Although I don’t want to admit it, it was 26 years ago since I saw this masterpiece of a movie at the cinema! I was 15 years old, which if your maths is up to scratch, means that I’m probably too old for blogging and social media!! I don’t care though, it just means that I have more horror films and books to speak to you about.
So, I’m 15 and turn up at the local multiplex with my Dad – I didn’t care that it probably wasn’t cool to go with your Dad at that age, all I was bothered about was the fact that I was finally getting to see Freddy on the big screen and thanks to the BBFC’s 15 rating, I was finally getting to achieve that dream.
Even then at that tender age I was well aware of the series diminishing quality over the previous couple of films, The Dream Child was a bit of a mess I thought and Freddy’s Dead, had some nice ideas but was ultimately devoid of any real story (as an aside, did anybody else notice that in Freddy’s Dead, the set design people loved Sepultura as the band names crops up a few times as graffiti!!). Needless to say, I wasn’t expecting much from this 7th entry in the franchise.
However, there was a glimmer of hope for this entry and this was the return of the master of storytelling, Wes Craven. Note that I label Craven not the master of horror (which would be equally true!) but the master of storytelling. To fully appreciate this distinction, you should save this post until later and go and watch Red Eye, Craven’s fast paced thriller with is a start to finish thrill ride and a captivating story to boot. If you have time, also read Craven’s Fountain Society, a science fiction thriller that just keeps you turning page after page. It’s a shame that Craven never wrote more books as his stories could have rivalled even Stephen King.
I wasn’t ready for the masterclass of horror that I was about to watch at Walsall’s finest flea pit, or that I was about to see Freddy at his best again, albeit with a different look – I’ll come to that later on. One thing about New Nightmare that you can say with hindsight is that it is very much the precursor for Craven’s own Scream series in that it is post modern, self referential and not afraid to like fun at itself in some ways. Like Scream, there was plenty of little set pieces with phones, particularly during the first act of the movie where Heather gets plagued by nuisance phone calls with a terrifying voice at the other end purporting to be Freddy himself which is very akin to Drew Barrymore’s call at the start of Scream with the Scary Movie quiz!
Anyway, I am getting ahead of myself here, I mentioned Heather in the last paragraph, this is Heather Langenkamp who plays Nancy in the original movie. In New Nightmare she plays herself, with a husband (Chase) who works on special effects on movies and who just so happens to be working on a top secret new Freddy movie. Heather also has a little boy, Dylan, in New Nightmare played by the phenomenal Miko Hughes who always gets my vote in child actor stakes. Heather appears as a working actress who is being harangued by New Line Cinema to come back to the Nightmare Films after it is revealed to her that Wes Craven is back at the helm for this new movie on the basis that he’s started having nightmares again. In the meantime, Heather is being harassed by a supposed telephone stalker and weird things start happening as the story unfolds.
As you can see from the picture above, Freddy had a very different look in this film although from his mannerisms and line delivery you still know that it’s Robert Englund under that hideous visage so there is a certain comfort to the character from that point of view but also a certain uneasiness about it too as the new look is supposed to convey that this is Freddy in real life and as Robert Englund (as himself) says in the film, ‘he’s darker, more evil!’
The distinction between ‘real Freddy’ and fictional Freddy is important in a couple of ways here. Firstly, there is a scene in which Heather is doing a daytime talk show talking about her involvement in the Elm Street series before bringing out a special guest…Freddy!! The movie version of him that we all know and love anyway! I love this scene purely for all the audience members dressed up as Freddy but it does get me wondering if daytime talk shows in the US would be doing Freddy specials, even in the mid 90’s. Most people have now seen Oprah interviewing Harry and Meghan but could we have seen Oprah interviewing Freddy Krueger? Maybe not!!
The other reason for distinguishing between the two versions of Freddy is to set up Wes Craven’s explanation of why Freddy is leaking into the real world – yes, the film is so meta that Wes Craven himself is in it with a speaking part! This explanation is that Freddy is not actually Freddy but actually some kind of ancient ‘entity’ or demon that was supposedly made when Nightmare on Elm Street was originally committed to film. Wes goes on to say that the entity was content being trapped in the Elm Street movies for a while but now was looking to break free of his celluloid shackles and move into the real world where the real terror will begin. During the course of Cravens monologue there is a part that I thought was a moment of genius where he essentially echoes the sentiment that Drew Barrymore’s character in Scream brings up when she tells the telephone stalker that the first Nightmare on Elm Street was great, ‘but the rest sucked!’ Craven’s character explains that the demon has become free because there has been too many sequels, that the story has become watered down to make it an easier sell and that is too familiar to people. Basically Freddy wants to wreak havoc on our world due to being made to be in too many crappy sequels! Maybe Super Freddy in NOES5 was the last straw!
I could go into just how meta, post modern and self referential the film is but going into our in too much detail would ruin the end of the film to go into it too much and plus, for those of you that have seen this movie, how do you explain some of the stuff that goes on in the final act – art imitating life imitating a movie? It’s not too much of a stretch however to say that this movie is Cravens most Shakespearian screenplay to date – hold on, I know you think I’m going a bit far here but think A Midsummer Night’s Dream (fitting given the source material) in that much of the film features a film within a film just the like the famous play and works well for it, in fact Scream doesn’t get close to this level of greatness with its Stab movies that feature there. By the end of New Nightmare, you’re not sure what is imitating what but you know you’ve been on a hell of a ride.
As I’ve mentioned above Miko Hughes is notable in this movie for his performance here. He starts as a normal, everyday kid who just wants his Mummy to stay home with him but soon begins to suffer from Freddy nightmares before having a complete psychotic episode after being subjected to the original A Nightmare on Elm Street on the TV. It is better that Hughes performance goes into overdrive, some of the scenes he has as he is succumbing to the entities grasp are chilling, particularly one scene where he tapes knives to his fingers waiting for his Mom to approach him so he can attack her a la Freddy! Anyone who has seen Miko in Pet Semetary will be aware of his capabilities once his character Gage goes feral after being buried in the cemetery.
Heather Langenkamp has a great performance here too, playing a version of herself plagued by Freddy phone calls and nightmares just like she is in the original films. She is at the centre of some great references to the source material such as her hair turning grey after a traumatic nightmare and in the hospital when all the doctor’s suddenly turn into gibbering idiots after their initial concerns that Heather may be purposefully subjecting her son to the Freddy movies. The turn comes just after the doctors inform Heather that Social Services will have to become involved with Dylan but they overlook the fact that he can sleepwalk right or of the hospital after the nurse sneakily sedates him. Heather is seen trying to get to Dylan through a restricted access door where a nurse informs get she needs a pass and of course there is only one response, “Screw your pass!!”
All in all, if you haven’t seen New Nightmare at all or haven’t seen it in a while then I urge you to see it again. This is truly a horror masterpiece from a writer and director whose whole catalogue is littered with classics. And wait till the end credits to see the entry for Freddy Krueger listed as being played by himself and, of course, know that that is a roundabout way of saying Robert Englund.