Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994) (aka A Nightmare on Elm Street 7) - Isogolem Rating: {>>>>} (Inspired!) {{ Prequel || Sequel }}

This time, staying awake won't save you.

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

Obviously, anyone who doesn't like scary movies should avoid this completely. Even those looking for another brainless blood fest may be disappointed. On the other hand, any fan of the slasher genre in search of something more interesting should go right out and see this movie. Even those who enjoy classic horror and suspense movies will find this worth watching, as the gore factor is relatively low - New Nightmare has more in common with Psycho than with Friday the 13th.

Freddy Injury Count
Freddy goes completely uninjured for most of the movie - in the first 100 minutes, he gets hit with a glass vase, a picture frame, and that's it. However, in the last fifteen minutes of the film he gets stabbed the eye with an eel, sucker punched, hit and then seared with a torch, stabbed in the leg, stabbed in the crotch, stabbed in the tongue, and finally cooked alive in a prehistoric oven, whereupon he morphs into a demon and explodes. Not bad, but still not that extreme really.

Heather Injury Count
For a normal person, Heather gets seriously knocked around. Early on she falls and hits her forehead on a metal railing. Only a few scenes later, she catches her son as he falls from a 30-foot jungle gym. It's no wonder she develops a white streak in her hair. As the movie progresses, she gets grazed on the arm and the neck by Freddy's claw, covered in black vomit, mired in slime, slammed into multiple stone surfaces, and hit by a car! By the end of the film she's a limping bruise-fest, and she looks like she's had a fight with a rototiller.

Body count
Four people and one stuffed dinosaur are killed, but the dinosaur gets it off-screen. As weasello has pointed out Freddy just can't seem to kill in droves the way Jason does. Personally, I think it's a matter of conscious choice: whereas Jason just likes killing with whatever is handy at the time, Freddy likes playing with his victims, both physically and psychologically before doing them in. Would Jason twist reality to drag a maimed victim up a wall onto the ceiling, in front of several horrified witnesses, before killing said victim, and then let the witnesses live? I don't think so. Jason would cut the victim to ribbons and then dismember and disembowel the witnesses before any of them had a chance to scream let alone escape.

Plot Outline
"We open on an old wooden bench. There's fire and tools, and a man's grimy hands building what's soon revealed as a gleaming set of claws. And the claws are moving now as if awakening from a long and unwanted sleep..." As the maker of the claws appears to chop off his own hand in preparation for attaching the claws to his own wrist, we see the other people on the set wince, and hear the director, Wes Craven, encouraging the effects specialists to pump more blood. Soon he yells, "Cut! Print that, Gretchen!", and we see Heather Langenkamp with her husband, Chase, and their son, Dylan, wandering around the set of a new Nightmare on Elm Street movie. Presently the claw, which was a only a prop a minute ago, comes to life and starts maiming and killing the F/X guys, Dylan disappears into thin air, and, as the claw prepares to attack Chase, Heather screams, waking up in her own bed in her own house with Chase, in the middle of an earthquake. Welcome to Los Angeles. After the earthquake dies down Chase has a couple of scratches, the same as he'd gotten in the dream. Were they sustained in the earthquake or in the dream?

Of course, we know they're from the dream because this is Freddy we're talking about, but the rest of the movie keeps us guessing by portraying these events as actually happening to people in real life, not just to characters in a movie. After the earthquake, they go about the rest of their day just like we would. Heather's been receiving harassing phone calls from "some deranged fan" acting like Freddy, but they stopped over the last couple weeks. There have been five earthquakes in that time, and Heather has been having nightmares. Chase leaves to drive a few hours away for a job, the babysitter arrives, and Heather gets picked up in a limo to appear on a talk show. On the set of the talk show, the host starts asking questions about Freddy, "Is he really dead?"

Suddenly, Freddy slices his way through the back of the set! ... Well, actually, no, it's just Robert Englund dressed as Freddy. "Love ya, Babe! Let's do lunch!" he hams it up for the crowd. From here on, Heather's week goes from bad to worse. She learns Craven has been writing a "New Nightmare" script, and gets offered a part in it, which she turns down. When she gets home, her son has some sort of episode during which he warns her in a voice not his own, "Never sleep again!" When she asks Chase to come home immediately for Dylan's sake, Chase falls asleep at the wheel on the way, and dies in a car crash (with a little help from Freddy's claw). Dylan, now also grief stricken, continues acting ever more strangely. When Heather takes him to a hospital, the doctors suspect her of being insane and of abusing him.

