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WES CRAVEN'S NEW NIGHTMARE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, John Saxon, Wes Craven
Director:  Wes Craven
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Widescreen 1.85:1 16x9 Enhanced
Studio:  New Line Cinema
Features:  Commentary Track, Theatrical Trailer, Talent Files
Length:  112 Minutes
Release Date:  August 22, 2000

Film ****

I'm bound to cause some controversy here, but I have to say this:  I think Wes Craven's New Nightmare is by far the best film of the entire series.  Which is not to say that it's the scariest, or the bloodiest, or the most suspenseful, though it has plenty of all three.  What it is, in fact, is original, unique, highly intelligent, and terrific fun.

Wes Craven created one of the landmarks in the genre with his original Nightmare on Elm Street.  It was scary, surreal, funny, and gory, and was so successful, a franchise was launched.  Oddly enough, though the series eventually extended to six films before this one, Craven had all but dropped out of involvement with the movies.  In making a movie, he always claimed he liked to try and create something that had never been done before.  So, with the fuel just about run out on the franchise, it was rather surprising that the father of Freddy would return to make the final entry.  But he came back with a fresh spin…and a terrific new idea to try.

The story involves the real life alumni of the series.  Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, John Saxon, and even Craven himself all appear in the film…as themselves.  Heather and Robert still make the talk show rounds, appeasing the rabid fans of the series, answering questions and signing autographs.  And, despite the fact that Freddy was killed off, New Line has contacted Heather about returning for a new installment, that Wes Craven himself is currently writing.

Problem is, strange things are beginning to happen in their lives.  Frequent earthquakes are rocking Los Angeles.  Heather's son starts behaving strangely.  He's having nightmares that seem all too real.  And a Freddy-voiced fan has been calling their house day and night.  But all involved with those films have gone on with their lives.  And Freddy isn't real.  Right?

Eventually, Heather goes to Wes for some answers.  Turns out, Wes has been having nightmares again, and that's not a good sign.  He tells her of an old legend about the personification of evil, and how it has been believed through the ages that storytellers had the power to contain that evil within their tales and keep it from getting loose.  In a away, they as movie makers have been carrying on that tradition.  But they ended the series, and now, there may actually be a real force of evil let loose on the world that has assumed the identity of Freddy Krueger.  The only hope of containing it, he muses, is to make another movie.  If so, would Heather be willing to come back and play Nancy just one more time?

The “film-within-a-film” has been done before, of course, but not with such an interesting twist.  Not in away that takes a storied horror franchise off of the big screen and into the lives of those who created it.  If you let yourself think about it enough, your brain can really spin off into never ending concentric circles of logic.  This is not a horror movie, it's about the real people behind the movies, but then again, this is actually a fictional movie, too.  Or is it the end result of their collaboration to keep Freddy on the screen and out of our world?  It's a lot of fun to think about.

There's only one area that I thought Wes Craven left unexplored, and that was having a confrontation between Freddy Krueger and Robert Englund, the man who played him.  That might have made for a good foray into existentialism.

Video ****

This film, being the most recent, is probably the best looking in the series, though all discs have been given good audio and video transfers.  It's in anamorphic widescreen, and is a virtually pristine print.  All images are sharp, and color rendering is natural and contained.  Even the many night scenes come across with no grain or artifacts noticeable. 

Audio ****

This 5.1 soundtrack is powerful…one of the loudest I've heard.  I actually had to crank my system down a notch or two.  Again, being the most recent, this is the best sounding of the series of discs, with excellent and full use of front and rear stages and plenty of accents and rumbles from the .1 channel.  My favorite is when Nancy's kid ends up in the middle of the freeway, with cars and trucks whizzing by and honking with brakes screeching.  What a rush!

Features ***1/2

The disc contains a very informative commentary track by Wes Craven, where he delves into the ins and outs of making the film, the special effects, his cameo, and all of the in-jokes.  It's a real treat.  There is also a trailer and some talent files. 

Summary:

Wes Craven's New Nightmare is one of the most underrated and under-appreciated films of this decade.  It may not have been scary enough to please all fans of the series, and might have been a little too clever to make for a good night's scream, but what Wes Craven created with this film is a marvelous work of intelligence and cinematic possibilities, that took an aging franchise off into new, exciting, and uncharted territory, and allowed the Nightmare on Elm Street series to come to an end on an even stronger note than it originally began.  And that is no small accomplishment.