After the ending of his sixth movie left him deader than disco and one wisecrack short of being Jimmy fucking Fallon, maybe being dead was the best thing to ever happen to supernatural dream slasher Freddy Krueger. You see, with his body in the grave and his reputation in the crapper, the character was in a prime position for his creator to return and pick apart the bones of what made the character work in the first place which brings us nicely to Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.
Craven’s ousting from the franchise he help create is well documented but his return to the world of the finger-bladed, fedora-ed one not only produced one of the most original movies of the decade but also preempted the 90’s “meta horror” craze he himself started with Scream that jabs at Hollywood with it’s razor-glove as much as it does the screaming cast members within.
Actress Heather Langenkamp (playing herself in a cast list loaded with himself/herself credits) famous for having played Nancy Thompson in the Nightmare On Elm Street series is having bad dreams. On top of that she’s been getting creepy phone calls from an unknown stalker, her house has been damaged by the earthquakes rocking LA and her young son, Dylon, is having strange trance-like episodes which makes her fear for his mental health. Things seen to take an even stranger turn when after an interview in which she’s reunited with Freddy actor Robert Englund, she gets a call from producer Robert Shaye who informs her that Wes Craven is currently writing a new, secretive Nightmare script that requires Heather to reprise her role as Nancy.
As any semblance of normalcy is seemingly coming apart at the seams, it becomes apparent that some form of ancient evil (that can be contained by the act of storytelling) had been trapped within the Freddy mythos and with the character’s cinematic “death”, has now been freed to roam around in the real world and has targeted Nancy and her son due to her past role as Freddy’s nemesis – pretty fucking wild, huh?
As this malevolent force, who has chosen to wrap itself in the very familiar form of a red and green striped sweater, attempts to claim her son, Langenkamp must travel over to “Freddy’s” realm in order to spirit him back in this fairy tale gone horribly wrong.
As you can probably tell by the utterly fucking bonkers synopsis you’ve just read, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is not only unlike any other Elm Street movie ever made, it’s unlike most other horror movies you’ve ever seen. A highly experimental collision of Robert Altman’s Hollywood take down, The Player, a ground up reboot of the most popular bogeyman of the 80’s and a dark fairytale that willfully turns reality to putty; New Nightmare is a glorious, chaotic mess that’s as smart as it is fragmented and as flawed as it is inventive. Yet what keeps this magnificently flailing maelstrom held together is the culmination of two exceptional elements – the boundless, ballsy imagination of the late Craven and the central performance of Langenkamp.
We’ll commend Craven first (age before beauty) and what proves to be his most out-there plot yet; which is certainly saying something seeing as his past concepts have included a serial killer travelling via TV signals and Eddie Murphy as a vampire.
On top of handing Freddy his startling face lift, Craven makes sure the film contains some of his trademark social themes about the effect violent movies can have on the young (Freddy is literally dictating Dylan’s actions) but also how harmful third person parenting can be (a smug doctor who tries to handle the situation despite not being fully aware as to what’s actually going on) – how many other, crazily meta horror flicks have YOU seen that also is a potent metaphor for the responsibility for correct parenting?
Craven is also, obviously having fun putting his filmmaking compatriots up on the screen – like New Line boss Bob Shaye playing himself in a scene that looks to be filmed in his actual, real-life office – and puncturing the version of the gameshow host Freddy eventually became (Craven actually has a scene where Robert Englund in full Freddy getup, shamelessly mugs and prances around in front of a TV audience like a clown). Craven’s Freddy 2.0 is also an interesting beast, cutting Nosferatu-esque shadows on the wall while wearing a pair of emo style leather trousers and flexing his brand new five bladed bio glove, he’s thankfully much more sinister than what has gone before and his kills neatly echo some of the deaths from the original movie (cue a blood-spattered victim being dragged up the wall and around the ceiling). Craven unleashes a nice line in action sequences to with the brutal climatic fight taking place in a temple that invokes Greek mythology and a legitimately alarming chase across a teaming freeway.
However, none of this would work half as well if not for the work of it’s heroine and Langenkamp is nothing short of a fucking trooper. Turning in the kind of raw female strength that can only come from motherhood, she hands in a performance that compliments her Nancy character from the first and third movie really should be better remembered as one of the great female performances in horror movies period. Having the shit mentally and physically beaten out of her for the entire running time in a role that’s way beyond personal (Langenkamp actually had problems with a stalker in real life), when she isn’t being hit by cars or being convinced she’s going insane she finds time to deliver an award winning right hook, slap bang into Freddy’s kisser with one of the most satisfying FUCK YOU’s in cinema. The film may he a Freddy film and have Wes Craven’s name in the title but it’s Langenkamp’s movie every step of the way
If the movie has a problem is that it’s somewhat experimental nature leaves it often feeling a little TOO chaotic at times as it doesn’t give the audience any sense of quiet or normality (the film dives right in with Heather being woken from a nightmare by an earthquake) and there will be undoubtedly some who’ll see the innate bravery of the piece as a betrayal of a character who had gotten way too silly for his own good.
But ultimately, when it comes Freddy’s high concept rebirth, it just goes to show there’s nothing better than meta…