She goes to Wes, who also plays himself, for help making sense of what's happening. Craven tells her he doesn't know much more than she does - he dreams a scene or two each night and wakes up and writes them down. He goes on to tell her that in the script he's been writing, Freddy is trying to cross over fully into our reality, but a guardian, a gatekeeper of sorts, bars in his way. He tells Heather, Freddy sees her as that gatekeeper. Nancy defeated Freddy in the first movie, and Heather gave the character of Nancy her strength. Freddy is attacking her at her weakest points, trying to break her down before confronting her. The question is whether she has the courage to play the part of Nancy "one last time". She leaves him as confused as she arrived.

Finally, Freddy really shows up and Heather's week goes from worse to nightmarish. By removing all her supports and friends, through death or obfuscation, he forces her to accept the role he wants her to play. At the same time, he eviscerates the toy dinosaur and abducts Dylan. The final showdown between Freddy and the mother-son duo occurs in a steamy and water logged dreamscape ruin, apparently Freddy's home turf. Even so, the two succeed in killing Freddy and escaping back to the real world. There they find the script of the film Wes has been working on waiting for them! Dylan asks his Mom to read some of it to him, which she does: "We open on an old wooden bench. There's fire and tools, and a man's grimy hands building what's soon revealed as a gleaming set of claws. And the claws are moving now as if awakening from a long and unwanted sleep..."

While Scream, written by then freshman Kevin Williamson and directed by Craven, received wider acclaim, New Nightmare, which Craven wrote and directed himself, deserved far more attention. Scream took the slasher genre and its stereotypes, and twisted them back on themselves in an fun way, but didn't ask the audience to think too much. In contrast, New Nightmare looks truly philosophical. It explores the much wider concept of the boogieman, the embodiment of evil. It asks why we need one and shows how the maniac in a slasher film, in this case Freddy, can fulfill that role. It even addresses why classic fairy tales all have so much violence and death in them. Amazingly, it does all this examination, subtly yet clearly, without getting in the way of a truly terrifying and engaging story about characters you care about and believe in! If you watch the two movies back-to-back, you'll see what I mean: you might laugh a more at Scream, but I'm willing to bet you'll still be thinking about (and rewatching) New Nightmare long after you've forgotten most of Scream.

Overall, if A Nightmare on Elm Street was Wes Craven's senior project in for his BA in terror, New Nightmare was his PhD. Everything about it speaks not only of his deep passion for mythology and psychology, but also of his mastery the medium and the genre.

On a technical level, he starts the movie without opening credits and uses steadicam from there on, lending strength the sense that we're seeing a documentary, not just another slasher flick. On a storytelling level, Craven gives us real people, trying to live their lives in the face of extreme circumstances, most of which we can identify with - earthquakes, death of a loved one, and illness. In the film Freddy is the hidden force behind all these, but that only increases our sympathy for the characters; we've all felt betrayed and overwhelmed by the world at least once in our lives. On a personal level, Craven uses that sympathy to touch that part every person that would like to believe that the painful things that have happened to us were due to something other than random chance. In doing so, he expresses quite clearly his views on violence and evil in stories and films, and also their proper place in our culture.

Sacrificing no one part for any other, he then weaves all these elements together in a manner that lets us see our world from a new perspective. Now, that's great filmmaking.

Interesting Notes

  • Johnny Depp, from the first Nightmare, doesn't appear in this film because Craven was too timid to ask him. On running into each other later, Depp said he would have been happy to do it. Oh, well.
  • Freddy Krueger is credited as "Himself" in the ending credits of the movie. I felt somewhat disappointed when I found out Englund played Freddy again. It dispelled the air of creepiness and mystery.
  • Freddy's makeup and outfit get a complete upgrade for this feature. Shinier claws, more realistically grotesque features and skin, and stylin' leather pants and combat boots. For some scenes he even gets a flowing, dark gray, woolen trench coat. You haven't known true terror until you've thought to yourself, "Wow, Freddy's kinda hot." Gah!

Lead roles

Written and Directed by Wes Craven

Sources: The stellar IMDB, my brain, the DVD, and weasello for kicking my ass and letting me use his reviews as a template. Thanks also to tes for the noding advice in her homenode (Trancendental).
Also, posted to wikipedia.org.

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