Ah, 1994. The best of times in fashion for sure, as it was the times of vests, plum-colored lipstick, and McDonald's golden arches-looking hair on guys. As for horror movies, however, it was the worst of times. 1994 brought us tepid sequels of tepid original films (okay, sure, I love Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings) and some of those weirdly neutered "Hollywood" horror movies, you know, like Kenneth Branagh's Frankenstein. Who was that supposed to appeal to? And then, out of nowhere, comes Wes Craven's New Nightmare, a so-meta-it-will-blow-your-mind entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. Well, it's not an entry in the franchise exactly; it sort of sits outside the franchise and points at it and comments on it, like a Statler and Waldorf unto itself.
It turns out, you see, that the 1991 film Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare wasn't final at all ("I know that feeling!" - Friday the 13th Part IV); instead, "killing" Freddy in the movie merely severed the ties that bound his evil force to fictional worlds. Free from the constraints of the screen, Freddy manifests in the real world and terrorizes those who helped bring him to life in the first place: actors Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, and writer/director Wes Craven. The original film gradually converges with reality, and much as Nancy Thompson battled the child killer in her dreams a decade earlier in A Nightmare on Elm Street, so must Langenkamp face off against him again.
Yes, it's as goddamned clever as it sounds. New Nightmare is many things: a commentary on actors forever linked with a role, the effects of horror on audiences and children (won't someone think of the children?), the effects of horror on the people who create it, the propensity of audiences to idolize the killers, and more. While it is, by its nature, as self-referential as a film can possibly be, it doesn't play like a deconstruction or rulebook along the lines of Scream, another Wes Craven work that revitalized the slasher genre two years after New Nightmare.
The numerous callbacks to A Nightmare on Elm Street are entirely welcome and well done, not the elbow-to-the-ribs get it? wink wink references they could have been. They're not there exclusively so audiences will say "Hey, I remember that!", à la virtually every joke on your average episode of Family Guy. They can be read as loving nods, sure, or–if you're feeling less generous–examples of filmmakers being burdened by their past work, unable to move on. Of course, while Langenkamp comments in the film that Craven has moved on from horror, he opines that they never should have killed Freddy. (And again, Scream was right around the corner. Craven clearly loved the genre even if his scholarly past likely had him questioning it from time to time.)
Proving as fearless as Nancy Thompson, Heather Langenkamp also descends into Freddy's world of nightmares to get shit done and take him out. My heart grew three sizes when she let out a vicious "Fuck you!" and hauled off and clocked the burnt-faced pussy. As we all know, however, even the best of the Final Girls can't keep a horror icon down for long. And as the late, great, Mr. Craven noted, maybe we shouldn't. After all...evil never dies.
see what I mean