Tuesday, July 7, 2015

New Nightmare (1994)

When it comes to the Nightmare on Elm Street series, most folks agree, the ones directed by Wes Craven were the best. Well for the longest time, I had never seen Freddy’s swan song. Hell, I hadn’t seen much more than the first film. But I digress. Netflix finally revealed the 1994 finale for the series (at last as far as Mr. Craven was concerned). I kinda knew what to expect. I’d seen a little bit of the film nearly a decade before. But was I really ready for more Freddy?

Heather Langenkamp (played by Heather Langenkamp of all people) has been trying to put her role in the Nightmare on Elm Street series behind her. But no one wants Freddy to die. Not the fans. Not the studio. And seemingly not Wes Craven (played by Wes Craven of all people!) So news of a new, and FINAL Freddy film quickly begin to spread. But with them come the nightmares.

You see Heather had to deal with horrible nightmares during her filming of the original film. It seems that Freddy’s power to twist dreams is not fictional, and that Craven actually tapped into something powerful. As Freddy’s fame grows, especially with children, his nightmarish power grows too. Soon Heather finds herself at the center of a supernatural plot that will allow Freddy to become flesh and may cost not just her soul, but the soul of her son as well. This is one New Nightmare no one will ever wake up from.

Good Points:
  • Gets back to the roots of the concept by making Freddy scary again
  • Twists reality, dreams and the world of making films together
  • Heather Langenkamp gives an excellent and challenging performance

Bad Points:
  • Those looking for fun and wisecracking Freddy will be disappointed
  • Feels like it owes quite a bit to Candyman
  • This movie is so self aware that its ton may rub viewers the wrong way

In so many ways this feels like a prototype for Scream. It is a movie that knows it is a movie, and yet it also focuses on delivering thrills and dread. I like that Craven had some real balls to go in this direction, and it is fairly successful. This is mostly due to Lagenkamp’s excellent performance. She is literally in every scene of this film and carries its emotional weight. This is a less campy and overt entry, more adult in it’s approach. But also very snarky at times. I got a kick out of the meta approach, but some people may not like it. An unusual ending I don’t think anyone saw coming.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 4
Acting: 4
Script: 4
Music: 4
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 4
Total:  4

In Depth Review

Don't tell mom the babysitter is about to die.
In 1991 we got a movie called Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. But horror fans weren’t fooled. If we learned anything after a decade of slasher films, it is that the killer cannot be killed, even if you put “final” in the title. So no matter how dead they killed Freddy in 1991, New Line studio wasn’t going to let that be the last word.

What is surprising is that they went to Wes Craven for that last word. Craven had been pretty vocal about his dislike of the sequels following his 1984 original A Nightmare on Elm Street. But with a ten-year anniversary coming up, it seemed like the perfect time for Craven to put the final stamp on the series... wait I just said final, so this can’t be the last one either.

New Nightmare is essentially a commentary on the phenomenon around Freddy Krueger as well as a legitimate horror film. It works on both levels, something that must have been very difficult to conceive as well as execute. But Craven was given enough latitude to make it all work. The final result is certainly one of the best entries in the series, and yet one that relies on the fact that you’ve seen the previous films and are aware of just how HUGE Freddy Krueger had become as an entertainment personality.

As a horror film, Craven gets back to basics. Much like A Nightmare on Elm Street, New Nightmare goes for a slow build. Jump scares and creepy moments occur in the first half of the film, but we never get a good look at the killer. In fact Freddy is not really seen clearly until about three quarters of the way into the movie. Instead New Nightmare focuses on the mystery that links the script Wes Craven is writing with the actual events happening to Lagenkamp. This keeps Lagenkamp and the viewers off center. We never know if what we are seeing is actually happening, or if it is a dream, or if Lagenkamp has just gone insane.

Heather faces Freddy in a hellish nightmare.
That unknown element is what builds the tension and dread in the film. This is not a movie about creative kills and over the top antics by Freddy. This is about a woman who is in very real danger, but she is unable to determine where that danger is coming from. Is it coming from a real supernatural being? Or is it a product of her mind?

Lagenkamp’s performance is the key to making this work. If we don’t believe that she is in danger, or believe that she is doubting herself, the horror can’t crystallize. Luckily Lagenkamp is up for it. Her character goes through the ringer in this movie. There are moments where she looks completely terrified by events around her, especially that fear of losing her mind. By making her son, Dylan (Miko Hughes), the focal point it also adds an additional element - the possibility that she may harm her son even if Freddy doesn’t. I wonder if the creator of The Babadook has seen this film?

As you can see for this description, we have something a bit more psychological and deep than the previous few films in the series. Craven is obviously trying to turn this back into horror that grips the mind, and by expanding Freddy into something bigger, a entity that is defined by the horror it inspires, he tries to literally create a New Nightmare.

Lagenkamp's performance makes this movie work.
It’s serious stuff, but this series has always had some humor in it (often of the pitch black variety). Craven uses the structure to create the humor. Instead of this being a traditional Nightmare on Elm Street film, it is about the making of a Nightmare on Elm Street film. Craven, Lagenkamp, and Robert Englund play themselves. There are some very funny moments where they acknowledge faults in the previous films, or use the fact that the previous movies were “just movies” to their advantage. This film is very meta, and is certainly a prototype for the same style of humor that Craven used in the Scream series.

