Last week, August 30th, Wes Craven died after battling brain cancer. Wes Craven was known as a great maestro of horror. Though he did many horror movies (most of which I’ve never seen, but I’d like to remedy this), his most famous movies were the Scream series and, of course, A Nightmare on Elm Street (and its many sequels, none of which he had anything to do with). As a sort of tribute to him, I’m going to give my review/opinion on his movie, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. This movie in particular is quite special to me, and I’ll be talking about why here.
New Nightmare is not a sequel to any of the previous Nightmare on Elm Street movies, though it does take place after the last film, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. However, this movie takes place outside of the canon universe of the other movies and instead ventures into the real world. Rather than Nancy Thompson being the protagonist, as she was in the first movie, we get the actress who played her, Heather Langenkamp, as our protagonist.
The movie starts out much in the way the original starts: seeing a man creating the iconic claw glove. But this time, instead of it being a simple glove, it’s a full robotic hand, and he plans on cutting off his own hand to affix this one to himself. When he cuts off his hand, it pans out to see the production crew of the movie that is being filmed, along with Heather, her husband (a special effects worker on the movie), and their young son. Then the robotic hand starts to go crazy, become alive, and begins killing people on its own, only to see Heather shaken from this nightmare during a horrible earthquake, of which there are a lot of in this movie.
For the rest of the film, we see Heather going about her daily life, and how she deals with a creepy stalker who keeps calling her up on the phone pretending to be Freddy Krueger, as well as sending her weird mail. This is something that happened in her actual life, and the director decided to implement it into this movie, firmly making it far more meta than it already was.
Heather later goes on a talk show to discuss the Nightmare on Elm Street series, and we get to see the public’s reaction to it. Robert Englund comes on dressed as Freddy Krueger and hamming it up for everyone, and we see Heather start to feel deeply uncomfortable. Everyone – including children – are in love with this character, who originally started out as a terrible serial killer that should have been feared.
That theme plays a particularly strong role in this story, and I think it’s something that Wes Craven was upset about with what the sequels did. And really, who can blame him? The sequels essentially turned his original story into something comedic rather than terrifying. And that goes into the next most important thing about this movie.
Later on in the movie, Wes and Heather have a conversation about a new script he’s writing (the script for the movie you happen to be watching, because again, this movie is ultra meta). He talks about how he’s been having these nightmares that are telling him about this old, ancient evil entity, and how throughout many years, artists have been able to catch this entity in their art. He was able to capture it in the form of Freddy Krueger, keeping its power at bay, keeping it from doing any true evil. But with the end of the film series, it was able to escape. But it had gotten so used to being Freddy that once it had escaped, it took on his form – except it was darker and more evil. This new, evil Freddy is haunting Wes, Robert, Heather, and her son.
As a storyteller myself, and one who enjoys meta ideas, this idea in particular is one that I just adore. Evil being captured within art, within a story. Only the artist can keep it at bay. Only the artist can defeat such a thing. Of course, it’s not Wes who defeats this evil, is it? It’s Heather. She agrees to play the part of Nancy one last time in order to defeat Freddy – to defeat this evil – and save her son. As Wes tells her, Nancy was the one to defeat Freddy originally, and Heather was the one who gave Nancy her strength, so Heather is the only one who can do it.
It’s easy to see how much of this story was inspired by Wes’s frustrations with the sequels, along with perhaps Heather’s fears that came from her stalker. Once you play a part like that, being the heroine in a movie about a psycho killer, how could you get the idea that something like that might happen to you in reality? Couple that with having a family and it becomes even worse. This movie also takes the concept of Freddy going after children and actually puts a child in this situation, rather than a bunch of teenagers. I am a firm believer that horror is made scarier whenever it’s happening to a child, but I don’t see that quite enough for my liking.
This movie takes a look at the more real world aspects that the series has always had a focus on. It’s not about Freddy Krueger, it’s about people dealing with problems in their life, but Freddy being around and stalking them in their dreams only accentuates their problems and makes them worse. But now that this is actually set in the real world, everything just feels all that more real. They’ve made Freddy scary again – made him something completely different.
I like being able to see the actors as themselves. I like being able to see Wes Craven in this movie, as well, just to get a little bit more insight on what’s really going on. Seeing Robert Englund as himself is especially interesting, as he had always been Freddy, but now he’s being haunted by this evil as well, seeing it as something far darker than the character he always played.
I’m not sure I’m doing this movie justice with these disjointed ramblings, for which I apologize. I’m just not sure quite what to say about this movie. There’s so much to it, and I love every bit of it. Perhaps more than the original movie, in fact. They say they’re going to remake Nightmare on Elm Street again sometime. I wish they would do something like this again, a sort of sequel, in a way. (Then again, the evil creature supposedly died or something so I suppose that would just ruin this movie, but still, it’s a concept I love and would like to see explored more).
Thank you, Wes Craven, for all the scares, all the horror, all the nightmares. Thanks for capturing that evil to keep it at bay for us in a time when we needed it the most. What are we ever going to do without you? Hope you’re having sweet dreams.