Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994)
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare – 1994

Written and Directed by Wes Craven
Starring Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, Miko Hughes, John Saxon, Wes Craven, David Newsom, Fran Bennett, Robert Shaye, Lin Shaye, W. Earl Brown

There was a time when I thought this is hands down the best film in what is kind of a sorry series built on an intriguing premise. The first film is now thought of as a classic, worts and all. The third film, The Dream Warriors found its first hero, Nancy (Langenkamp) back helping Patricia Arquette, Lawrence (then Larry) Fishburne and Craig Wasson in an heroic teacher capacity. It’s pretty good too, despite itself. The rest, to this viewer were pretty much dreck, with Freddy going from villain to anti-hero to horrible comedian. Each film had the recipe for greatness, but decided to fall back on camp and kids that rolled off of the young actor / model assembly line and into pieces at the feet of Freddy Krueger.

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare took the concept of these poor horror film and folded it in on itself. The result starts off as interesting as anything the director / writer ever attempted. Bringing back several of the actors who instead of playing characters instead played themselves, we see them falling one by one to a malevolence that had been captured in the film and now wants to get out.

Langenkamp plays herself this time, married to a special effects coordinator (Newsom) with one small child named Dylan (Hughes). Heather has been having nightmares lately. She’s also getting prank phone calls (prelude to Scream) and letters giving her messages. If these clues aren’t enough, she starts to see the dreams manifest themselves into real life. Her son starts to show signs of mental illness. Her co-stars give cryptic answers when she asks on their experiences. Even director Craven feeds into her challenges by revealing that he’s been haunted by dreams and is writing them out in script form. His theory: capture the force of Freddy in a story, then the problem disappears.

If that were what they tried to do, this may have been a classic. Even though I enjoyed it much the first time I saw it a quarter century ago, it’s clear by the third act that the only thing they can think to do is to push the story into a studio lot dressed up as a dreamscape and have Freddy’s menace unleashed much like it is in the other films. The jokes are kept to a minimum, which is good. It doesn’t help the feeling of deja vu by the time it’s time for Freddy to say good night.

This film is still one of the more likable films in the series. Langenkamp feels less realistic playing herself than she did playing Nancy. She’s outdone by Englund, Robert Shaye and Craven as people who can’t act as themselves. Poor Miko Hughes. First he’s in Pet Sematary, then this and finally Spawn. It’s a surprise he didn’t end up with serious issues that can afflict child actors.

It’s easy to appreciate what Craven is doing here. If he had another, better screenwriter to help round out the edges of his imagination, this could have been everything he intended. Instead, what we get is another slasher film with an semi-ambiguous ending meant to sate the filmgoer into feeling their time hasn’t been wasted, because look, the darker version of Freddy is gone once and for all. Or until the next couple Friday The 13th films come around. The gifts that Craven had as a storyteller would not be acknowledged here, as this film made the least of the entire series. There is little accounting for taste or reaching beyond the same old stuff.

(***1/2 out of *****)

From the original Ebert review:

“I haven’t been exactly a fan of the “Nightmare” series, but I found this movie, with its unsettling questions about the effect of horror on those who create it, strangely intriguing.”

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