Review: Wes Craven's New Nightmare [1994]

Dir. Wes Craven

Cast: Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Wes Craven, David Newsom, Miko Hughes, John Saxon

New Nightmare is the single most sure-footed entry in the Nightmare series since the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, made prior to that other self-reverential, post-ironic box office favourite Scream, it once again asserts just how authoritative Wes Craven can be at envisioning hauntingly potent, conceptual horror movies. The film within a film paradigm has been applied many times before and since but here under Craven's dexterous touch fabricates a very interesting sojourn indeed.

In 1984, horror director Wes Craven created A Nightmare on Elm Street, it was lauded as one of the scariest movies ever produced and made huge stars of the, as yet unknown, Robert Englund and Heather Langenkamp. Ten years later, Heather is living in domestic bliss with her husband, SFX whizz Chase (Newsom), and her son, Dylan (Hughes). But her life is being turned upside down on account of being stalked by a person, or persons, unknown, who bears an uncanny vocal semblance to one, Mr. Fred Krueger, Dylan is refusing to sleep any more, and New Line Cinema has just approached her with a role in their "Ultimate Nightmare" reboot. Not to mention that a series of incongruous things have been transpiring in the supposed real world involving localized earthquakes, her friend Robert Englund's recurring nightmares and Wes Craven, himself, being atypically taciturn and evasive about the script of this all new Freddy film.

Heather Langenkamp stars as both herself and her precursory "Nightmare" persona Nancy Thompson in New Nightmare, which, on first viewing can feel stilted and perplexing for the adventitious viewer, but handled expertly by Craven succeeds in transcending self-parody. Robert Englund also stars in a dual role, as both himself and Freddy Krueger, and his return as the darker, more malignant Krueger is a pleasure to witness. Any memory of the Dream Child/Master era Freddy is eradicated by Craven's solid script, no more facetious one-liners or throwaway quips, this Krueger takes us kicking and screaming back to the unrepentantly sadistic character that petrified so many teens in the 1980s. Even the makeup SFX have been redesigned to allow for an otherworldly, archaic evil feel to the character for the first time, usurping the trappings of modern horror and giving it an almost gothic twist.

The stand out performance, for me, in the movie has to go to Miko Hughes though, as Heather's son Dylan, his performance is both angelic and creepy in equal measures and adds profundity to a narrative that at times can border on the implausible. His talent to effect the articulation and corporal personality traits of Krueger at times are startling, the modifications in his intonation and body movements are implicit but nonetheless potent and unnerving.

The movie goes through numerous situational techniques that allow Craven to showcase his acuity for alternative directorial genres, from the pseudo documentary style of the opening narrative setup, through the reportage style, handheld method of the later 'celebrity' day to day segments. Leading finally into his elected oeuvre of polished, steadicam driven, fervidly edited horror and the body count begins to rise. The majority of the carnage is reserved for dream sequences allowing Craven to keep the body count low, but the tension high. This combination of approaches is what allows New Nightmare to prevail where all the other Nightmare sequels failed, it is feverishly creepy and holds to the traditions of classic horror more authoritatively than the majority of modern horror.

Wes Craven's New Nightmare is a must see for horror fans, it's creative and the definitive return of Wes Craven at his strongest.

Verdict: Sit back and rediscover the joys of Freddy.

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