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How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

Freddy Krueger

When it comes to horror fans, you’re either a Freddy guy or you’re a Jason guy, and I’ve always been more of a Freddy guy.

My love affair with Freddy began in my early formative years, and I have many fond memories of renting, watching, returning and then quickly re-renting and re-watching A Nightmare on Elm Street and the many sequels that came out while I was growing up.

I was, in a word, obsessed. Toys, masks, you name it.

Though I’d be lying if I said I remember my first viewing of New Nightmare, Wes Craven’s return to the franchise that he created a decade prior – which came out when I was just eight years old – I do distinctly remember not being a huge fan of the movie, as a kid. Quite frankly, I didn’t even put it in the same league as sequels like Dream Warriors and Dream Master.

While I was still drawn to the film, if only because Freddy was in it, New Nightmare just simply didn’t feel like a true Elm Street sequel, at least not to a kid who absolutely loved the Elm Street sequels. Freddy’s makeup was totally different, he was rocking leather pants and his glove wasn’t so much a glove as it was a demonic hand… what the what?! That aint Freddy!

And then there was that whole thing about it being an Elm Street movie that’s about the Elm Street movies, with the stars of them playing themselves in it. If they didn’t lose me with the leather pants and trench coat, they totally lost me with that whole concept. It was way over my head and I just didn’t get it, and it would be many years before I finally did.

Ya see, what I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older, and matured into a more intelligent Freddy fanboy, is that New Nightmare wasn’t made for a 12 year old Fred Head. Unlike the other sequels, which were fun and cartoony, Wes Craven’s bold new twist on the subject matter was aimed squarely at a more mature, adult audience. And now that I’ve grown up to be one of those adult horror fans, I not only get it, but I also appreciate it. And yea, I totally feel comfortable hurling the ‘L’ word towards it.

Take that, childhood self.

Looking back, it’s everything that made me dislike New Nightmare as a kid that makes it such an interesting movie, namely the fact that it’s not just another Nightmare on Elm Street sequel, about Freddy returning to slice up more sleeping teens. As big of a fan as I am of the series, that had already been done six times by both Craven and various other filmmakers, and there’s a whole lot of truth to the statement about too much of a good thing not always being a good thing.

When I was a kid I would’ve loved nothing more than for New Nightmare to be just another sequel, but nowadays, I really appreciate the fact that Craven took the whole franchise down such an interesting road. Though he easily could’ve made a killing at the box office by phoning it in, so to speak, and just going through the motions he already went through in ’84, he instead decided to really try for something completely different. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty awesome, and should be applauded whether you were a fan of the end result or not.

Freddy Krueger

Not only was the concept for New Nightmare brilliant but it was also way ahead of its time, predating Craven’s own Scream by a full two years. Though Scream is oftentimes the film credited for kick-starting the self-referential sub-genre of horror, it was New Nightmare that did just that well before Ghostface came around. Hell, I’d wager to guess that without New Nightmare, there never would’ve been a Scream. While the whole meta thing may have worked a bit better for Scream than it did New Nightmare, the film nevertheless serves as an interesting little glimpse into the creepy phone calls and self-referential thrills and chills that Scream would soon provide, which makes it a really interesting movie to watch back nowadays.

The Nightmare on Elm Street movies were always about a fantasy character trying to cross over into the real world, and Craven’s ‘movie come to life’ take on the concept is quite frankly a genius expansion on that original idea that proved so effective in the ’80s. With the aptly titled New Nightmare, he not only managed to make Freddy scary again but also got one more really great story out of the character, thereby ending the franchise on a suitably effective and fitting note. Who knows where the franchise would’ve gone had Craven not returned to hammer a big ole nail into the coffin, and looking back, I must admit that I’m glad he did just that.

Of course, not even he was capable of preventing that awful remake, but that’s a different story for a different day…

It’s funny because it’s likely that if I had watched all of the Elm Street movies as an adult, for the very first time, New Nightmare would’ve probably ranked up there with the original as one of my favorites of the bunch. While the goofier sequels appealed more to me as a kid, and are still a blast to this day, it’s New Nightmare that’s one of the real gems of the franchise, and dare I say the smartest and most well made installment since the original. It may not be the most fun, but we must remember that silly fun was never Craven’s original intention for the Freddy character.

