Wes Craven's New Nightmare: The Scariest Nightmare?
Dir. Wes Craven (1994)
The most meta of all the meta horror films, wherein the cast and crew of the original Nightmare on Elm Street must band together to stop Freddy from escaping into the real world.
The most meta of all of the meta horror movies, New Nightmare is about the stars of the original Nightmare on Elm Street series coming back to make a new movie. Freddy, however, isn’t having none of that shit, and he’s back with a vengeance. Eventually, it is revealed by none other than Wes Craven himself that Freddy is actually an ancient, evil entity (because of course he is), and he has decided to live in Freddy to be able to come into the real world because he likes things around present-day Earth so much. Freddy was a conduit because the entity is only vanquished when his story is told, and when he starts to fade from memory he can kill again. So by making all of the NoES movies, they were actually defeating the demon, you see.
Say what now?
There’s something particularly unnverving about this film, with these actors and actresses being stalked by the very thing that they wouldn’t normally be afraid of. After all, they created these terrors. They know it’s fake… until it’s not. It’s meta, but it’s scary because it’s meta. Yeah, it’s a little self-reverential, and it’s a little self-aggrandizing, but fuck, if anyone in horror deserves that, isn’t it Wes Craven? The story revolves around Heather Langenkamp and her family, especially her little son. He randomly growls “never sleep again!” in a creepy-ass little kid growl, and also suffers from random screaming bouts and seizures. This is all mixed in with a seemingly constant stream of earthquakes that are alternately wreaking havoc on Los Angeles or just Heather’s home. Heather playing Heather really showcases Heather’s IRL acting chops as an actress who is legitimately terrified. There’s an entire stalking subplot that’s based around the real Heather Langenkamp’s experience with a stalker, but of course, this one’s scarier cuz it’s Freddy.
Goddamnit, not again!
New Nightmare is, quite frankly, not given the credit its due, and I will go to my deathbed trying to rectify that. It’s the scariest NoES, even scarier than the original, and it is clearly Craven’s introduction to the meta-verse that would eventually lead him to create Scream. Unlike Scream, which ripped across the entire horror landscape, New Nightmare played on its own world, and it played it brilliantly. By the end of the film, we have fully crossed over into the Elm Street series. Heather is Nancy, John is Nancy’s dad, and “real life,” as it were, ceases to exist. What’s especially interesting about this film is the fact that it acknowledges that horror films happen in their own worlds. It’s okay that Jason hacks up campers at Camp Crystal Lake, a summer camp that we not only can’t go to but one that doesn’t actually exist. It’s okay that Michael Myers ravages through Haddonfield, Illinois because there isn’t a Haddonfield, Illinois. While Elm Street is certainly a street that exists and is one of the most popular street names in America, we’re pretty sure that the Nightmare series didn’t happen on the Elm Street in our town. New Nightmare acknowledges this and thrusts the titular Freddy right into the real world, right into our world. Eventually, we learn that the veil between our world and “theirs” is more tenuous than we think, and all safety of it being “only a movie” is eliminated. And that’s what makes this film different and a big part of why, even on my fifth viewing, this movie is still scary as hell. The intro to the film is delightful, with excellent effects-driven kills by Freddy’s gloves that have taken on a life of their own. The effects are stellar in general, and look way more polished than previous Nightmare films (except for Nancy’s journey into hell, with is unnecessary CGI). We feel for Heather, while at the same time feeling that she’s brave as hell to even make a movie like this. It’s a truly stellar film, and probably the most well-made of all of the NoES films. Who this movie is for: Horror fans, NoES fans, Dreamers of all shapes and sizes Bottom line: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is outstanding and arguably the best NoES film. It’s way better than people give it credit for. If you haven’t seen it or dismissed it as “just another sequel,” give it another try. Suspend your disbelief, sit down for a couple of hours, and give it another go. You won’t be disappointed, and if you are, fight me.