Getting a good night’s sleep has never been the same for horror fans since Wes Craven changed the game in 1984 with A Nightmare on Elm Street. Slashers and monsters were nothing new, but a villain that could kill you in your sleep kicked the terror up a whole new level. Am I having a nightmare, or is the sleep demon in my dreams, too? It was a revolutionary concept, and Robert Englund’s Freddy Krueger became an iconic monster for the ages. Its immense popularity spawned 6 sequels, a super fun crossover clash in Freddy Vs Jason (2003 – read our retro review here), and a much reviled remake in 2010. For more on the classic original, you can read one of our writer’s editorials on why it’s their favorite horror film ever here.
Make no mistake, I do love this franchise and its charismatic villain. Freddy stands head and shoulders above most horror monsters with his larger than life personality and gallows humor. But a lot of the mid-franchise films were, at times, too over the top and downright cartoonish to really hold my interest. I loved the dark humor of the original far more than the one-liner silliness of the later entries. But Craven changed the game and made a believer out of me again when he dropped Wes Craven’s A New Nightmare in 1994. It was, and still is, my favorite entry since the original, and as it’s turning 25 years old this month on December 14, 2019, I think it’s time to examine why.
For one thing, aside from the original, A New Nightmare was the only other film in the franchise that Wes Craven actually directed. He did have a producer’s credit on A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (read the retro review of this 1987 classic here), which is, ironically enough, the last of the franchise that I thoroughly enjoyed until A New Nightmare. It’s surprising that he wasn’t more involved in the series, but it probably explains how and why it strayed so far from its original premise.
The concept was absolutely brilliant. A movie within a movie. The idea of a fictional Freddy becoming real and crossing over into the real world to stalk Heather Langenkamp, the actress who played Nancy that thwarted him in the film world, is such a cool, inventive idea. It’s a testament to the creative genius of Wes Craven. He had such a tremendous self-awareness and such a deep love and understanding of the horror genre. Wes always seemed to have this innate sense of when the genre needed a shot in the arm, something to shake it up and make it feel fresh again. We saw that with Scream, a film that called out horror on all its tropes and tendencies, and then audaciously flipped them on their heads time and again. And, he did it again masterfully with A New Nightmare.
As mentioned before, the film dialed back the silliness of the previous sequels and ratcheted up the darkness and intensity once again. Freddy wouldn’t be Freddy without his morbid sense of humor, but A New Nightmare made him a villain to be feared again. Even his appearance was a lot darker and serious in tone. You always expect creative kills from the ANOES films, and A New Nightmare certainly didn’t disappoint. The film also capitalized on one of horror’s most effective fear inducers: children. As any parent can attest, there is no greater fear imaginable than feeling powerless to protect your child, as Freddy is determined to use Heather’s son, Dylan, as his conduit into reality. Let’s face it, creepy kids are just plain terrifying. Massive props to Miko Hughes as Dylan, who delivers some real spine-tingling moments when Freddy is using or speaking through him. Miko is one of the preeminent creepy kids of horror, lest we forget that he was the chilling Gage in the original Pet Semetary (1989).
Not only did Miko deliver the goods, but all of the other performances were fantastic as well. Heather Langenkamp (read our massive interview with her here) solidified her place as final girl royalty and a bona fide badass. Robert Englund pulled double duty playing both his real world self and Freddy in all his sadistic glory. Other ANOES alumni making appearances included John Saxon, Robert Shaye, and even Wes Craven himself appearing in a rare role in front of the camera.
Roll all of this together, and you can see why A New Nightmare is not only one of the best sequels in the Nightmare on Elm Street series, but, in my humble opinion, one of the most masterful sequels of any franchise. As far off course as the series had drifted, this film righted the ship in a massive way. I feel like a lot of long-running franchises should pay attention to A New Nightmare, as they could learn a lot about rekindling the spark. There’s undeniably a lot of mixed opinions about the Nightmare on Elm Street films and which ones were good or not, but we can all unanimously agree that, after 25 years, A New Nightmare still holds up as one of the very best.