Filmmaking and monster making collide in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, the most meta film ever created. It is a self-aware commentary on fandom and the horror genre, specifically the demands these industries create. The film reunites the original cast of Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), but not as their characters, as themselves. In this bizarre reversal, the character becomes the actor, as actress Heather Langenkamp plays herself. When the ‘real’ Freddy enters our world, he begins to stalk Heather as if she were her character. The film implies that this is the same way fan culture treats actors, making Wes Craven’s so-called New Nightmare toxic fandom.
The film pits Heather against two antagonists, fan culture and Freddy, both of which are dangerous and repeatedly interrupt her family life and career. She cannot escape from the reputation of the original film, and the film addresses this both directly and symbolically. Freddy becomes a representation of fan culture, as he is fixated on repeating the past, even though the actors and genre has changed. The demonic force which raises Freddy in the film is thus an extension of fan culture.
While there are several hyper aware moments in the film, I want to focus on the television interview scene, which happens before the ‘real’ Freddy appears. We see Heather as she is interviewed about the legacy of the original film. This is something right out of our world, something Heather would actually do as an actress. What is interesting is that Craven directly criticizes film culture in the scene, particularly the fandom associated with Freddy. The studio audience is clearly obsessed with Freddy, a killer, and not with Heather or her character Nancy, the victim. This makes Heather deeply uncomfortable, as she is trying to move on with her life and establish a new career and legacy, but Freddy continues to stalk her through this fandom.
The interviewer is only interested in Heather’s relationship with the original film, treating it as the only defining characteristic about her life. Even when he asks her about her family, he quickly reframes his question to ask if her son has watched the movies. When Heather tries to change the question, the interviewer suddenly asks if she would trust Robert Englund around her son. This is such a creepy question, as the implication is that Robert is the same as his character and would abuse her son. It also illustrates that while Heather is trying to move on, the industry has collapsed character with actor, and is unwilling to separate the two.
Unlike Heather, Robert has accepted this, as he crashes the interview in full Freddy makeup. As he rushes over to the fans, the camera changes, and suddenly we see Freddy from Heather’s perspective. We don’t see his face, just his back as he stands in the spotlight. This shot is frightening and ominous, but not in a traditional horror sense. It refuses to glorify Freddy, it does not even show his face.
This moment changes our perspective as a film audience, as the film asks us to consider what it must be like for Heather. It also asks us to look at ourselves from Heather’s perspective, as we see both Freddy and the audience in this frightening shot. We are demons, just like Freddy. We are the monstrous and single-minded threat working against Heather. This is what the film is interested in. It wants to talk about what it means to be a horror actor, and how frightening, overwhelming, and dangerous fandom can be.
The real horror in the film is Freddy’s legacy, or the very people watching New Nightmare, those who liked the original Nightmare on Elm Street. This interview scene is meant to involve the viewer in critical thought. This means that both the film and its audience are meant to be self-aware. The film asks the viewer to consider what it means to obsess over a franchise and genre, specifically one frequently abuses women. By positioning Heather as both actress and character, the film redefines what it means to be a heroine, and how important it is to be aware of these conventions, in film and in fandom.