1994 was arguably the greatest year for cinema in the history of the world. The Shawshank Redemption, Pulp Fiction, The Lion King and Forrest Gump all helped to make the year stand out as something truly special, and the same can be said for Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. Though often overlooked and disregarded among a solid portion of the horror community, the accomplishments of this seventh installment of the Elm Street franchise were groundbreaking at the time and remain impressive still 23 years later. In fact, an argument can be made that New Nightmare is the greatest film of the entire Elm Street film series.
While that notion is a hard sell, particularly among those who are loyal to 1984’s original Nightmare and Dream Warriors, it’s something that I endorse tenfold. When thinking of the horror genre in the 1990’s, films such as The Silence of the Lambs and Scream stand out as the greatest, with the latter often receiving credit as a savior of the genre as a whole. Also directed by Wes Craven, Scream became such a success that it spawned three sequels, a parody, and more knock-offs than I care to count. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, however, paved the way for that success by introducing audiences to a meta aesthetic and willingness to toy with the tropes of horror before it was the “hip” thing to do.
Craven’s film takes place in a fictionalized reality where, much like real life, Freddy Krueger only exists as a movie character. The story centers around Heather Langenkamp, the actress who plays Nancy, the series’ most popular heroine, as she lives a relatively normal Hollywood life with her husband and young son. When Wes Craven (appearing as himself) begins having nightmares that suggest Krueger is an actual supernatural entity that is drawn to the Elm Street films and was released to the world upon the completion of the series, he begins writing a new script inspired by the dreams he’s been having, pitting Heather against Freddy one final time.
The complex narrative of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is incredibly satisfying, especially in comparison to the cheesy, comedy-centric sequels that, while enjoyable and fun (don’t you dare try to crucify me, I love them too), never compared to the horror of Craven’s original film. Craven’s vision for Freddy, actually, was further realized in New Nightmare than even the first Elm Street, emphasizing on the menacing terror of the character and updating his look in a way that is effectively dark. While Freddy Krueger remains a terrifying villain in the first film, he’s never more frightening and sadistic than he is in New Nightmare.
The seventh installment also brilliantly exudes a fairy tale dynamic, utilizing Hansel and Gretel as a plot device and intentionally drawing comparisons to the story throughout. There’s a sense of fantastical adventure at the heart of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, which, like the greatest bedtime stories, seeps into our dreams and demands to be explored time and again. The ending of the film brings the dark fairy tale aspect full circle, resulting in a closing that’s far more satisfying than what even the original had to offer (I can’t be the only one who isn’t a fan of A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s final scene, right?).
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare has remained divisive among Freddy fanatics since it’s release, but the case for it being the greatest of the series is solid. It quietly ushered in a new era of horror while effectively exploring a meta narrative that was before its time, delivered the scariest version of Freddy Krueger to date, and gave our heroes, and our a villain, the most satisfying ending imaginable. Dig it.
Are you an advocate for New Nightmare, or do you find it unappealing? Let us know which Krueger film is your favorite!