The meta, post-modernist works of Wes Craven in that of Scream are, for the most part, relatively good. His takedown of contemporary horror and the themes that have stuck around for decades is a nicely made piece that has a great balance of horror and comedy. Feeling like somewhat of a precursor to that, New Nightmare takes us back for one more trip through the Freddy Kreuger character, with a strange new format that feels like it’s testing the waters of full-fledged self-referential thrills to be found only a few years down the line. Recalling Robert Englund and Heather Langenkamp for one more ride, this swan song for the series should have been the final bow of its creators and cast members.
Obviously, it’s nothing close to that. The first half an hour does build it up rather well. Langenkamp is haunted by the fictional murderer, and as she receives phone calls and nightmares with Krueger in them, she turns to her friends, family, and cast members, to figure out the strange behaviour of her son, Dylan. These moments are great, they capture how audiences feel about the iconography of not just the series, but of Krueger himself. Englund’s later turns as a comedic antagonist in the preceding films makes no appearance here, as if Craven were honing his characters into tighter-written, serious roles. I can appreciate him doing so, it’s certainly the right thing to do, but how Craven manages this is the biggest issue of all.
The film can never avoid the absorption of its lighter tones, and when trying to adapt Krueger into a far more serious, terrifying character, it’s an uphill struggle from start to finish. From a hilarious introduction with the real Englund dressed as Krueger on a surprise chat show appearance to his final moments as he claws his way out of the dreams and into reality, there’s not enough time to shake the character free from the shackles of his seemingly permanent comedic preface. Craven’s writing simply isn’t strong enough to muster anything new or frightful out of the character, but seeing Englund work his more serious tones is still worth the watch.
Self-congratulatory writers, at the best of times, are rather weak characters. At their worst, though, they craft films like this. New Nightmare feels like Wes Craven’s curtain call for his most identifiable villain, but it doesn’t make for any interesting moments. The film feels like it lacks the gut-punch gore of the original, aimless in a void of slow-burning build-up and a miserably weak pay-off. Langenkamp and Englund turn in good efforts, but nothing can save them from shallow writing that doesn’t have the same effective tones or nature of the first and third entries into the series. Still, for those that need one final fix of Englund’s Freddy, then this is certainly a capable enough entry into the series. One last ride for the original cast doesn’t go as well as I’d hoped it would.