FIVE FILMS FROM...1994
WES CRAVEN'S NEW NIGHTMARE
(Directed by Wes Craven)
It wouldn't be overstating things to say that this movie was something of a milestone for Craven (you can tell that by the way his name is part of the title). After he successfully launched Freddy Krueger as an iconic horror villain, the director distanced himself from the franchise as it gradually reduced him to a stripey-jumpered punch-liner. He tried to launch another franchise with "Shocker" and had a quirky moment with the playful The People Under the Stairs. But he was drawn back to the "Nightmare" world by the approaching 10th anniversary of the original film, and some ideas that had stuck in his mind. The most important thing was getting Heather Langenkamp in the cast, along with Robert Englund and … Wes Craven? That's right, the bulk of the cast AND crew are back from the franchise and playing themselves (or versions of themselves). Perhaps the only notable exception was the non-appearance from Johnny Depp, who later revealed to Craven that he would have loved to have been in it, if only he had been asked!
The plot itself is an all-original directly from Craven and mashes up fact and fiction to significant effect. Langenkamp plays a close-to-reality version of herself, that has been typecast as Nancy Thompson from the 1984 classic. She's married to an FX-maestro and has a young son called Dylan (Miko Hughes, forever enshrined as creepy Zombie-Gage from the original Pet Sematary). She is being enticed back to repeat her role as Nancy in a new "Nightmare" (Yup, Meta!) for Craven (playing himself). But she is reluctant to do so, due to her family responsibilities… and the stalker that keeps phoning her. Again, the stalker is based on a real-life scenario that happened to the actress. However, in a series of strange events, and a local Earthquake (which genuinely happened as scripted in the plot… actual aftershock footage is used! That is some spooky shit!), a bizarre antagonist emerges. As revealed in a charming monologue by Craven himself, the "Nightmare" films managed to capture a demonic entity within their frames, one who has adopted the persona of Freddy Krueger. When the films finished with "Freddy's Dead", the demon started to manifest in the "real world" and took victims (including Heather's husband). Which is why Wes is making a new movie, and why Dylan has taken to strapping kitchen knives to his widdle fingers and slashing at Mommy…
It's not a perfect film; it's a little too long, the climax is a bit generic, and the body count is surprisingly low. But… it is a great film, and a lot of people number it among their favourites in the franchise, as well as the much-missed Craven's filmography. Undeniably classified as "dry run" for Scream, it is creative, scary, and full of heart. Core to the effectiveness is Langenkamp who excels in her "role" as a typecast tough momma, and her moments with the sadly departed John Saxon, Craven, and others positively glow with genuine affection. In fact, all the members of the cast who "play" themselves are excellent. The director is surprisingly convincing as the haunted "expert" in Freddy lore. The attention to detail (watch who turns up for silent cameos at the funeral) and call-backs to the first film ("Screw your pass!!") are positively inspired. Hughes is an excellent little actor and possessed-kid, and Englund revels in playing Krueger as a devil-incarnate. Has "Miss Me?!" ever sounded more spine-chilling.
It didn't do well at the box-office; however, the original trailers are quite misleading, and perhaps only hardcore horror fans realised what Craven was trying to do. Since then, like The Exorcist III and Halloween III, it has been radically rediscovered as a cult classic. And there's a lot to love and revisit about the film. Englund's strong pun-free and brutal performance as "Freddy" is fantastic. There's a superb scene that "remixes" the first dream-killing in the original to a glorious effect, and the whole "Hansel & Gretel" tone is matched by some nasty images of the demon trying to eat Dylan. This writer's favourite aspect of the entire story is Craven's intentional middle-finger to the "Karens" and critics of horror. Throughout the plot, Langenkamp is criticised by judgmental authority figures for exposing her kid to the genre. But she recognises the pop culture aspects of the character and knows that her son is comfortable with the difference between fact and fiction, and right and wrong. Horror films are shown as being just "fairy-tales for adults", which leads to all the "Hansel and Gretel" references and an emotional balance being achieved in the end. This is underlined by the lovely final scene where Langenkamp reads the "script" of the film you've just seen to her son, just like a bedtime sto