Design a site like this with
Get started

Mothers and Monsters: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) and The Babadook (2014)

With my options limited during quarantine, I’ve been indulging in some retail therapy, which for me is purchasing horror films online. One of my recent (and most proudest) purchases was a seven-disc collector’s edition of A Nightmare on Elm Street, from the original 1984 classic to Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994). However, it was when I was watching the latter that I found myself overcome by déjà vu, and not because of the franchise oversaturation. It was only halfway through that it hit me. I was watching The Babadook (2014)- twenty years too early.

On the surface, these films couldn’t seem more dissimilar. Wes Craven’s Nightmare is the seventh installment in a globally-renowned horror franchise, with films of varying quality, while Jennifer Kent’s impressive Australian directorial debut and the most effective interrogator of motherly anxiety since Rosemary’s Baby (1968) is a self-contained feature, based on an earlier 2005 short film, Monster. As well as being both critically acclaimed by both mainstream critics and their respective fanbases, the two films are united by a common thread of maternal struggle.

Both films center around frazzled mothers- New Nightmare’s Heather, (played by Heather Langenkamp as a fictionalized version of herself) and Amelia (Essie Davis). While Heather grapples with the prior fame of her famous movie role, which has attracted a persistent stalker who harasses her with anonymous phone calls, a concept that Wes Craven would later reuse in his seminal 1990’s horror classic Scream (1996). Amelia is a Australian children’s book writer in suburbia. Both women lose their husbands in vehicle accidents and struggle as newly single mothers to raise their young sons- Heather’s Dylan (Miko Hughes) and Amelia’s Sam (Noah Wiseman), who display increasingly disturbing behaviour. It becomes clear that their children’s unruliness is motivated by a terrifying, long-fingered, hatted entity intent on destroying both mother and child. In New Nightmare, this role is undertaken by horror movie icon Freddy Krueger (played by the inimitable Robert Englund), while in the other film, it is the titular Babadook (played by Tim Purcell, who also served as the film’s assistant art director (!). In both films, the respective antagonists traverse the boundaries between reality and fiction- through the mysterious picture book that Amelia receives in The Babadook to the script the fictional Wes Craven is writing for the next Nightmare on Elm Street movie.

The Babadook. is a brilliant symbolic representation… | by Eli Haven | The  Movie You Didn't See | Medium

The threats that Heather and Amelia face are both internal and external. Heather risks her life by venturing into the dream realm to rescue her son from Freddy’s clutches, while Amelia is overcome by the Babadook, who uses her underlying resentment and grief as an avenue of bodily possession and tries to take her own son’s life. The antagonists of the two films have different origins as well- Freddy Krueger in New Nightmare is the latest incarnation of a primordial sleep demon, brought to life by Wes Craven’s imagination while the Babadook is left more ambiguous, though it is implied several times throughout the film that it the physical embodiment of Amelia’s underlying clinical depression. Though both women triumph over their adversaries in the respective conclusions of their films, the monster can never be truly defeated, only contained. In Kent’s The Babadook, the creature is imprisoned beneath the house in the basement, where it is fed on a steady diet of worms, while in Wes Craven’s film, the demon is sealed within the script of the film.

Despite their differences, these two films effectively explore how society both reveres and fails mothers. Both Heather and Amelia are dismissed by those around them and face the real threat of having their children removed from their care due to their perceived mental instabilities. However, no-one offers to help them, even though they are clearly struggling mentally and physically. Mental illness is a monster that few are willing to acknowledge in ociety, but we are more than ready to condemn when it drives women to do the unthinkable, notably Andrea Yates and Dena Schlosser. Both movies show how it can grow into a monstrous threat that can consume a person’s life, but with proper love and support, it can be just as easily curtailed.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: