Director and writer Wes Craven has given us horror fans many projects to clamor over during his time. They go from the dark and hard to watch material, to the meta and popular franchises. Many have created their own sequels and some have undergone dramatic remake treatments. One thing that’s inarguable though is the legacy of his creation Freddy Krueger.
I tasked myself with watching all of the films in the Nightmare on Elm Street saga over the last week or so, and I wish to discuss the two different forms of nightmares it creates by focusing on the 2 entries that Wes Craven created himself: A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994).
Over the course of 10 years, New Line had put out 6 sequels. Each one featured different directors and contributed their own lore to the story. They all have their favorite placements among fans and some are arguably more entertaining than others, but we cannot deny the intensity and fear that the original and the conclusion offer.
For those who don’t know the story, we are introduced to a man named Fred Krueger – he was a child molester and serial killer. He wore a fedora, a red and green knit sweater, and wore a handmade glove that had blades extended from the fingers. (In interviews Wes has told us that he chose those colors because they are the hardest ones for the human eye to interpret, and that the idea for the glove came from the primal idea of a caveman watching the claw of a bear come from around the corner of a cave.) Once the parents of the town figured out that he was responsible for the disappearance of many local children, they took vigilante justice by burning him alive. However, he found a way to preserve his soul in the dimension of dreams where he seeks revenge.
The first film was gritty and raw. It played on the horror-mystery of introducing a madman who showed no mercy and our protagonists had to understand who he was and why he was doing this. By the time we have come to understand what’s going on, the bodycount is high and the people not directly involved just shrug it all off as teenage suicide and hysteria. It was a terrifying film that introduced us to the dreamscape (a place where the rules of our reality do not abide), and introduced us to the idea of dying in our sleep – where if we die in our dreams, we die in real life.
Fast forward to 10 years later where Wes brings us back to that world. All of the sequels up to this point had followed the same formula but gave us a little bit of new pieces to add (like giving us his witty banter, the idea of him trying to be reborn, and so much more), but he wanted to give us a more intimate horror.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was a film ahead of its time. It rewound us to the original, but played as a meta story about the actual workers and actors of the first film falling victim to the very real demon that they visualized via Freddy Krueger. Heather Langenkamp from the original is the main character, with Wes playing himself, Robert Englund playing himself, Bob Shaye from New Line Cinemas playing himself, and so on. The idea that by playing this demon and making a film about him, had in turn affected our reality to manifest him, is genius. The demon doesn’t wait for you to sleep – he just keeps stalking our Final Girl of the original film in order to create himself. Having the guy that plays Freddy in turn be hunted by Freddy is something that was so over the top that it’s easy to understand why it gets lost in the mix of ‘90s horror. It also stripped away the humor and one-liners that the franchise became known for and made it seriously scary.
In my opinion, these are the 2 most important films in the franchise. I’d argue that #3 is also one of the most important because it gave us a better visualization of the dreamscape (and it was absurdly fun), but if you are new to this franchise, just know that it begins and ends with arguably the strongest notes.
Which of the Nightmare films is your favorite? Which one did you hate the most? Tell us your thoughts below!
‘Til Next Time, Mike Cleopatra