In 1984, Wes Craven introduced the world to a one-of-a-kind slasher in A Nightmare on Elm Street, but the franchise peaked with New Nightmare a decade later, mixing the real world and the fictional universe of Freddy Krueger. The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise has a total of eight films, including Freddy vs Jason, and one remake from director Samuel Bayer in 2010, which didn’t appeal to fans.
Among all these sequels is Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, released in 1994, which brought a twist to the horror genre and a franchise that was already defying some horror tropes and “rules”. New Nightmare is not part of the series continuity, instead jumping to the real world and bringing Freddy Krueger with it, and taking the “what’s real and what’s a dream” premise to another level.
New Nightmare stars Heather Langenkamp as herself and Nancy Thompson, Robert Englund as himself and Freddy Krueger, and Miko Hughes as Langenkamp’s son Dylan, in a story where reality and fiction eventually merge. In it, Langenkamp starts having nightmares about Freddy Krueger as she is in talks to reprise her role as Nancy in another Nightmare on Elm Street film. The nightmares gradually become a bit too real, with Wes Craven himself explaining to her that the films captured an ancient supernatural entity that was freed after the series ended (with Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare in 1991), and now Krueger is after Heather, as she was his main opponent in the franchise. Although the premise can sound crazy (and it is, but in a good way), the final product is a layered meta experience worth watching.
When Krueger abducts Dylan, Langenkamp is forced to take on the role of Nancy, with her clothes, hair (with the white streak as in the first film), and surroundings transforming into Nancy’s, including her co-star John Saxon, who is transformed into his character Don Thompson – Nancy’s dad. If Krueger is defeated by Langenkamp as Nancy, he will go back to his fictional world. Through this, New Nightmare explores the effects that horror films have on those involved in them, including their creators.
New Nightmare is also the most faithful version there is of Freddy Krueger as originally imagined by Craven: darker, more menacing, and much less comical than in the previous films. His look was also altered to match his true essence, with the blades of the glove resembling bones and with muscle textures in between. It can be argued that this film set the ground for the Scream series, which is well known for satirizing the horror genre and itself while at it, and having a level of awareness of real-world events and horror films.
Dreams took over the real world in A Nightmare of Elm Street, but fiction, dreams, and the real world all converged in New Nightmare, making it one of the most meta stories in the horror genre, one of Wes Craven’s finest works, and one of the most underrated films not only of the franchise but the horror world in general.