Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994)
Studio Line: New Line Cinema - This time, staying awake won't save you.

Writer/director Wes Craven (Scream 1, 2 and 3) returns to the darkest shadows of Elm Street with “the cleverest, wittiest, most twisted scarefest in ages!”

Winner of a Golden Scroll for Outstanding Achievement from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror, this spine-tingling tale reunites original Nightmare stars Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon as “reel” Freddy invades the real world, with deadly results.

Life imitated art during filming. Soon after shooting an earthquake sequence, the Northridge Quake shook Los Angeles. Says Craven, “We were about to have rubble created for the movie, but instead, we were able to go out and film from the streets.” But don’t worry, Freddy fans. It’s only a movie…or is it?

Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, Miko Hughes, David Newson, John Saxon
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, standard 1.33:1; audio English DD 5.1 & Digital Mono; subtitles English; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 27 chapters; rated R; 112 min.; $24.98; street date 8/22/00.
Supplements: Audio Commentary by Wes Craven; "Jump To A Nightmare" Scene Navigation; Original Theatrical Trailer. DVD-ROM Features: Read The Screenplay While You Watch The Film!; New Dream World Trivia Game -- Test Your Nightmare Knowledge!; Up-to-the-Minute Cast, Crew, Trivia Info and More!
Purchase: DVD | The Nightmare on Elm Street Collection | Freddy's Favorites: Best of A Nightmare on Elm Street - Soundtrack

Picture/Sound/Extras: A-/A-/C-

In 1991, the Freddy franchise allegedly came to an end with the sixth A Nightmare On Elm Street movie, that one called Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare. Perhaps naively, I believed it would be the last ANOES film. After all, the returns on the prior entries had gradually diminished, and the franchise was quickly running out of steam. FD let New Line cash in one last time, but even then they were reduced to gimmicks in an attempt to drag in viewers; between the promise of the title to the 3-D effects used in the movie, the whole project seemed pretty pathetic.

Perhaps I was the only one who was surprised when Freddy returned to life in 1994 through yet another film, Wes Craven's New Nightmare, but I frankly didn't expect it. Even less easily anticipated, however, was the fact this sucker was actually pretty good; it's clearly the best in the series since 1987's Nightmare 3, and it's arguably the top release after the original ANOES in 1984.

Probably not coincidentally, both the 1984 and 1994 pictures were directed by Wes Craven, whereas none of the five in between had him behind the camera. (Actually, Craven executive produced and provided the story for N3, which is probably why it's such a good film.)

WCNN marks a definite divergence in the series' story, one that also hinted at the self-referential direction Craven would take in 1996's Scream. This tale finally leaves the fictional world of Springwood and Elm Street and actually takes us to "real-life". WCNN features some fictional characters, but its main participants are actual people, although the movie clearly depicts them in non-factual ways.

The film stars Heather Langenkamp - "Nancy" in the first and third entries - as "Heather Langenkamp", actress who played "Nancy" in the first and third entries. It also features Robert Englund as "Robert Englund" (and Freddy, too) plus Craven and a few others as themselves. These folks intermingle with others such as Heather's fictional son Dylan (Miko Hughes) and fake husband Chase (David Newsom) to create a semi-real world where fact and fantasy intermingle.

As the film starts, we learn that Heather has been plagued by a threatening stalker who plays upon her connection to Freddy. Add to that a recent rash of earthquakes in the area and she's spooked, a fear that becomes more pronounced when Dylan starts to behave in freaky ways. Additional bad things start to happen, and it gradually becomes apparent that a certain F. Krueger may be involved.

Craven creates a wonderful world in which all of the insanity actually seems plausible. The presentation of events as being part of "reality" also helps blur the lines. The film definitely feels scarier because we can't hide in the fictional quality of the characters. Even though we know the action has been fabricated, the awareness that we're seeing real people - no matter how altered they may be - makes the events resonate more strongly. It also helped that most of us had no idea whether Langenkamp was actually married or had a kid when the movie was made; the concept that the film might closely echo her reality added just a tinge of fright to the proceedings.

The acting's pretty good as well. Langenkamp never was great as Nancy, but she manages to offer a convincing portrayal of herself. Englund reverts to the original feral presentation of Freddy; we find very little of the camp superstar he became in later efforts, and this makes his presence frightening once again. Hughes actually may be one of the best parts of the cast. He has a seriously spooky quality about him that makes his descent into dementia more convincing; I half expected the little bugger to start shouting "redrum"!