New Nightmare is, at the end of the day, a real love letter to the fans and to the original Elm Street film, and I’m happy to say that I finally understand and appreciate that. Took me long enough, eh?!

So, are there any horror movies you watched as a kid, but didn’t appreciate until you got older? Comment below and let us know!

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If you don't get enough of me here on Halloween Love, you can also find me on Dread Central, iHorror and Shock Till You Drop. Contact me via john@halloweenlove.com.
  • Brett Gallman

    This pretty much mirrors my experience with WCNN exactly. I was about a month shy of my 11th birthday when my dad took me to see it. After begging to see Dream Child and Freddy’s Dead and being denied, I was finally going to see Freddy on the big screen–or so I thought. I was confused as hell and obviously didn’t know what to make of it. I don’t think it really unlocked for me until 11th grade, when I read Power of Myth and all that jazz and figured out exactly what Craven was up to. I definitely love the movie now and find it to be one of the most fascinating sequels ever.

  • Great piece John!

    While I absolutely love both Freddy and Jason damn-near equally, my scale is slightly tipped towards Jason. How undiplomatic of me!

    But, really they’re both different and very special to me. I’ve got both my Nightmare and Friday Blu-ray box sets sitting side-by-side. They really hold their own special kinds of nostalgia.

    Here’s an ironic little factoid for you, Scream writer Kevin Williamson actually got some of his self-referential inspiration from Jason Lives (’86), so it’s more likely that the team-up of Craven and Williamson took place because of Craven being drawn to the script of that style he liked. (Source: Mentioned a few times in special feature interviews on the various Friday box-sets, likely repeated elsewhere.)

    I think the most fascinating part of New Nightmare (which I absolutely love by the way), is that Freddy isn’t actually in it at all. In fact, it’s made very clear that Freddy is just a fictional character.

    Really, it’s just a demon, an unknown, unexplained demon (some obvious explanation, but more subtext, throughout the movie) that enjoys taking the form of Freddy (the fictional character) either for personal preference or because it’s a great way to fuck with people haha!

    In any case, the movie requires a lot of suspension of disbelief and just needs to be rolled with to enjoy the different layers of art, imitating life, imitating art and the social commentary about fear and the unknown, evil and so on.

    As you’ve all seen countless Craven interviews on the subject as I have, it gets really quite deep into really, the core of being human and existence.

  • Nick

    couldnt agree more we are about the same age and growing up i had the same feelings about it but now as an adult i love the movie thanks for the article was a great read

  • Judson

    I looooved New Nightmare growing up. I had a junk tape that I used to record the commercials when they came on TV. I loved the commentary on the series, Heather, the pacing, and the “darker…more evil” Freddy. I was in the 6th grade when this came out and collected every thing I could about the film ( which was pretty much the novelization and the ads from the newspaper). As I’ve gotten older some of the seams have started to show and the ending doesn’t hold up that well but I get such a nostalgia kick from it, it still ranks pretty high.

  • colemunro

    I’ve always held New Nightmare very near and dear to my heart. I always felt it played well on the theme that we give Freddy his power, by telling stories about him and keeping our fears in tact we make him what he is. There’s a little Freddy inside us all.

  • Jay Thomas

    This was the first Nightmare I saw as a kid. During the opening, I had to run home from my neighbor’s house to ask my parents if I could watch it. They said yes. I had no idea what I had just watched but I knew I loved it. I didn’t understand the meta until much later.

    My quest to then see every Nightmare went like this:

    new nightmare

    4+5 (my neighbor had these 2 on VHS and we would watch constantly.)

    1

    6

    2

    3

  • sexyarmpit

    One of my favorites of that series. It actually works well as a direct sequel to the original. If you remove all the sequels and watch the first one followed by New Nightmare, it works. I actually liked it when I originally saw it in the theater although parts 4-6 left me underwhelmed which is an unpopular opinion.

  • I have always adored New Nightmare. It was ahead of its time. Glad you cam around on it!