Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (Wes Craven, USA, 1994)
And you thought it had finished, didn’t you? Don’t you believe it, because in 1994 the series’ original creative force returned to once again helm the director’s chair in an attempt to update the series and add a little credibility to the franchise, seeing as the planned swansong had Freddy playing video games and saying things like “Great graphics”, which must have grinded Craven’s gears no end.
But this one is a little different. Gone is the ‘bastard son of hundred maniacs’ backstory, the special dream powers and ‘soul-food’ pizzas and in comes an early example of meta-storytelling, a back-to-basics approach and a bit more of a serious tone. Ten years after the release of A Nightmare on Elm Street, that film’s star Heather Langenkamp is experiencing some freaky phonecalls that sound a little bit like her movie adversary Freddy Krueger (Rober Englund). Heather’s husband Chase (David Newsom) is killed in a car crash and, spotting four slash marks on his corpse, Heather turns to Wes Craven, who reveals that he has been having dreams again and is writing a new Nightmare script. He also reveals that in his dreams an ancient evil has taken the form of Freddy Krueger, the fictional character he created, and is looking to escape into the real world but it needs to destroy Freddy’s old nemesis in order to do so. After Freddy kidnaps Heather’s young son Dylan (Miko Hughes), Heather must become Nancy once more in order to defeat the ancient force and save Dylan.
As you can probably tell, this was a very different film for its time. Possibly a little too before its time if truth be told. A sort of dry run for Scream a couple of years later, Wes Craven must be commended for trying an original idea in a series that had become a laughing stock, and the film isn’t short on ideas. The sight of Langenkamp, Craven, Robert Englund, Bob Shaye and John Saxon playing versions of themselves is quite odd at first but it does show that there is a great chemistry between all of them. Englund in particular is a little creepy, although the reasons for some of his actions are never made clear and he simply disappears from the film. Also, look out for a funeral scene where various cast members from the sequels show up in the crowd.
Freddy himself is a little different this time around, sporting a long trenchcoat and a bio-mechanical claw, plus some facial make-up that harked back to the earlier scarred flesh look of the early films instead of the rubberised Halloween mask look of the last couple. The one-liners are also kept in check and overall the character is more in line with what Craven originally intended him to be.
But, and there is a but, the film doesn’t totally succeed in what it sets out to do. The tone is pretty creepy throughout but it never reaches the sheer terror of the original film, especially when there are shots like when Heather/Nancy stakes Freddy’s tongue and it splits in two, which would have fitted in part five a treat but just seems a little out of place here. In fact the final confrontation is a bit of a letdown when you consider where it could have gone, and the set looks very much like a soundstage with some gothic-style decorations for effect.
Over the years Wes Craven has (unfairly) been criticised for being a little bit pretentious when it comes to putting his ideas onto film, mainly due to his academic background. In truth, Craven just has some ambitious ideas that work on a level slightly higher than what one may term run-of-the-mill, and whilst that is to be applauded, the calls of pretentiousness could probably have some legs when you take a look at his performance in New Nightmare – it is quite hard not to snigger when he proclaims “The genie has been let out of the bottle” or “Are you ready to become Nancy once again?”
Overall, New Nightmare never seems fully developed, or is underwhelming, to phrase it another way. The potential was there to take Freddy somewhere else but on this occasion it never quite got there. Craven got his chance again to revitalise the genre with Scream and it worked, but here the weak script, adequate performances (although Englund is superb, as always) and plodding pace serve to make this a bit of a disappointment. It may not have had Nintendo-based dream deaths but it also didn’t have much of a soul, and as far as box office returns it only just made its money back.
