7 Days of Nightmares: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

For the tenth anniversary of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven returned to the franchise. But Freddy was already dead, wasn’t he?

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Freddy’s dead, but killing off the story has let something more evil emerge into the real world: an age-old demon determined to continue Freddy’s reign of terror, starting with his first nemesis, actor Heather Lagenkamp. Finally, Wes Craven steps back into the picture to remind us what a real Nightmare is like. While this is not and cannot be judged as a direct sequel to the Nightmare on Elm Street series (and it wouldn’t want to be), it has to be viewed in light of the original Nightmare. New Nightmare takes all of the aspects of both a sequel and a stand-alone film and merges them into a work of art. As a Freddy fan, I couldn’t be more pleased.

The first thing you notice in this film is that the lighting, the pacing, the gore – everything that slowly went to hell on a six-stop elevator with the Nightmare series – is excellent. The lighting and everything about the beginning of the movie is set to scare you, rather than throwing Freddy at you in the first five minutes for a cheap thrill. It sets the mood excellently, though it seems Craven couldn’t resist showing the world that he was the director of Scream and throwing in the prank phone calls. The lighting is dim and stays dim throughout; it’s a horror movie and it’s lit like it. While the pacing could be a little quicker (it builds you up for more than you really get at the end), it’s the best pacing of any Nightmare movie released since 1985. But here I am, trying to do the impossible and review this as the seventh movie in a series that it’s not quite part of.

The gore here is pretty realistic, particularly for a Nightmare sequel. They bleed for various reasons, mostly caused by “Freddy”, and it never fails to look like real blood. I would have liked a little more, particularly on the remake of Freddy’s first ever kill – remembering the first, you can’t help but be disappointed. Beyond that, the blood here is excellent and I wish it would never leave.

One key strength in the effects of New Nightmare is that there are no fantasy effects until the climax of the movie. The earthquakes, the blood, everything shown for much of the movie is seen in real life all the time, and is that much more convincing because there is something convincing to imitate. Effects therefore get that much less convincing when Heather goes into her dream to challenge “Freddy” on his own turf. Probably the first really unconvincing graphic I saw in the movie was “Freddy” opening his mouth over Dylan’s head; it looks like a mask. The end of the “boiler” scene is probably the fakest effect in the entire movie – apparently they got lazy since it was only shown in the film for a few minutes.

One of the best features of New Nightmare was the way it incorporated key scenes from Nightmare on Elm Street (and an homage to The Exorcist, though it was missing the “fuck me”), besides the Scream allusion above. The stalking shadow, the ceiling murder, and the still disturbing tongue through the phone are all classically given their cameo time. In fact, one more scene and I would give New Nightmare a 10/10. I am talking, of course, about Freddy’s bear hug from NOES.

The entity taking Freddy’s place, while impressive in the real world, is seriously lacking when it comes to dream power. While the earlier Freddy – especially if you consider this a sequel to Dream Warriors, as one fan-theory convincingly sells – could completely warp his body and the world around it in an instant, this version of Freddy seems to struggle just to elongate his arm. I don’t know if it’s because it’s supposed to be a demon still feeling out the capabilities of Freddy’s form or one that lacks his power pretending to be him, after all the build-up he’s disappointing, which is probably the single strongest point against the fan-theory of this being the Freddy from Nightmare 3.

Overall, this is one of the best movies to come out with Freddy’s name on it. While the ending could use a bit of a touch-up, the film sets a tone so real, that you’re almost not sure if this is a movie about the making of a movie, or about the making of itself, or maybe, just maybe, it’s actually a documentary.

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