Thursday, October 20, 2011

“The only way to stop him is to make another movie.”

And here we are, the end of our little odyssey into Elm Street. There’s been good, there’s been bad, but all of its been surreal. 1994 brought about another final sendoff for Freddy Krueger, this time with Wes Craven returning to the help of the Good Ship Elm Street. The result was Wes Craven's New Nightmare, the real finale of original ideas for the character (since after that, the series only begat crossovers and reboots).

We open, as always, with a nightmare sequence. This time its of an updated version of Freddy’s glove being made by special effects guys on the set of a new Nightmare on Elm Street movie, then the glove goes on a rampage and Heather Langenkamp wakes up during an earthquake (since this is LA) and sees her son has got some scratches that are suspiciously similar to those he got in the dream. She’s also been getting harassing phone calls from someone who sounds like Freddy.

Anyway, the 10th Anniversary of the Nightmare on Elm Street series is coming up and Heather & Robert Englund are both really popular on the interview circuit and she also learns that Wes Craven is in the middle of pre-production for a new Nightmare movie. And then her husband dies in a car wreck falling asleep at the wheel. She goes to Craven to hear more about the project, and Wes gives her an explanation that the entity now known as Freddy Krueger is a spirit of pure evil that has been (temporarily) trapped within works of art (namely the Nightmare movies) and sees Heather’s character Nancy as his greatest obstacle to getting free. So Freddy is attacking Heather’s emotional weak spots, i.e. her family, and has his sights set on her young son. Ok, now this is getting a touch complicated.

Long story short, Heather has to save her son (and the world) from Freddy while the line between Heather and Nancy blurs.

Heather Langenkamp/Nancy Thompson: Heather Langenkamp playing herself playing Nancy for one last go around. The southern accent is gone again.

Chase Porter: David Newsom plays Heather’s husband, an effects tech working on pre-production for the new film. He doesn’t get much characterization before he gets offed in a manner that reminded me of The Dream Child, and I don’t know if I want to be reminded of The Dream Child.

Dylan Porter: Miko Hughes plays Heather’s son, an innocent little kid who starts to hear Freddy in his head and starts getting a bit Freddy-like in some of the things he says. He’s not happy about it either, and connects to his stuffed dinosaur as a shield against the evil. It sort of works.

Wes Craven: Wes Craven plays himself (and lives in a nice house). He’s having fresh nightmares about Freddy and using them to work on the script for the new film, though of late he’s been having writer’s block. Its as though Freddy doesn’t want the movie to be made.

Robert Englund: Robert Englund as himself (and also lives in a nice house), and he’s a close family friend of Heather’s. Nice guy and not at all murderous like his screen counterpart.

Freddy Krueger: Robert Englund plays his own screen counterpart, only this time (aside from one early scene in the real world) Freddy is his own separate entity and lacks most of the charm that made him such an interesting antagonist for most of the series. In terms of malevolence, he’s up there with Freddy’s Dead, but he’s also considerably less funny this time around. It seems like they tried to make him a completely serious threat, which…kind of takes away the characteristic that made him such a standout movie monster in the first place, doesn’t it? He still makes lame jokes, but there’s a twinkle in his eyes missing.

John Saxon/Lt. Donald Thompson: John Saxon in a smaller role as both himself and Nancy’s father, showing that reality is starting to blur around the edges for Heather.

Julie: Tracy Middendorf plays Dylan’s babysitter. She’s somewhat competent (for a horror movie character) and tries her hardest to work with Heather to keep Dylan from falling asleep at critical moments. She gets a death pretty much identical to Tina’s, bookending the series.

Wes Craven directed, and the film definitely has more in common with Nightmare 1 and 3 than the others. The dream sequences area as always a high point, but a few of them seem more like mundane life. Likely to blur the line between dream and reality, but the dream sequences that go back to the boiler room and so on are much more memorable. There are a surprisingly few kills in this movie, and the ones that there are either direct callbacks or reminiscent of previous movies.

Now, here’s the thing that actually kind of did bug me about the movie. Freddy’s look goes through a serious overhaul. Yes he still wears the sweater and fedora and yes his body is still burnt. HOWEVER, the sweater isn’t as ratty and the fedora looks like a new felt hat they pulled from the costume department. Worse, the makeup effects for Freddy’s face seem more…plastic this time around. Before his face looked like hamburger and had a wet quality to it, now it looks like a latex mask with more clearly defined bits of flesh and muscle. The claws being part of his hand I can understand as a different type of character, and I actually quite liked the trench coat they added, but man, visually Freddy took a step down.

Written by Wes Craven, I certainly have to give the movie points for doing something new and different. But here’s the thing, it seems like its more interested in exploring themes and concepts and being…meta than it is in presenting interesting characters. Heather Langenkamp and Robert Englund are both interesting to watch since they’re playing themselves, but all the other characters, like Chase and Julie (and…uh, I’m sure there’s other wholly fictional characters with speaking parts) aren’t particularly interesting or memorable. The concepts are interesting, as is the meta-commentary, but the execution feels a little flat. Child characters in horror movies generally annoy me as well, and this is no different (but that’s just me).

J. Peter Robinson on score duties. The music is certainly a product of the mid-90s, eschewing the series’ previous use of heavy use of electronic effects. It works.

New Nightmare is problematic for me, because its not bad, its just a gigantic lateral move from the series in general. I get that its intentional and not a part of the "continuity" of the series. It’s not as cheesy as the previous movies, not as funny, and not quite as interesting as 1 and 3. It’s an adequate movie, sure, and plays with interesting ideas, but I didn’t enjoy it enough to really recommend it.

Scorecard time! Here’s the rundown from best to worst, in my own arrogant opinion:
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare ( I Make No Apologies)
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
Nightmare on Elm Street 4; The Dream Master
Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge

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