On this day in 1994, Wes Craven unleashed a brand new Freddy Krueger on horror audiences around the world in the form of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. The film was a groundbreaking horror sequel that toyed with audience’s expectations. While mostly well reviewed, the film ended its run at the box office with a disappointing take that didn’t leave New Line Cinema begging for more.
I will never forget the first time I watched Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. I begged my parents to take me to the theater to see it but that, sadly, was a no-go. It wasn’t playing within an hour of where I lived and by the time my local theater received it, it was in and out in a week. The reviews I read (at the age of ten, I was a subscriber to Entertainment Weekly…whether that is awesome or sad can be left up to your own judgment) were very mixed. The critics that loved it (The New York Times, Roger Ebert, USA Today) hailed the film’s praises but the critics that hated it (Entertainment Weekly being one of them) called the film a pretentious mess. I had no idea what to expect going in but I know for certain I didn’t expect it to be the one movie that would change my life for the better part of two decades.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare tells the story of what happens when the evil that is created in any work of art (in this case, the Elm Street films) is released into mass media. It is the first mainstream horror movie to truly ask the question as to what effect the art being made has on the audience that views it. It is a powerful question and it has been the surface of debate ever since the medium of film was created. What New Nightmare does so spectacularly is it takes it to the next “meta” level of having the actors and filmmakers of the original Nightmare in on the phenomenon. What should come across as convoluted is strangely thought provoking.
But..let us start back at the beginning. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare begins with a scene that is a direct homage to the original Nightmare on Elm Street with “Freddy” working on building a new glove. Little do we know that this is just a tease as we are actually watching the behind-the-scenes work on a brand new Nightmare film complete with Wes Craven and the very beautiful Heather Langenkamp. An effect goes wrong, the Freddy glove comes to life, and two special effects guys are brutally murdered. The film takes another turn by revealing this to be only a dream of Langenkamp, a foreboding warning of what is yet to come. We meet Heather in her everyday life. She appears to be happily married to a special effects guy named Chase, and has a young boy named Dylan. But her life is about to change as a series of harassing phone calls threaten her sanity. When her husband dies in a car accident and her son starts exhibiting some “Freddy like” behavior, her world is turned upside down and she is forced to confront the question of whether or not Freddy has entered into her “real life.” The only way to stop this “new Freddy” is to appear in another Elm Street film effectively putting the Genie (Freddy) back in the bottle (The film series).
To me, New Nightmare is that rare horror film in which everything works. The performances are pitch perfect, lead by a tour-de-force performance by the amazing Langenkamp (she has never been better than she is here). The script is full of twists and turns and the movie is quite possibly the best looking of the entire series. What starts out as a maze of mirrors becomes something much more than your typical nightmare. As I said before, the film brilliantly examines the role film plays on those who watch it. Something that Wes Craven’s Scream would play out to great effect two years later and something that I myself toyed with in writing Popularity Killer. I really can’t say enough about this film and homages to the original are expertly placed. I think about this film on a nearly daily basis and I hope one day to create a work on art that has the same merits of this film. It really is something special.