Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is a tragically underseen movie. In my experience, most people who’ve seen it like it, but unfortunately not a lot of people have seen it. I’ve spoken with way too many horror fans who enjoy the original A Nightmare on Elm Street but who say they just never got around to watching New Nightmare, and whenever I hear that, a little part of me dies inside. It’s hands down the best of the Freddy sequels, and I’d even go so far as to say that it’s one of the best horror movies of the 1990s. Along with the first Nightmare, Scream, and one other movie that I’ll let you guys fight about, this one deserves a spot on the Mount Rushmore of Wes Craven films.
So what makes Wes Craven’s New Nightmare so good? There’s a lot to love about it, but I can’t cover it all in a single article. Instead, I only want to look at one of the movie’s many strengths. It features a boatload of allusions and callbacks to the original Nightmare, and a huge part of the fun of watching it is looking out for those references and spotting them whenever they appear. I always get a real kick out of them every time I see the film, and I want you guys to have that same experience. So to help out with that, I’ve compiled a list of eight ways that New Nightmare calls back to the original movie. There are a few others, but these are the best ones (that I’ve spotted, anyway), so hopefully, after reading this article, you can go back to the film or watch it for the first time and look out for these allusions as well as any others I didn’t mention.
1) Actors From the Original Film
The first and most obvious way Wes Craven’s New Nightmare calls back to the original film is by bringing back a handful of actors from it to play themselves. For example, Robert Englund plays both Freddy and himself (as well as himself playing Freddy on a talk show…yes, it’s confusing), Heather Langenkamp (who played Nancy Thompson) is the star of the show, and John Saxon (who was Nancy’s father Don) plays an important supporting role.
Those three original actors are all impossible to miss, but they’re not the only ones who come back for New Nightmare. There are also two others who have blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos, and you need to pay close attention to spot them. First, Jsu Garcia (credited as Nick Corri), the actor who played Rod Lane in the first film, shows up for a couple of shots at Chase’s funeral, and in one of them he’s even talking to Wes Craven himself (although you don’t hear any of their conversation). Then, later on in the movie, Lin Shaye appears as a nurse who gives Heather’s son Dylan some medicine, and eagle-eyed viewers will remember her as the teacher in the original Nightmare when Nancy falls asleep in class.
2) Freddy’s Sneaky Glove
Next, let’s look at a scene from the first Freddy film that actually gets two callbacks in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. At one point in the movie, we see Nancy taking a bath and trying to stay awake, but she’s so tired that she starts nodding off anyway. When she finally falls asleep, Freddy’s gloved hand comes out of the water between her legs and tries to kill her, but before it can, Nancy’s mother knocks on the door and wakes her up.
This is one of the most famous scenes in the entire film, so it’s only fitting that New Nightmare would reference it multiple times. First, there’s a scene where Heather’s husband Chase drives home from work, and much like Nancy in the original movie, he begins to fall asleep at the wheel. He tries singing an R.E.M. song to keep himself awake, but it doesn’t work. He nods off a few times, and when he does, Freddy’s glove comes out of the seat between his legs and tries to kill him. Unfortunately for him, he’s not as lucky as Nancy was in the first film, and when he falls asleep one too many times, he becomes one of Freddy’s first victims.
Later on in the movie, we see Heather sleeping in her bed, and as she lies there peacefully, Freddy’s glove comes out of the bed and tries to kill her too. However, just like in the original film, he doesn’t get a chance to finish the job. Nancy hears a bunch of utensils fall to the floor in the kitchen, and the sound wakes her up from her unknowing brush with death.
3) The Phone Tongue
I’m really excited to talk about this next one because it involves one of my favorite scenes in the entire genre when I was a kid (yes, I grew up watching horror movies the way normal kids watched Disney movies). Right before Freddy kills Nancy’s boyfriend Glen, Nancy receives a mysterious phone call, and all she hears is screeching metal. She knows it’s Freddy, so she hangs up the phone and disconnects it. However, the Springwood Slasher isn’t deterred so easily. He makes the phone ring again, and this time when Nancy picks it up, he says, “I’m your boyfriend now,” and then a tongue comes out of the receiver and licks her lips.
As I said, I was a huge fan of that scene when I was a kid, so the first time I saw the callback to it in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, it had me grinning from ear to ear. At one point in the movie, Heather goes to the kitchen and finds her son Dylan repeating the phrase “never sleep again” over and over, and then the phone rings. At first, she just hears Freddy laughing, but a few moments later he says, “I touched him,” referring to his growing influence on the boy. Before she can hang up, a tongue comes out of the phone and licks her lips just like in the original film, and it lets us know without a doubt that Freddy is getting dangerously close to crossing over into the real world.
4) A Streak of White
There’s a scene in the original film where Nancy’s mother takes her to a sleep clinic, and while there, she predictably has a nightmare that sends her brain waves off the charts. Her mother and the doctor freak out, and when Nancy wakes up, they find that a bunch of weird things have happened to her. She has some nasty cuts on her arm, she’s pulled a fedora out of her dream, and she has a very noticeable streak of white in her hair. Her mother is very distraught over these strange phenomena, and even though she has no idea what’s going on, we viewers know that Nancy must’ve had another near-fatal run-in with Freddy.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare actually has a few callbacks to this scene, but I only want to talk about the most interesting one. At one point in the movie, Heather is in the hospital with her son Dylan, and she’s so tired that she falls asleep in the room with him. She dreams that Freddy is going to kill him, and when she wakes up, she has the exact same white streak in her hair that Nancy had in the original film. The movie doesn’t make a big deal about it right away, so you might not even notice it at first. However, Dylan’s babysitter points it out just a few moments later, so as long as you remember Nancy’s hair from the first Nightmare, this callback is impossible to miss.
