I have a love/hate relationship with the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. On the one hand, the original Nightmare is one of my favorite horror movies of all time, and I think Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is quite possibly the most underappreciated film in the entire genre. But on the other hand, I’m not a huge fan of parts two through six. Sure, Dream Warriors is fun enough, but it’s the only one that’s even remotely good. The rest of the pre-New Nightmare sequels are forgettable at best, so my overall feelings toward the series are very mixed.
But in a somewhat paradoxical way, I love that it’s so hit or miss. See, in a certain sense, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is basically just Wes Craven giving the other sequels (except Dream Warriors) the finger and showing us what a real Freddy film looks like, so without the bad entries in the franchise, we never would’ve gotten this excellent seventh film.
It subtly but powerfully points out where the Nightmare movies go wrong, and it incorporates that criticism into its story in a really clever way. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why this film is so great, so let’s take a deep dive into Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and see what it has to say about the sad state of the Freddy Krueger franchise before Wes Craven came back to right the ship.
Subtly Setting the Stage
Wisely, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare doesn’t just come out of the gate with guns blazing. It takes a slower, more subtle approach to its criticism of the previous sequels, and for my money, that makes its message much more powerful.
Towards the beginning of the movie, Heather Langenkamp, the star of the first film and the main character in this one, takes a limo to an interview, and the driver recognizes her. He says that he loves the Freddy movies, but he thinks the first one was the best. Then, during the interview itself, the interviewer asks Heather how the success of the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise has affected her, and she says it hasn’t affected her much because she was only involved in parts one and three.
When we first watch Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, it’s easy to dismiss these lines as little more than filler dialogue, but they’re actually really important. They subtly disparage the other Freddy sequels (except for part three, Dream Warriors, which Heather Langenkamp and Wes Craven were both involved in), and they establish that the franchise quickly went downhill after the original film.
That in turn sets the stage for the movie to criticize those sequels, and it begins to do so almost immediately. During Heather’s interview, Robert Englund makes a surprise appearance in his Freddy Krueger makeup, and the live crowd goes wild. They absolutely love him, and they begin chanting, “Freddy! Freddy!” Some of them are also wearing Freddy masks and replica gloves, and there are even a few people holding up signs that say things like “We love you, Freddy.”
When we see all this love and excitement for the character, it’s easy to get caught up in it ourselves and start chanting with the crowd, but the scene quickly takes a bit of a sinister turn. The music becomes much darker, and Englund looks out at the crowd, waves his arms in the air, and says, “You are all my children now.”
While all this is happening, Heather gets a concerned look on her face, and even though nobody else seems troubled by what’s going on, something about the moment just feels wrong. It’s tough to put it into words, but everything about the scene, from the music to the lighting to the camera angles, contributes to that vibe, and it lets us know without a doubt that something isn’t quite right here.
At this point in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, we’re not really sure what exactly is wrong, but we can make a few educated guesses. Most obviously, the problem seems to lie in the crowd’s intense love for Freddy. The clear implication is that they shouldn’t be cheering for him or lauding him like a hero, and if you think about it, that makes a lot of sense. Freddy is a child murderer, so there’s something deeply unsettling about giving him that kind of love and affection.
On top of that, Englund’s line “You are all my children now” comes straight out of Freddy’s Revenge, the second Freddy film, and it’s no coincidence that New Nightmare quotes one of the previous sequels at this exact moment. It’s telling us that those movies are somehow connected to the problem of people treating Freddy as a hero, but it doesn’t tell us what that connection is. We have to watch the rest of the film to find out, and there’s one scene in particular that pretty much lays it all out for us.
Later on in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, Heather meets with Wes Craven about a new script he’s writing, and during that conversation, the film’s critique of the previous Freddy sequels becomes much more concrete. Wes tells her that his new movie (which actually ends up being New Nightmare itself!) is about an ancient evil entity that can be captured by storytellers from time to time, and for a while, that entity was captured by the A Nightmare on Elm Street films.
