Thursday, April 29, 2010

Long Week On Elm St: Part 7: Wes Craven's New Nightmare

After the terrible stain that is Freddy’s Dead, one almost wants to weep when beholding A New Nightmare. Like The Dream Warriors (and to be honest I’m a bit dissatisfied for the review I did of that title. Not that its not an accurate representation of how I feel. Its just that I did a better job articulating what annoyed me about that title then what I liked about it. As penance I’m trying to be more even handed here), I liked this one a lot better this time out. And like The Dream Warriors, I have no doubt that it has something to do with the fact that it directly follows the worst two entries in the series. I mean come on, anything looks good after watching Freddy’s Revenge/Dead. You don't want to praise one for simply not being the other.

New Nightmare is greatly aided by the fact that its purpose couldn’t be clearer. Its Wes Craven’s mission to restore dignity to his greatest creation. His mission is so simple, that its kind of genius. To make Freddy scary again. But No matter how noble the movie’s intentions are they can’t fully absorb the silliness of Wes Craven solemnly explaining that his film was so awesome that it enslaved a demon.

Perhaps some explaining is in order. For those of you not in the know, New Nightmare takes place in the “real world”. New Line has scuttled the Nightmare series with dead, but Craven has a mysterious idea to bring it back, and he wants Heather Langenkamp for it. Langenkamp is initially reluctant to take the part, but when people start dying, and by all appearances Krueger has appeared in the real world and is apparently fixated with her troubled son (some truly dire child acting) . She realizes she might not have a choice. She’ll have to act out her role as Freddy’s adversary, either onscreen, or in her real world.

Now this is pretty potent stuff. Like Bret Eaton Ellis’s criminally underrated Lunar Park, it’s a portrait of an artist many believe to be amoral grappling with the responsibility an artist has when he brings, both figuratively and literally, something into the world. The problem, and if I may use another Literary allusion it would be Under The Dome, is that if Craven had left the reason for Freddy's return unexplained, the piece would be infinitely more effective. But Craven is a man who likes to explain things. And his explanation for this event is that the story for A Nightmare On Elm Street was so awesome that it imprisoned a demon, and now that the demon is free its going to kill off everyone whose involved in the movies (guess it didn’t foresee remakes) so the story can never be told… And he’s causing earthquakes…

And I’m sorry, but that never gets any less stupid, no matter how many times I hear it. If I can be inelegant for a moment, A New Nightmare is like receiving a meal from a five star restaurant that someone has taken a dump on. The Asparagus may be braised just so, the potatoes rich and creamy, and the Steak juicy and cooked to perfection, but you simply cannot ignore the steaming pile of shit that is at its center.

Which is a shame because there is a lot of great stuff in New Nightmare, the metaphorical meal is pretty great. Englund embraces the chance to make Freddy scary again and he plays it with his old unrelenting viciousness and a sense of humor appropriately pitch black. (He even gets to do a pretty damning criticism of the unscary Freddy, when he hams it up on a talk show with Langenkamp, dancing to his theme song and high fiving to his adoring fans.) Craven Keeps the “real” Freddy off screen for over half the movie, it’s a great slow burn technique building some genuine dread. Langenkamp and Saxon make the most out of their chance to be on the big screen again. Craven shoots what’s arguably the greatest looking film of his career. The effects work is phenomenal (Some of it doesn't hold up but a lot of it does. The matte work in Freddy's lair is pretty great). The set where the film has its suitably apocalyptic ending Nightmarish. The scare scenes scare (One of the film’s most brutal scares is one of it’s a most simple. A scene where one of the first films most famous scares is coupled with the chilling line “I touched him.” It blows away ten years of not taking Freddy seriously in an instant). The proto Scream commentary on horror films is insightful. The commentary on Freddy interesting (“Every kid knows Freddy…”)

It has more ideas in any given five minute stretch then the entire rest of the series has in total. I mean fuck Freddy's Dead could you not even realize that Freddy has to meet his final end in a boiler! That's the base line of- Oh shit my blood pressure is going up again. My Doctor tells me I need to avoid sodium and all mentions of Freddy's Dead.

But that oh so important suspension of Disbelief never clicks. And the movie gets crushed under its weight… and the weight of said dreadful child acting (I mean the kid is BAD, single handedly killing some potentially effective moments) and the dubious decision to put Freddy in Leather pants like he’s Chris Cornell.

At the end of the day New Nightmare is a worthy effort from everyone involved. And I really can’t fault it for that. I just can’t help but wish it had been an entirely successful one.


Franco Macabro said...

One of the things that pissed me off about New Nightmare is that Freddy is nowhere to be seen. I know Craven was trying to build up everybodys tension, getting people to want to see Freddy as opposed to showing him too much. Its that classic idea, dont show the villain too much, keep him a mystery.

Problem is, that by film 7, Freddy is no longer a mystery, so keeping him from us, as if you are hiding something we dont know about didnt exactly work.

But damn, Freddy is off the screen for way too long, and most of the movie is spent with walls cracking and lurid phone calls.

I do like how Freddy looks in this movie. He looks more evil then ever. I love that scene where he is walking on the ceiling of a hospital room.

Unknown said...

It's funny how a lot of people laud the SCREAM films for being so "meta" and clever for how they comment on the genre but I've always felt that NEW NIGHTMARE was much more successful and interesting than all of the SCREAM films combined. In fact, SCREAM 3, which documents the troubles of making a horror film, to be basically a rip of this film!

I love how Craven blurs the lines between reality and fiction much like he blurs the line between the dream world and "real" world. There is a lot going on in this film and I would rank it alongside John Carpenter's IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS as amazing post-modern horror films that brilliantly comment on the genre itself.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ FC: I think you're right, they do keep him off a bit to long, you don't get a full reveal until about an hour into the film, and that's a good point that we kind of already know who Freddy is.

But still that reveal is mighty effective!

@JD: I agree I think this one is certainly much more effective then The Scream sequels. And does have some really interesting things to say about the genre.

Ever read Lunar Park? I think you'd really like it. You could almost call it a rip off. Its basically Ellis having to deal with the manifestations of his characters (Patrick Bateman, Clay) coming to life in the "real" world.

Unknown said...

I haven't read LUNAR PARK but you're description of it has me intrigued. I like Ellis' stuff, mainly LESS THAN ZERO which is a damn good read (I also like the film even tho. he hates it).

AK said...

Wow, Lunar Park...first time I read it, it seemed pretty lazy to me (Ellis coasting on old characters, plus his eventually tiresome ennui)and I tossed it after finishing it. But I think about it every so often (When he's alone with the furby in his son's room, it REALLY spooked me), maybe I have to check it out again (though after watching The Informers I started disliking him all over again). Sorry to digress!
I liked, not loved, New Nightmare. Some of it just wasn't all that scary to me, but it really did treat the characters and the story with more respect, which means a lot to me. Thank Heavens they didn't end the series with "film that must not be named" (AKA #6). Best moment for me: When Heather realizes she's turning into Nancy, and decides to embrace it. I kind of adore Nancy!

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Rob: Yeah but remember its a Terby, not a Furby (AKA Y Bret)

I really do like that moment as well, Saxon plays it great, never quite letting you see where he crosses over.

Anonymous said...

I love and continue to love this one second to the first ANOES. So much different conceptually and really restores respect to the franchise. The only gripe I have is the ending and the rockstar pants. Truly WTF?

I loved the scene where Heather and Wes are talking and after what they just said the camera is panned around and the words were shown to typed on the computer screen. Good stuff.