Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

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AKA: New Nightmare

Heather Langenkamp is living in Los Angeles with her husband Chase and their son, Dylan. After appearing in the Nightmare on Elm Street series, Heather plans shifting her focus more towards television. But lately, Heather has been having nightmares about a glove with knives attacking what looks to be crew members. Unbeknownst to Heather, her husband has been working on a new Nightmare on Elm Street sequel, and after getting a call from the studio, Heather is invited to return and reprise her role as well. But she’s reluctant. Her son has been suffering from strange episodes lately, ones that seem to coincide with a series of recent earthquakes in the area. The more the Elm Street project continues the more prophetic Heather’s dreams become and the worse Dylan’s episodes get. It eventually gets so bad that Heather comes to a horrifying conclusion: somehow Freddy Krueger has escaped his fictional world and crossed over into reality. And he’s using Heather and her son to do it.

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Dun dun dun!

New Nightmare brings back the involvement of Wes Craven to the franchise and thus completely drops any pretense of the comedic Freddy that has been built up through the last three films of the series. Freddy still has his dark humor, but gone are the days where his murders are played as a joke. In this film it all comes full circle back to ruthless brutality, and the character has once again returned to his original, more menacing form. Oh yes, Freddy is back again, but this time he hasn’t returned to the film world, but to the real world we inhabit, meaning the actors aren’t just playing a character, but playing themselves playing a character. In terms of the Meta world, you can’t get much more “Meta” than that.

This is actually one of my favorites in the series, even though it varies wildly from everything else connected to it. Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon and Robert England all return, both to play their characters from the original film and to play themselves and their role in the film. If that makes any sense. And Freddy even gets a bit of a makeover, complete with an updated face, new knives, bright green eyes and a slightly less fugly hat, because I’m sure the old one was starting to really smell at this point.

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He also gets a stylish new trench coat. Whoever said slashers weren’t fashion forward?

The film pays homage to the first movie in a number of scenes….

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…while also giving us some new, disturbing imagery to work with as well, partially as a way to show off, but also as a means to highlight that this film is going to be much darker and more serious than the three films that came before.

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I’m gonna eat you up.

Before he even thought about making Scream, New Nightmare was Wes Craven’s first real test into examining the role film plays on those who watch it. It was his first real exploration of ‘meta’ if you will, well before the word ‘meta’ got all chic and went on to became trendy and kind of annoying. But at least here it isn’t obnoxiously so high and mighty with itself that it gets shoved in your face.

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My only real complaint about the movie is the surprising lack of screen time Freddy actually receives. Now that the film has gone back to its original, serious horror roots, his lack of physical presence actually adds to the suspense and tension. But at 112 minutes long, New Nightmare is by far the longest installment of the series and after watching all the other films so close together his absence is even more pronounced than it perhaps would have been had I spaced out the viewings. The movie does work just fine with his absence, in fact, it might actually be better for it. But after spending so much time with him lately I found myself kinda missing the evil SOB. How sad is that?

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Despite the film being considered a box office failure, and indeed it was actually the poorest performing film of the Elm Street series, New Nightmare received many positive reviews from critics upon release, and even today still maintains a score of 80% on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s not too hard to see why. The movie manages to pose unsettling questions about the effects films have on those who both create and watch it without being too preachy about it. Add to that a solid script, some excellent acting, and some of the nicest visuals in the whole series, and at the very least you have to admit that you have a wildly creative and attractive looking project. Most fans of the series consider New Nightmare to be one of the series best installments, and its version of Freddy to be the most effective of the bunch, so if you’re a slasher fan then there’s really no reason not to see it. But if you don’t think you’ll like the juxtaposition of the real and imaginary, or the more serious tone turns you off after three installment of comedy, then you can skip it. Despite it’s references to the series and beyond knowing what happened in the first movie, it’s connection to the other films is tangential at best. The movie converges so much from cannon to do it’s own thing that you could probably even watch it by itself and technically not miss anything.

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is available on a variety of streaming services.

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is also available on DVD and Bluray.

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Michi

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