Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

Is it a stalker or her cinematic past coming back to haunt her?  That’s the question Heather Langenkamp is trying to find the answer to in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, yet another disappointing chapter in the long-running Nightmare On Elm Street series.
If you recall, Langenkamp played Nancy, the young heroine who thought she successfully vanquished the notorious child killer turned nightmare dweller, Fred Krueger, in the original movie.  She returned to do battle with him once more in the third film, Dream Warriors (which featured a young Patricia Arquette).  In New Nightmare, it’s 10 years after the release of the original film and this time, she’s playing herself, an actress married to a special effects technician (David Newsom) and the mother of a young son (Miko Hughes).
Weird things are happening in the Langenkamp household.  Unexplained earthquakes (aftershocks?) that no one else in L.A. is experiencing, for one thing.  For another, her son, Dylan, is acting out of character.  Even though he hasn’t seen A Nightmare On Elm Street (Langenkamp refuses to let him watch it), he knows the famous song ("One, two.  Freddy’s coming for you…").  He’s been having bad nightmares about a mean man with claws.  He sleepwalks with his eyes open and when Heather tries waking him up, he screams like a banshee.  One night, he actually attacks her believing he is Freddy, complete with knives taped to his little fingers.
Meanwhile, she’s been getting weird phone calls off and on.  A man who sounds an awful lot like Freddy keeps tormenting her on the other line.  He may also be sending her odd pieces of mail:  ripped pages each with a capital letter drawn on them.  (Once they all arrive, they spell out the very helpful command, "ANSWER THE PHONE".  As an aside, why doesn’t she have call display or an answering machine?)
Then, inevitably, there are mysterious murders.  Desperate and deeply perturbed, she tries finding comfort in her old co-stars.  After appearing on a TV show with Robert Englund (terrific as himself, despite the unfunny one-liner he’s given to say), who dazzles and delights the studio audience by making an entrance as Freddy, complete with make-up, the costume and that famous glove of finger knives, she learns that, much like herself, he’s been having nightmares about the character.  John Saxon, who played her father in A Nightmare On Elm Street, does a good job trying to comfort her during a playground sequence when she tries to explain what’s going on.  One of his lines even inspires a very big laugh.
At one point, she takes a meeting with Robert Shaye, the real-life founder of New Line Cinema, the longtime distributor of the Elm Street series.  He informs her that Wes Craven, the writer/director of the original, is working on a new Nightmare screenplay and there’s a role for her if she’s willing to play Nancy again.  She balks at the offer and ends up meeting with Craven himself who is also having nightmares about Freddy.  There’s a moment that’s too clever by half when after they exchange dialogue, Langenkamp notices Craven’s computer monitor which not only prominently features the exact same lines they’ve just spoken but also informs the audience of the next edit.  Uh huh.
He talks about how storytellers are able to contain the presence of evil literally in their stories by capturing them with endlessly imaginative devices (like a genie in a bottle, for example) but since they’ve stopped making Elm Street pictures, Freddy is out there trying to break through into the real world.  Only Heather Langenkamp is blocking his way in.  Nice try but I’m not buying it.
Despite a few effective moments – those famous knives penetrating a car seat, the freeway sequence, that tongue – it just doesn’t work.
It doesn’t help that I’ve always been let down by this series, anyway.  Not one of the seven films is any good, although they are definitely better than any Friday The 13th film you can name.  (Thankfully, there have been characters we’ve actually cared about.)  Despite very good special effects and some good performances, they just aren’t terrifying. 
And then there’s Freddy Krueger.  He’s just not scary.  He looks too cool, he’s too campy with his puns and quips (although, some are really funny), and I’ve never cared whether he wins or loses his battles.  It’s hard to hate and even fear a character like that when he looks so fantastic.  It’s no wonder kids dress up like him at Halloween.
Also an ongoing problem is the fact that the filmmakers keep resurrecting him artificially in sequel after sequel which defeats the purpose of killing him off in sequel after sequel, although, admittedly, whenever the Friday The 13th franchise revives Jason Voorhees, it’s far more absurd and laughable. 
New Nightmare seemingly attempts to find a new angle for the character to come alive again but it’s an unconvincing disappointment.  All through the film, it’s just not possible to suspend your disbelief.  You’re constantly wondering when the movie is going to start scaring you in an original and entertaining way.  It never finds one.
In the end, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is too long and not scary enough.  Some of it feels familiar (the tortured child stuff) and it just never grabs you.  It’s too bad because Craven is a good filmmaker.  Check out The People Under The Stairs, Red Eye, Scream, Scream 2 and Music Of The Heart for the proof.
(Special thanks to Rob Kerr.)
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
12:23 a.m.
Published in: on July 3, 2007 at 12:23 am  Leave a Comment  

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