In the late ‘80s New Line Cinema, the cheapo studio created by Robert “Bob” Shaye became known as The House that Freddy Built and with good reason. A cheap exploitation film, the brainchild of horror maestro Wes Craven, A Nightmare on Elm Street created an icon for the ages, several sequels later that launched the careers of many directors and Freddy had been run dry, a decade of nearly yearly releases took him from a sinister dream creating child molester and killer into a comical trickster.
In 1994 with the anniversary coming up, and hoping to mend bridges with Craven, Shaye invited him to pitch a new Freddy story. Two years before Scream took a look at putting horror film fans in a horror film, Craven crafted a radical new story for Kruger. Heather Langenkamp had at that point played Nancy Thompson twice, once in the original and then again in the third instalment Dream Warriors where she died a heroes death. Afterward, Langenkamp joined ABC sitcom Just the Ten of Us, it was through this that she began receiving strange phone calls. Compelled Craven crafted a story where the spirit of evil takes on Freddy’s form to enter the real world, to stop him Langenkamp herself would have to reprise her role as Nancy and face him once more.
Craven’s film isn’t as funny as Scream, it’s more interested in addressing the original film and it’s effects on Langenkamp. At the film’s start production has begun on a new Nightmare movie, and Langenkamp is happily married to an effects artist (as she is in real life) with a son Dylan – Miko Hughes. Craven amps up the tension making Freddy repeat murders from the original film to torment Langenkamp, Dylan’s babysitter is dragged around a room like Tina was originally. Craven even casts himself as himself, haunted by his own creation and compelling to write a screenplay for Langenkamp to act out.
What makes New Nightmare the antidote to the original film and it’s sequels isn’t just how meta it is, but it’s the depths it goes to right the wrongs of the first film. Freddy’s streak of revenge is set about by an injustice, murdered by angry parents, and the conspiracy and secrets kept by the parents are visited upon the children as punishment. Only when Langenkamp travels into the dream world (via a bed) with Dylan does she right the wrong of the original films. She doesn’t seek to hide things from her son and instead allows him to help her, together they fight Freddy, and defeat him, it’s not a parental love that triumphs it’s a parental trust, trust that the bond between a parent and child can transcend anything else and it does.
Craven also ramps up the sexual nature that was present in the original film, Langenkamp’s husband Chase is killed when Freddy’s hand rises from between his legs and slashes his chest, the virginal babysitter is killed in the same way Tina was, the route to Freddy’s lair is through a child’s bed, Freddy’s long tongue wraps around Dylan to consume him and most obvious, when Freddy and Langenkamp physically fight one another, Freddy throws her against a wall with the word lust engraved above it.
New Nightmare is a film that asks what horror films do to the people that make them, that if creating monsters is a way of bottling fear, making and watching horror films might be a way of releasing it. In facing Freddy through films we all become Nancy, in being true to our own fears and facing them, we all become Heather.