Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #345

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Number of Views: Two
Release Date: October 14, 1994
Sub-Genre: Slasher
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $8,000,000
Box Office: $18,000,000
Running Time: 112 minutes
Director: Wes Craven
Producer: Marianne Maddalena
Screenplay: Wes Craven
Special Effects: Robert Kurtzman, Howard Berger, Greg Nicotero
Cinematography: Mark Irwin
Score: J. Peter Robinson
Editing: Patrick Lussier
Studio: New Line Cinema
Distributor: New Line Cinema
Stars: Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Miko Hughes, John Saxon, Matt Winston, Rob LaBelle, Fran Bennett, David Newsom, Tracy Middendorf, Lin Shaye, Beans Morocco, John Saxon, Wes Craven, Marianne Maddalena, Robert Shaye, Tuesday Knight, Nick Corri

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Suggested Audio Candy:

J. Peter Robinson New Nightmare

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I could’ve sworn that Freddy was dead you know. Unless I’m mistaken Krueger bit the dust as he approached the conclusion of The Final Nightmare. You can imagine my bemusement when he showed up unannounced and stated his intention to scare audiences witless once again. Call me pedantic but hadn’t we already been through this once already with Jason Voorhees? There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when The Final Chapter was released in the cinemas but he callously milked our sympathy and then turned up a year later hell-bent on A New Beginning. To add insult to injury, our favorite mommy’s boy didn’t even bother to show up for that one and left poor old troubled Tommy Jarvis to bear the brunt. Had the lad not been through enough?

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My point being, why the hell should we give a damn and a half when Freddy Krueger decides the time is right for a New Nightmare? I’ll tell you why Grueheads – Wes Craven. He may not be my favorite horror director but he still provided me with many reasons not to be cheerful growing up. He evidently watched all five sequels to his 1984 frontrunner A Nightmare on Elm Street and the marathon left him more than mildly discombobulated. His icon figurehead had been steadily transformed into little more than a caricature of himself over the past decade and all that wonderful menace had been all but vanquished by the time Freddy’s Dead stuck the boot in. Maybe the dream weaver had mellowed with age; decided that horror wasn’t his true calling after all and decided to pursue a career on the stand-up comedy circuit. I stayed up for Saturday Night Live week after week and it appeared as though he had gone back on his word.

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As it turned out, his absence was on account of far more pressing affairs. He ans Wes had settled their differences; the director had apologized for acting with neglect and allowing his boy to be led astray by the allure of the almighty franchise, whereas Freddy fessed up that he hadn’t been responsible for writing any of his own material. The drinks flowed, defences were lowered, and the pair made a pact to celebrate his ten-year anniversary in style and with the dignity of old. They shook on it and, while Craven tended to any damage to his wrist arteries, their problems were placed behind them. Apparently Horace Pinker was furious as Wes had offered him the moon on a stick. It didn’t matter as Krueger was offered the limelight once again and Craven was pleased as punch to be responsible for providing the return of his elusive prodigal son.

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I would imagine that the deal breaker came when Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon agreed to be present for any celebrations. This was a major coup for Craven as it signalled his intent to take the series right back to its roots and address any exploding budgerigars or whining Jesses who showed up for the sequel. The pair even wore the exact same clothes as they did in 1984 for later scenes in a show of solidarity for Nancy’s nightmare maker. This alone wouldn’t be sufficient to turn the tide after audience’s faith in the series had been so severely and nigh-on annually tested and Wes would really be required to produce a rabbit from his hat to halt his own slump in fortunes. Scream would later offer him a lucrative lifeline but in Hollywood circles, where you’re only as good as your last film, he was beginning to fall out of favor. While Freddy’s Dead ironically had been cleaning up at the box office, to the tune of $35m, The People Under The Stairs, although still turning a tidy profit, had come in a poor second. He needed this and Freddy Krueger was one more lackluster sequel away from obscurity himself.

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As soon as the opening titles failed to show in their alloted window, I knew something wasn’t right and that was the same feeling that had washed over me back in 1984. More recently everything had become too easy to predict; instead of clinging to the shadows like any good ominous madman, he had flaunted his assets freely, thus ensuring any potential tension be null and void. By deciding against the expected pre-showing roll call, Craven distorted our lines of reality a second time. Were we about to watch a film or was this a documentary we were witnessing unfurl? Or maybe it was neither. Or both. Who knew? Craven that’s who; the sneaky little bearded bugger had only gone and done it again. Talk about gluttons for punishment. It made a refreshing change to feel uneasy again like the good old days.

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Craven had been present for the birth of this legend, thus he knew a thing or two about boundaries. The original operated on its own terms, the real horror came when said boundaries were removed and Freddy was afforded his choice of playground. Here he challenged himself showing, without any showing doubt, that he wasn’t solely interested in regurgitating past memories. By placing us in an environment as penned in and restrictive as only docudrama could provide, he asked much more of Freddy. Robert Englund may have been involved in numerous smudges against his good name but he had never been the one culpable for his lessening popularity. Englund read the lines just fine; the problem wasn’t due to any lack of commitment on his part. That’s just what studios do; they fuck up our most cherished franchises. We’re talking of Hollywood here; where the almighty buck reigns with iron fist. Ironically, this gave Wes another cunningly idea.

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I offer a mountain of credit for what Wes attempted next. The toilet humor clearly wasn’t cutting it so he injected a little biting satire. The character of Dr. Heffner was actually a blatant snort in the direction of head of the MPAA, Richard Heffner, Craven’s own personal nemesis. It didn’t end there and a number of cameos, including one by Englund as Englund, helped elevate this above just another slasher. There was even an earthquake scene, filmed one month prior to a bona fide Los Angeles ground shaker. It all felt authentic, as though we was offering industry insight at the same time that his most bankable asset was working out how to invade the real world and wreck his bloody revenge on our very own turf.

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There’s only so far you can take that concept before the dream world and our reality merge and the final act gave the long-suffering fans back their familiarity. However, there was no wise-cracking, just a collection of increasingly nightmarish sequences which showed that the child murdering fiend had finally misplaced his sense of humor. This was so much more than simply a New Nightmare; this was the true Final Nightmare, a fact consolidated by the fact that the series was allowed to graze until some bright spark decided the world needed a remake. Most critically, for a film which set out to repair so much repeated damage and bring Krueger back to pastures old, it actually stood on its own merits. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was not, by any stretch of even my imagination, an overwhelming triumph, hence the fact that I have only just watched it a second time twenty years later. But it showed a willingness to move boundaries showing that, love him, loathe him, or be indifferent towards him, Craven still knew how to turn up the heat.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: “Ever play skin the cat?” Too much grue would have been at odds with our ability to buy into his transmission into the real world and Craven placed all the emphasis on burgeoning dread, a feeling we had all but given up with associating with the dream weaver by that point. However, when things did take a turn down Nasty Lane, the three guys you want standing in your corner are Howard Berger, Greg Nicotero, and Robert Kurtzman. In particular, Freddy’s exemplary make-up assisted in him regaining some of that elusive credibility. Meanwhile, Julie’s peek-a-boo demise offered an affectionate nod towards Tina’s series highlight.

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2 Comments

  1. I adore all metamovies. This one was a bit more than simply the “movie within the movie” meta theme. Very cool. Only downside: the new glove…edgy for a younger audience, but didn’t cut it in my eyes.

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