Freddy vs. Jason (Ronny Yu, USA, 2003)
Okay, so it isn’t a proper Nightmare film but it was made by New Line and has the feel of a Nightmare film until the final act so it gets put here instead of the Friday the 13th retrospective (you’ll have to wait for that one!). Having been suggested around the time of Dream Warriors back in the mid-late 80’s and spurred on by the final shot in Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (by which time New Line had purchased the character of Jason Voorhees from Paramount but not the Friday the 13th name) where – spoiler – Freddy’s clawed hand comes out of the ground and grabs Jason’s hockey mask (the hand actually belonged to Jason actor Kane Hodder), Freddy vs. Jason had been a long time in development hell (sorry…). Originally due to have been released before the 2002 film Jason X, in which the Camp Crystal Lake slasher was sent into space, several delays meant that it came out a year later, throwing the continuity but since when did such details matter?
The story revolves around Freddy Krueger and his attempts to begin haunting the dreams of Springwood’s teenagers once again. The trouble is that the townsfolk have all but erased him from their memory, never speaking his name or referring to the events of more than a decade before so his power is ineffective. Freddy disguises himself as Pamela Voorhees and appears to Jason, telling him to go to Elm Street to carry on his good work knowing that Freddy will get the blame and people will start talking about him again, thus giving him back his powers. Sounds like a plan, until Freddy realises that Jason isn’t going to stop killing willingly so the two monsters go head-to-head, with an unfortunate group of teenagers stuck in the middle.
To be honest, when you look at the plot on paper it does look a little thin. Especially when you consider some of the ideas that were rejected – a cult based around Freddy was one idea that could have gone places, plus other ideas about Freddy being involved with Camp Crystal Lake thirty years before – but the makers went with this and overall it works.
Trooper that he is, Robert Englund – at that point in his mid-fifties – returned to the role of Freddy one more time in what was probably his most athletic performance yet, but there was a bit of controversy with regards to Jason. Having played Jason since Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood back in 1988, Kane Hodder had become synonymous with the role and was held in pretty high regard by genre fans as the definitive Jason, but director Ronny Yu cast Ken Kirzinger after Hodder had received the script. Kirzinger, like Hodder, was a veteran stuntman and had appeared in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan with Hodder (he plays the cook in the New York restaurant that Jason smashes up) as well as being that film’s stunt co-ordinator. He is also two inches taller than Hodder, exaggerating Jason’s height and making Englund seem shorter in their scenes together.
As for Freddy, the version we get here is probably closest to the Freddy we got in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors – darkly wicked but with a dose of very black humour. England’s facial expressions, even with all that make-up on, are hilarious in places – the scene where he is being taunted by Kia (Kelly Rowland) shortly before he points out what is lurking behind her is comedy gold. His make-up for this film is a little different than before, being slightly exaggerated but not to comic effect like in The Dream Child. His demonic look towards the end of the film is a neat twist and makes him look his most evil, certainly since Nightmare 2.
The young cast of actors that play the teenagers are all pretty solid but nobody gives a performance that comes close to Heather Langenkamp or Lisa Wilcox in terms of being a suitable protagonist. The real star of the show, apart from the two titular characters, is Ronny Yu’s kinetic direction which adds that all-important pacing to the action. The main attack scenes in the film are fun, and the final showdown between Freddy and Jason is as violent and bloody as any scene from either franchise but played out with the same knowing wink to the audience that the classic monster mash-ups from the 1940′s had. Add to that a killer final shot (the one scene in the film where Kirzinger did not play Jason) and Freddy vs. Jason is about as much fun as you can have in a slasher film without going into space.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (Samuel Bayer, USA, 2010)
And so it came to pass that the cursed remake bestowed itself upon modern horror’s most popular and iconic villain. Leatherface and Michael Myers had already had their origin stories retold to fairly mixed reviews, and Jason Voorhees’ re-imagined story had been downright panned (quite rightly too, as it was terrible) but Freddy had been left untouched for a while. That is, until a trailer emerged in 2009 showing a new vision of Freddy Krueger (now being played by Watchmen star Jackie Earle Hayley) being chased down by a mob of angry parents and, quite surprisingly, it looked good.
