Bad Movies Done Right — Nightmarathon Pt. 7: Wes Craven's New Nightmare

Every day Robert Saucedo shines a spotlight on a movie either so bad it’s good or just downright terrible. Today: Hey, Dillon. Ever play skin the cat?

At 9:15 AM, I began my slow, but steady, approach towards the finish line of my Nightmarathon by popping Wes Craven’s New Nightmare into my DVD player.

New Nightmare has long been a favorite of mine — primarily because I’m such a sucker for metafiction.

New Nightmare featured the return of Wes Craven to the series he created. Instead of building onto the irreparably convoluted continuity of the series, though, Craven chose to write a movie that pulled back the curtain and explored the real life legacy of his most famous creation, Freddy Krueger.

Heather Lagenkamp, who played Nancy Thompson in A Nightmare on Elm Street and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, also returns to the series — staring in the film as a slightly fictionalized version of herself.

Langenkamp, in New Nightmare, is happily married to Chase, a special effects guru, and, together, the two have a son named Dylan.

In New Nightmare, Wes Craven, playing himself, is hard at work writing a sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street — a film he promises will revitalize the character after his demise in Freddy’s Dead. He’s offered a role to Heather but she’s not so sure she wants to accept it.

On the eve of the tenth anniversary of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Heather is receiving strange phone calls, mysterious packages and ominous dreams — all pointing towards her old fictional nemesis, Freddy Krueger.

As Heather ponders whether or not she should step back into the shadow of Freddy, her life is changed forever when her husband dies in a horrible car accident.

Claw marks on his chest uncovered during his autopsy are the straws that break the proverbial camel’s back — convincing Heather that the ghost of her breakout role in A Nightmare on Elm Street is back to haunt her.

Talking to Craven about his script-in-progress leads to mysterious clues about an immortal evil that travels through the ages, corrupting the souls of the innocent and taking the identity of whatever that era fears the most.

Craven seems to believe he may have trapped this evil in the persona of Freddy Krueger. When Freddy was killed off in Freddy’s Dead, though, it seems that this evil was set loose upon the world.

Gee, thanks a lot Rachel Talalay. Way to screw it up … again.

Even worse, this evil-turned-Freddy is dead-set on devouring the soul of Heather’s young son — haunting his dreams and wrecking havoc on his sleep cycle.

Soon enough, whether she wanted to or not, Heather is put on a non-stop collision course with her past — literally stepping into the role she played ten years ago to do battle with Freddy Krueger once again.

Honestly though, if Heather Langenkamp was having all those problems with Freddy, she should have just called Lisa Wilcox — the only actress to beat Krueger twice.

Craven had initially wanted to do a metafiction approach to the A Nightmare on Elm Street series as far back as the third film. While the studio initially balked at such an outlandish idea, they eventually relented — letting Craven return to his baby for New Nightmare.

It’s a good thing too because New Nightmare is one of Craven’s finest works.

While Wes Craven comes dangerously close to falling into the chasm of egotistical writers casting themselves as messiahs in their movies (current population: M. Night Shyamalan), he manages to walk away unscathed due to the sheer quality of his picture.

Mysterious, genuinely scary and with more than enough wit to be entertaining, New Nightmare manages to erase almost all of the stench that had been associated with the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise as little as three years earlier.

It’s a tough job for actors to play themselves and not be explicitly mundane or revert to an over-the-top parody. Langenkamp successfully pulls off the job — mixing the right amount of her Nancy character with the pathos and world-weariness of a b-list horror movie actress.

Robert Englund also manages to ratchet up his performance — making Freddy Krueger threatening for the first time in a long, long time. In keeping with the nature of the film’s super-Freddy, New Nightmare‘s Krueger features a slightly redesigned costume — complete with trenchcoat, an organic claw and a demonic visage in certain scenes.

Also, after an absence of three movies, New Nightmare features the return of Freddy Krueger’s super long tongue.

I unabashedly love New Nightmare for its smart approach to horror storytelling. I also love the fact that Wes Craven plays with audience’s expectations and offers a bit of a knowing wink to the genre he cut his teeth with. It’s a good film and would be a great way to end the night … but there remains one more film.

To be continued…

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