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I’d really like to know what Hollywood felt was lacking in Wes Craven’s 1984 horror masterpiece, A Nightmare on Elm Street, that it required a remake.  Truly one of the scariest horror films ever made (- and the feature debut of one John Christopher Depp, II), Nightmare’s box office success single-handedly saved New Line Cinema from bankruptcy and spawned a not only a succession of sequels but a television anthology series.  That should really have been enough, but when has the movie biz ever been known to leave well enough alone?

In this utterly unnecessary remake (- not even clever enough to be called a “reimagining”), director Samuel Bayer fleshes in the silver screen’s favourite child murderer.  This new version begins as did the first film with a group of teenaged friends who are all experiencing the same frightening dreams about a shadowy guy with a taste for 80’s millinery, Christmas-coloured sweaters and long, metal fingernails.  The dreams of Nancy, Quentin and their pals become increasingly vivid until they finally acquire a body count.  This is the tip-off for all involved that the nasty cat with the skin condition may not merely be a figment of their collective nocturnal imagination.  A little detective work by the teens reveals the man of their dreams is Fred Krueger, a pre-school employee accused of having done something terrible to young Nancy. They also discover that the PTA from hell had mercilessly hunted the suspected gardener-gone-bad and burned him alive.  A decade later, it’s the adolescent children of these vigilantes that are getting picked off one by one as they slumber.  You know what they say about payback.

It’s just not scary.  Using nothing but cheap pops and unclever gore for its thrills, this A Nightmare on Elm Street hasn’t a patch on the original in any way.  The main focus of the first film was the spunky, resourceful Nancy (- the greatest horror heroine since Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode from 1978’s Halloween), and here she’s a blank-eyed cipher who means nothing to the audience and couldn’t rescue herself from the shallow end of a kiddie pool.  The focus this time is spread out amongst her friends, notably the sad-eyed Quentin, the only one who seems to have a clue as to what’s going on.  As a result, this dilution doesn’t help us care about any of the characters except maybe to wonder who’s next to die horribly.  Then again, even that’s predictable; flitting back and forth from the canon of Craven’s original piece to whatever takes the filmmaker’s fancy, there’s nothing surprising or original here except how poorly made it is and how the primal impact of the 1984 piece seems to have completely washed over this pretender. The original film was creepy from the word go; from the slightly softened, hazy cinematography to the first silhouetted images of the compact, humanoid creature with elongated arms slowly chasing his victim down an endless corridor, this truly was the stuff of nightmares.  In the days before Freddy Krueger became a horror cliché, spouting bad puns and one-liners, the haunting laugh, and knives screeching against the walls and his ability to use your worst dreaming moments against you - the feet caught in goo as Nancy desperately flees, the attacks at the moment one dozed, even in the tub - got under your skin and stayed there.  In this new film, you don’t even have to be asleep to catch sight of Freddy stalking you.  Making a huge post modern mistake, Bayer doesn’t take the time to build up his phantasmagoric bad guy, giving the impression that viewers are already supposed to know Freddy Krueger.  That may be fine for a sequel, but it’s cheating and taking shortcuts when you’re reintroducing the character to a new audience and most of all, not very scary.  Neither really is this new Freddy.  Mind you, I adore me some Jackie Earle Haley, have done since The Bad News Bears {1976} and couldn’t have been more thrilled for his successes in Little Children {2006} and last year’s Watchmen (- which he carried).  I was even slightly placated upon hearing he was meant to play Freddy in this unavoidable remake.  Sadly, Bayer’s failure to create an effective villain (- or film) leaves the actor’s efforts out in the cold.  The new Freddy isn’t intimidating at all.  He’s justifiably angry over the manner of his death, but unlike Krueger V.1, this one hasn’t learned to have fun with his undeadness.  Freddy here is more emo than menacing, the original freaking people out with his not only his pointy handgear, but an undeniable sexual menace as well (- the tongue through Nancy’s phone, anyone?), which only furthered the whole kiddie-killer creepout.  This Freddy is a little too human; he’s a tiny, thin, badly-dressed guy whose melted face eerily resembles an action figure of Tom Waits left out in the sun too long.  Seriously, this Freddy could be knocked over by a strong breeze or a flying shoe, there’s nothing intimidating about him.  Even the glove, so iconic to the Nightmare franchise, is a big meh.  The knives are tiny in comparison to the long 1984 claws and despite scenes of the odd body part being removed from a living victim, fail to strike terror in the still-beating heart.  However, this being a Michael Bay production, even the gloves have to have bombast, so instead of being icked by the trademark fingernails on the chalkboard screech, the claws light up and spark like tiny blowtorches when run against a surface.  Ooh, so scary.  Not to say Jackie Earle Haley doesn’t give it all he’s got; the short scenes of Krueger pre-tanning accident are actually effective, giving Freddy an unexpected Little Children-ish sympathy (- it’s also never made entirely clear what exactly it is he was supposed to have done to little Nancy that wouldn’t have gotten him instantly thrown in jail).  Haley’s variation of his Rorschach voice creates the only slightly threatening aspect of this thoroughly unimpressive Freddy Krueger.  Scarred by bad makeup, subpar acting by both the imperiled teens and bored veterans like the normally brilliant Clancy Brown, and overall inept storytelling, A Nightmare on Elm Street is a bad dream for fans of the 1984 movie or anyone who enjoys well made horror films.

The original A Nightmare on Elm Street still makes me turn all the lights on if I watch it on my own.  As far as this remake is concerned, I really don’t know why they bothered.

 

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

April 30th, 2010

 

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  New Line Cinema)

 

 

 

 

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