If you look at New Nightmare closely enough, you can see the early foundations of the Scream franchise. With Scream, Wes Craven took the idea of the slasher horror movie and turned it on it’s head, creating a film that looked in at the genre and how ridiculous it was.
Although that isn’t what New Nightmare is doing, it begins to tread that line. Instead of being a sequel to the six movie strong Elm Street series, New Nightmare is set in the “real world” and stars the actors of the original film playing ” themselves.” Instead of Nancy from the original movie being our heroine, it is Heather Langenkamp, the actress who played her. This goes for Robert Englund who plays both Freddie and himself, along with writer and director Wes Craven who even makes an appearance.
It is a strange way to approach the newest instalment in the franchise but one that detaches itself from the failings of the later movies. This isn’t about a group of teenagers being haunted by Freddie in their dreams. Instead this is the actors and actresses linked to the series being stalked by him, and in an ingenious twist, Heather’s son too.
Kids are always scary in horror films, particularly ones that are slightly younger and Miko Hughes’ Dylan is no exception. He delivers the “Freddie rhyme” in a suitably creepy manner, he walks and stalks his mother as if he was the killer himself and one scene in which he seems to have a fit of fear will make anyone watching uncomfortable. This is a Freddie Kruger film with a clearly different focus and direction.
It also means that because it is set in the “real world,” nobody believes Heather. This leads to the usual desperate pleas and many a doctor and authority figure coming up with their own (incorrect) theories. This adds a new level of peril for the central family, particularly as the chance of the child being taken away from the Mother is a very real one.
That isn’t the reason people watch a Freddie Kruger movie though and this is a return to form for the child-killer. Rather than the comedic character he had became in the final movies of the Elm Street franchise, here he is a much scarier entity. Gone are the wise-cracks and instead we have the clawed hand appearing from beds and chairs, Freddie crawling out of graves or dragging poor helpless victims across the ceiling. It feels like the Freddie of the original movie rather than the lovable villain he had become.
A new focus for the series, a scary villain and some new ways to scare the audience should all point to a great instalment but even though Craven is trying something different here, some of the old issues still arise. The ending is terrible. There isn’t really any motive for what Freddie is doing or why he is specifically terrorising Heather and her family so when they meet for the big finale, it starts to become messy.
There are some very clever call-backs to the original movie but considering this film is supposed to be set in the “real world,” they don’t really make any sense. The film doesn’t commit to what it is trying to do either, starting with Freddie as a demonic, unstoppable and much scarier character and then devolving him back to the more fallible, sillier version for the battle at the end.
It is a shame because this feels like Kruger returning to form and getting back some of the classic terror that made him so iconic. Unfortunately, New Nightmare wouldn’t be enough to secure interest back in Kruger and other than a (misguided) reboot, interest in the character has fallen away.
Overall, New Nightmare is exactly that, a Nightmare on Elm Street movie with some new and interesting ideas. Unfortunately, scarier, cleverer and even self-aware cast and characters doesn’t hide the fact that the movie falls into some of the old traps that have always plagued the Elm Street series.
Rating – 3
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)