A NEW NIGHTMARE

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Movies Paul V Wargelin Review by
Paul V. Wargelin
Wes Craven's New Nightmare
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SHOULD YOU?
TIP JAR
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET
SEQUELS
WES CRAVEN'S NEW NIGHTMARE - 1994
Rated: Australia, USA: R / Finland: K-18 / France: -12 / Germany, Norway, UK: 18 / Sweden: 15

"One, two, Freddy's coming for you.
Three, four, better lock your door.
Five, six, grab your crucifix.
Seven, eight, gonna stay up late.
Nine, ten, never sleep again."

The slow-motion image of pre-school girls wearing white dresses and skipping rope while singing this nursery rhyme is as much a part of the A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series as Freddy Krueger himself. In the original film, writer/director Wes Craven used this scene to evoke a sense of the ominous-innocence threatened by evil; childhood corrupted by adult madness.

Over the course of five inferior sequels, the girls lost their power to induce dread in the viewer. Like Nancy Thompson's house, the rhyme became a staple linking the films together - something the audience expected to see. It became part of the formula that featured teenagers being hacked apart by a cackling, malevolent being.

But the girls represented so much more. They only appeared when performing the chant. Are they really there? Or are they the ghosts of Freddy’s victims? Somewhere along the way, the filmmakers forgot that Freddy Krueger was a child murderer.

Wes Craven didn’t forget. And his name deserves to be part of the appropriately titled WES CRAVEN'S NEW NIGHTMARE wherein he once again takes the reins as writer/director to recreate Freddy through the generosity of the series' production company New Line Cinema. The franchise bastardized Freddy from a parent's worst nightmare into a nasty stand-up comic, and Craven's fresh vision clearly says to the previous sequels' filmmakers: "You've been doing it wrong. Here's how you make a Freddy Krueger film."

But to be fair, WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE couldn't exist without the previous sequels. There could be no revitalization of Freddy if his modus operandi hadn't been bludgeoned into the audience time and again within the decade between Craven's seminal films.

Here's the new premise: There is no Elm Street. There are no teenage victims. There is no Freddy Krueger. There is only Hollywood, where Wes Craven is making a new NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET film. There is Heather Langenkamp, but she’s not playing Nancy (the heroine from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS), she's playing herself (sort of).

And there's the first scene: the construction of a mechanical hand, shot in the same fashion as the creation of the finger knife glove in the original film. The hand twitches impatiently, as its creator fastens long, curved blades to each digit, including the thumb. Then the new weapon's creator hefts a cleaver above his right wrist and slashes downward.

Wes calls cut. The scene is finished. Cast and crew take five. Until the mechanical hand leaps up and scrambles around like THE ADDAMS FAMILY's "Thing" in powered armor, threatening and attacking . . .

Then Heather awakens from her nightmare in the middle of an earthquake, one of several that have been besieging Los Angeles for weeks. Her nerves are shot thanks to Mother Nature, and to some crazy fan who's been phoning her with a menacing Freddy Kreuger imitation.

Otherwise, she's the happy wife of special effects wizard Chase Porter (David Newsom) and mother of their young son Dylan (Miko Hughes: SPAWN). With busy entertainment careers, the couple leave their son in the care of their good friend Julie (Tracy Middendorf).

Heather's been asked to appear on a talk show to discuss the tenth anniversary of the original A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. During the interview with entertainment reporter Sam Rubin (himself), Robert Englund (himself) appears on the set dressed as Freddy Krueger. Running around on stage in a snarling comic pantomime, Englund interacts with an audience of fans dressed in Freddy costumes and waving placards stating their love for the infamous Elm Street monster. This scene defines exactly what Freddy's role has become to viewers over the years: a game show host who happens to slaughter his new contestants.

After the interview, Heather stops by New Line Cinema for a chat with studio Founder and CEO Robert Shaye (himself: the producer of the entire A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series). In an office full of Freddy memorabilia, Robert tells Heather that Wes is writing the script for "the definitive Nightmare" and they want her to reprise her role as Nancy again. She also learns that Chase has been working on a new Freddy glove - something she'd already seen in her dream.

But Heather isn't the only one dreaming of Freddy. Dylan is having seizures, claiming that a man with claws is after him - as is evidenced by four tear marks in his stuffed T-Rex. His behavior becomes so erratic that he's hospitalized under the care of Dr. Heffner (Fran Bennett: 8MM), who blames Heather's horror film past for her son's condition.

When the body count begins to rise, Heather must accept the unbelievable: that Freddy Krueger does indeed exist outside of celluloid and is after her son. She's no longer Nancy the scared teenager, or Nancy the dream warrior, but Heather the parent - like the true, helpless forgotten victims of the ELM STREET movies. To save her son and defeat Freddy, she's going to have to become Nancy for real.

Craven has created a wild alternate reality by using himself and the other ELM STREET veterans as caricatures of themselves to interact with fictional characters. It’s fascinating to watch Heather react to the situations befalling her "husband" and "son." John Saxon plays Heather's friend and paternal figure, a much kinder role than that of Nancy's father. She also confides in Robert Englund but, with his eyes hidden behind blue colored shades whenever he's seen, he comes across as smarmy. Heather is obviously uncomfortable around him, and so are we.

Taking Freddy back to his roots gives Englund an opportunity to portray him as a child tormentor - something the other movies never showed (the spirit boy of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5: THE DREAM CHILD wasn't really being scared). Miko Hughes' performance as a freak-out creepy kid is reminiscent of Danny Lloyd's in Stanley Kurbrick’s THE SHINING.

Craven draws most of his inspiration for NEW NIGHTMARE from his original film. He even reproduces many of its scenes and dialogue, but still keeps it fresh on this new canvas. By twisting supernatural fantasy and Hollywood "reality," he presents quite a balancing act: stories within stories; characters within characters; and films within films (Craven also pays homage to such classic horror films as NOSFERATU [1921], and THE EXORCIST). The themes explored in this work make it a stepping stone to his SCREAM trilogy.

Makeup artist David Miller (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, THE MANGLER) improves on Freddy’s look by replacing his facial burns with muscle, tendon, and gristle. This effect is also used for his finger knives, not the mechanical hand from the first scene, but Freddy’s actual hand with blades protruding directly from his finger bones. His wardrobe has also been expanded with a long gray trenchcoat and knee high combat boots. Mechanical effects creator Lou Carlucci’s (IDLE HANDS, BLADE) robotic Freddy hand is also a great addition to his arsenal.

Lastly, we’re given a fine music score from J. Peter Robinson (A VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN) instead of the rock and pop tunes that permeate the previous sequels.

The film does possess some over the top moments, but nevertheless Wes Craven, Robert Shaye, Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, and Robert Englund are to be commended for returning A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET to its original glory.

How can I not give this film five Shriek Girls?

Shriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek Girls
This review copyright 2000 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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