Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994)

Wes Craven's New Nightmare
Director: Wes Craven
Starring: Heather Langenkamp, Miko Hughes, John Saxon, Robert England, Wes Craven, Bob Shaye, David Newsom, Tracy Middendorf, Jsu Garcia, Tuesday Knight
Rated:  R

Screw your pass!
      ~Heather Langenkamp

I've often pondered how after Scream, that some of the bigger named slasher icons didn't return for another killing spree.  But, with Freddy Krueger, the answer is that he already had his "Scream inspired" movie 2 whole years before Scream even happened.  Wes Craven returned to the series with a meta adventure that was pretty much unlike anything around at the time.  New Line had recently acquired rights to the character of Jason Voorhees, because Freddy Vs Jason was supposed to be the film in the works.  But with Craven coming back to Bob Shaye for the 10th anniversary of the original, and the hatchet being buried, one more ride with solo Freddy was what happened.  And thankfully they went this way.
New Nightmare is a film that is more than just a common slasher.  It falls more in the vein of a supernatural horror film that of the line 'em up and knock em down.  The film plays on real fears of loss, protecting your children and nature's disasters.  A horror movie that focuses on a more mature and adult subject matter.  It also pays plenty of tribute to the film series in ways that are both in service to the story and very "blink and you'll miss it" so as not to be distracting to anything in the movie.  Craven's horror also dials back on the excess, going more back to a slow-burn horror, even more than the first film.  
And that dialing back actually succeeds where it once seemed impossible.  Freddy has become actually scary again.  Now, whether or not this is actually Freddy really isn't important.  Its an evil that has manifested itself as the Springwood Slasher and that's who goes on the attack on Heather.  "Freddy" has been revamped in look and costume and bring with him a much greater intensity (and leather pants!).  Freddy speaks, but its much more back the tormentor, and too dark to be laughing at it humor that brings even more scares along the way.  Good God is this a welcome breath of fresh air after the previous film.  Its outstanding that they were able to do such a turnaround within a film, but when you put up the stipulation that "No, this is REAL!" it helps a lot.
There are many an Elm Street fan that despise this entry because it steps not only outside the box but outside the series, leaving the first 6 movies as just that, "movies".  As if to say they are inferior.  While there is the possibility that Craven saw it this way, I really don't think that should matter.  This film is an offshoot.  As a matter of fact, you really only need to see the first movie and know a bit of the legacy to really grasp and follow this movie.  And if you know all about it, its a treat to see the real people and ACTUAL New Line folk play themselves in the movie.  This movie is making a bold decision and really commands your respect for what its doing.  There are 6 movies exploring Freddy haunting teenagers dreams on Elm Street, this one actually goes forward and takes a fresh new direction and transcends the slasher genre even.  I know in the age of the internet, everything is fair game to be completely hated, but the fanboys baffle me here.  
Not only using his own series for inspiration, Craven also has a lot of nods to other films and not just horror ones.  There's a terrific (if maybe slightly overdone) shot of Freddy's shadow creeping across the walls that is akin to Nosferatu.  We also have a lot of Omen/Exorcist (Demon child) type influences here too.  The film also features a moment that is straight out of Kramer Vs Kramer too (the playground scene).  All of these nods, tributes, influences are woven in pretty seamlessly and help keep the picture running.
One love/hate thing I have with this film is the score.  Its a full on big orchestral piece that sometimes features a choir.  At times, its rather brilliant, taking the Elm Street series into a sort of "prestige horror" realm.  There are other times in the film where the score is way way too much in what its trying to do and it comes off as groan worthy.  It'll just reek of the film's scene trying much too hard whereas a lighter score may have played it just fine.  At the end of the day though, there's decisions to be made on keeping pieces of music and changing them and that's not up to the composer, so I'm not going to tie it all on them.
Wes Craven and Heather Langenkamp both return to the series spending many years away and come back very improved.  Langenkamp gives the best performance of her career here.  No, its no tour de force, but its good enough to enhance the film.  I think her being an actual mother catered to her strength in the movie.  Craven has also become a much better director.  Its really interesting that his aesthetic here looks just like that of Scream.  He's much better with his slow build, suspense and some restraint.  And man, that freeway scene is edge of your seat intensity.  This is one of the best films the guy has ever directed, too.  And some could argue it might be his best.
Another reason fanboys might be dismissive of this entry is that it has an extremely low body count.  But I think that's to its strength.  The drama in this movie actually works because its focused primarily on one death in the movie and that character's family struggling with coping and moving on.  Helping Langenkamp's performance as well, the character of her husband in the film rivals that of hers in real life.  The horrors of the film surround Chase and his death.  It really hits home and we see a lot of morning, hallucinations and stress relating to his family's loss.  In tradition Elm Street fashion, the film has a funeral scene (all but Part 2 have one...and it should have had one for Coach Schneider darn it!).  But, this movie goes beyond that and sticks with the mourning.  We've seen mourning in the past from the films (Though, I think Dream Child tries and does a decent job...which is funny because Chase's death is in reference to Dan's), but nothing downright grounded and more personal like New Nightmare has to offer.
Aside from being a big fan of the film, Wes Craven's New Nightmare holds a special faction for me.   This was my first R-rated horror film I had the pleasure of seeing in a theater.  I was 12 years old.  Freddy was back, I thought he was dead, but oh well.  My friend's dad bought us our tickets and dropped us off.  It was at the long since demolished Holiday II theater in Ft. Wayne, IN.  Its one of those old big movie theaters that went away in the era of multiplexes.  They had a front glass display box that was all decked out with Freddy stuff and a sign exclaiming "Freddy's Back!"  Ah, the old "do it yourself" stuff that a big cardboard cutout send from the studio just doesn't build the same excitement for.  Well, I saw this in the theater, and being a 12 year old watching a horror film in which the subject matter is really grinding into adults, it instantly became just that much more intense to me.  If an adult was struggling, shit, I had no chance.  And I admit, for the near 2 hr runtime, the movie scared the piss out of me and shook me to my core.  Hey, I was 12.  It was quite the experience.
Wes Craven's New Nightmare is one of the most unique entries into the slasher catalog and one of the flat out best horror movies of the 1990s.  A weak decade, for horror for sure, but there are some great ones in the mix.  It was a meta horror film before it became all too self aware and jokey 2 years later.  The film also did the impossible and made Freddy Krueger and complete terror again.  New Nightmare is one of the strongest entries in the canon and one of the strongest sequels in the horror genre.  As time has passed I still enjoy it for its dramatics, its slow-burn horror and some of the crowd pleaser moments thrown in there.  And to the nay-sayers who for some reason can't appreciate this film, I say, "Screw your pass!"

NEXT TIME:  A shared universe before shared universes were in vogue.

No comments:

Post a Comment