Wes Craven's New Nightmare

Image courtesy of nightmareonelmstreetfilms.com

Directed by: Wes Craven
Category: Horror

If you 're a horror fan, then you've seen some, if not all, of the Elm St. films, even if you're not particularly a fan of the series in general. And as with the Friday the 13th films, each and every one of them vary in quality from one to the next. After Part 4: The Dream Master, it's safe to say the franchise went downhill rather quick. After the terrible returns of Part 5: The Dream Child (the lowest in the series), they decided to end the franchise with Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare. As is with anything in Hollywood though, nothing is ever really final and New Line head honcho Robert Shaye decided to reach out to Nightmare on Elm St. creator Wes Craven for one last film, after having not been in touch for many years due to issues with Craven not getting royalties for his character. Burying the hatchet, Craven set out to write and direct one final Elm St. film to end the series on a high note, with his intent on bringing the fledgling series back to life and back to it's horror roots. Does he succeed?

Wes Craven's New Nightmare, while refreshing in that it takes a fresh stab at the original characters and storyline, ultimately fails to leave much of an overall impact. It's a shame too, because it has just as many positive attributes as it does negative ones. For instance, it's got great production value. New Nightmare looks and feels like a true-blue big budget horror spectacle. The practical effects work, while standard, is pretty good. And with this new film, Craven wanted to go with a much darker, bigger and more sinister take on Freddy. While it is a rather drastic change to the character, I actually like it. He looks intimidating as fuck. Along with Freddy's trademark makeup and look, gone also are the Freddy quips and one-liners that while cheesy, made the character more of a household name in the late 80's to early 90's. With the last 3 films in particular, you just sort of expected some comedy along with some creative kills in this franchise. I actually found the fact that he excised this concept from this new film a breath of fresh air. I think the jokes wore out there welcome long ago. I also kind of dug the storyline, where Craven has taken himself and some of the actors and production crew from the first film to play themselves in the real world in which Heather Langenkamp begins suspecting that Freddy, though just a fictional character from a series of popular horror films, is somehow materializing in the real world. So it ends up being a movie within a movie sort of deal. It's a ballsy concept, and to his credit, Craven tries awfully hard to make it interesting. It's just that he only marginally succeeds.

As much as New Nightmare has to admire in this latest attempt, there are also things that seemed lacking or uninspired. One of the things you'll notice during the first half of the film is that Freddy never makes an appearance until the halfway point. And while Craven does his best to build up the tension and sense of dread for a good 45 minutes, by the time Freddy finally shows up, you've been somewhat bored up until that point so you're only semi-excited to see him. On the plus, the insane and ridiculous fantasy of the last 3 Nightmare's (Part 4: The Dream Master, Part 5: The Dream Child, Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare) is gone and the film looks good as an old school horror film. But it seems that visually impressive and storyline/emotionally impressive are two different things in this case - the production and actors are fine, but the film itself was rather dull. Then things finally kick into gear in the second half once Freddy shows up and it's surprisingly fun. It does delve into fantasy unfortunately, and the CGI effects work in this second half are embarrassing to say the least, even by 1994 standards. Unfortunately, while the fantasy aspect isn't anywhere near the level of absurd or silly as the earlier films, It's never really all that interesting either, and coupled with the really bad CGI work, I feel Craven should have probably grounded the film more in reality in the real world rather than create another mythical dream world where a lot of this concept still does't make sense.

So now that I'm done bitching a bit, I'll give Craven and company some well-deserved props; their attempt at going back to the franchise's horror roots and trying to deliver a solid adult horror film, one that doesn't cater to the MTV generation, succeeds from a technical, visual and artistic standpoint. The structure is solid, and the returning cast and practical effects team do outstanding work. It's just that it feels like it's almost too serious for it's own good and self aware of the franchise's past mistakes. Had they infused the film with a little of the fun factor or just kept things interesting instead of 100% gloom and doom by way of a slow build-up, maybe it would have left a more lasting impression. As it stands now though, while not nearly as great as his original film exactly 20 years before, it's probably the strongest film in the series next to the original. Robert Englund once again proved he could be scary and not a ham, and Craven displays some of his best work, helping us forget, albeit briefly, some of his misfires of the last 20 years.

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