A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

Is it just me, or are movie teenagers now a lot more boring than the ones in ‘80s movies? John Hughes would be at sea today: there’s no equivalent to Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, or Judd Nelson. Even in the slasher flicks of two decades ago, you had actors like Kevin Bacon, Johnny Depp, Holly Hunter and Tom Hanks making early pre-stardom appearances. Who do we have now? Rooney Mara? Kyle Gallner? Kellan Lutz? If any of these young actors — who blandly populate the new Nightmare on Elm Street — go on to do great work and win Oscars, I promise to apologize.¹ Somehow, though…

This is the latest attempt by Michael Bay’s schlock-horror shingle Platinum Dunes to rewrite iconic slashers for a new generation, following terrible remakes/”reboots” of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hitcher, Friday the 13th and The Amityville Horror. Of all the ‘80s boogeymen, the putty-faced Freddy Krueger, who kills teenagers in their dreams, would seem the most blasphemous to recast. Robert Englund made Freddy his own, lending him a jocular menace that became endearing (and, through repetition, unthreatening). The new Freddy is Jackie Earle Haley, who certainly nails the viciousness and also the warped humanity of Freddy’s pre-demonic self. But there’s only so much he can do.

A Nightmare on Elm Street photocopies much of Wes Craven’s original 1984 classic, but makes senseless changes that destroy the story’s night-terror integrity. In Craven’s film, Freddy is motivated by rage at the teenagers’ parents, who burned him to death after discovering he was killing children down in the boiler room of the school. Here, the teenagers themselves are involved in a too-neat way that adds nothing. A flashback to Freddy fleeing the mob of furious parents leads us to suspect that he was actually innocent, falsely accused. But, in what strongly stinks of hasty rewrites, that intriguing angle is thrown away.

So what we’re left with is a zombie-like walk through the familiar scenes, with entirely too much time spent with dull teenagers trying to stay awake (I could relate). And the key valid reason to remake Nightmare — the CGI effects that could lead to great surreal dreamscapes and mind-melting transformations and deaths — has, for no reason I can explain, been completely ignored here. Wes Craven, on a budget of $1.8 million, peppered his film with weird, freaky effects — Freddy stretching his arms across an alley; Freddy sticking his tongue through a telephone; Freddy pursuing a victim in the deep background of a shot and then turning up right in front of her. Wanna know how much of that appears in the remake? None. And nothing fresh or fun takes their place.

There’s one shot of a fog-shrouded Elm Street that captured my attention and gave some indication of the moody, mysterious horror film this could’ve been. It looks like a painting you can enter and get lost in and get killed in — beautiful and frightening. That’s it — one shot. The rest is disposable, even Jackie Earle Haley, who — aside from the flashbacks, where he acts his ass off — could be anyone behind that reptilian make-up. Freddy has been given more realistic burn trauma, and his backstory has been made uglier, and for what? Like all the other Platinum Dunes rehashes, this Nightmare is more unpleasant than scary, more squalid than entertaining. What else, at this point, will these crapmeisters remake? If new versions of, say, Humungous or He Knows You’re Alone are announced for 2011, we’ll know they’re scraping bottom.

¹And then, of course, Rooney Mara went on to be nominated for an Oscar. Until she actually wins one, though, I’m not apologizing!

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