Earlier this week marked the birthday of horror icon, Robert Englund. As everyone’s favourite demonic ‘sandman’, Robert Englund’s portrayal of Freddy Krueger created a pop culture icon. Simply put, Englund and Craven gave the horror genre one of its most recognizable and enduring monsters. In honour of Englund’s birthday, in this edition of The Vault, I take a look one of Robert Englund’s best performances as Freddy Krueger – Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.
The sequel marked a significant departure for the Elm Street franchise. Its premise of Freddy Krueger escaping the films and entering our world with franchise actors playing themselves was novel at the time. While it underachieved upon its release, a New Nightmare has undergone a much deserved critical re-evaluation in recent years.
A New Nightmare Challenged Audience Expectations
At the time of its release, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was poorly received, both critically and financially. A quick glance at Box Office Mojo (n.d.) shows that New Nightmare is the lowest grossing film in the Nightmare franchise. At the time it was released, I was working in a video store and distinctly recall being disappointed with the sequel. Twenty years later, after giving Craven’s sequel another look, my evaluation of the film radically changed.
Today A New Nightmare is largely regarded as one of the better films in the franchise.
Today, critics largely regard A New Nightmare as one of the better Elm Street films. Initial derision directed at the sequel can be chalked up in part to a discrepancy between expectations and creative direction. Following the dreadful Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, audiences went into A New Nightmare looking for familiarly.
Keep in mind that in the 1980’s, horror sequels weren’t concerned with continuity or an ongoing narrative. Instead, sequels offered more of the same with just ‘more’ of everything. Craven obviously had a different idea and delivered a refreshingly unique sequel. Unfortunately, audiences still weren’t ready for his vision in 1994.
A Classic Ahead of Its Time
Some of initial negative reaction to A New Nightmare can also be explained by Craven’s meta-based horror. In 1996, Craven turned the slasher genre on its head with Scream’s self-aware horror. But two years earlier, audiences and critics weren’t ready for his first stab at the concept in A New Nightmare.
Today, film-goers are familiar with this meta-narrative approach. The Deadpool films have cashed in on the concept. Several recent horror fhave similarly adopted the technique with mixed results. Yet when Craven made A New Nightmare, it was something different and unexpected. Craven’s self-referential film-making approach was ahead of its time.
Craven Infused His Franchise with New Ideas
By the time most horror franchises reach their seventh or eighth sequels, they’re dumped straight onto to video (see the Hellraiser franchise) or they’re jettisoning their story into space (Friday the 13th and, yes, Hellraiser again). Craven deserves a lot of credit for infusing the seventh film in a franchise with fresh ideas.
Perhaps the most brilliant theme that Craven weaves into a New Nightmare is the idea that Freddy Krueger is an ancient supernatural entity contained by the Elm Street films. He adopts a ‘fairy tale’ approach to his story-telling. Most importantly, this dark fairy tale theme connects well with the film’s meta-approach. Craven raises interesting ideas about the function of horror films. In one scene, a journalist asks Heather Langenkamp if she has a problem with the horror genre and whether she would let her son watch her films. It touches on a question that gives this Elm Street sequel a subtextual layer missing from most horror sequels.
Like fairy tales, horror films arguably help us confront social anxieties and fear
Like fairy tales, horror films arguably help us confront social anxieties and fear, which Craven addresses in a New Nightmare. Many of the fictional monsters we’ve created – from Leatherface to Dracula – have been assembled in part from past real horrors. In fact, some film critics have argued that this ‘fictionalization’ of real atrocities gives peoples a safe outlet for exploring their fears.
A New Nightmare Made Freddy Scary Again
Aside from its storytelling innovation and subtext, a New Nightmare made Freddy Krueger scary again. With each sequel, Freddy increasingly took center stage. The burned monster also became more and more clownish, drawing laughs but not many scares.
A New Nightmare is actually a scary film. It’s the first truly scary Elm Street film since Dream Warriors. Craven crafts several frightening moments that call back to the first A Nightmare on Elm Street. Heather’s funeral nightmare and the image of Freddy pulling her son into a casket is haunting. Freddy’s later hospital appearance – a clever reference to Tina’s death in the final hour I was rst film – is among the scarier moments in the franchise.
A Sequel That Has Earned Its Re-Evaluation
Fortunately, horror fans and critics have re-discovered Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. Elm Street fans may still select the original film and Dream Warriors as the franchise’s best films. But the horror community increasingly reocnigce that Craven took a significant creative risk with a New Nightmare. Craven crafted a classic horror film that stands on its own by taking risks and experimenting.