Eye For Film >> Movies >> Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994) Film Review
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is a thoroughly intelligent and provocative post-modern horror that eclipses the whole Elm Street series with its foreboding atmosphere and chilling implications. It not only entertains, but provides pointed commentary on horror cinema, the nature of fear, and the darker side of pop culture.
An ancient evil entity, first given form by the character of Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) in the A Nightmare on Elm Street films, is now free to roam the earth as the stories of the films which contained it have been brought to an end (see Freddy’s Dead). The evil begins to manifest as the character of Krueger and use it as a portal into the real world. All that stands in its way is Heather Langenkamp, the actress who played Nancy Thompson; the first person to ever defeat Freddy Krueger. Langenkamp plays herself as an actress and young mother who struggles to reconcile her mixed feelings about her involvement with horror films. She delivers a nervous performance as a young woman terrified she’s losing her grip on reality. New Line producers and former cast members from the series return to play themselves, notably Robert Englund, Wes Craven, Bob Shaye and John Saxon.
Craven takes barbed sideswipes not only at New Line and the Elm Street franchise, but at the conservative notion that horror cinema is harmful to its audience. The doctor who tends to Heather's young son Dylan (Miko Hughes) believes that he is developing schizophrenia due to trauma induced by watching his mother's horror films. Craven also comments on the way in which audiences have embraced the figure of a dream-stalking child killer as a pop-icon; a pointed reference to how New Line diluted his initial creation - “Every kid knows who Freddy is. He’s like Santa Claus, or King Kong.” In a shrewdly telling scene, Langenkamp is being interviewed on a TV show about her work on the Elm Street films, when Englund suddenly appears as Freddy and steals the spotlight, whipping the young audience into an excited frenzy. This wise-cracking, impish Krueger is worlds away from the deeply sinister incarnation that later stalks through New Nightmare.
Allusions abound to classic horror films such as Nosferatu and creepy fairy tales, particularly Hansel and Gretel. Craven’s original film was essentially a contemporary fairy tale, with its young protagonists on the cusp of sexuality, experiencing the traumas of adolescence and realising that their parents can’t rescue them from a malevolent bogeyman who stalks them in their dreams. While there is a lot of reflection on the workings of horror cinema, New Nightmare is a highly effective horror film itself. Tension mounts as Heather and her son are terrorised by Krueger in their dreams and eventually the waking world as fantasy/cinema and reality merge. Everything has a subtle, underlying menace, from the overly enthusiastic limo driver who insists that Freddy should never have been killed off, to the talk show host who seems a little too keen to chat about Heather’s son and her private life, and the doctor who firmly insists horror films have caused Heather’s son to have a nervous breakdown.
New Nightmare has a much darker, adult tone than the earlier Elm Street movies, and is an exercise in sustained tension and creepy atmosphere. Events build steadily to a fittingly reflexive climax which unfolds in a hell world inspired by Dante’s Inferno.Reviewed on: 31 Oct 2014