Yeah, I know what you're thinking, and I agree: this should be in the Ns. But DVD profiler - who is my guide in this endeavor - places this in the Ws. So here we are.
And actually, now that I've had time to think about it - in a time where every single genre movie you come across seems to have some worthy's named pasted above the title, no matter how little they may have had to do with the end product... of which Craven seems to be one of the main offenders, along with John Carpenter and now, Tsui Hark... Bram Stoker, having been long dead, can be excused for Bram Stoker's Dracula and Bram Stoker's Shadowbuilder...aw, crap. Where was I? Oh, yes. In this particular case, at the dawn of this practice, I feel it's valid.
You see, back in 1991, New Line did what needed to be done - they took the poor old dog out back behind the woodshed and shot it, in a movie rather risibly titled Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare. Freddy had long been declining from an actual figure of terror to a failed stand-up comedian since the last truly good outing, Chuck Russell's Dream Warriors, and it was time to move on. Two years later, they'd do the same with Jason. Of course, both movies ignored the fact that their antiheroes apparently got killed in all their other movies, too, but rarely to the degree promised in the title. Well, there was Friday the 13th Part IV, The Final Chapter, but that would have been the basis of a fine Lionel Hutz lawsuit for false advertising.
Of course, way back when, Jason Lives! (two entries after that "final chapter") tag line was "Nothing this evil can ever die", which I promptly re-imagined as "Something this profitable can never die". It wasn't long before New Line was determined to go back to the well one more time (at least), but how to renege on their last contract with the public? How do you announce a sequel to Freddy's Dead with a straight face? Besides the absolutely shameless SOP of Hollywood, anyway.
Enter Wes Craven.
Craven's original Nightmare on Elm Street re-engergized the teenage slasher flick by transporting its killer and murders into the realm of outre fantasy, arguably elevating its gruesome setpieces from mere slaughterhouse snapshots into Grand Guignol outrageousness. New Line, however, owned Elm Street and Freddy, and proceeded to hammer that fedora-ed peg into the ground, mostly without input from Craven. Does anybody remember the syndicated Freddy's Nightmares as anything more than a curiosity, a blip on the phospher-dot landscape?
So it seems somewhat appropriate that it should be Craven who would attempt to once more electrify a moribund property. In an attempt to return Freddy to his old, evil, roots, Craven posits that what we know as Freddy is actually an ancient, demonic force that specializes - and revels in - the slaughter of innocents. Though immortal, Craven tells us, the force can be trapped - by storytellers, imprisoned in a well-constructed story that captures the public imagination, and thus keeps it nailed down in one spot, like a fly in amber. Though apparently, if the tale becomes too common - like being the spokesman for a lame TV series, say - it loses its effectiveness and grip on the public conciousness and the entity is freed.
Well, it's certainly better than having a stray dog piss fire on his grave.
Probably the most interesting aspect of Craven's concept is that he has this slowly emerging Freddy inflict himself on the real world, quite literally. The characters in the movie are the actors from the first film, including Craven himself. The New Freddy is making inroads into our reality via the child of star Heather Langenkamp, the new script Craven is writing accurately depicts events before they happen, and everybody is having nightmares about Freddy.
This may, in fact, be the first post-modern horror film that was widely seen in theaters, and Craven is obviously flexing creative muscles that will eventually result in the Scream franchise, wherein he once again brought the teen slasher to life (more's the pity). The ingrained nature of horror films in popular culture isn't as well-examined in New Nightmare as it is in the Screams, but it does have one very cogent statement: when a well-intended but problematic pediatrician is convinced that the kid's schizophrenic episodes are due to Langenkamp's showing him her scary movies. The mother retorts, "Every kid knows who Freddy Kreuger is. He's like Santa Claus. Or King Kong."
Like a lot of truths, that's disturbing on a very deep level. Freddy - and Jason - had become so iconic that kids who had never seen the movies (at the very least, I should add, shouldn't have seen them - but there are always idiot parents among us) could easily identify them.
Though attempting to be novel, New Nightmare does fall, nonetheless, into the same trap as the other Elm Street movies - ie., for the most part, when a scare sequence starts involving the star, the scare never truly develops, because on a certain level you know it's a dream. Past a really sock-o opening sequence, most of the frights generated by Craven take place in Langenkamp's "real" world, largely because the writer/director taps into a very real parental nightmare - that something might be wrong with your child, that not only do you not understand it, but it might also be your fault. That's potent stuff, and it's exploited fully. I'm just not sure how it played to a childless teenage audience, almost certainly this movie's target audience.
I've got other issues, too - for instance, I seem to recall that Heather's character, Nancy, was killed in Dream Warriors, yet nobody in the film industry who is trying to get her to make a new Nightmare film brings that up (incidentally, New Line Honcho Bob Shaye is a better actor than Wes Craven). How does Freddy kill the babysitter when she's not asleep? And, of course, though we are assured that this Freddy is "darker, more evil", he's still the master of the lame wisecrack. We're told this is because the demon decided he liked being Freddy, but it's hard to repress a yawn when the villain resorts to the same old dialogue tricks that made him tiresome in the first place.
Of course, examining any of the movies too closely are going to expose a ton of cracks in the foundation. The conceit for bringing back Kreuger in Freddy vs Jason (which also ignored the other revisionist outing, Jason X) is that he needs people to believe in him, an urban legend made flesh. Though most of the victims in the Elm Street movies, especially the first one, had no idea who Freddy was...
That way madness lies. We should stop banging our heads against that brick wall right now.
I will say this: the biggest surprise for me in this movie was Heather Langenkamp, whom I thought was good in the original Nightmare, but perfectly dreadful in Dream Warriors. She's redeemed herself in my eyes here. The chemistry between herself and Miko Hughes as her son is quite affecting, and overall she gives a fine performance. A somewhat smaller surprise is how badly the CGI morphing effects have aged. Which is very badly. Truly unfortunate in the case of the sequence that's quoted in the DVD's menus.Oh, well.
I can now say, for better ot worse, I have finally seen all the Elm Street movies; I'm just not sure yet whether that is commendable or pathetic. New Nightmare doesn't even really try to be another closing chapter in the Elm Street saga, but it does end, on its own terms. It seems perfectly happy to exist as a self-contained story existing outside the series, and as that it makes a worthwhile rental, at least.
Odd man out in the series.
- August 3, 2004