“You’re having nightmares about Freddy?”
The TV version of Wes Craven’s Scream is soon to hit our screens, so I thought I’d take a look at Scream. But I couldn’t find my DVD…so, as a substitute, I watched Wes Crave’s New Nightmare instead. It’s also one of the original ‘post-modern meta-horror films,’ if that makes any sense. It’s Scream before Scream hit the screens. The premise is simple: the people involved in the original Nightmare on Elm Street (Heather Langencamp, Wes Craven, Robert Englund) all become involved in the ‘resurrection of evil.’ It takes place in the ‘real world,’ a pseudo-documentary set ten years after the original Nightmare came out.
The film starts off in a dream. Freddy is constructing the famous knife glove, just like the original Nightmare. However, this dream takes place on the set of the new Nightmare film. The viewer doesn’t know it’s a dream until the glove-claw springs into life and kills two technicians. It’s a brilliant scene, establishing that we’re in the ‘real world’ (as the real names of the actors/director are used), and that dreams have the power that they had in the films. It’s Heather’s dream, and her husband has her fingers cut in the dream. In reality, he also has his fingers cut…
It also establishes that a decade after the original Nightmare, the cast and crew have yet to surpass that film. One of the nightmares here is the inability of some actors/directors to surpass previous achievements. They have massive houses, complete with swimming pools and other luxury appendages. Yet it’s all financed by ‘Freddy.’ Indeed, New Line Cinema is often referred to as ‘The House That Freddy Built.’ The people involved are still trapped by Freddy’s nightmare. Heather Langenkamp’s (Nancy in the first film) limousine driver says she’s a star, and that he loved the first film. Robert Englund makes a surprise appearance in a Freddy costume during a TV interview involving Heather. The audience go wild. Shortly after the interview, Heather is invited to the New Line Cinema offices, where she meets Robert Shaye, a producer. He asks her to be in the final Nightmare film:
Robert Shaye: How would you like to join us in the definitive Nightmare?
Heather Langenkamp: I thought you killed Freddy off.
Robert Shaye: Well, we did, but the fans, you know, the fans, God bless them, they’re clamouring for more. I guess evil never dies, right?
We also find out that Heather’s husband is bound by Freddy; he’s making the new Freddy glove.
“Evil Never Dies”
“Evil never dies” is the key to the film. Wes Craven is consumed by his horror film, and is in the middle of writing a script for it. Gradually we see that what he’s writing in the script is happening in the film. The plot concerns what Freddy represents: an original evil. Craven’s Freddy encompassed original evil, and it was ‘encased’ in the Freddy film franchise. However, when Freddy died in ‘The Final Nightmare’, the evil was released into reality. And as ‘Nancy’ defeated him in the first film, she (or Heather) is his gatekeeper to reality. That’s just a base for the metafictional film that Craven wants us to see. It’s a brave and original take on horror.
We could take this ‘explanation’ at face value, yet I like to dig deep. The real horror here isn’t Freddy or ‘original evil’, but the trappings of Hollywood. When Craven explains to Heather the reality of his script (a script based on his dreams, no less), he has this to say:
Wes Craven: I think the only way to stop him is to make another movie…when the time comes, you’re gonna have to make a choice.
Heather Langenkamp: Choice? What kind of choice?
Wes Craven: Whether or not you will be willing to play Nancy one last time.
For both of them, Freddy is both a gift and a curse. Wes Craven almost bankrupted himself making the original Nightmare on Elm Street, and therefore had to make a deal with New Line Cinema about the rights to Freddy. It gave Craven a financial boost, but the side effect was a load of garbage (yet enjoyable!) sequels. In effect, Freddy was a burden on Craven. The burden gave him great wealth, yet plagued him for a decade. This film was his answer to banish the evil of the Hollywood machine. Hollywood is essentially a trap. It’s a trap with many bountiful gifts, but a trap nonetheless.
For Heather, ‘Nancy Thompson’ is her most famous role. I could not name another role she’s played. She mentions that she works for TV; usually shorthand for ‘I can’t get work on the big screen.’ Her fame and fortune is built on Freddy. Thus, in the film, everything that defines her is attacked. Her house is continually battered by earthquakes (a Craven commentary on the ludicrous Hollywood obsession with mansions built near a massive fault line?), and her husband is murdered by Freddy. Her son is Freddy’s biggest target, Heather’s second weakest link. The first weakest link is her dreams that are continually tortured by the ‘evil.’ It’s no accident that at the climax of the film, she becomes Nancy. She has to become Nancy to defeat Freddy. But she’s a pawn in Wes Craven’s game. He defeats Freddy, using the character of Nancy as a weapon in his script. The creator is the only one who can destroy his creation.
“Is it a story?”
And in a deeper sense, this is Craven trying to quell/explain his dreams. Just as the original Nightmare was his dream analysis, the New Nightmare is an analysis of his dream analysis. “How far down does the rabbit hole go?” is the question he asks himself. There are questions throughout the film concerning the effect of horror (specifically Freddy Krueger) on kids. And Heather’s son, Dylan, is the case study in this film. There are various scenes of him watching his mother’s greatest film. He has nightmares about Freddy, and stops sleeping. Just as Nancy/Heather is the key to Freddy, Dylan is the key to Nancy/Heather. Dylan’s love of Hansel and Gretel is Craven’s answer to the question. The Grimm’s Tales are typical horror stories, often gruesome and disturbing. Yet they are fairy tales, with their own messages, morals, and questions. This is Craven’s ideal for horror films; not just the typical slasher/gorefest that we are used to, but explorations of the human psyche (a cinematic psychoanalysis), just like fairy tales.
Of course, as with some metafiction, it doesn’t work consistently throughout the film. The direction is often confusing. Sometimes it’s filmed as a pseudo-documentary, and sometimes it’s filmed as, well, a film. And the latter distances you from the metafiction. Granted, it’s difficult to direct a film based on this original concept. But the horror element is diluted by this uncertainty in direction. And, although it is disturbing (the effect of Freddy on Dylan, for one), to a generation used to constant horror remakes, Saws and Hostels, this will not impress at all. The climax where Heather/Nancy confronts Freddy is anti-climatic, and brings to mind the silly climaxes of the Nightmare sequels. Freddy becomes the comical villain he was in the sequels, and not the original evil.
The dilution of the horror causes it to fall when it should be leaping at the viewer, instilling terror inside. Wes Craven is as wooden as they come, and the kid is as annoying as your typical Hollywood child actor. However, the uncertain direction aside, New Nightmare is a classic horror in its exploration of horror. It should also be seen as a progression in Craven’s film philosophy. Craven’s first film, Last House on the Left, left the door open for Nightmare on Elm Street, which improved vastly on Last House. Last House was an elongated dream, and Craven distilled the themes of an unrestrained id in Nightmare on Elm Street. And ‘New Nightmare’ is a prelude to ‘Scream,’ where Craven revolutionises horror again. He takes it back to its roots, but in a more elemental fashion. And Scream, the true 21st Century horror film (although released in 1996), has yet to be bettered. Scream irons over the few flaws present in New Nightmare. But that’s not to diminish the power of New Nightmare. Second only to the original, New Nightmare is a film that, like the original, makes you second guess about waking life and sleeping life…and the void in between where the true horror lies….
VERDICT: 7/10. Scream perfected the meta-horror genre, but New Nightmare is a bloody good stab at the genre. Flawed but insightful, a horror film that examines what makes horror films terrify…and does a good job of terrifying itself.