However, this being can never be contained permanently. It will always escape eventually, and this can happen in a number of ways. Wes says the entity escaped the Freddy films because the studio ended the franchise with Freddy’s Dead, but he also says it can escape a story when “somebody waters it down to make it an easier sell.” And the way I see it, that last line is our smoking gun.
By including it, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is hinting that this is in fact what happened to the Freddy franchise. Granted, Wes says the entity escaped because the series ended, not because someone watered Freddy down, but we can’t really expect this movie to explicitly belittle the previous sequels. It has to convey its criticism much more subtly, so it hides that message in plain sight.
And when you look at it that way, everything falls into place. Heather’s interview earlier in the film set the stage and told us that the problem of people lionizing Freddy Krueger was somehow connected to the sequels, and her conversation with Wes explains what that connection is.
In the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy is pretty much the embodiment of evil, but he devolved into a veritable comedian in his later movies. In fact, the franchise got to the point where you almost want to hang out with the guy, so it’s easy to forget that he’s actually a vicious serial killer. He became a character that crowds could cheer and applaud, and in the process, he stopped being the powerful symbol of evil he was when he first burst onto the horror scene.
Hansel and Gretel
And in case there’s any doubt about that, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare lays it to rest by subtly comparing itself to the famous fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel.” Early on in the film, Heather reads the story to her son Dylan, and when she gets to the end of it, the camera shows us something very telling. We see an illustration in the book Heather is reading from, and wouldn’t you know, the witch in it is wearing green and red striped pants that are clearly reminiscent of the classic Freddy Krueger sweater.
Admittedly, that’s a pretty slim parallel, so by itself, it doesn’t prove much. But when the film gets to the third act, the comparison becomes impossible to deny. For starters, when Freddy finally captures Dylan, Dylan leaves a small trail of sleeping pills for Heather to find so she can follow him, just like Hansel and Gretel leave a trail of breadcrumbs in the woods. Then, towards the end of the movie, Freddy tells Dylan, “Come here, my piggy, I got some gingerbread for you,” a clear reference to the gingerbread house in “Hansel and Gretel.”
Soon after that, Heather and Dylan finally defeat Freddy, and they do it by shoving him into a fiery furnace, just like Hansel and Gretel escape the witch by pushing her into an oven. And last but not least, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare ends in a very meta way, with Heather reading the film’s script to Dylan, just like she read “Hansel and Gretel” to him earlier in the story.
When you put all those parallels together, it becomes clear that the witch’s striped pants are no coincidence. They subtly foreshadow what’s to come and set up the parallel between these two stories, and that leaves us with one big question: What’s the point? Why would Wes Craven want to compare this movie to “Hansel and Gretel”? At first, it might be tough to see any rhyme or reason to this, but if we dig a bit deeper, Wes’s intentions become clear as day.
As many people know, fairy tales like “Hansel and Gretel” were originally much darker and more violent than they are now, and the versions most of us learned as kids were very sanitized. To take just one example, in a lot of modern versions of “Hansel and Gretel,” the children just get lost in the woods, but in the original version, they were intentionally left there by their parents.
That’s a pretty stark difference, and something similar happened with the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. Sure, Freddy Krueger never stopped being a slasher villain, but like I said before, he did stop being the embodiment of evil. As the movies progressed, he eventually turned into a somewhat sanitized, sugar-coated version of himself, so he essentially went through the same kind of transformation our most beloved fairy tales have undergone over the past few centuries.
But thankfully, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare reverses that trend and brings Freddy Krueger back to his roots. While he does crack a couple of semi-witty one-liners, he’s nothing like the ridiculous jokester he was in the previous few films. Instead, he goes about his business with a deadly seriousness, and he’s just as menacing as he’s ever been. This version of Freddy is the embodiment of evil once again (quite literally!), and the movie is all the better for it.