5) “Screw Your Pass”
This next one is possibly the most entertaining callback in the entire movie. In the original Nightmare, when Nancy falls asleep in school and begins to dream, she walks out of the classroom and runs into a hall monitor dressed a lot like Freddy. The monitor asks Nancy for her hall pass, and in response, Nancy tells her, “Screw your pass,” and just walks on by.
And in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, Heather utters that exact same line in a scene that makes me chuckle every time I watch it. Towards the end of the second act, she’s in the hospital visiting her son, and as she’s walking to Dylan’s room, one of the nurses tells her she’s in a restricted area. She asks Heather if she has a pass, and without skipping a beat, Heather responds, “Screw your pass.” It’s one of the best lines in the entire film, and if you’re a Freddy fan, you’re sure to get a huge kick out of it.
6) Julie’s Death
This next callback is really interesting because some elements of it are pretty easy to spot, but there are a few subtle details you might not pick up on unless you watch these two scenes back to back. In the original Nightmare, Freddy’s first victim is Nancy’s friend Tina, and he kills her while she’s in bed with her boyfriend Rod. When she falls asleep, you see her walk out of the house and encounter Freddy in her dream, but you don’t actually see him kill her. Instead, the film shows her death from Rod’s perspective. You just see her being cut open, and then an invisible force drags her up the wall and onto the ceiling. While she’s up there, she and Rod scream each other’s names and reach for each other, but to no avail. The force simply pushes Tina’s head back up to the ceiling, and then she falls down to the floor dead.
Similarly, in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, the first time we see Freddy himself (as opposed to just his hand) kill someone, the scene clearly calls back to his first cinematic kill ever. After the doctors at the hospital wrongly conclude that Heather is abusing her son Dylan, they decide to give him some sleep medication when she’s not there. However, his babysitter Julie is, and after the nurses give Dylan the medicine, her fate is sealed. Once Dylan falls asleep, Freddy appears behind her, and he stabs the poor girl and then drags her up the wall and onto the ceiling. Much like Rod and Tina, Julie and Dylan also reach out for each other, and Julie manages to weakly mutter, “Help me.” But once again, there’s nothing either of them can do. Freddy simply pushes Julie’s head back to the ceiling, and she too falls to the floor dead, just like her counterpart ten years earlier.
7) Turning Into the Original Nightmare
Other than the actors who return to play themselves, this next callback is hands down the biggest and most obvious of the bunch. In the original film, right before Nancy’s final showdown with Freddy, she sees her father Don investigating Glen’s death across the street. He’s a police officer, so the sight gives Nancy an idea. She calls Glen’s house and asks to speak to her father, and when he takes the phone, she says that she knows who committed the murder. He asks her who it was, and she tells him, “Fred Krueger did it, Daddy.” In response, he just says “Yeah, sure” in a very condescending tone, and then he tells her to get some rest.
This is an important scene in the movie, and when Wes Craven’s New Nightmare alludes to it, the film doesn’t just replicate key audio or visual cues like it does most other times. Rather, the entire story slowly turns into that scene, and this transformation starts when Heather and John (who played Don) meet at her house at the end of the second act. When they see each other, Heather tells him that she knows how her husband Chase really died, and when John asks her what happened, she responds, “Fred Krueger did it.”
This is huge. All throughout the movie, the characters have been calling him Freddy, not Fred, so this slight change tells us that something important is happening. They call him Fred in the original film, so this is the beginning of New Nightmare’s transformation into that pivotal conversation between Nancy and Don.
Then, immediately after that, John gets a stern look on his face and responds, “Yeah sure,” just like Don did in the original film. From there, he begins to call her Nancy, and soon after that, his clothes change. All of a sudden, he’s dressed like a police officer, and he has a police car with him as well. At first, Heather is really confused by all this, but she soon figures out what’s happening. She accepts these strange events and addresses John as “Daddy,” and then in the blink of an eye, her clothes suddenly turn into the outfit Nancy wore right before her final showdown with Freddy in the first movie.
If you know that original film, this is all pretty easy to understand, but in case there’s any doubt or uncertainty, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare lays it out pretty explicitly for us. After Heather goes back inside her house, we see the TV playing a scene from the first Nightmare, and it’s Nancy’s pivotal conversation with Don. It shows us some of the similarities between these two exchanges, so even if you weren’t too familiar with that scene before, you now know exactly what’s going on. To defeat Freddy, Heather has to take on the role of Nancy one last time, and something beyond her control is forcing her to do it whether she wants to or not.
8) The Muddy Stairs
That last callback was really long and involved, but I promise this final one will be a lot shorter and simpler. In the original Nightmare, there’s a scene where Nancy runs into her house and up the stairs to get away from Freddy, but the stairs turn into gooey pits that slow her down. Her feet sink into them, so even though she eventually makes it to the top, it takes way more effort than running upstairs ever should.
In Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, Heather experiences this same exact obstacle in Freddy’s lair, but this time she’s trying to run towards him, not away from him. In this scene, her son Dylan is hiding in a furnace, and Freddy is reaching in from the outside and trying to grab him. Nancy has to climb a set of stairs to get to them and save her son, and as she does, they turn into the same kind of muddy goo that we saw in the original film. Once again, she eventually reaches the top, but it takes way more time and effort than climbing a set of stairs ever does in the real world.
Honoring a Classic
As I said, those are only some of the ways Wes Craven’s New Nightmare honors the original Freddy film, but they’re enough to give you an idea of what to look for. So the next time you press play on this underrated slasher gem (at the time of this writing, it’s available on HBO Max), keep an eye out for these callbacks as well as a few others that I didn’t mention (and probably some that I missed too!). It’s really fun if you’re a fan of the first Nightmare, and it enhances your viewing experience by giving you an extra layer that a lot of other movies simply can’t provide.