her strength. Thus, according to Craven, to recapture the demon, Heather must find the strength to play Nancy one last time.

It also soon becomes clear that this demon isnít content with simply mimicking the Freddy weíve come to love from the formal Nightmare series. Instead, heís something more dark and sinister, and while he does deliver a few choice one-liners, the humor never goes over the top. So, if youíre one of the people who laments the somewhat humorous turn taken by the latter Nightmare sequels, youíll like what you see here. The demonís choice of wardrobe is a bit jarring compared to what weíre used to seeing, as it looks like the demon decided to stop by the Gap before terrorizing Heather and company. I do dig the trench coat, however. Also, the makeup used here is probably my least favorite among the Freddy designs in the series. Of all the designs, this one looks the most rubbery, and Freddy looks more like a zombie than a burn victim. While I understand the need for a new design to separate the demon here from the proper Freddy, the end result isnít entirely satisfying. In fact, the only time the true Freddy shows up is early in the film during the talk show host segment, and Englund steals the show from Gap Freddy (as he has come to be known in some circles).

As you can tell, this isnít your typical horror film at all. While the Nightmare series often blurred the lines between dreams and reality, this film goes a step further by breaking the fourth wall between director and audience, as itís essentially a film about the development of a film; however, as we eventually learn, Wes Cravenís New Nightmare actually is the film in question. Itís quite a difficult concept to wrap your head around at first, but once it clicks, you realize its brilliance. Believe me, the ride home with my dad that November night in 1994 was a very quiet one indeed, as neither my dad or myself got it. In fact, it took years and repeated viewings for me just to figure out exactly what was going on.

I didnít truly learn to appreciate what Craven was up to until I read mythologist Joseph Campbellís interview with Bill Moyers entitled Power of Myth. It turns out that Craven borrows heavily from established mythology and theory, so heís not just pulling the ideas for New Nightmare out of a hat. While Craven is very much a hit or miss director, this one is a solid hit. I know some Nightmare fans out there who donít particularly care for this one because of the plot, but I think this one is very enjoyable once you get past the fact that Freddy really never appears in the film. From a fanís perspective, it might not be as satisfying as a conventional Nightmare 7, but it works very well as a spin-off.

While many see this film as a precursor that heralds the post-modern turn that Craven would take with the Scream franchise, I think New Nightmare is actually more fully realized in this respect. While Scream always has its tongue planted firmly in cheek, New Nightmare takes itself much more seriously. Everything about the film is surreal, as the idea of an ancient demon haunting modern Hollywood is something you donít often see. Robert Englund himself is freaked out by this darker, more sinister version of Freddy thatís been haunting him, and Robert Shaye is too scared to even answer his phone.

Thereís also an excellent subtext to be found in the exploration of horror violence, as Craven turns the idea on its head in his insistence that these stories have a valid place in society. Ultimately, we can only contain the demons presented by horror films by confronting them. Such an idea is firmly rooted in the Greek theory of catharsis and is subtly presented throughout the film. Interestingly enough, Craven originally pitched the idea for this film way back in 1987 during the development of Dream Warriors. I'm personally glad it didn't happen then because part 3 as it stands is my favorite horror film of all time and because New Nightmare doesn't work unless Freddy becomes a phenomenon like he did in the late eighties, as the film plays off of that wonderfully.

For a horror film, New Nightmare has a lot going on intellectually, and I think this might be why Iím able to accept it as one of the better films in the Nightmare series. While Iím not one to cite New Nightmare as one of the best in the series along with the original and Nightmare 3 simply because of Cravenís involvement, I have to give him credit for getting this one right. Everything about this is top notch: the direction, the music, and the acting. Youíll often run into a horror film that isnít just a great horror film, but a great film in general, and I think New Nightmare is one of these. It also has more brains than most horror films too, and this film proves that there is more to horror than gore and nudity (not that these are to be frowned upon, of course). Sometimes a horror film is entertaining because it sets out to do something different and challenges you intellectually, so if youíre in the mood for something like this, New Nightmare is for you.

You can find New Nightmare on DVD in two configurations: as part of the Nightmare box set and as a separate release. Both releases are exactly the same the disc, however. As far as the quality goes, the discs were released in 1999, so theyíre not going to be exactly reference quality. However, thatís not to say that both the picture and audio arenít rock solid. Even though a new transfer could probably improve the video, the anamorphic presentation here gets the job done. The colors are accurately saturated, the blacks are solid, and, while the picture is a tad soft, it shouldnít scare you away. This film is very dialogue heavy, so the center channel gets the most work from the 5.1 mix; however, there are some sequences that will give all the channels a workout, and the various earthquake sequences produce some nice LFE. The separate release contains a commentary and the theatrical trailer as extras, so if you want anymore, you need to pick up the box set. If you havenít already figured it out, Iím the resident Nightmare fan here at OTH, so you already know Iím going to suggest the box set anyway. However, if youíre one of those fans that only needs to pick up the flicks you really like, this disc gets the job done. Buy it!

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