Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994), unsurprisingly given the title, signals the return to the series of creative maestro Wes Craven and is also the last film in the Elm Street canon (at least that is how I see it, apparently the film is not technically regarded as canonical). Not only that, it takes the series to some really unfamiliar territory, not bad for the seventh film in the series.
Right from the start, New Nightmare is a different beast to what has come before it, beginning by toying with and subverting one of the most iconic pieces of imagery that the series has. It wears its meta, postmodern heart on its sleeve and manages to do it in a way that is pretty unpretentious the whole way through. Star of the first film Heather Langenkamp returns playing herself and is joined by Robert Englund and John Saxon doing the same, as well as staff from New Line cinema. Throughout the film, it blends classic Elm Street mythology with these more meta flourishes into something that is both intellectually stimulating and plenty of fun. Narratively, the story begins to unfold with Langenkamp and her family seemingly being haunted by Freddy in real life. Here the film could have easily settled into pretty much the standard narrative of the series, with some postmodern trimmings. However the insertion of writer director Wes Craven into the film sees it retain its originality as it combines an almost Stranger than Fiction (2006) like conceit with the notion of age old, eternal evil which is almost reminiscent of a folk tale of some description. The narrative construction is not without its issues. Early on I became intrigued with how they were going to deal with the Robert Englund/Freddy Krueger dichotomy. It didn’t really bother me watching it, but now that I think about it, I actually don’t think that is resolved which is a little disappointing.
You do sense some ego in the project from Craven. Not only does he pull off a Lee Daniels and insert his name into the title of the film, he also gives himself a really quite key role. It does not particularly detract from the film but it was in the back of my mind. His screentime is not all that epic, but when you think about what his character means to the film, he is integral to how it unfolds. Speaking of thinking, this film really makes you think a lot, if anything a little too much. There were allusions and postmodern, meta references that I truly think I need another viewing or two to really unpack properly, they are that dense. That said, the more straightforward aspects of this are equally fulfilling, especially early with the almost mockumentary autobiographically influenced parts focused on Langenkamp, like the TV interview that she participates in. The line about Wes Craven no longer doing horror films brought a real smile to my face as well, reminiscent of James Wan’s recent decision to take leave of the genre as well (come back James, we need you man). As well as all of that, the film is genuinely scary and brings a quite visceral style of horror in parts that is new to the series. Some moments are undone by the presence of CGI graphics that look about SNES standard, but most of the frights are much more effective.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is a frightening and highly original way to cap off the original series. The premise is bold and whilst aspects of the film threaten to be a little overdone, overall Craven does an assured job of holding this all together. He is clearly the man with this series, having directed my three favourite entries. Given the only major quibble with the film I could muster is that the much hyped T-Rex vs Freddy showdown never materialises, this one is well worth your time if you have not seen it.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
Coming up over the next couple of weeks are some guest reviews of films featuring Freddy Krueger considered outside of the canon, so keep an eye out for those.
Don’t forget to check out the rest of my Elm Street reviews (ranked in order of preference):
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street
2. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
3. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
5. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare
6. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
7. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master.