Think back to the 1990s.What did the horror landscape look like? Like glam metal, slashers like Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Chucky, and Jason Voorhees were all waning in popularity. They had been blown up, cashed-out, depleted and were in dire need of fresh ideas. New Line Cinema at least recognized that they might be running into the end of the line with Freddy and made Freddy’s Dead. That movie might not have been the grand sendoff that Freddy deserved, but it was at least something.
While other slashers were busy running into the ground with movies like Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, Child’s Play 3, and other sequels that simply rehashed ideas or added unneeded plot-lines involving cults; Freddy was sitting dormant. New Line Cinema has always recognized that they were “The House That Freddy Built”. Bob Shaye can recognize when there’s money on the table. While they were trying to get The Lord of the Rings off the ground, they also had a fresh idea from the creator of Freddy, Wes Craven.
The years following A Nightmare on Elm Street and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors for Craven featured some false starts in the likes of Shocker, Deadly Friend, The People Under The Stairs, and The Serpent and the Rainbow. These movies all have their own special place in horror fans hearts, and in the case of The People Under The Stairs, are incredibly ahead of their time, but they didn’t register with audiences as much at the time.
Enter Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.
New Nightmare Paved The Way For Scream Two Years Later
Wes Craven brought all the pain, terror, and suffering that we’d missed from Freddy Krueger and packed it into a meta story. Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Wes Craven, Bob Shaye, and other New Line employees all play themselves in the film. If you haven’t seen the movie, to put it simply, Freddy Krueger is actually an ancient evil that takes form until storytellers lock it away by retelling the story. The monologue that Craven gives to Heather in the film is chilling and should make any storyteller’s hair stand up.
There’s tons of commentary on how Freddy has been portrayed since the series started as well. Robert Englund comes out to a crowd of adoring fans as Freddy like he’s a rock star. The terror has worn off, he’s a novelty act, or a stand-up comedian. The meta aspect of the film pervades throughout and reflects on the very nature of IP and characters that we deal with to this day.
The other aspect that New Nightmare gets into is the idea of a remake. It basically remakes A Nightmare On Elm Street at certain points. However, it’s not doing so, just to do so. When the movie morphs between reality and movie-land, its chilling. The contrast is particularly striking when John Saxon comes to check on Heather. On a dime, the scene morphs from real-life to the set of A Nightmare On Elm Street. Heather realizes that she needs to channel Nancy one last time.
That meta approach to the proceedings paved the way for what ended up being one of the most important horror movies ever in Scream. Without New Nightmare to set the stage and peel back the curtain on horror movies, we might not have gotten the “Rules” explained to us two years later in 1996.
Freddy Is More Menacing And Scarier Here
Going from Freddy killing people with NES controllers to this movie is a stark contrast. Wes Craven might have said that he regretted changing the design of the character in this movie, it still works. He’s more Nosferatu, and less stand-up comic. The famous glove also gets an update, with a bone and claw look. He still cracks some jokes here and there, but going from The Dream Child to this is a major step.
The most chilling scene in the film is one that evokes the death of Tina in A Nightmare On Elm Street. Freddy kills Julie, Dylan’s babysitter, when Dylan is the only one who can see Freddy. It’s something that every child is terrified of. What happens when you’re the only one that can see the monsters that plague you? Freddy slaughters her with glee, painting the walls, ceiling, and finally floor with blood. Freddy might not kill many people in this film, but when he does, it’s meaningful.
Take Some Notes From New Nightmare
In a genre that is as cyclical as horror, New Nightmare is the point where Freddy should have been reinvented. The phoenix rising from the ashes of a dying franchise. Instead, audiences simply thought it was okay, and it didn’t lead to another Nightmare On Elm Street film until Freddy Vs. Jason. Since then, we’ve had a remake, that had a good script, but chose to use CGI and recast Freddy. Outside of that, the light in the house on Elm Street has been out. In other genres, that get so overblown and bloated, it makes sense to go outside of the box or head back to smaller scale stories. In the case of New Nightmare, they did both. Wes Craven reinvented a character that seemed like it was on its way to a slow death.
In a world where requels and legacy sequels are all the rage, New Nightmare was doing it before any of us knew what the terms meant. Wes Craven was ahead of the game, as usual.
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