“New Nightmare” is the final installment of the series and something of a meta-movie that pre-dates Craven’s wildly overrated “Scream” series. Rather than deconstruct the slasher film, Craven deconstructs the “Nightmare” series once and for all studying the over saturation of Krueger on the masses of pop culture fanatics and dares to ponder on the notion that the “Nightmare” movies may have actually done more harm than good. Basing most of the film on reality (including the stalker sub-plot), “New Nightmare” breaks down and disavows the series opting instead to depict them as fiction that have taken on a life of their own in the midst of the pop culture overload.
Craven completely does away with comical Freddy Krueger for this final outing, choosing to depict Freddy as the boogey man we all knew and feared from the first installment. This new Freddy is something of a mythological boogeyman that we appreciated in the first installments of the series, a slashing and thrashing monster of Craven’s original lore who has risen above mere conventions of fiction. Heather Langenkamp gives a very competent performance as the woman struggling to come to grips with the revival of Freddy Krueger in reality and watches as her life descends in to madness at the behest of the scarred one, while struggling to deal with her son who Freddy wants. “New Nightmare” is one of the first features from Craven to be totally reliant on self-referential material thus most of the cast and crew from the original “Nightmare” movies can be spotted among the film while Robert Englund revels in portraying this new version of the iconic Krueger. “New Nightmare” is not the examination of horror as a whole, but the exploration of the immortality of pop culture and how it can become this organism that can attach itself to us and remain alive forever.
At this point, Freddy Krueger is a character that’s died on-screen but still is alive and well in reality as a cultural and beloved figure from fans alike. Heather is a woman who accepts her fate as a scream queen but somehow senses that keeping Krueger alive as an entity rather than acknowledging him as a mere one dimensional idea could have disastrous, almost horrifying results. This leads in to a constant sequence where Heather is plagued by calls from someone muttering the nursery rhyme from the films. Is Freddy calling her from beyond the realm of fantasy to torment her before striking her down, or is it a rabid fan who simply can’t identify what’s reality and what’s fantasy? If you pretend something is real long enough, it will become a being on to itself and garner believers who are convinced it is true or at least based on fact, no matter how far fetched. Just look at the dynasties of the Jedi or Klingon that have bred their own language and religion.
When Freddy takes on a life of his own and simply won’t die, he eventually materializes in to a living, breathing monster, and refuses to fade in to the darkness until he plays his role in this game of fantasy and Heather plays hers. This leads in to the ultimate finale hearkening back to fairy tales and contemporary lore, where Heather must confront the dragon in his cave to save her son, and rely on her wits and knowledge of Nancy Thompson to bring down the beast whose only instinct is to play the role of Krueger. Along the way there are hints and subtext about the lives of these characters and how their dysfunctions allow an entry for Krueger. It’s hinted that son Danny is being possibly molested and abused by his seemingly normal babysitter contributing to his outbursts and odd behavior, while his father is often too concerned with work to tend to his son’s rapidly decreasing mental state.
Nothing in “Nightmare” is ever really what it seems, and often times some sequences overlap each other, and beg you to question the narrative itself. Did Heather dream of her husband’s death by the robotic hand serving as a premonition? Or did her vivid dreams create a doorway for Freddy to enact his wrath? Is Heather the key and Danny the victim? Or vice versa? “New Nightmare” seems to indicate that the real dream master is in fact Heather Langenkamp who brings fantasy and reality together to fulfill her purpose as the character. Often reality is bizarre while the dreams seem realistic, and they tend to become the snake eating its own tail. Once Freddy dies, and the story stops, perhaps reality as a whole caves in. To complete the ring, Heather must fulfill her role, kill the real Freddy, and in the end the wheel keeps spinning for another actress to play her part in the destruction of evil. “New Nightmare” is rich with subtext and ambiguities, and it’s just such a shame that such a satisfying and eerie horror film never quite caught on. This is the finale Freddy deserved and Wes Craven delivered.