Wes Craven may be one of the most wildly inconsistent directors. The Nightmare on Elm Street series is actually a fine examination of his career. At its best, it is wildly imaginative and actually quite terrifying (just like the best of Wes Craven). At it’s worst, it is a dumb exploration of horror conventions featuring terrible performances and worse effects (again, just like the worst Wes Craven films).
This film is, for the most part, the best film of the series and one of the best overall Wes Craven films. It was actually a creative spin on the traditional horror premise and explored the deep underpinnings surrounding horror. Sure, the premise is nonsense, but it is at least interesting nonsense, something I am not sure I can say about the other films.
The film blends the line between reality in fantasy – it is difficult to describe what the film is actually about. Basically, the series has ended (the one before this was titled The Final Nightmare) but the creation of the film series unleashed a sort of evil that had been contained in the films. Now that it is over, that “evil” is free and is stalking Heather Langenkamp (playing herself, basically) and her young son Dylan (Miko Hughes) who starts hallucinating the “bad man,” Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund). Wes Craven (himself) convinces Heather that what needs to happen is that another film needs to be made, and that Heather must be involved to destroy Freddy once and for all.
This is probably the most experimental slasher film ever made; certainly more than Scream, Craven’s next film. The film continuously doubles back on itself, references itself, and seems to paradoxically realize that it both is and is not a film. It is often that such an approach becomes self indulgent. And this film is…well, not really an exception. Usually, references to Freddy Krueger are done with the mention of of how famous he really is. (“Every kid knows Freddy Krueger!”) Yes, the icon had become famous, and I guess the film was about how he had grown beyond the creator’s control. But still, for such a character to enter reality (and that is what happens), there was no need to continuously remind us of Krueger’s reputation.
Still, it is not a kiss of death. After all, this is meant to be a reaction by an artist to his art. I guess Craven was allowed to boast a little. Besides, while noticeable, it is not overwhelmingly the point. This sort of approach could be done to any character and still have the same result. Craven, Englund, and even Langenkamp come across as rather…odd, to say the least. Their roles in Nightmare on Elm Street fit them like a (no pun intended) glove. Simply rolling the camera on them and putting them in these positions produced more interesting results than having them even try to act. I am not sure that they ever really were.
Also, the film actually manages to be haunting. First, there were not many on screen deaths (I counted four…this is the equivalent of a skinned knee in this sort of genre). Most glimpses are meant to be fleeting. Krueger also looks quite different, making his appearances that much more frightening. They gave Freddy some of the mysterious qualities back, something absolutely vital to horror. I am surprised that this sort of thing did not happen sooner.
I’ve already explained the film’s biggest strengths, but it does have one major flaw: the last twenty minutes or so when they go ahead and decide to make another Nightmare film (well, sort of). Langenkamp essentially reverts to her Nancy role and goes about the dream scape fighting Freddy in the same way that we have come to expect and seen time and time before. It’s well done from a technical stand point, but it’s kind of a divergence to what the film was really supposed to be about. Oh well…the ending is a good one, at least.
This is one of the rare sequels that manages to best the original. Considering this is the seventh entry, that feat manages to be even more impressive. In fact, I wish that the series had started out in this manner. Oh wait, I guess then it would be Scream, wouldn’t it? Either way, it is a fantastic examination of what drives creators