Directed by Samuel Bayer (Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ video) the film follows a similar story to Wes Craven’s original; a group of teenagers are stalked in their dreams by a razor-fingered maniac who seems intent on killing them all. Digging deeper, Nancy Holbrook (Rooney Mara) and Quentin Smith (Kyle Gallner) begin to unravel a history of cover-ups by their parents over who Freddy Krueger was and what he did to them all when they were five years old.
Going further with the character than Wes Craven did in 1984, this film makes Freddy a full-on paedophile and plays with the idea that he was actually innocent of any crimes against the children while he was alive and that he was murdered by the vigilante parents by mistake. Of course, following that idea through would have been a bad move for the character as that would have made the audience sympathise with Freddy rather than fear him, and the one thing that the makers of this film did right was to make Freddy frightening again. There’s nothing here that quite reaches the same level of terror as that first encounter with Freddy in the alleyway back in 1984 but they have a go, and Hayley’s take on Freddy is pretty dark and intimidating. The scarring on his face is closer to what a real burns victim would look like and the mixture of practical and CGI works very well, but luckily everything else is pretty much the same, with the red and green stripey jumper and battered hat still looking good. He also gives Freddy a creepy little quirk by twitching the blades on his claw just before he kills – simple yet effective.
However, with what material he is given to work with it’s a wonder he didn’t resort to Robert Englund-style theatrics just to add a bit of life to the thing. It’s weird, because A Nightmare on Elm Street isn’t a terrible film – although some would have you believe it is – and has a few decent things going for it, but when you put all of those things together in a narrative framework it just doesn’t come together as well as it should.
The dreamscapes are all great, with Freddy’s boiler room being the main location, and all the ‘in dream’ stuff is kept within a certain reality, if that makes sense; there’s no shape-shifting, giant mutant babies or ‘I am the Wizard Master’ moments, which can only be a good thing. There’s also an effective dream/reality sequence in a late-night chemist where Freddy is chasing Nancy, flitting between the reality of the shop and the dream setting of the boiler room, that works really well.
But there’s also a big lull after the initial opening sequence where not a lot happens for quite a long time. And then something does happen, and then it slows up again. And so on. Add to that some fairly nondescript characters that don’t really differenciate themselves until well into the second act, along with the uneven script, and what you get is something of a dull mess with a few glimmers of hope to hold on to. It’s a shame that we didn’t get the totally dark and dangerous film we were promised, and perhaps we never will, but maybe now that they’ve got the remake – and the restrictions that come with it – out of their systems then the producers could come up with a brand new Nightmare film with Jackie Earle Hayley as Freddy and really give him something to get his teeth (or claws?) into, and maybe, just maybe, we might get that ultimate Freddy film we’ve all been waiting for. If not, we’ve still got the classic original, the hugely entertaining Dream Warriors and, for the more broad minded amongst you, the underrated Freddy’s Revenge for your essential Freddy kicks. Just be a bit more selective when it comes to the rest.
Also worth checking out: If that little lot wasn’t enough for you, or you just wanted to watch something a little more interesting, there are a couple of other Nightmare related titles worth a look. Freddy’s Nightmares was the name of a TV series that was aired shortly after the release of A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master and was hosted by the man himself. Some of the episodes featured Freddy in them and some didn’t but usually referred to other aspects of the original films, i.e. they were set in Springwood, etc. To be honest the series wasn’t much cop but the pilot episode is of great interest to fans as it takes a look at how Freddy the man became Freddy the dream stalker. Directed by Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) it does reek of naff, late 80’s television production values but seeing Robert Englund without the make-up yet in full Freddy costume is pretty cool. There is a region 2 DVD available that features the pilot plus two other episodes from the first series, whilst the DVD/Blu-ray box set that features all of the Nightmare films has the two other episodes on the bonus disc.
Also of interest to the hardcore is the documentary Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, which is a double-disc DVD set featuring a four hour documentary covering the whole series, with interviews with the main cast and crew plus in-depth details on the making of each film and the Freddy’s Nightmares TV series. The second disc is chock-full of special features including extended interviews, featurettes on Freddy Krueger in popular culture, contributions from fans plus much more to keep you busy.