Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (DVD)

This time staying awake won’t save you…

Horror films have been a Hollywood staple since its beginnings. Countless films have been made about vampires, werewolves, the dead raised by mad scientists, mutants, mummies, and virtually any other sort of monster the human mind can envision.

One of the most popular and well-known horror icons is Freddy Krueger, the blade-fingered personification of evil created by Wes Craven. Freddy appeared in six Nightmare On Elm Street films before being killed off. No one can keep a good horror idol down, so three years after the supposed end of the series, Wes Craven made one last Freddy movie…at least until the next time the franchise is revived.

Wes Craven is known as one of the masters of modern horror. Not only did he create the Nightmare On Elm Street series, he also created the Scream trilogy. Scream, released in 1996, was a postmodern, self-aware horror movie. It was fully conscious of the clichés of the genre, and at least to a certain extent was able to tweak the “rules” that the genre laid out for itself. The subsequent entries in the series, however, never lived up to the heights reached by the first film.

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare feels like two things: a warm-up for the sort of movie Craven was looking to make with Scream, and the movie that should have been made instead of the crap sequels to what will stand as one of the landmarks of the horror genre. Craven had nothing to do with the first sequel, A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge, and it is generally considered the weakest of the series. He came back as the producer and writer (along with Frank Darabont, the director of The Shawshank Redemption) of Nightmare On Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors, which also saw the return of the heroine of the first film, Heather Langenkamp. It was directed by Chuck Russell, who would go on to direct The Mask and Eraser. Craven left the series again, and the results were Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (directed by the justifiably much-maligned Renny Harlin), Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, and Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (directed by Rachel Talalay, the director of Tank Girl, and boasting a 3-D sequence). Each entry descended further into the laughable, as Freddy lost much of his menace and became another of the 1980s quipster antiheros.

After that dismissive round-up, I’m going to have to admit: the only entries in the series I’ve seen are A Nightmare On Elm Street and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. Put it this way: I didn’t want to ruin the joy of the first movie by sullying my memory with lousy sequels. I learned that lesson after seeing The Crow: City Of Angels. The plot of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare intrigued me though. Nothing like it had ever been done.

The story takes place in the “real world” (or at least, a movie approximation of the real world). It follows Heather Langenkamp, the star of the first and third Nightmare On Elm Street films. She is married to a special effects technician, has a young son, and lives in Los Angeles. Out of the blue, she begins receiving threatening phone calls and having nightmares of Freddy. Her son also manifests strange symptoms. Curiously, her friend and former co-star, Robert Englund (the man behind the Freddy makeup), is having similar problems. Heather learns that Wes Craven has been working on writing a new Freddy movie, and that the strange occurrences coincide with the time he began work on the script. Without giving away too much, Craven has learned that Freddy is much more than just a movie character, and that he is trying to wreak his havoc in the real world.

The fantastic thing about Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is that it takes itself seriously. Freddy is a very real threat. We get the palpable sense that Heather is genuinely scared. The characters are in grave situations, and don’t joke their way through it. The inevitable showdown plays by the rules the movie has set for itself, and doesn’t wimp out. I was very impressed by the film. It would rank as the equal of the first film, if it were not such a classic of the genre. I certainly preferred it to Scream.

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was released as a part of the Nightmare On Elm Street box set, and previously has not been available separately. Late last month, the entire series was released on an individual basis, with (I believe) the same features as the discs included in the box set. So, if you didn’t want to shell out $100+ for the entire set, now is your chance to get just the good installments (like this disc). The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic and full-frame, selectable from the main menu. The image tends to be a little soft, but otherwise it is a fantastic transfer. There are no digital artifacts or visible edge enhancement, and colors are nicely saturated. Even the film’s finale, set in a dark dungeon lit by blazing fires, looks perfect. Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and stereo. The 5.1 track is one of the most engaging I have ever heard. It will not spoil anything to say that there are several earthquakes during the film. Believe me, you will feel like you are at the epicenter of the quakes. Low-frequency bass is sent to all the channels, giving you that you-are-there feeling. The rear channels are used to good effect for other scenes, as voices swirl about the room in a disorienting manner.

Extras are somewhat sparse. You get a commentary track, cast and crew bios, and the theatrical trailer. Wes Craven recorded the commentary. It is a veritable treasure trove of his thoughts behind the series, the psychological and sociological impact of horror films, and the meaning behind Freddy.

Horror films certainly are not for everyone. Some people are very sensitive to the psychological effect of the scares and chills. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is no exception. I was quite impressed that Wes Craven would deal with these effects honestly within the film. A nurse looking after Heather Langenkamp’s son is suspicious that his problems are caused because she allowed her son to watch her movies. Psychologists still have not answered the question if viewing violence causes violent behavior, and it is nice to see that reality brought into the film.

One of the negatives that I can bring against the film is the performance of Heather Langenkamp. She has not had much work outside the Nightmare series or other horror films, and there’s a reason: she’s not a very good actress. Much of this film is not Heather being scared, running around and screaming. She’s required to emote, and she does not necessarily do so in a convincing manner. Fortunately, the story is strong enough to make up for her weakness.

Fans of the horror genre and Freddy fans are strongly encouraged to pick up Wes Craven’s New Nightmare if you do not already own the box set. It is very effective as a horror film that twists the genre in a serious way.

I mentioned in the opening that Freddy is gone until the next time he is resurrected. There have been rumors going around for quite some time that Freddy would face off against Jason, the hockey-masked killer of the Friday the 13th franchise. New Line now owns both characters, but various legal entanglements have kept the project from going before the cameras. Robert Englund and Kane Hodder (the most recent Jason) are enthusiastic about the project. The latest rumors are that it will begin filming in December 2000 for a 2002 release. Supposedly, two endings would be filmed, with the two icons winning in their respective versions. Only time will till if it actually gets made. It’s certainly not a necessary film, but it might be interesting to see.


New Line’s efforts for the release are acquitted. Wes Craven is commended for his work on New Nightmare, and is encouraged to not abandon his horror-making efforts.

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