Saturday, July 9, 2016

Wes Craven's New Nightmare

"Horror movies don't create fear. They release it." Wes Craven, the mastermind behind the original Nightmare on Elm Street, is credited with saying that. In plenty of interviews, Craven said horror movies are an outlet, a healthy experience that purges our anxieties in a controlled environment. Without an outlet, horror films or otherwise, those anxieties and fears can find a way out in a not so healthy manner.

This is the territory Craven explores in Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994), a horror movie within a horror movie about horror movies that brilliant re-conceptualizes the Freddy Krueger mythos, making him a figure of fear again.

Well, technically, it's not Freddy Krueger. As Craven himself explains in the movie, there's an entity, something that's had many different forms throughout history, a being that feeds on the death of innocence. Sometimes, it can be contained by storytellers, and for ten years, the Nightmare movies trapped it in the guise of Freddy. But now, the series killed off Freddy, so this entity, which has grown to enjoy being Krueger, is free to escape into the real world, and it goes after the family of Heather Langenkamp, the star of the original movie.

In a precursor to the Scream series, Craven takes the Nightmare series meta. Craven and Langenkamp plays fictionalized versions of themselves as do Robert Englund, John Saxon, New Line honcho Bob Shaye, and other cast and crew members associated with A Nightmare on Elm Street. The film blurs the line between real and fantasy. The LA Earthquake of 1994 plays a prominent part in the setting, and Heather Langenkamp contends with a stalker in the movie, just as she reportedly did in real life. Craven also reveals his inspiration for his scary movies: his own nightmares.

New Nightmare raises a couple of questions. What impact does making these kind of movies have on people and how do horror films affect the people who watch them, especially children? More importantly, what is the value of scary movies? Early on, Langenkamp reads her son Hanzel and Gretal, and she tries to stop before the ending, wondering why he enjoys such a violent story. Her son finishes the story because in the story at least, he knows evil can be defeated and the heroes make it home, safe and happy. Later, Heather follows her own trail of "breadcrumbs" (sleeping pills) down to Freddy's lair, where he has trapped her son. Horror movies are modern fairy tales.

If the original played on teen angst, this one plays on more adult fears. Langenkamp has a loving husband and a young son, but she's got that stalker, earthquakes are becoming frequent, and her son Dylan has been having issues, afraid of the bad man with claws coming out of his bed, even though she hasn't let him watch her movies. After her husband's relatively early departure from the movie, she's on her own and begins wondering if Dylan's going crazy, if she's losing her mind, or if a fictional character has come to life. When Dylan's condition worsens, well-meaning but condescending doctors are convinced his exposure to "those" movies have put him over the edge.

Craven acknowledges early on what we've long known: Freddy, over the course of the sequels, became a watered-down, parody of himself, going for lame jokes instead of scares. Langenkamp makes an appearance on a talk show early on with Englund in his Freddy regalia, and he's a costumed  mascot being greeted by a crowd of adoring fans, some of whom have their own claws that he high-fives.

Gradually, a newer, meaner Freddy comes into play, one who threatens young children and mentally and emotionally tortures his victims. The new Freddy has his glove, now bio-mechanical, and fedora, but he also wears a trench coat. His makeup resembles less of a burn victim and more of a literal demon. He's out of the boiler room, and his new lair is practically Hell. He gets the occasional quip, but for the most part, he's back in the shadows, a menacing figure, a disturbing voice on the phone, a glimpse of claw, a deep, echoing laugh that feels like he's right behind you.

New Nightmare is a strong effort, the best of the Nightmare sequels (if you can call it a sequel), though the script misses a couple of opportunities. I would have loved to have seen Craven confront his own creation, but he never meets Freddy. Also, Englund (the character), after a couple of scenes showing him as a nice guy in real life who is being affected by this new entity, vanishes from the movie. Did the new Freddy get him? Did he take him over? The movie's vague.

No comments:

Post a Comment