Wes Craven got to make movies until pretty much the day he died. There are a couple of reasons for that. He could deliver movies that were capable of making money, and he clearly never lost interest in examining and actualizing various concepts of horror. He wasn’t always successful, but he was rarely boring. New Nightmare hits both marks. It is one of the best of the Elm St franchise, and it is also one of the most engaging, even exciting.
Craven would go on to explore the relationship between people and horror as an artistic medium further in movies like Scream (as well as its sequels). New Nightmare was his first attempt at this concept. Although the Scream movies were arguably more successful at combining genre shocks with tongue-in-cheek observation and humor, New Nightmare remains a little more interesting, as an idea, and in terms of the execution of the idea. It’s not hard to understand why, when you keep in mind that New Nightmare featured Craven returning to the site of his most famous creation. It was also clear that although Craven didn’t hate Freddy, there was a measure of frustration with the franchise. It still obviously bothered Craven on some level that his story had become this whole other monster, existing outside of the parameters he had set with the first A Nightmare on Elm St. installment. There may have even some residual resentment towards New Line Cinema, and its founder Robert Shaye. It wasn’t exactly a state secret that Craven had feuded with the studio, prior to the filming of New Nightmare. Furthermore, it was well known that Craven and Shaye had clashed bitterly over the ending of the first film. Craven wanted to make it clear that Freddy would not be coming back for a sequel. Shaye, on the other hand, saw the potential of Freddy to do some substantial economic good for his small, ailing little movie company.
Keep this in mind: The next time you find yourself marveling at the Lord of the Rings trilogy, remember that on some level, you owe Freddy Krueger a debt of gratitude. It’s unlikely that if New Line Cinema had failed to position Freddy as one of the biggest box office characters of the 1980s, they would have survived into the 90s.
At any rate, I also want to imagine that Craven was a little disturbed about Freddy’s cult figure status. As someone who maintained a profound interest in fear and human psychology for much of his life, the notion that a child rapist/murderer had become one of the most beloved commercial entities in recent pop culture history had to bother him a little. Freddy becoming cool in of itself is understandable, thanks to Robert Englund’s iconic performance, but it’s still fairly fucked up.
New Nightmare explores a lot of these things. In doing so, Craven tried to bring us back to a Freddy who wasn’t clever, who didn’t delight in the bizarre. He wanted to give us a Freddy who was pure, sadistic, malevolent evil. For the most part, he succeeds. New Nightmare is strongly disliked by certain diehard fans for unnecessary creative touches (the new Freddy makeup is far from the best in the franchise, and the new glove is a little much, as well). I think at least some of that dislike revolves around the uncomfortable points the movie raises, in terms of discussing our collective relationship with horror stories. When Craven came back to this universe, he wanted to do things on his terms. He wanted to strip away the MTV glitz that Freddy had assumed over the sequels. He wanted to experiment with the character and story on a variety of levels. He succeeds more often than not.
Even when it doesn’t work, New Nightmare does two things very well: It proves that Wes Craven was still a filmmaker of considerable insight, passion, and skill. It also proved that Freddy Krueger was a far more complex, enduring character than he sometimes got credit for being.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare isn’t perfect. It is endlessly compelling. Over twenty years since its release, and it’s still one of the most intriguing entries in the Elm St. saga. It also serves to remind us just how varied Wes Craven really was as a filmmaker.
Join us on Tuesday, October 27th at 9pm Eastern/6pm Pacific for our live-tweet of New Nightmare!