But what is missing is the sarcastic, in your face, and jovial performance by Englund as Freddy. With each film, Freddy had become more and more of a disturbing jester than a serious menace. His creative kills often accompanied by a silly pun or witty quip. Freddy became the star of the series. Something that was just admitted in 1991 when the movie’s title doesn’t’ even contain “Elm street” in it, but does make sure to mention Freddy. At this point everyone was going to see “the latest Freddy movie”, and that included kids.

I think Craven went out of his way to pull that whole thing back. Freddy was his creation and one that was supposed to generate screams, not guffaws. By limiting the screen time Freddy has, and by turning him into something even more primal Craven hoped to return his icon to its original and terrifying vision. They even redesigned Freddy’s look in this film, making him look more like a monster and less like a man.

That is not a glove, but his actual hand!
Does Craven succeed? Well, reviews are mixed. Freddy was insanely popular because he was funny, and because he was over the top with his kills. Viewers wanted to see the outrageous murders and funny one-liners. They didn’t care about gaggle of teens that were killed – they wanted Freddy. Craven wasn’t going to deliver that, and so for a lot of folks this movie just doesn’t work.

But if you look at New Nightmare another way, and see that Craven was trying to give Freddy a last hurrah as a horror icon, it makes sense. He tried to keep the balance of humor and horror, but made the humor less obvious and more observational. He tried to ratchet up the terror from simple gory (but admittedly creative) kills, to more disturbing and visceral attacks building on tension and anxiety. I appreciate what he was trying to do, and I think he was mostly successful. But in the end, some of the meta elements may be too clever for their own good.

If you know what kind of Freddy fan you are, then I think you’ll be able to figure out if you’ll enjoy this film or not. I think it is a very creative movie and one of the best written and executed of the bunch. But it is a darker film (even with it’s satire) and less fun. In any case, it is well worth seeing once, just to observe how Craven went about trying to reinvent his baby.


  1. I'd be interested in a full review only because the reactions to this movie that I've seen are pretty darn divisive. They either really enjoy it or absolutely hate it, and while I've never seen it (because it's rarely rerun anymore), I've only been able to find a case for the latter.

    1. Awesome. I'll get that cooking. Look for it in early July.

    2. Just updated this one! Hope it helps!

  2. What most people don't like is that Freddy isn't in the film for so long...the film keeps teasing and teasing and teasing...till finally we get to see him in the films finale, and yeah, it is awesome when we finally do see him. Still, more Freddy Krueger in the film would have been much appreciated.

    1. I can kinda see that, especially after the previous few films where Freddy was pretty much the star. But I think he was less frightening in most of those other films because he was so much at the center of them. He was funny and entertaining, but by keeping him hidden behind the scenes increased the dread of him in this film. I appreciate that Craven went more for scares over laughs in this one.

    2. Agree, he wanted to go back to what the series started out like, the first film was purely horror, not at a funny bone in its body. Funny how the character evolved into a jokey sort of bogeyman. I guess it was difficult for audiences to accept less Freddy in their NOES films, its like a junky suddenly being deprived of their favorite drug, suddenly we had Freddy withdrawal syndrome...hahah...but yeah, this movie is good and different, Freddy looks scary again. I wish they would make more NOES films, like in the 80's where we got so many one after another....why have they become a rarity? I mean, when we take in consideration that the remake made money...why haven't they made more of these?

    3. I'm not sure. I know a lot of critics weren't fans of the remake. I haven't seen it yet, but assumed we'd be at least to a third new film. I guess that just tells us that the first remake was really nothing more than a quick cash grab.

  3. I've never been a fan of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies. I'm not sure why. I saw the original back in the day but never watched the sequels. I like the concept you describe for this one, though, and might give it a shot. There is a surprisingly long history of blurring the lines between movies and reality. Bing and Bob did it all the time in the Road movies, for example in the Road to Hong Kong:
    Joan Collins: "I can handle it."
    Bob Hope: "I know. I read the script."

    More recently, most of the actors, including Michael Cera and Charlyne Yi, play themselves in Paper Heart. Handled correctly, it can be fun.

    1. In my mind, the best are the first one, the third one and then this last one. Craven does a good job with the humor in this one. He finds a great balance with some dark laughs and actual thrill and scares. Fun movie all the way around.

  4. I actually prefer this film over Craven's SCREAM movies, which aren't nearly as clever with incorporating the "meta" aspects that he does in this movie.

    1. I liked the first "Scream" a little more than this one. But just a little bit. Maybe because it was the first one I saw that took that approach. I did see the Scream sequels for the first time a few years ago. They had their moments, but the first is still the best of the lot.

  5. Never saw this one. After a few NOES movies, they all sort of gel together. It could be too I'm not to much for humor or camp in my horror, so wasn't a huge fan either. The first one for me is the best, but I could see giving this one a shot for the reasons you cited: darker and less humor. It's funny how the 70's & 80's were all about slasher films: Freddie, Jason, and Michael Myers. I actually did a painting one time called American Heroes that had George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Freddie Kruger in it. Why? Because they all had about the same amount of fame recognition to school age kids.

    1. Freddy's popularity with kids is something "New Nightmare" touches on a bit, especially with the kid Dylan being involved in the whole story. I wonder how Craven felt about the fact that his ultimate horror icon was something that kids were playing with and knowing as well as the founding fathers.

      I'd say give this one a spin. It has some really good performances, some unique elements of humor and actually builds up some good scares. Not quite as good as the original, but certainly standing next to the third film, "The Dream Warriors".