Night #12: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

Directed By: Wes Craven

This is still a script, right, Wes?”

Two years before he brought us the meta Scream, Wes Craven brought us the meta New Nightmare. With the last two films I’ve looked at I’ve realised this is the third film in a row where the reach exceeds the grasp, not that this is anything new for Craven. Even his original A Nightmare on Elm Street had elements of this, though that movie is far more successful than this one is. It’s a shame too, because prior to today I’d always held this movie in high regards (Though the ending has always been terrible).

It’s hard to breathe life back into a franchise that had devolved into a joke. Seen in some circles as the smarter cousin to Friday the 13th’s lumbering dumb franchise, Nightmare on Elm Street quickly abandoned any grand ideas Craven had in place of a joke spewing villain and less and less inventive sequels until it reached the nadir with the one-two punch of awfulness that is Part 5 and Part 6. So despite having nothing to do with the series for years, Craven happened on an idea that wasn’t just a lazy rehash of his original movie while justifying all those shitty sequels that he had no part in.

On paper it’s a great idea, Craven even name-checks those shitty sequels as the reason that the ‘evil’ inside Freddy Krueger has decided to break open into the real world. Ok, let me explain: There’s a real ancient evil that attached itself to the fictional character of Freddy Krueger. So Freddy was never a real monster, but thanks to all those movies he becomes one.

The problem is that it never quite works. The story is that Craven (Who appears as himself, as do most actors in the film) is writing a new Nightmare film. For some reason this is all treated with hushed tones as if Craven is some Terrence Malick like figure and not someone who just a few years before made Shocker and who would, just a year later, make the awful Vampire in Brooklyn. Everyone is trying to get Heather Langenkamp to star in it (Nancy from the first movie, and Part 3) but she’s reluctant. “But you have to,” they say, “Wes is working on a script.”. I get the self-aggrandizing, for example no one brings up Deadly Friend, but I wish it wouldn’t treat the fictional version of the 7th movie in a franchise as an important piece of work. Even Robert Englund gets to show up as himself briefly, mainly to warn Langenkamp of the ‘real’ evil out there. Talk about missed opportunities, it would’ve been great to explore the idea that Robert Englund has to deal with the fact that the monster he helped create is real. In fact you could argue that Englund could’ve been the main protagonist of the film. Instead he just vanishes, leaving a cryptic message that he has to go away for a while. Given that Heather basically becomes Nancy again by the end I gather the intention was that Englund and Krueger go on to be one and the same, but we’re just left to guess this.

So there’s a lot of talk about what’s real and what’s fictional and Craven has some fun blurring those lines but it largely amounts to nothing as Langenkamp basically meets with various people who tell her about how there’s a horror in the real world and she’s terrorised by phone calls and earthquakes. The whole time her son becomes a target for Krueger, so there’s that to deal with too. The end doesn’t drag the film down as much as I thought it did when I was younger, with a patented Wes Craven chase scene as Langenkamp faces down the real Freddy Krueger. It injects some much needed urgency into the proceedings, which up until then is largely just a series of ideas in need of a film.

One thing I do love in this is the new look of Freddy. He’s still played here by Englund, and if Craven wanted to make that character menacing again he succeeded. It’s just a shame that his biggest scare scene is a repeat of one of the kills from the first movie. It should be a terrifying set piece and Craven shoots it that way, but he’s nodding to you the whole time saying “Remember this?”.

There are some people who like to point at Scream and say that of course, Craven already did the same thing first. But I can’t help but think that when he read that script he must’ve thought that it was saying what he wanted to say it just did it better. Plus it remembered to put in characters and scares. Still, despite all that it’s good to see that just because you’re a sequel it doesn’t mean you have to just rehash the same old stuff. Craven wanted something slower, more cerebral, and that’s what he made. He shouldn’t be faulted for exploring these ideas, I just wish it made a more cohesive whole.

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