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MOVIE REVIEW : Novel Twists Power Craven's 'Nightmare'

October 14, 1994|PETER RAINER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Freddy Krueger fans will exult and horror movie mavens will not be surprised: "Wes Craven's New Nightmare" is much better than the usual run of scare pictures.

Craven directed the original "Nightmare on Elm Street" movie, still by far the best, but had no real involvement in any of the five sequels. His "New Nightmare" draws on some Old Nightmares from the series but also gets at something new to the genre. It's a complicated, tricky attempt to bring out the elements of horror movie-making in a way that's deliberately self-conscious. It's post-modernism for the mall crowd--a movie-within-a-movie-about-a-movie.

The premise is that Freddy is not a movie monster but an archetypal demon who, now that the "Nightmare" series has ended, has become unleashed into the real world via Craven's new script. He infects the dreams of the family of the actress--Heather Langenkamp--in the original "Nightmare." (She was also in "Part 3" but who, besides Freddy, is counting?) He wreaks all kinds of razor-fingered havoc until Heather pursues him through her dreams into a kind of boiler-room perdition in order to save her child (Miko Hughes). As if this weren't enough, Craven also works in the Northridge earthquake, just in case his meta-mystical heebie-jeebies weren't to your taste. One way or the other, "Nightmare" has moments that will probably scare the bejabbers out of just about anybody.

*

Besides Langenkamp, Robert Englund also turns up, of course, playing the actor who plays Freddy (as well as Freddy himself). Craven plays himself; so do John Saxon, and the chairman of the "Nightmare" releasing company, New Line's Robert Shaye. It's a gimmick, an in-joke, and yet there's something inherently creepy about all this self-referencing. It punctures our it's-only-a-movie reassurances. After all, these people know it's only a movie too, and yet dreadful things keep happening to them.

There's another novel twist to this "Nightmare." It works in the filmmakers' attitudes toward the horror genre by imagining what it might be like for an actress like Langenkamp to confront her own child watching her in "Nightmare"--and being terrorized by her. Craven, in effect, does the same thing to himself; he's spooked by what he first unleashed. His "New Nightmare" isn't the Pirandellian masterpiece that his enthusiasts are calling it, but it's more than diverting. It's compelling--it challenges you to keep up with it.

* MPAA rating: R, for explicit horror, violence, and gore, and for language. Times guidelines: It includes lots of up-close gore, scenes of children in peril, and graphic earthquake simulations.

'Wes Craven's New Nightmare'

Heather Langenkamp: Herself

Robert Englund: Himself

Miko Hughes: Dylan

John Saxon: Himself

A New Line presentation. Director Wes Craven. Producers Marianne Maddalena. Executive producers Robert Shaye, Wes Craven. Screenplay by Wes Craven. Cinematographer Mark Irwin. Editor Patrick Lussier. Music J. Peter Robinson. Production design Cynthia Charette. Set decorator Ruby Guidara. Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes.

* In general release throughout Southern California.

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