FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Oct 4, 2015

Day 4: WES CRAVEN'S NEW NIGHTMARE (1994)


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

12 comments:

CashBailey said...

We used to call that 90's hairdo 'loaf hair'.

Man, horror was dead in the 90's. Occasionally you'd get something great like CANDYMAN but it really was a barren wasteland for the genre.

SCREAM single-handedly changed that and horror has been pretty much unstoppable ever since. So we have the great Wes Craven to thank for that as well.

R.I.P.

aboyinfur said...

https://homodrome.wordpress.com/2015/10/04/nancy-one-more-time-shocktober/

love love love LOVE New Nightmare. I still remember the first time I saw it and was so confused then SO IN LOVE.

Stacie Ponder said...

The '90s were really dismal for sure, but the bright spots are oh-so-bright. I want to read up on the reception New Nightmare got, as it was pretty ahead of its time with the self-reflection. And man, it takes quite a while to get where it's going, that's for sure. Long movie!

P. K. Nail said...

This is certainly better than I had remembered, but I still laugh when Nancy is vomited out of the giant Freddy head.

homodrome said...

I was listening to wes craven's commentary and it wasn't a smash hit at the box office per say but apparently people loved it in test screenings, so much so new line gave wes final cut. which is fairly rare.

also you would probably love the 5 hour nightmare doc never sleep again.

super detailed informative and fun.

John LaTour said...

I've still never been able to sit through this whole movie. Maybe I'll give it another try.

eightieshair said...

I love New Nightmare. It's neat how perfectly it anticipates Scream with the whole "meta" thing. I also like the idea that the fictional boogeyman takes on a life of its own and comes after its creators. I suppose that's how Wes Craven must have felt about Freddy, given what a huge phenomenon he was during the second half of the 80s.

Stacie Ponder said...

Yeah, the giant Freddy head...as is typical for the Nightmare series, the dream world gets really...corny?...at times and I'm not sure how to feel about it. There was a lot of that stuff in here: the tongue, etc.

Neil Snowdon said...

90's horror wasn't all bad... Candyman, NOTLD remake (I'm a defender), Innocent Blood, Brain Dead (both versions), New Nightmare, Society, Bride Of Re-Animator, The Gate 2 (and othe Tibor Takaks movies!), Tremors, The Sect, Delamorte Dellamore, Alien 3 (also a defender), Seven, Darkman, Silence Of The Lambs, Cape Fear, Cronos, The People Under The Stairs, Scream, Hardware, Dust Devil, Raising Cain, Santa Sangre (made in 89, released in 90 I think)... not a full blown classic decade, sure, but there were a lot of horror movies released, that I'll go to bat for.

Neil Snowdon said...

Not to mention, Jacobs Ladder, Misery, Twin Peaks (TV), Man Bites Dog, Fire Walk With Me, Day Of The Beast, Aftermath, Lost Highway, Funny Games, Ring, Perfect Blue, Blair Witch, Audition, Memento Mori... Army Of Darkness, Mimic, The Frighteners, From Dusk Til Dawn, Buffy (TV), Crash, The Kingdom (TV), Mouth Of Madness, Two Evil Eyes... there's a lot to love in the 90's, even if Horror did begin to mix and mingle more with other genres.

Stacie Ponder said...

Oh, I'm not against 90s horror films, even if the first thing that springs to mind tends to be the crappier Dimension Films. There's a ton of great stuff from that decade...just saying that '94 was probably the weakest year.

trippingthrugateways.com said...

Yeah...New Nightmare is just terrific. One of the finest moments from that franchise, and a welcome return to form after Freddy's Dead.