The early Nightmare on Elm Street films – whether they’re good (one and three) or bad (the rest) – focused on maximalist scares – full of big special effects, buckets of gore and a sneering Freddy centre-frame. In New Nightmare the scares are subtle, building upon real fears – a child’s fear of the boogeyman under the bed, or the fear of death (best seen in a fantastic funeral scene that aches with loss). Elements of the narrative are based on Heather Langenkamp’s real experiences with a stalker, and they carry an eerie realism.
It’s as though the film is anticipating the restrained creepiness of J-horror. It also predates the post-modern take on horror that has subsequently become popular: even to the point of having its characters find the script of the film they’re in.
The film makes the most of the Nightmare series’ history with dreams and the uncertainty of reality; it’s often unclear whether scenes are hallucinations or dreams, contributing to a pervading atmosphere of doubt and disorder.
New Nightmare isn’t perfect – the movie returns to bigger, more theatrical scares in the back stretch and is weaker for it – but it’s one of the best Nightmare films, both well-written and genuinely unnerving.