Friday, April 30, 2010

Wes Craven's New Nightmare

Ten years and five sequels after his original film, Wes Craven returned to the Nightmare series. He had never intended it to be a series, and did not like the silly, slasher direction the series had taken either. This film returns to the menacing and scary ideas that the original had addressed, but also made some pointed comments on the direction horror films in general and the Nightmare series had taken in the eighties and early nineties.

This film takes the “meta” approach. The actors and crew from the original Nightmare play themselves. In it, a real demon has become enamored with Craven’s imaginary creation, and now embodies the monster from the films in the real world. Just as in the original film, fear itself is powerful and dangerous. Here, the adoration of the Freddy fandom also plays a part in giving the evil its power. As with Craven’s earlier film, the ideas are compelling, but the film itself fails ultimately to truly deliver.

The legacy of this film is that it began the process of questioning the eighties horror trend: Why it was so popular?—What did it say about our society?—and What is truly scary? Scream would follow just a couple of years later, carrying on the commentary of the cultural horror obsession.

Even more interesting is the philosophical stance of the film. A couple of years earlier, the film Candyman had taken a similar approach to horror. In it a monster existed due to the very belief of the community it terrorized. It is a horror approach to Philosophy of Religion. Belief can be a very powerful thing. Even when a belief is based on a lie, when enough people believe something it can affect the world through the actions of the people who believe it. Every religion in the world relies on the control it holds over people.

That is why the message of the Bible was rescued from religious interpretation in the reformation. God has come to humanity offering forgiveness and relationship, not fees and religion. In fact, the Biblical understanding of religious systems could be seen as reflecting the same ideas of this movie. They are the teachings and institutions devised by evil spiritual forces to distract people from the real solution to the alienation they feel.

Actually all that is probably way too much thought devoted to a mildly clever horror story. What are the odds today’s Platinum Dunes will generate any intelligent ideas at all? Not that great.

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