APRIL 21, 2010
In my early teen years, my local theater proved to be a terrible indicator of how well a movie was performing elsewhere. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is the least financially successful entry in the entire series, ultimately selling only a few more tickets in its entire run than Freddy’s Dead did in its first weekend. But you could have fooled me, seeing the film in a sold out (some people were standing) screening on Saturday night, with fans running around and generally having a grand old time. It was the first time I had gone to a movie and seen a genuine REACTION in the crowd, not unlike you’d see for the opening night of a Star Wars movie or whatever. Ironically, it was the same sort of atmosphere Craven would create for the opening scene of Scream 2, which played with a lot of the same themes that New Nightmare did.
But the film is actually far less meta than some might expect. After the opening scene (which is just a nightmare), there isn’t really any of the “Freddy goes after the people who make Freddy movies” stuff, which was I originally thought the movie was about. In fact, and this is possibly part of the theme, the only people Freddy kills in the movie (four, though we only see two) are also pretty much the only people playing wholly fictional characters - Freddy doesn’t kill John Saxon or Wes Craven. When I mentioned that I was watching the film over Twitter, a colleague commented that he was disappointed that the film didn’t offer a Freddy vs. Robert Englund scene, but I actually appreciate that. When I was 14 I’m sure it would have blown my mind, but I think movies like Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back (which - WHOA! - has Wes Craven playing himself as well) have soured me on that sort of thing. The best thing about New Nightmare is that it’s actually pretty smart, instead of being cute to make the audience laugh once and never again.
Actually, the most clever joke in the movie might not even be one. Early on, Heather Langenkamp (Heather Langenkamp) is at a funeral for her husband, and a few of her Nightmare co-stars are there for support, such as Nick Corri and... Tuesday Knight? Now, Knight was in Dream Master, and Langenkamp was not. BUT, Knight was replacing Patricia Arquette, who DID work with Ms. Langenkamp in Dream Warriors. So is Tuesday Knight actually “playing” Patricia Arquette in this scene? Is she replacing her in real life? It’s a philosophical sight gag! I mean, it’s not like any of the Nightmare folks are high demand actors (save for Johnny Depp, who Wes was too afraid to ask to be in the movie, which is odd since Depp did a cameo for Freddy’s Dead despite not owing Rachel Talalay a goddamn thing), so they could have had any number of people in this scene, which makes me suspect that Knight’s appearance is more than just a random shoutout for fans.
One thing the movie definitely could have used was a more tyrannical editor. Don’t get me wrong - Patrick Lussier is a fantastic editor - the scares work, the action bits are well constructed, etc. But the movie is just too long (barely under two hours - with only two kill scenes!), and 10 minutes or so could have been pared down easily. There are WAYYYY too many earthquakes in the film, to the point where it’s practically a xenophobic depiction of the phenomenon. I’ve lived here for 4.5 years, but I haven’t seen/felt as many quakes as these folks do over the course of a week. There’s a scene early on, pretty much the first real scene of the movie, where Langenkamp is getting ready to leave for a TV interview, and it just goes on forever - cutting the earthquake out of this scene alone could have helped matters. And the earthquake stuff doesn’t seem to be part of the actual plot (i.e. Freddy isn’t causing them), so I’m not sure why it’s such a presence in the movie.
I also wish he had cast an unknown in the role of Dylan. While Miko Hughes is a terrific child actor, it was sort of hard to buy into the “this is the real world” thing when I recognized the kid from like 3-4 other movies (including another creepy kid hallmark, Pet Sematary). The guy playing Langenkamp’s husband was an unknown (at least to me), so that worked, but whenever they showed the kid freaking out all I could think of was “No fair, Daddy.”
But I loved the overall concept, that Freddy was just the latest embodiment of evil, and that the Freddy in the other 6 movies was essentially keeping it at bay, only to be set loose “for real” when Freddy was killed off in the last movie (once again, the ending of Freddy’s Dead proves to be a disservice to the world). And I like how Englund, Craven, etc are only in a scene or two each, so we can focus on Langenkamp and her son. Not only does it help separate the film from the others, but it, perhaps ironically, gives the series its first true hero since Nancy in the first film. 3-5 were basically ensembles, and Freddy’s Dead was split between John and Maggie. And Freddy's Revenge... well, let’s just ignore that one. But this is Langenkamp’s show start to finish (the only time she’s not onscreen is during those two kill scenes), giving us someone to truly care about instead of just stringing together a bunch of kill/nightmare scenes.
On the commentary, Wes talks about how it’s pretty much the only film of his career that isn’t compromised in any way. He was allowed final cut as long as the film scored a certain number in test screenings, which it apparently easily surpassed. And the MPAA left him alone as well. He also points out that the horror movie-hating nurse is named after Richard Heffner, the then-head of the “censorship board”, a joke I never picked up on (Jack Valenti was the guy in charge when I started paying attention to such things). And I must extend some kudos to Wes for not soapboxing about such matters throughout the film, as he easily could have given the nature of the plot. It’s obviously been a sore spot for him throughout his career, but he basically keeps his thoughts on the matter to himself, settling for just using the Heffner name. In fact, Langenkamp’s real life stalker, which was part of the basis for the film, wasn’t a fan of the Nightmare movies but of her sitcom Just The Ten Of Us, which I’m also surprised he didn’t find a way to point out (i.e. that people are crazy/obsessive over everything/anything, not just horror). He also talks about how he wanted to redesign Freddy a bit to make him darker, though I’m not sure how making his hat green (from brown) qualifies as making him darker. I hate that fucking green hat.
The Nightmare Encyclopedia disc (aka Disc 8 on the boxed set) offers about 15 minutes’ worth of interview with Craven, where he talks about how he got into filmmaking, why he came back, etc. Nothing particularly earth-shattering, fans will already know his backstory and he goes into much more detail on the Freddy stuff on the commentary. However, he does point out that he couldn’t follow the later sequels (we’re with ya!), which is pretty funny/sad. The original teaser trailer is also included on this disc, which is worth a look because of how much the documentary approach was played up on the trailer vs. how it was actually depicted in the film (not at all unless you count the largely hand-held camerawork), and doesn’t even include Freddy coming out and saying “Miss me?”, a moment in the film that seems like it was designed specifically for a trailer. In fact, Freddy doesn’t really appear in the trailer at all, which makes me wonder if there was ever a more traditional trailer, because if not, it’s no wonder that the movie didn’t do that well - the trailer basically only makes sense if you’ve already seen the movie. Weird.
So now I’ve come to the end of my pre-remake Nightmare retrospective. It’s interesting to see how my opinions have changed since my last viewing on pretty much all of the movies, with the exception of this one, which I really liked then and I really like now. My final ranking is: 3/1, 7, 2, 6, 5, 4/FvJ (pre-retrospective was 3/1, 7, 4, 2, 5, 6, FvJ). I just hope I can at LEAST say “Better than Freddy vs Jason” about the reboot.
What say you?
P.S. I used to have the novelization for this movie, but it’s nowhere to be found. I remember the author tried to join in on the meta-fun, in that it was about him being hired to write the novelization, or something? Maybe it was just an epilogue. Anyone have it? Worth yelling at my mom for selling it for 25 cents or whatever (she had a big yard sale when I was away at school and many a “I still NEED that!” item was forever lost)?