Why ‘New Nightmare’ is the Most Effective of the ‘Elm Street’ Sequels
The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise is beloved by fans. And for good reason. Freddy Krueger is an iconic slasher villain and when he’s scary, he’s really, really scary. The inaugural entry in the series established Fred as a terrifying dream stalker. And the sequels built upon his mythology. Some of them rather effectively and some of them less so. Of the follow-up efforts, I think it’s safe to say that A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare are the most celebrated. But of those two, Dream Warriors seems to get the most love from fans. I get why. It’s absolutely incredible, features a dynamite cast, and it brings back original final femme, Nancy Thompson. With that said, New Nightmare does all of the above and puts a meta spin on the proceedings that make it ever-so-slightly more effective than the third installment. Now, before you come at me with your pitchforks, allow me to make my case. And if you still don’t agree, that’s ok. But don’t @ me.
New Nightmare opens with a shot of Fred Krueger in his lair, working on his signature weapon: A glove with blades that extend from the knuckles. Quickly after the shot is established, the scene cuts and the audience learn that the sequence is unfolding on the set of a film within the film. But wait, the entire opening is actually a dream sequence. Actress Heather Langenkamp wakes up in her bedroom to the realization she is having a nightmare.
This film’s intro perfectly sets the stage for what’s to come. And what’s to come is a scary, self-referential narrative that sees Freddy escaping the confines of the films in which he appears. No longer condemned to exist solely on the silver screen, Fred Kruger’s brand of evil returns to haunt those that gave him life.
Related Post: Is Your Favorite ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’ Movie the Most Successful in the Franchise?
With New Nightmare, the late Wes Craven likely realized that Freddy had run his course and become a pop culture sensation that people weren’t necessarily scared of anymore. So, rather than trying to beat a dead horse, the master of horror put a new spin on the franchise that elevated the terror and raised the stakes. This time around, Craven establishes Freddy as an unstoppable force too evil to be contained within the Elm Street cinematic universe. He brings the Springwood Slasher out of the film franchise and into real life. That distinction ultimately suggests that the previous installments were make-believe but this time around, Freddy is playing for keeps and no one is safe.
The later series installments began to turn Freddy Krueger into a wisecracking trickster, more so than the kind of monster that keeps viewers from getting to sleep. That worked alright. But it took something away from his mystique. As such, we needed to see Freddy become truly frightening again. And New Nightmare did just that. Craven took a once terrifying character and put a meta twist on the established mythology that makes this final franchise installment feel like so much more than a movie.
New Nightmare has a surreal quality about it that gradually sees all of the characters begin to lose their grasp on reality as the separation between the real world and the dream world becomes less and less defined until both exist in the same space at the same time.
Tearing down the wall between real and make-believe makes for an especially unnerving viewing experience that’s likely to keep the audience off balance and unsettled. It certainly has that effect on me.
As the film progresses, we see actress Heather Langenkamp existing in an almost hybrid state between reality and the dream world where her onscreen life intersects with this fictionalized version of her personal life. By the third act, people in Heather’s inner circle start to refer to her as Nancy and even she can’t seem to fully discern what is real and what is make-believe. While it may have taken a moment to find its audience, New Nightmare is nothing, if not supremely effective.
Ultimately, New Nightmare is a nerve-shredding affair that manages to make Freddy as scary (or possibly even scarier) as he was in the 1984 original. That’s a massive conceit and that’s precisely what makes this final installment in the original cannon the most effective of the Elm Street sequels. Agree? Excellent. Disagree? That’s ok too. Just don’t @ me.