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Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

Wes Craven

USA, 1994

Credits

Review by Tom Huddleston

Posted on 30 October 2006

Source New Line DVD

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The generic fallout from Wes Craven’s groundbreaking foray into post-modern horror has since been widely condemned. For a few years, it was all but impossible to see a scary American movie without sitting through a parade of in-jokes, references, and cultural asides designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Every character had to be named after a famous director, every death punctuated not just with a spicy bon mot, but with a knowing wink. Thank goodness J-horror slipped icily in through the back door and reminded us what it was like to be unironically scared shitless.

But Craven’s initial efforts remain rewarding. Scream is the undisputed highpoint, comic but still unsettling, a worthy father to bastard children. But before that came New Nightmare, Craven’s farewell to his most revered creation, and the first Freddy in a decade to warrant any kind of serious attention.

The plot is postmodernism by numbers. Heather Langenkamp plays Heather Langenkamp, indie horror actress, now happily married to a special effects tech and mother of a slightly creepy 9-year-old boy. But although the Nightmare On Elm Street series has ended, Heather is still suffering from terrifying dreams featuring Freddy Krueger, nightmares that soon begin to impinge on her real life. It turns out that Freddy is in fact the personification of some ancient evil, trapped temporarily in the character but now loose once more upon the world. The only way to prevent his achieving full corporeal form is to resurrect the series, and trap the demon once and for all…

All this is explained by Wes Craven playing himself, a neat little cameo in which he explains that he’s already started writing the new script, and that Heather is, in fact, the star. Pan across to Wes’s computer screen, and there’s the conversation they’ve just been having, followed by FADE TO BLACK, which the image obediently does. These crafty little tricks are all over New Nightmare. They could have made the film slightly ludicrous, the natural successor to those Bugs Bunny cartoons where he argues with the animator. But the constant self-reference actually succeeds in lending the proceedings an authentically creepy air. Craven’s avowed intent was to banish the memory of what Freddy had become, to get back to the grit and gore of his original film. Freddy’s no joker here, he’s a real monster, even the makeup has been rejigged to make him more inhuman. His attacks on Heather’s family are truly unpleasant, the death of her husband an obvious but effective plot surprise. And the cameos — from Craven, Robert Englund, even producer Bob Shaye — are more than just grist for the fans, they actually help to flesh out the ‘reality’ of this inverted world.

New Nightmare is a nifty experiment, compellingly blurring the line between surprisingly smart and predictably dumb. Craven isn’t half as clever as he thinks he is (he never was, frankly), but his dedication to scaring the audience pays off here—there are some authentically spooky scenes, and a few good jolts. It’s a fitting farewell to old pizza-face.

→ Continue: Freddy vs. Jason

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