by Heather Wixson
While he was always an innovator of horror, I also think that when you look back at Craven’s filmography, I always thought it was really interesting that he was a director who was willing to try and reimagine some of his own watershed moments in the genre, by way of New Nightmare and Scream 4. And while I recognize that neither of these films are what I would consider a traditional remake, Craven certainly finds new ways to re-explore the themes that made the original Nightmare and Scream films so iconic in these two sequels, which just proves that Craven was a storyteller who was always willing to push himself in ways most of the other great genre directors that helped shape the landscape of modern horror never did.
Because A Nightmare on Elm Street came first, that feels like a logical starting point for this, so that’s where I’m diving in. Back in 1984, Craven changed the rules about what a slasher movie could be during the heyday of the subgenre, by introducing us to a killer named Freddy Krueger who preyed on teens in their dreams. The impossibility of the rules Craven introduced us to in the original Nightmare – essentially, if you sleep, you die – is what made Freddy such a dominant force, because universally, we all have to sleep. We can skip heading to a cabin in the woods, or visiting a campground where a bunch of teens have been slaughtered, and we can even stay away from the mean streets of '80s New York, but we all have to sleep, which is why A Nightmare on Elm Street terrified me as much as it did back when I was a kid.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors from a script standpoint, New Nightmare marked Craven’s directorial return to the franchise he birthed for the ultimate, final Nightmare. At a time when studio-backed genre movies weren’t exactly pushing ingenuity (save for John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness, which also happened to be a New Line project), New Nightmare came along at a time when the genre was in desperate need for the proverbial shot in the arm, even if wasn’t necessarily a huge commercial success when it hit theaters in October 1994. And sure, the story is technically a different story than Nightmare OG, but with Heather Langenkamp front and center once again, it’s hard not to draw some parallels between the first film and New Nightmare.
There are, of course, the homages to some key moments from NOES, like when Heather answers the phone and she gets licked by the Freddy phone after Dylan assembles all of the weird pages sent to her by her stalker, or when Heather blurts out to a nurse “Screw Your Pass,” as she desperately makes her way through the hospital halls in a desperate attempt to see her son after Dylan’s been moved out of his room. But there are some other ways where Craven revisits some of the concepts and scenes from A Nightmare on Elm Street in New Nightmare and finds a way to turn them on their head where they feel like something that isn’t just simply an homage, but more like a filmmaker who is looking to explore some of those original ideas a decade later, with a fresh perspective and under a new lens.
It was such an interesting way to resurrect an entity who had been officially killed off (so said Freddy’s Dead) in a way that wasn’t a retread of how other horror franchises would bring back their villains, and I don’t think we’ve seen a horror series in the last 24 years even come close to being able to resurrect a genre icon quite like NN did, either. And while I have seen plenty of folks harping on the slick redesign of Krueger for New Nightmare over the years, it only makes sense that this version wouldn’t necessarily look like Robert Englund’s character from the either films – after all, this is evil’s interpretation of Freddy, not really Freddy, and if evil wants to rock calf-high Doc Martens, then I’m all for it (I mean, this was the 1990s after all).
In NOES, it was Marge who brought Nancy into a sleep clinic to deal with her dreams, but in New Nightmare, now Langenkamp within the context of “real life” has to take her son to the hospital after Dylan suffers a string of seizure-like attacks, which Freddy, but not exactly Freddy, is behind. NN also does its own take on the unforgettable rotating room scene from the original Nightmare, but this time it’s Dylan’s babysitter Julie who ends up getting sliced and diced by Krueger at the hospital, while the traumatized tot watches on in sheer terror. Probably my favorite “twist” that New Nightmare does is that it takes on the Freddy bed scene from Craven’s first Nightmare. In the original, we watch on as Nancy strips the supernaturally-driven Freddy of his power by taking away her fear of him, and he digitally disintegrates right before our very eyes.
Of course, the logical place to start when you’re talking about these two installments in particular is the latter’s brilliant opening, which beautifully twisted all of our expectations when it comes to the Scream franchise. Both Scream 2 and Scream 3 pretty much did their opening scenes by the book in comparison to the Drew Barrymore scene from the first Scream, but Scream 4 decides to go the scene-within-a-scene (within-a-scene) route, and I don’t care how you feel about the sequel as a whole, you cannot deny just how damn clever Wes was by giving audiences a few fake outs before honing in on creating a killer kick-off to his latest sequel.
One of the more interesting aspects to the Scream series, particularly the first and the fourth installments, is how Craven leaned into the concepts of emerging technologies – cell phones in Scream (yes, kids, there was a time where most people didn’t have a cell phone – the horror!) and the idea of streaming/vlogging in Scream 4 – and it’s pretty damn intriguing when you take a moment to realize just how much these films can act as cautionary tales about how technology can affect society as a whole. One character that ties into this new technology is Gale (Courteney Cox), who much like in the original Scream, utilizes cameras to record at the Stab-A-Thon party in Scream 4. But rather than rely on just one camera, she sets up multiple cams throughout the party barn, proving she is still willing to go to great lengths in order to capture a newsworthy moment, despite not being an active member of the press any longer.
Of course, Scream 4’s intentions as a remake are more obviously laid out with the notion of turning Jill (Emma Roberts) into the new Sidney (Neve Campbell), as we see the somewhat estranged cousins traveling down similar paths in their respective films. But when it’s revealed that Jill is actually one of the Ghostface killers this time around, I just found that to be another great way that Craven was able to subvert fan expectations (and also giving us one of the best solo performances ever in a horror movie, when Jill physically prepares herself to go “full victim,” by stabbing herself, headbutting a framed picture and even tossing herself into a glass coffee table). And where Sidney’s mom had been murdered prior to the events of Scream, Jill has to orchestrate the death of her own mother in Scream 4, as Roberts even explains how the loss is yet another way Sidney’s cousin is preparing to step into the role of “final girl,” which is just a wickedly cruel touch to Jill’s character (I mean, she’s more concerned with fans then friends, so it makes total sense just how far she would be willing to go).
And if you’re not wholly convinced at this point that Wes was remaking Scream with what would end up being his final film, just look at the way the characters are even color-coded with their wardrobe in the finale of Scream 4. It had stuck out to me the very first time I watched the film that Trevor is dressed exactly like Sid’s dad from the first Scream (which makes it perfect that he gets tucked away in the pantry, akin to Neil Prescott in Scream OG) and that Charlie was wearing the same lime green that we see Randy in during the first Scream finale. But someone on Twitter had also pointed out to me that, with the exception of Kirby, the rest of the players we see during the finale tie directly to the cast members from Scream – Jill donning a plaid shirt like Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich), and Rory wearing a taupe-colored a la Stu Macher (Matthew Lillard) as well, with Craven slyly telling us who the killers are but not in way that’s really obvious either – with Sidney still dressed in blue. Just pure genius.