New Nightmare

Synopsis: Writer-director Wes Craven (‘Scream’, ‘Scream 2’) returns to the darkest shadows of Elm Street with “the cleverest, wittiest, most twisted scarefest in ages!” (Peter Travers, ‘Rolling Stone’).

Winner of a Golden Scroll of Outstanding Achievement from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror, this spinetingling tale reunites original Nightmare stars Robert Englund, Heather Lagenkamp and John Saxon as “reel” Freddy invades the real world with deadly results.

Life imitated art during filming. Soon after shooting an earthquake sequence, the “Northridge Quake” shook Los Angeles. Says Craven, “We were about to have rubble created for the movie, but instead, we were able to just go out and film from the streets.” But don’t worry, Freddy fans. It’s only a movie…or is it?

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New Nightmare 7.75

eyelights: its meta conceit.
eyesores: its performances.

“What if it isn’t over?”

I was no great fan of ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street‘ when I was a teenager. Unlike some people, horror films really didn’t stimulate me; I found most of them terrible. And while the 1984 classic was a decent entry in the genre, I had first seen ‘Freddy’s Dead‘, a caricature of the original.

But when I heard about Wes Craven’s concept for ‘New Nightmare’, his 1994 meta-horror film, I was quite intrigued. My brain had already been teased by John McTiernan’s 1993 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, ‘Last Action Hero’, which had also blended reality and fantasy.

So I was on board: while I didn’t see it in cinemas, the moment that I could get my hands on a copy, I did.

‘New Nightmare’ brings the return of some of the actors and crew of the original series, playing fictional versions of themselves. Heather Langenkamp, who was Nancy in the original film and its second sequel, is having nightmares about Freddy Krueger and seeing his mark for real.

She soon discovers that Wes Craven and Robert Shaye, head of New Line Cinema, are planning on reviving the franchise with a new picture. Craven is actually writing the script and, as Heather discusses it with him, she discovers that he’s writing the events taking place around her now.

He can’t explain it.

But he’s terrified. He believes the original ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ films have conjured up a real supernatural creature, who wants to cross over to this realm. With that aim, it takes on the (relative) appearance of Freddy Krueger so that it may connect with Langenkamp.

What’s appealing about ‘New Nightmare’ is that it takes us behind the scenes into the life of “Heather Langenkamp”, the actress, as she deals with a stalker, does TV interviews, meets with colleagues and consults with industry people – all real people and realistic situations.

But then it blurs the lines by throwing in Freddy, as though he existed. Sadly, it doesn’t allow us to second-guess any of it – we know that the threat is real. In fact, right from the onset, we observe a few incidents from an outsider’s perspective – as opposed to seeing it from Heather’s.

We know it’s not just in her mind.

So the true treat of the film is watching reality and fiction overlap and intermingle, drawing us into the horror. There are a few clever moments, like the opening sequence, which is a scene within a scene within a scene, granting Craven a little more latitude to scare his audience.

I really loved seeing Heather interacting with Robert Englund, both as himself and in Freddy garb (for a TV interview), because it created a separation between the original franchise’s fantastical nature and this film’s horror. Englund’s affability is a huge contrast to Freddy’s persona.

So, when this more sinister version of Freddy appears, he’s all the more terrifying.

Unfortunately, the film’s faux vérité vibe is dispelled by some of the performances, which aren’t down-to-earth enough to cement the realism. The biggest offenders are Langenkamp and the actors playing her spouse and her son – not the non-actors performing as themselves.

It’s too bad, because, had the actors been more naturalistic, and had Craven filmed ‘New Nightmare’ in a documentary style, it would have been rather effective at immersing us in this alternate reality. As it stands, we can’t help but watch the proceedings with a slight sense of remove.

And the picture jumps the shark once in a while, for example when Dylan climbs the play structure and drops all the way down without getting hurt. At all. Or the set piece in which Dylan runs away from the hospital and Heather finds him on a highway, dangled by Freddy’s hand.

In the original films, this would have been fine because they were fantasy. However, in ‘New Nightmare’, which purports to be an alternate reality, but a real world-based one, it would have been best to keep the events rooted in the plausible. Sadly, these only serve to sober up viewers.

Still, the picture has plenty of surprises in store and it has its moments, like the creep factor of Heather’s son slowly being mesmerized by “Freddy”, croaking “Never sleep again!”, or the fact that Heather is gradually being drawn back into the role of Nancy by this malicious being.

And, of course, the fan service, the nods to the original films (even in the score) and the references to real events involving the cast and crew of the films, can be satisfying; it establishes a connection with the series’ fans (i.e. the filmmakers understand and clearly wink at them).

One thing that might prove controversial with some fans is Freddy’s new look: since it’s an entity taking the guise of Freddy, he looks slightly more demonic than like a burn victim. His gloved hand, in particular, is very different, being more sinew than leather. It’s an interesting change.

But it might be jarring for people who wanted more of the same Freddy camp: this Freddy is deadly serious, not a jokester. He’s more akin to Craven original’s vision of the character: he’s scary, something you couldn’t say about the original after the first film. Some will be disappointed.

Personally, I have mixed feeling about it: I like the idea, but he’s obviously harder to like.

The same can be said for ‘New Nightmare’. I love the idea, but it’s not clever enough to fully deliver on its premise and promise. The whole meta angle was way ahead of its time; it was refreshing when it came out. But one wishes that its execution had been just a little bit sharper.

Still, in my estimation, it remains the second best film in the series. Though it’s not perfection, at least it offers something different – which is what the original was able to do back in 1984. That alone puts it well above the many sequels, which were silly and/or went through the motions.

Craven’s return drew fresh blood.

Story: 8.0
Acting: 7.0
Production: 8.0

Chills: 3.5
Violence: 3.5
Gore: 4.0

Date of viewing: August 17, 2017

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