I don’t know that last night was necessarily the best night to put on the interesting-if-inconsequential Nightmare On Elm Street quasi-sequel New Nightmare, considering it came after watching the latest presidential debate, which forced me to grapple with the new nightmare that is American politics. I’m not sure if that’s something that will loom over this October’s horror movie season, since it does feel a little like real life is more unnerving and surreal than a Freddie Krueger nightmare right now. Especially when last night we got to see every woman’s ultimate fear in the form of a lurking Donald Trump. But then again, I guess the truly disturbing things in life are always rife for satire, which New Nightmare kinda sorta demonstrates in its half-realized attempt to take down its own mythos.
New Nightmare begins quite promisingly, showing a special effects crew working on implementing some mechanical props on the set of the latest Nightmare on Elm Street movie. However, after the cameras stop rolling, the prop comes to life and starts brutally killing people just in the same over-the-top manner that teens have gotten their (probably undeserved) comeuppance in the 6 Nightmare On Elm Street movies that there’d been up to this point. Unsurprisingly, this ends up being all a dream. Though, somewhat more surprisingly, it turns out to be the dream of Heather Langenkamp (as herself), who played the main surviving teen in the original Elm Street movie as well as its sequel.
Heather then continues to be haunted by these premonitions that would imply that Freddie Kreuger has been unleashed unto the real world after the sixth and (supposedly) final Nightmare On Elm Street. Her husband, one of the special effects designers on the latest Nightmare movie is killed by Freddie, while her young son begins having the kind of premonitions that you typically expect young boys to have in horror movies, because it’s like what else are they gonna do? Anyways, after that, she goes to meet with Wes Craven, who yes, is not only the director of this movie, but also plays himself trying to make sense of the latest Nightmare On Elm Street movie he’s writing. Which may or may not be the movie we’re watching.
Now, I know what you’re probably thinking, because it’s exactly what I was thinking while detailing the synopsis to this movie. You’re probably thinking “Wow, that sounds really meta and really awesome”. And you’d be half right, in that it’s pretty meta, and kind of awesome in parts. Though a part of me feels like it doesn’t go nearly meta enough. There isn’t a whole lot of Hollywood satire, or really any satire of horror movies in general, despite its L.A. setting, and the fact that it stars several actors from the original Nightmare movies playing themselves. Instead, a lot of the time, New Nightmare just kind of feels like your typical slasher movie with your typical mom/son dynamic, but also with a few scenes commenting on the existence of the Nightmare On Elm Street movies to make it feel just a little more fresh than those other five Nightmare movies that Wes Craven didn’t direct.
I guess the biggest problem I think this movie has in this regard is the tone. Despite being a meta-commentary on one of the wisecrackingest horror movie villains of all time, it’s played pretty straight for the most part. I would never describe myself as someone who’s dying to be winked at constantly by any movie I’m watching, but I just feel like a little bit of a lighter touch would’ve done wonders for this movie. There’s even a scene where Heather calls up Robert England, the guy who plays Freddie Krueger, and has a conversation about her being haunted by his character, but the movie fails to really milk the absurdity of the situation.
That said, there are a lot of clever ideas here. The way Wes Craven is working on a latest Nightmare On Elm Street script that has real world ramifications is obviously fun in a snake-eating-its-own-tail kind of way, even if seems a little underdeveloped. Then touches like L.A.’s earthquakes being used as a sort of implementing of Freddie Kreuger’s hold on the real world, or actors suddenly falling into playing the roles they played in the Elm Street movies as the plot becomes more typical to a Nightmare On Elm Street movie. And then there are also a couple of surrealistic, practical effects-laden sequences that point at why the original movie was one of the more visually distinctive efforts to come out of the ’80s horror movie boom.
But in the end, New Nightmare feels a lot like Wes Craven just getting warmed up for Scream. Coming just two years before that film, which very effectively turned horror movie tropes on its ear, Craven was clearly in the mood for tearing down the genre he’d help establish in the prior decade or so. Fortunately Scream‘s script was written by Kevin Williamson instead of Craven (who wrote New Nightmare), and thus has the asset of youth and ’90s detached irony on its side. While New Nightmare feels a bit like an old timer wanting to do something different, but falling back into his old tropes just a bit too much to make that next step.