In the ’50s and ’60s, low-budget horror films were sold with gimmicks, the sleazier and cornier the better. So it has to be one of the crowning ironies of exploitation hucksterism that Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is being marketed as an art film, a ”Pirandellian” mind bender in which Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), the Henny Youngman of psycho slashers, returns to haunt the creators of a new Nightmare on Elm Street feature. So far the press has taken the bait: New Nightmare is being praised by exactly the sort of middlebrow reviewers who, in all likelihood, panned The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There’s just one problem — the movie is a dud. After a good, gory opening, in which Freddy’s glove — newly designed with sinews and muscles — slashes the throat of the special-effects guy who’s been working on it, the movie succumbs to a kind of sterile inertia. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare isn’t about Freddy haunting a film set, which actually might have been fun. It’s about Heather Langenkamp, star of the original Nightmare on Elm Street, being menaced for two long, slow hours by earthquakes, cracks in the wall, and other weary portents of doom. Instead of being called Nancy, however, she’s called Heather Langenkamp. As if that could make her anything but an aging B-movie starlet.
In addition to its scream-queen heroine, the movie features brief appearances by Craven, the bad-hair king John Saxon, and Robert Englund, who without his Freddy makeup suggests the runty brother of Liam Neeson. I can’t imagine anyone but lifetime subscribers to Fangoria magazine getting excited at the prospect of seeing these people play themselves. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare lacks the trancelike dread of the original Nightmare, and it features almost none of the ingeniously demented special effects that made the series’ third installment, Dream Warriors, a hallucinatory exercise in MTV horror. This one is just an empty hall of mirrors. C-