Freddy Krueger is the greatest slasher icon in the unholy trinity of Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. (Sorry, Leatherface. With only six films in your franchise, you and your chainsaw can’t cut it.)
Wes Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street never got the level of acclaim that John Carpenter did with Halloween. It arrived in 1984, a year after the slasher genre had already peaked with box-office earnings close to sixty percent. But even as all those movies slaughtered the competition, here was another film ready to make a killing. Eight movies and twenty-six years later, A Nightmare on Elm Street has been remade for a new audience. Freddy Krueger may be the last of the unholy trinity to get a remake but that might not necessarily be a good thing.
Samuel Bayer, making his feature film directorial debut, is well schooled in mood and imagery from his career as an award-winning music video director. Beginning with Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” where Kurt Cobain is wearing a sweater with green and white stripes, to the images contained in The Cranberries’ “Zombie” and Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” the director finally gets the opportunity to unleash his skill set on the big screen. As skilled as Bayer is though, even he must have known the drawbacks for doing a remake.
Helping Bayer’s cause is the film’s premise. It’s a movie about teens being systematically picked off one by one in their dreams. The dreamworld opens up visual possibilities for Bayer. Unfortunately, he’s hampered by an awful script and worse characters. Even by horror movie standards the acting is atrocious. At least in the original Nightmare the heroine was able to grow into her character. Here the movie is so muddled for the first half with character interactions and one subplot that wanted us to feel sympathy for an alleged child molester. By then I was squirming in my chair. Not because I was scared, but because it was a chore to watch the story unfold. Let Freddy pick the stupid teenagers off one by one and be done with it. After a number of teens are disposed of without putting up much of a fight, we are left with Nancy (Rooney Mara) and Quentin (Kyle Gallner). Their mission is to stay awake and not bore us to sleep. They failed.
The reason why Freddy Krueger is the greatest slasher of them all is his personality. He kills his victims when they are at their most vulnerable, but he’s able to be ruthless and wisecracking all in one. That’s why people went to the movies – to see him and how he did his business.
If the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street wasn’t enough to upset the die-hard fans, then the decision of casting a new Freddy Krueger surely was. Robert England, who portrayed the charbroiled, red-and-green sweater wearing teenage killing machine in the eight previous films, will always be Freddy. But Jackie Earle Haley isn’t bad in the role. By the end of the series’ run Freddy had become a caricature in the pantheon of late ‘80s pop culture. When a fictional serial killer can have his own pull-string doll, host a TV series and make appearances on MTV, he is less sinister and be more appealing to kids. Sorry, Freddy Krueger isn’t role model material.
In this new Nightmare Freddy is more serious. Serious is good, but a little camp never hurts. Near the end of the movie, levity sets in a bit and Freddy is able to throw in one or two good zings showing that even with burnt flesh and a voice that would make Batman’s ears ache, he hasn’t lost his sense of humor.
Other than the casting of Freddy, the only major change to the story is altering the character’s backstory. Instead of being a child murderer he’s a sexual predator now. It could be because of the prevalence of child molesters in today’s news (i.e., Elizabeth Smart’s kidnapping in 2002). It’s not major concern, because the assumption that Freddy molested the kids before killing them was always inferred. For the remake, flashbacks show Freddy as a daycare attendee who takes the local children into his “secret room.” Nothing gratuitous is shown but the exploitation is implied.
Aside from the changes above, most of the movie plays out like the original. In fact, some of the kill scenes are glorified recreations from Wes Craven’s film. When the first visual nod occurred and then another, the question popped into my head of why remake A Nightmare on Elm Street if all you’re going to do is include little wink-wink moments to the original and tweak the character’s mythology? At least the remake of Friday the 13th was a remake for part two in the series and had Jason be the killer – not his mother.
Samuel Bayer’s visual stamp and Jackie Earle Haley’s performance are solid; the rest is paint by numbers. There are no future scream queens on display or breakout stars. Though, to be honest, as the series progressed the teenagers became less and less relevant. For every Johnny Depp or Patricia Arquette, we got Danny Hassel and Kim Myers. Ring any bells? Depp’s appearance probably had no effect in shaping him into the character actor he is today. (And it’s not like Kevin Bacon rocketed to superstardom because he was the fifth victim in Friday the 13th either.)
This Nightmare on Elm Street has thirty good minutes in its 95-minute running time. But a third of a movie does not a good movie make. The forced jump scares and being too faithful to Wes Craven’s original detracts heavily from the enjoyment factor. It isn’t until the climax where we are allowed to plant our tongue firmly in cheek, but by then it is too late to see Freddy Krueger lay siege to this teenage wasteland.
Director: Samuel Bayer Notable Cast: Jackie Earle Haley, Rooney Mara, Kyle Gallner, Thomas Dekker, Katie Cassidy, Kellan Lutz Writer(s): Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer, Based on Original Characters created by Wes Craven
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!