Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Slasher Saturday, where queens scream and killers go bump in the night! You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, who are chugging coffee and pinching each other–no, they aren’t trying to stay awake, that’s just date night for them!
Today’s film offering: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
Andy: Out of all of the big three slasher villains – Michael, Jason and Freddy – Mr Krueger of Nightmare on Elm Street fame is somewhat unique. He’s the only one that is explicitly supernatural, he’s the only one that talks, he’s the only one associated with one actor (Robert Englund) and he’s probably the one with the most widespread fanbase. Everyone knows who he is, and there are toys that prove he’s even popular with thlittle tykes who should absolutely not watch his films.
Which is a shame, because he’s also possibly the most diluted of the three. Michael and Jason are still scary, no matter how many crappy sequels they turn up in, but somewhere between the wisecracks and the merchandise, something about Freddy was lost.
In 1993, Wes Craven decided to do something about that.
Lilly: Cue New Nightmare!
Andy: The story concerns young Heather Langenkamp, mother of a young son, wife of a loving husband, and occasional talk-show guest asked about that time she played Nancy on Nightmare on Elm Street. Wait, what?
Lilly: No, seriously. What?
Andy: That’s right – many people return from the original movie, not as characters but as themselves, or at least fictionalised versions of themselves, including Robert Englund and Wes Craven himself. If this sounds a touch disorienting, it is, but in many ways, it’s an extension of the reality-bending of the first movie, just moved a layer up. After all, what are movies but the dreams of our combined subconscious? And of course, everything gets even more confused when it appears Freddy Krueger – the actual, vicious killer – begins stalking Heather, her son and those around her, manifesting himself in the ‘real’ world.
Lilly: This film kicks off quick–Freddy is menacing in the first scene, which is definitely disorienting for those of us who like a slow build in a horror film. Not this time! Want explanation? Shut up and go watch another film, you aren’t getting it here until mid-way through, when Wes Craven decides to stop being a dick and explain what the Hell is going on to poor Nancy. Wait, Heather. Wait.
Andy: The trope of nobody believing people in horror movies when they are being hunted by whatever is so old hat that pointing it out is itself a cliche. The trouble is here, Heather is in a double bind. When her son starts insisting that “Freddy” is coming for him, the response is always “You didn’t let him watch your movies, did you?” with a raised eyebrow. When Heather herself starts experiencing the same, it’s assumed she’s mentally ill – another cliche – but here with the obvious explanation that all those scary movies she was in got to her in some way.
Which is an interesting question in itself – do Scream Queens get a kind of PTSD?
Lilly: I’d love to ask Jamie Lee Curtis that. Someone set that up. Get on that.
Something unexpected and almost distracting in this film was actually representation of men and women–wait, what! I know! When Nancy heads to the hospital with her son, the hospital is literally crawling with women. The main doctor is a black woman (because contrary to the belief of airline stewardesses today, apparently, that can happen!), there was an Asian nurse, another black woman nurse, two blonde nurse ladies–the hospital was run by women and two security guys, and one grey haired man on the phone. Maybe he was lost. I don’t know, but it was spectacular. In fact, the people getting shit done in the film were all women, from Heather/Nancy to Julie the babysitter to the no-nonsense doctor who was really concerned about whether or not Heather let her son watch her films. I don’t know if that makes it a step forward or just a fun fluke, either way. Fancy that!
Andy: So yeah, women-ran hospital included, this movie is ambitious. But the key question is, does it work? Well, kinda. It’s nowhere near as successful at slasher meta-narrative than Scream, Craven’s other side glance at the genre he helped create, and it seems more of an interesting curio and companion piece to the original than a full-fledged movie in its own right.
However, it is a million times better than any of the other Elm Street sequels (way to set the bar high there, Andy), and if you enjoy the original it’s worth checking out.
Lilly: I found it to be a bit too much, too fast for a film that lasted over an hour and a half, myself. You were in the action by five minutes in, and while yes, that throws you off your feet like a dream could (I get it), it also had me thinking ‘What if the dreams are actually the boring bits where she is doing tv interviews and chats with producers?’ because how could I know what is going on so early in the film? I supposed they had a lot to get through, with all the meta-things, but it still felt a bit like it was ‘getting to the good part’ right away then sputtering in the middle for a bit then kicking off in the last twenty minutes again. It wasn’t consistent for me, which is a bummer when the idea is there. Then again, if the film is Heather’s life, and Heather’s life is the film, maybe just maybe that is the message. Sometimes life is fast and hard and then it slows for a bit before knocking you out. Huh. Deep.
Meanwhile, favourite part? Heather punching Freddy in the face and yelling ‘Fuck you!’ Fuck your pithy one liners, Heather ain’t got time for that.
So it’s a recommendation from me in a sort of ‘Hey, watch it, why not’ fashion. Best I can do!
Andy: Although if you really want a movie that covers this same ground far more successfully, I prescribe a dose of John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness before bed, and call me in the morning.