WCNN isn't a great film, but it's definitely one of the best ANOES pictures. It takes a tired franchise and injects new life into it with creativity and verve. Rumors of Freddy Vs. Jason aside, here 's hoping this one really did finish the series, as it ends its run on a very high note.

The DVD:

Wes Craven's New Nightmare appears in both its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen edition on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the letterboxed image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the widescreen side was rated for this review. Visually, WCNN is a very close cousin to its predecessor, 1991's FD, although it presents just slightly lower quality.

Once again, the picture looked tremendously sharp, with only a few occasions when the it displayed minor softness. Moiré effects were more of a problem with this film than during any of the other six; I occasionally saw some shimmering from background objects, but this didn't happen more than three or four times. Jagged edges weren't a concern, and I noticed only mild artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. Print flaws appeared completely absent; I noticed no instances of grain, scratches, nicks, hairs or speckles.

Colors seemed very strong and accurate, with hues that looked clear and rich throughout the film. Black levels are deep and dark, and shadow detail appeared generally clear and appropriately opaque; on occasion, these scenes were slightly too heavy, but those periods were brief and sporadic. Overall, the movie presented a terrific image.

For the first - and only - time in the ANOES series, we find a DVD that doesn't feature a 5.1 remix. That's because WCNN always had a 5.1; we hear the same audio as offered theatrically. Not surprisingly, it's unquestionably the best of the bunch. It's the only track of the seven that essentially gets everything right. All of the audio sounds clean and full; I heard none of the toneless quality or the harshness witnessed on many of the previous tracks. Dialogue is natural and distinct, with no issues related to intelligibility, and effects are bold and crisp. The music sounds clear and smooth, and the entire track boasts some strong bass.

It also offers full-blooded audio from all five channels; while some of the other films made nice use of stereo and surround effects, this is the first one that clearly was designed that way from the start, and that difference shows. The audio for WCNN won't make anyone's list of "demo" tracks, but it definitely achieves its goals. The sound creates a very nice surround environment and it helps enhance the film's scares and chills, which is all it really needs to do.

Finally again! For the first time since the original Nightmare DVD, I have a different supplement to discuss! That's because for the first time since the original Nightmare DVD, one of the movies features an audio commentary. Unlike the first one, which featured multiple participants, the track for WCNN only includes Craven himself. This commentary also comes from a laserdisc release: the 1995 pressing of WCNN featured this piece.

Craven's track isn't great but it's pretty good. He covers a wide range of topics, from the technical aspects of making the film to inspirations to what points he wanted to make to inside jokes. Craven can seem a little dry at times, but overall he gets the job done; the track contributes to your knowledge of and enjoyment of the film, which is the ultimate goal of any audio commentary.

Never fear - WCNN doesn't go nuts on extras or anything. Yes, the commentary was a nice touch, but after that, it's back to the old tried-and-trues. We get our customary press kit biographies; these listings (three cast, nine crew) comes straight from the press release that accompanied the movie's theatrical release. For the record, the DVD doesn't specifically state that the biographies are from a press kit, but reading them makes it clear that they are taken from the same time period as the film's theatrical run - either that or the little boy in the movie hasn't aged in the last six years. We also get our usual "Jump to a Nightmare" feature, which lets you skip straight to any of Freddy's scenes.

WCNN includes some DVD-ROM content as well. It features the screenplay - which can display corresponding scenes as you read - and gives us part six of the "Dream World Trivia Game". The latter provides 20 questions about the movie; if you correctly answer at least 13 of them, you get a congratulatory message but nothing special. (The games found on the boxed set's discs provide a code that you can use to access a final contest on the eighth DVD, but that feature disappears here, for logical reasons.). I found these questions to be pretty tough, but not impossible. They vary from try to try, so while you'll probably encounter some of the same queries each time through, the roster of posers isn't set in stone.

Finally, the DVD contains web links to New Line's Nightmare On Elm Street home page and to "up to the minute" details on the film's cast and crew. That means if you click the link, it'll send you to IMDB's facts.

Wes Craven's New Nightmare marks the horror series' most recent entry, and hopefully the final one; because I like the franchise and really enjoyed this edition, I think it'd be nice if they let Freddy go out on top. The movie provides a breath of fresh air for the series and makes a nicely spooky outing. The DVD offers terrific picture and sound plus a few extras, the most notable of which is an audio commentary from the director. Horror fans definitely should give this DVD a spin.

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