Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

So the story goes, Wes Craven originally wanted to make a metafilm similar to what New Nightmare wound up being around the time he was co-writing the third installment in the Nightmare on Elm Street series. At the time, New Line Cinema told him “no.” Now, three years after Freddy Kruger had been laid to rest “for good” in Freddy’s Dead, he’s back in a movie written and directed by the man who started the franchise a whole decade earlier. If there’s anyone who should get the opportunity to revive the serial killer, it’s Wes Craven.

And when I say “metafilm,” I mean it. This film takes place in the “real world,” and stars Heather Langenkamp as herself. she played the role of Nancy in the first and third Nightmare on Elm Street, who remains the most memorable protagonist, even after six films. In the film, Heather is married and has a kid, although the husband dies so early on that he’s almost not worth mentioning. The child, Dylan (Miko Hughes), plays an important role, however. He starts seeing Freddy Krueger (who is billed as playing himself in the credits), and repeating lines we’ve heard from earlier films in the series. Something is wrong.

Meanwhile, Heather is being approached by New Line Cinema representatives, and Wes Craven in particular, about starring in another Nightmare on Elm Street movie. The plot? Exactly the one that she’s living through in the film we’re in the process of watching. In fact, Wes Craven, the character, isn’t even done writing the script. He writes it as we watch it happen, if that makes any sense.

So, Heather is starring in a Nightmare on Elm Street film that we’re watching, and that film is about her starring in a New Nightmare on Elm Street film in which she is haunted by Freddy Krueger, who is trying to break through into the real world. That’s exactly what we watch. Explaining exactly what’s going on in text is significantly more difficult than just watching the events unfold on-screen, and doing just that is something I’d recommend. The film’s meta quality ensures that there’s always something to watch, especially if you’ve already sat through six previous entries.

The film is shot in such a way that it has all the appearances of a drama. Much of it takes place in the daytime, and if this is your first Nightmare on Elm Street film, it’s going to throw you for a loop. You’ll be missing a lot of the in-jokes and homages that the film brings with it, and you won’t be able to “get” what the filmmakers are going for. You might struggle to “get” it regardless. It’s trippy.

Dylan starts having “episodes,” which the nurses at the hospital think might be caused by schizophrenia. Heather suspects that Freddy is behind it, because what else could it be? If you had starred in a couple of movies about a man who kills people in dreams, and then your child said he’s seen this man, despite having never seen the movies, would you suspect anything but that killer coming into the real world to take his revenge on the people who made him famous the world over? I didn’t think so.

The film is relatively scary, and takes Freddy Krueger back to how he appeared in the earlier installments in the series. He’s mean, has a new set of claws, and isn’t around just to make puns. The deaths are primarily homages to the first Nightmare on Elm Street. And when we finally enter the dreamscape, Freddy’s lair, we get to see a place which is chilling. There are scares to be had, and there’s enough inventiveness to keep them from simply becoming rehashes of earlier films.

If there’s one main problem with New Nightmare — okay, apart from the “acting” of the kid, Miko Hughes — it’s that Wes Craven didn’t push the envelope as far as he could have. He clearly embraces and relishes the opportunity to continually blur the lines between reality and fiction, but this only actually comes up a few times. Perhaps the studio didn’t give him the opportunity to go full-out, maybe budget limitations got in the way, or I suppose it’s possible he was just happy with what he accomplished here. For the most part, I’m also happy.

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is about the best way one could bring back Freddy Krueger. Having his creator return for another chapter, and bringing Freddy into the real world, featuring actors who previously starred in the series is a genius idea. If it had pushed the premise even further, it would be a great movie. As it is, it’s tough to recommend if you haven’t stayed with the series for most of its installments. You’ll be lost if you haven’t. You might be lost even if you have.

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