Points of Light Halloween Edition: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
Welcome to the graveyard once again. This year was a sad one for horror fans, as we lost one of the genre’s great creative minds- Wes Craven. While he created many diverse films like The Last House on the Left, The Serpent and the Rainbow, The People Under the Stairs, and Shocker, Craven will be remembered most for his horror satire Scream, and his crowning achievement, A Nightmare on Elm Street, the birth film of slasher icon and dream killer, Freddy Krueger. Therefore, today’s entry will pay tribute to one of Craven’s more unique films, which took some chances with his most iconic creation- Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.
Heather Langenkamp, the actress famous as the heroine of the Elm Street series, is dealing with a stalker calling and pretending to be Freddy. But then more and more strange and terrible incidents plague the actress- her husband is killed on the set of a film revealed as a new Elm Street entry, her son begins to act strangely, and say that Freddy is coming after him in is dreams (despite never seeing the films), and earthquakes rock Los Angeles. Eventually, Heather begins to dream of a larger, more terrifying Freddy, and goes to Wes Craven himself. Craven explains that he believes Freddy is a type of demon, which can be captured by storytellers. But ‘Freddy’ has escaped, due to the story being watered down, and is coming after Heather because she portrayed the one person that could stop Freddy. Craven even reveals that his new script, drawn from his dreams, has paralleled the events of the film word for word, and that the only chance to destroy the demon, and save her son, is for Heather to resume her role and defeat ‘Freddy’ one last time.
What Writers Can Learn: Reality vs. Fantasy, ‘Meta’
New Nightmare is regarded by many as a prelude to the Scream series, as both deal with horror films ‘invading’ the real world. However, New Nightmare has many other elements that make it more revenant to fans of Freddy Kreuger. For example, the demon Freddy is supposedly released when the story of Elm St. is watered down or told too many times. Craven himself has often said he dislikes how the series turned Freddy into a more jokey killer and less of a cold blooded killer, so it is easy to view the film as Craven’s small stab at studio interference. Even Freddy’s scarier design is more in line with Craven’s original vision. But on a more serious note, Heather Langenkamp experienced a stalker in real life (ironically, from her sitcom Just the Ten of Us) and actually left the country to escape said stalker. There are also moments that combine elements of both themes- Heather on a talk show being overshadowed (and somewhat exasperated) by the appearance of the jokey Freddy. It gives the film a true ‘meta’ appeal- that it appeals to more then one level of viewer, which makes more enjoyable by those in the know.
However, another great strength of the film is its blending of reality and fantasy. While the films had previously concerned dreams overlapping reality, this one concerns film overlapping reality. As it progresses, we see more elements come into play from the films- there are ‘kills’ that ape deaths from the films, Heather’s hair develops a white streak from the fear in her dreams as her character did, and even lines from the movie begin creeping into Heather’s speech. However, the climatic moment occurs when ‘Freddy’ begins clawing his way up from under the bed. Outside, Heather is arguing over the events with John Saxon, who played her father in the films. As they argue, Heather realizes that Saxon has become his character, and that their surroundings have morphed into the film set. As Saxon quotes his lines to her, ‘Freddy’ pauses in his escape and looks on, as if he is waiting for something. Heather takes a deep breath, and says her lines from the film, which allows ‘Freddy’ to emerge. It is symbolic of both Heather accepting her role, and her gateway into the fantasy realm. It is a trick that writers interested in multiple worlds and in writing good heroes, should take note of. It not only serves to establish a hero, it also firmly establishes the different worlds and makes it clear when we have moved from one to the other. It also serves as the gateway to the final fight, where the hero, having suffered and learned along the way, is finally ready to face down her adversary.
The films mentioned above would serve those interested in Craven’s work, as well as the Scream series. For fans interested in Freddy, Nightmare on Elm St encompasses six films of varying quality (1 and 3 are favorites, while the others are regarded as hit and miss), and a remake which tries to expand on Freddy’s origins, but just rehashes the murder scenes again and again. But try to get some sleep before next week- we still have more graves to dig up.