Before Wes Craven got meta with Scream (1996), he tried his self-referential hand at the Nightmare on Elm Street series. The result was New Nightmare (1994), which reunited Heather Langenkamp and Robert Englund as … Heather Langenkamp and Robert Englund. Also playing themselves: actor John Saxon, writer-director Wes Craven, producer Robert Shaye, and Freddy Krueger. Yep, that’s how he’s credited.
Where was there to go after the dreadful Freddy’s Dead (1991)? Not because of the title’s finality — see also: the so-called Final Chapter (1984) of Friday the 13th — but rather its inescapable shittyness. Part six offered more comedy than horror, with lazy deaths, bad acting, and weak puns — even by Freddy standards. But New Nightmare was a reinvention in the truest sense. It’s a film that, while far from perfect, was well ahead of its time. In fact, Craven pitched it as the plot for part three, but the studio decided against it.
That’s probably for the best. New Nightmare works well when it’s referencing its predecessors: that’s kind of the whole point. Part three would have been too soon — that film could have been clever, but it wouldn’t be full of the Easter eggs that make New Nightmare such a treat for longtime fans. And, yes, I’ve been rewatching these movies for the past week and am, in general, above-average geeky: this film works for me in a way it might not work for others. But I think that’s OK. Scream is broader (and better) because it appeals to fans of all ‘80s horror — New Nightmare is just for Freddy Krueger devotees.
Here are 20 references that I picked up on. Some were certainly intentional. Others are the product of my overactive imagination.
1. The first few shots show the creation of Freddy’s new animatronic glove. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) begins with Freddy fashioning his glove.
2. At the talk show where Robert Englund surprises Heather in full Freddy regalia, he taunts the audience with, “You are all my children now,” a line from Freddy’s Revenge (1985).
3. Heather’s son Dylan (Miko Hughes) repeats “Never sleep again” and other lines from the rhyme first heard in part one and chanted in all Nightmare films.
4. Robert Shaye jokes, “I guess evil never dies, right?” One of the taglines to part four, The Dream Master (1988), was “Pure evil never really dies.”
5. Heather’s husband Chase (David Newsom) crashes his car when he falls asleep and gets attacked by Freddy. Dan (Danny Hassel) died similarly in part five, The Dream Child (1989).
6. Just as Freddy made Dan’s corpse speak to Alice (Lisa Wilcox), he has Chase talk to Heather when she falls into his coffin.
7. Heather and Dylan’s conversation about God recalls Tina (Amanda Wyss) pleading for God in part one. Freddy’s response? “This is God.”
8. Dylan invites Heather to join him in his dreams. Bringing people into dreams was the power Kristen (Patricia Arquette/Tuesday Knight) displayed in Dream Warriors and Dream Master.
9. When Heather calls Robert, he’s painting freaky Freddy art. Kristen couldn’t stop drawing Nancy’s house (and Freddy) in part three.
10. To replicate Freddy’s glove, Dylan tapes knives to his fingers. In the first Nightmare, the glove is referred to as his “fingerknives.”
11. The phone receiver turns into Freddy’s mouth and tongue, as it did in part one.
12. Freddy needs to cross over into our world by getting past Heather, the gatekeeper. There was plenty of talk about gates and gatekeepers in Dream Master, but to be honest, I wasn’t paying much attention to the plot by that point.
13. Heather wakes from a nightmare with a grey streak in her hair, just like Nancy in part one.
14. A nurse tells Heather she’ll need a pass to get into the hospital’s restricted area, to which Heather replies, “Screw your pass.” This is another line from part one.
15. Heather reminds Dylan, “Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep.” She said the same thing to Glen (Johnny Depp) as Nancy in the first Nightmare.
16. An invisible Freddy lifts Julie (Tracy Middendorf) into the air, then drags her up the wall and onto the ceiling. This is almost exactly how Tina died in part one.
17. Dylan’s a sleepwalker, which is bad news in these movies. In Dream Warriors, Phillip (Bradley Gregg) suffered from the same problem.
18. Heather tells John Saxon that Fred Krueger killed Chase. By part two, Krueger was known as “Freddy,” so this is likely an allusion to part one. Of course, that’s underscored by the TV playing a similar scene from the first movie.
19. The references get even more overt when Heather and John take on their original roles as Nancy and Lt. Thompson, down to wearing the same clothes they had on at the end of the first Nightmare.
20. While trying to rescue Dylan from Freddy, Heather gets caught climbing the stairs, which turn into goop. This also happened in part one.
Be still, my nerdy heart. I have to admit that New Nightmare isn’t quite as good as it could have been. Freddy’s new makeup, which is supposed to be scarier, pales in comparison to his earlier incarnations. In fact, all of the scenes involving Freddy are somewhat lacking: this is really Heather Langenkamp’s movie. Still, without this film, there would be no Scream. And without Scream — well, I don’t even want to think about that.