31 Screams in October, Vol. 2, #19: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

Posted: October 20, 2015 in Movie Review
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Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994)

Director: Wes Craven

Starring: Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, Miko Hughes, David Newsom, John Saxon

After the successful, entertaining “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master,” the quality of the “Elm Street” saga went straight to Hell. 1989’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child,” rushed into production and plagued by both MPAA censorship and a bad script, is one thing a horror movie should never be: BORING! 1991’s “Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare,” which does indeed close out the original series continuity, lacks the so-bad-it’s-good element of “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2” and is simply bad. At one point, Freddy kills a guy by using a Nintendo Power Glove. That right there best symbolizes the series’ decline. Only if I were being paid could I be persuaded to watch either of those movies ever again. The upside of these wastes of celluloid is that they paved the way for the return of Wes Craven. All Craven had to do to craft the best “Nightmare” since the original was to revisit an idea he’d had during the early stages of “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3,” and that is this: What effect can movies have on the people who create them?

Heather Langenkamp, star of the first and third “Elm Street” films, and her son Dylan (Miko Hughes) by special effects maestro Chase Porter (David Newsom) are bearing witness to the creation of a new “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie when the prop Freddy glove comes to life and starts killing members of the film crew. Just as Chase is about to be next on the chopping block, Heather wakes up in the middle of an earthquake, one which results in Chase receving the very same scratches as he had in Heather’s dream just before she was awakened. Making Heather even more nervous are the harassing phone calls from a Freddy-like voice which she has been receiving. All of this coincides with the 10th anniversary of the original “Nightmare” film, for which Heather is making the rounds on talk shows with Robert Englund, dressed up in his Freddy garb. Later, Heather is approached to do a new “Nightmare” movie (forgetting of course that her character was killed off in Part 3) by producer Bob Shaye. Ultimately, she turns the role down.

Following her meeting at New Line, her son has an over-the-top freak-out moment that seems to suggest that he has seen his mother’s horror films without her knowledge, on top of leading Heather to worry about Dylan’s mental stability. She calls Chase in a panic and pleads with him to come home. Along the way, Chase falls asleep at the wheel and is killed by “Freddy.” At the subsequent funeral procession, familiar faces associated with the “Nightmare” series can be spotted, including actors John Saxon, Nick Corri, and Tuesday Knight. Following an almost fatal incident with Dylan at an amusement park with John Saxon as a witness, Heather visits Wes Craven looking to make sense of everything. Craven explains that the Freddy character in the films had been holding at bay a very real evil, which had taken a liking to the form and persona associated with Krueger. Now that Freddy is dead, “the genie is out of the bottle.” He also explains that he too has been having nightmares as of late. The meeting leaves Heather no less disturbed, as she sees the line-for-line dialogue from their conversation on Craven’s computer screen in script form.

Further disturbing behavior from Dylan leaves Heather no choice but to take him to the hospital. There, Heather encounters Dr. Heffner (Fran Bennett), the same sort of well-meaning but ultimately counterproductive medical practitioner that Priscilla Pointer’s Dr. Simms was in “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3.” Heather’s own sanity is questioned, and the very real possibility that she may lose Dylan to foster care if his condition doesn’t change becomes apparent. The doctors eventually put Dylan to sleep against Heather’s wishes, and the result is the death of Dylan’s babysitter Julie (Tracy Middendorf) in the same style as Tina’s demise from the original “Nightmare.” Dylan sleepwalks out of the hospital and heads for home with his mother in pursuit. She soon sees that “Freddy” is manipulating reality, turning her and John Saxon into their “Nightmare on Elm Street” characters and making the outside of her house appear as 1428 Elm Street. With Dylan missing but leaving sleeping pills as “Hansel and Gretel”-like bread crumbs, Heather takes the pills and has one final showdown with “Freddy.” Setting the monster ablaze just like the “Hansel and Gretel” witch, Heather rescues her son and both wake up to find Wes Craven’s finished script waiting for them to read.

I realize that I just got through praising “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4” as the best “Elm Street” sequel. So, when I say that “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” is the best “Nightmare” since the original, I am keeping in mind the fact that this movie exists outside of the “Elm Street” continuity. It’s unusually clever for an early 1990’s horror movie. At that time, both the series and the genre as a whole had become stale. “New Nightmare” is something of a milestone. Effectively, it bridges the gap between the slashers of the 80’s and the period of self-awareness the genre would go through in the late 90’s. What it lacks in flashiness, it makes up for with a compelling story, characters you can’t help but care for due to their association with the franchise, and a welcome return to the serious tone of the original. Here, Freddy is not only back to being the dark demonic figure he once was, but is now even darker than before. Accordingly, the Freddy makeup is also much improved. Along the way, there are several callbacks to the original, from recognizable lines of dialogue right down to Heather’s wounds and the grey streak in her hair which she acquires at the hospital. If you’ve found that the “Elm Street” sequels don’t do it for you but that you enjoyed the original, this one should pleasantly surprise you.

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Comments
  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    I’m impressed by this novel approach and would like to see it someday after I’ve seen at least the original movie. Great review!!!

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