If there was one horror franchise that I admired in my youth it was the A Nightmare on Elm Street films. At its core it was just another slasher series, but what made it unique was that the stalking scenes all took place inside someone’s dreams where anything can happen. The kills were (mostly) imaginatively creepy and the visuals (for the most part) were just as creative. The antagonist, Freddy Krueger, was a one of a kind creation that was genuinely scary and threatening since he could kill you when you are at your most vulnerable - when you slept. Sure down the line he became a parody of himself with all the bad puns and jokes he would spit out before offing someone. I’m not a fan of that version of Freddy at all and am not fond of parts 4-6 due to it.
When Platinum Dunes decided to option A Nightmare on Elm Street for a big budget remake I was both excited and horrified. On one hand I was ecstatic at the thought of seeing what crazy stuff the filmmakers could cook up with all the cutting edge CGI available nowadays (the dream world stuff in Freddy vs. Jason was just a taste of what I wanted to see), and on the other I was pissed that someone would even consider remaking a classic such as the original film (ahem, Psycho). In the end I decided to leave my expectations at the door and watch it with as blank a slate as I could possibly muster.
… and it pretty much sucked.
A group of sleep deprived teenagers are dying in their sleep one by one and no one can figure out why. Upon investigation they discover that they all have something in common – they all attended the same pre-school in their youth and were acquainted with the groundskeeper Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley), who was burned to death by vengeful parents when they learned he was molesting the children. He has returned from beyond the grave to haunt the dreams of the children that accused him in order to exact his revenge.
The plot is similar to the original film with Freddy being made into a child molester instead of a child killer. The same core group of teenagers, played by actors that look way too old for these roles, are the focus of the story and things play out in a predictable fashion for those familiar with the series. The problem is that the script is content with being strictly middle of the road that it’s infuriating. You have all this technology available to make virtually whatever you want happen on screen to really sell the dream scenes and the filmmakers pick nothing but dingy steam tunnels for backdrops. It was understandable in the original film as Wes Craven had a tiny budget to work with, but director Samuel Bayer had $35m and still couldn’t come up with anything interesting.
Bayer has decent visual flair and knows how to make kick ass transitions between the real and dream worlds (the classroom scene in particular), but he never goes far enough. You can tell this was his first big feature because he makes lots of rookie mistakes, most notably focusing on the money shots and not the actors. He only seems to be interested in making sure that Jackie Earle Haley comes off as scary and not a laughing stock like in the later sequels (Freddy’s Dead especially). He succeeded in that aspect, but not much else. The line of what is reality or a dream, which was sufficiently blurred in the original, is obvious here since there’s always some sort of flashy special effect or loud audio cue to signal that the story has crossed over. It’s just lazy and Bayer needs to go back to making music videos since he cannot seem to fathom the art of subtlety. Although I will say that the final big dream sequence was pretty nifty (I’m all about the variation on the bed blood geyser bit).
Writers Wesley Strick & Eric Heisserer don’t venture far from what the original film was and that’s the biggest problem. I wanted them to do something different, be edgy and all that, but they copped out and basically just did a straight remake of the original. All the major beats are the same and it’s a pretty boring affair for the most part since fans will know exactly what is going to happen before it does due too them seeing it all nearly 25 yeas prior. Their inclusion of “micro naps” was kind of cool at first in order to help blur those lines of reality I mentioned earlier, but Bayer effed that up.
My biggest issue with the writer’s cop out attitude is the explanation of Freddy’s motives. It’s hinted at that the children made up the molestation story that resulted in Freddy being killed by angry parents. If they had stuck to their guns I would have bought into the film a lot more. Freddy would have had a streak of sympathy in the background that could have given his character an even greater edge. A lot of the ridiculousness surrounding Freddy haunting dreams would be explained by his insatiable need for revenge and would be totally justified. But no, in the end it turns out Freddy really was molesting the kids and he wants them dead because they tattled on him. Ball dropped.
The Nancy that Wes Craven created, played with honesty and intelligence by Heather Langenkamp, was full of personality and made for one of the greatest heroines in horror cinema. This version of the character, played by an asleep at the wheel Rooney Mara, is one of the most uninteresting heroines I’ve ever seen. It’s not Mara’s fault since the script sucks and the director doesn’t seem to care that the main character has zero charisma. She barely opens her mouth when she speaks so it’s no surprise that she’s boring to watch.
Kyle Gallner as Nancy’s love interest Quentin fares slightly better. He seems to be enjoying the fact that he’s now a part of the Nightmare franchise and inserts a decent amount of personality into his badly written character. For example, Gallner is a tiny little dude who looks like he could barely hold a weapon to defend himself, so they cast him as a member of the swim team? He looks so out of place in the pool scenes that it’s laughable. The only reason that aspect of the character was written into the plot was so there could be an underwater dream sequence.
The one bright spot is Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger. His short stature and gravely voice work wonders to give this version of the character a new angle and to separate himself from Robert Englund’s classic performance. His mannerisms and body language give off this creepy vibe that makes him scarier than the script can afford. He seems to be taking the responsibility of assuming the mantle of a horror icon extremely seriously and I can say nothing negative about his interpretation.
Freddy’s burn make-up is more realistic this time out, but the details of his costume have remained exactly the same which is a little disappointing. It was explained in the original that Freddy made the knife glove in order to kill his child victims more easily. Here it’s a dream world representation of a small handheld rake he used in his gardening duties at the pre-school. Lame. I wouldn’t have had any problem with the filmmakers ditching the sweater or fedora for a new look. This was to be a Freddy for the new generation so I could have lived with some alterations as long as he wasn’t wearing a sun dress or crocs. They took the easy way out and just repeated the same old outfit because they feared “fan backlash”. Grow a pair, would ya?!
The kills, which I mentioned earlier, were pretty creative back in the day. In one film Freddy yanks out the tendons from the arms and legs of a kid who likes to make puppets and uses them to control the guy like a marionette. In another he feeds a bulimic girl her own intestines. One particular favorite of mine is when he turns a girl who is scared of bugs into a cockroach and squashes her. The deaths that I enjoyed the most were the ones where Freddy exploited a character’s fear or weakness, like the examples I listed above. The kills in this film, however, are anything but creative. Basically he just cuts someone up in their dream and they bleed all over the place in reality. Dead. Generic deaths are the name of the game here folks. Sad.
This film was disappointing in the extreme for me. I adored the original films as a kid (even though that’s not really the case anymore) and I had high hopes that this would usher in a new wave of kick ass Nightmare flicks that would go to places the others couldn’t due to budget/effects limitations. Instead we received a run of the mill slasher that has the A Nightmare on Elm Street moniker slapped on it for some name recognition. It made some nice bank upon it’s theatrical run, but the critical/fan reaction was so negative that Platinum Dunes never went forward with their plans for sequels and thankfully so. At least they have the common sense to listen to the public (like with their planed and aborted remake of The Birds). We wanted something new and we didn’t get it.
As far as I know there are no more remakes, or sequels of their remakes on Platinum Dunes’ horizon. The audience has spoken, and even though we turn out in droves to see your product we definitely do not like what we see. Stick with original projects (even though those seem to fail miserably as well, like The Unborn) or just call it quits. Please. That is all.
2 out of 5
My list of A Nightmare on Elm Street films in order from best to least favorite:
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
2. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
3. Freddy vs. Jason
4. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
5. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
6. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
7. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
8. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
9. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare