In A Nightmare On Elm Street, we were introduced to creative kind of horror wherein the line between reality and the fantasy of dreams was blurred. With Wes Craven's New Nightmare, the first in the series Craven has directed since the original, another layer of reality is added, to intriguing effect: the world of movies. Horrific beings cross the lines between reality, the movies, and dreams -- and if you consider that this movie is itself a movie, there's yet another layer of reality. I loved the games this movie plays with those lines, and it's one of the reasons why Wes Craven's New Nightmare is the only strong sequel to the 1984 original. I recommend most horror fans watch the original, skip ahead to this one, and ignore all the others. (A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors might be interesting to the die-hards, and Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare is great for unintentional laughs, but the rest are worthless.)
The story is about the making of the Elm Street movies. Heather Langenkamp (from parts 1 and 3) and Robert Englund (who plays Freddy) star as themselves. Wes Craven and series producer Robert Shaye both have small roles. And it seems that the menace of Freddy they've been making movies about all this time isn't quite as fictional as they might have liked. I say no more, for part of the fun is figuring out what the rules are all over again -- one of the reasons the other sequels lacked a sense of fascination and awe about them is that the rules were already established with the original film, not that they were always followed. Wes Craven's New Nightmare, with its added layers of reality, takes the same basic idea, builds upon it, and requires us to sort it all through again from the beginning. Although not all the scenes work -- particularly one miscalculation that rips off one of the original's best scenes -- the whole is a compelling, terrifying, suspenseful, and often clever work.
I must also compliment star Heather Langenkamp, who, in the years since her previous appearance in the series, learned how to act. She's fantastic here; her solid, moving performance serves as an anchor: we empathize with her terror and therefore are with her -- rather than just watch her -- as she fights to survive.
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