Wes Craven returns, and in a big way. Thank the Gods. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is a blessing from heaven. It’s not very good, l and I think that it says a great deal about the caliber of the films before it that I like it so much. Relatively, it’s a pretty nifty film. But I’m more in love with its idea than its execution.
The idea? Bring back the original cast, not as characters, but as themselves. Pull the audience into present day Los Angeles. The principal players are gathering to shoot a new movie. Guess who shows up to the party?
This could have been a really cool self-referential bit of horror wizardry. But it fails, and I’m really struggling to figure out why. It unfolds more slowly than the others, which is a relief. And it feels like a traditional horror movie in its little suspense builds, its moments of off-balance trickiness. And there are bits and pieces of real dread. Craven does a number on Heather Langenkamp by threatening her son (played by the astonishing Miko Hughes.) There’s a real sense of helplessness, of vulnerability, which I think is crucial in a horror film.
But maybe it’s too formulated. It’s too standard in the way its presented, the way its shot. Craven knows horror, and he knows how to mount it. But this idea is so different, it demands a new approach. Wouldn’t it have been cool if he had presented it in a crazy, verite style, a fly-on-the-wall perspective using a Blair Witch realism and a hard-edged Exorcist dread?
Anyway, that’s my preamble. The film itself is not tough to watch. Except for the Sam Rubin part. I can’t stand Sam Rubin. Blech!
Hey, Lin Shaye makes a return appearance! She played the English teacher in the first film. Here she plays a nurse. She’s the wife of producer Bob Shaye, who also plays a teacher in the Fourth film (see what kind of expertise I’m gaining here?) but she’s probably most famous as a Farrelly Brothers siren, appearing in both Kingpin and There’s Something About Mary.
I wonder if this is really Wes Craven’s house?
Oh boy, now it’s getting terribly pedantic. Freddy is showing up in our world because the world of Freddy–the Nightmare series–has ended. Wes says that the only way to defeat him is to make another movie. It almost feels like New Line is saying, “If we stop making Freddy material, guys, then Freddy just might become real, so…”
I wonder if this idea became problematic for Craven when it came to determing the body count for this film? Since his principal cast also happens to be his actors, he can’t rightly pick them off. He has to prey on the incidental characters, like the babysitter, who has serious backbone and presence, that is, until Freddy skewers it in a hospital butchery reminiscent of Tina’s death in the original film. Or he has to find suspense in scenes like this one, where her son Dylan traipses across a furious freeway in the dead of night.
An hour and a half in to the film and we’re deep into self-referential territory. When Nancy– I mean, Heather–makes it home, she finds John Saxon waiting there. Only now he’s calling her Nancy, and treats her like his daughter. And then finally, in a moment that can’t possibly lift itself above self-parody, Heather sits down in the nightmare world of Freddy Krueger, picks up a copy of the script and reads her own voice-over.
After a ho-hum battle against Freddy, Heather and Dylan emerge, victorious, and find a copy of this same script tangled in the bed sheets. Heather begins to read the script to her son. As the credits roll.
It’s a nice concept. A ho-hum delivery. Not everyone’s favorite, and far form one of the bloodiest Nightmare flicks, but I admire what it attempted, even if Craven didn’t quite pull it off.