On The Reel: ‘New Nightmare’ Is The Perfect Halloween Movie
Wes Craven’s 1994 masterpiece is the best movie to watch on Halloween
There must be something in my water because Wes Craven is still on my brain. There may not be a better boogeyman than Freddy Krueger because he gets you while you sleep. There truly is no way to avoid him and he gets you when you’re at your most vulnerable and it’s tough to let go of it. But what makes New Nightmare a dope and intriguing entry in the A Nightmare on Elm St series, is it’s meditation on horror, what we’re afraid of, and what it means to be a facilitator of nightmares.
Horror is all about a filmmaker exploring what scares them or angers them, then unleashing it on a public who more than likely feels the same. New Nightmare looks at the filmmakers around the franchise and preys on their individual fears. Rather than create another simple plot where Freddy kills a bunch of teenagers and cracks jokes like an inverted Spider-Man, Craven made a meta-horror flick; it’s the one “real-life” Freddy story. The characters are the real counterparts to their fictional characters. We get Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Bob Shaye, John Saxon, and even Craven himself, all playing fictionalized versions of themselves dealing with the fallout from their experiences with the franchise. The most interesting aspect of the movie is the idea of a “real” Freddy, one who is only contained when a new movie is written. New Nightmare believes horror movies help us contain our worse impulses, not give in to them the way hysterical parents would have us believe when they get their Helen Lovejoy on.
On an episode of Post Mortem, Craven said he truly believes people don’t spend their hard-earned cash on horror to be afraid, but rather to let the fear out. It’s the best kind of catharsis and with New Nightmare, the only way anything is resolved is through letting that cathartic process play out.
The Nightmare series has always been crystal clear on the war between good and evil. Freddy is the baddest of bad guys and the person who stands up to him is the pinnacle of goodness. But Freddy’s evil intentions are the byproduct of “frontier justice” by a bunch of parents in retaliation against a man who did unspeakable things to their children. And by unspeakable, I mean most of the series never actually says what he did to the kids but it’s implied the acts were…well…unspeakable. New Nightmare doesn’t dwell on that either because this story is about how the creation of Freddy Krueger as a movie monster has violated so many aspects of these people’s lives. Langenkamp just wants a normal life and to be free of stalkers and make sure her son is taken care of. Craven wants to do something else with his life but can’t get the monster out of his system. Englund just wants to make another Freddy movie because the “people” want to see he and Heather back together again.
Everyone’s a slave to the monster, thus a slave to their fears. We don’t often think about the creative forces behind the things we love. I can count on one hand the number of articles I’ve read about John Carpenter’s personal life or what James Wan does when he has a bad day. In fact, I’ve never read any article on those subjects or similar subjects, so yeah we kinda just want the creators to create and then go back into their holes until they’re ready to give us more of what we crave — no pun intended. But that creative process takes a toll. Maybe not the toll this movie says it does, where cats start creating weird paintings or special effects artists get killed by their creations, but a toll it does take.
But that brings us back to the fans and their expectations. Horror fans are devoted and sometimes, a tad obsessive. We devour the genre with the rabid fervor of a…something other than a zombie. Anyway, with that fervor comes a sense of entitlement and identification with the characers on screen. But that also brings a certain amount of saviness to the proceedings; horror fans know their sh*t inside out. We know the tropes, the stereotypes, the criticisms, and can be a pretty jaded bunch. Craven felt the best way to celebrate Freddy, and horror in general, was to include the fans in the fun. New Nightmare is a horror film fully aware of how horrific it is. It gently pokes and prods the genre but doesn’t come off as pandering or do too much nudge nudging and wink winking. In the context of the flick, there are two types of fans shown: those of the stalker variety and the ones who are overjoyed being in the presence of horror icons. But even with those two far ends of fan representation, the movie still plays as a horror aficinado love letter.
The exagerrated version of Craven is a rich, mieserly type dude who lives in a big house on the hills and all he does is think about new ways to scare us. Englund, also a millionaire, wants nothing more than to keep playing Freddy and seems lost after 1991’s Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare seemingly ended the series. Langenkamp has a seemingly comfortable lifestyle where she can’t go anywhere without being recognized for playing Nancy. For horror fans, these people will always be important and more famous than any Oscar winning actor or director. Amadeus may have crowned the best picture from 1984, but you’d be hard-pressed to find conventions devoted to the flick, much less anyone dressed up as any of its characters for Halloween or cosplay. That passion is what Craven and everyone involved taps into and the flick takes its characters seriously but none more serious than its antagonist. The New Nightmare version of Freddy is the scariest version and I stand by that. Holla at me if you disagree but come on now, why do it to yourself? He’s less about one-liners and more about terror, dread, and just f*cking with people.
There’s a purity to his depiction and it translates to the rest of the movie. New Nightmare is a movie about writing a movie and it seamlessly turns into a continuation of the Nancy vs Freddy storyline from the ’84 original and A Nightmare on Elm St. 3. And that sh*t is kinda genius.
With Halloween a few hours away, start thinking about the flicks you can’t be without this time of year and why. New Nightmare may not be the best horror flick of all time and there’s always debate of where it stands in the franchise, but it is the Halloween movie because of its themes, its tone, and what it has to say about the nature of fear. Also, it’s pretty damn scary, so it’s got that going for it.
Marcus Benjamin is a danger to the public, an alum of American University, St. John’s University, a screenwriter, and has an intense relationship with words. Witness his tomfoolery on Twitter,@AbstractPo3tic.
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