- A Nightmare on Elm Street
Directed by Samuel Bayer
Screenplay by Wesley Strick, Eric Heisserer
Jackie Earle Haley – Freddy Krueger
Kyle Gallner – Quentin Smith
Rooney Mara – Nancy Holbrook
Katie Cassidy – Kris Fowles
Thomas Dekker – Jesse Braun
Kellan Lutz – Dean Russell
Clancy Brown – Alan Smith
Leeches All the Fun from the Original
The man with knives for fingers is back for his ninth jaunt on the silver screen in twenty-five years, and this one is the least satisfying. With a select few exceptions (Zack Snyder’s 2004 Dawn of the Dead, 2010’s The Crazies) horror remakes are mostly pointless cash cows, but with Jackie Earle Haley donning the grotesque mask of Freddy Krueger, audiences had high hopes for this one. The original films, featuring characters created by horror maestro Wes Craven, were chock full of fantastic gore, creepy imagery, and some silliness to lighten it all up. Unfortunately, the new Nightmare on Elm Street will leave even those uninitiated to the original films wanting.
In idyllic suburban paradise Springwood, Ohio, bleary-eyed teenagers band together to fight the man who’s haunting their dreams, a horribly burned creature with blades on his fingers and a striped sweater. As he picks them off one by one in their sleep, Nancy (Rooney Mara) and Quentin (Kyle Gallner) decide to get to the bottom of Fred Krueger. Without revealing too much, Krueger’s past relationships with the kids is one of the movie’s biggest flaws. True evil doesn’t need an intricate back-story, but writers Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer chopped together bits and pieces from the original and made Freddy’s vendetta even more personal. Instead of clarifying things, this serves to narrow Krueger’s killings to a small, specific group of kids who were his “favorites” in life. The filmmakers tried to emphasize Krueger’s child molester background, and though this adds a new ick factor, we don’t need it pounded into us that, yes, Krueger was a creep in real life and continues to be in the afterlife.
The film opens with exhausted Dean (Kellan Lutz) chugging cup after cup of coffee at the Springwood Diner, fighting to stay awake. The blinking neon signs flash red, green, red, green; colors are overly saturated and shadows are deep and long; the “this-is-a-spooky-place” factor is through the roof. The horror tropes are enough to clue us all in to the fact that Dean’s dreaming. The movie continues to dumb down the dream sequences for new audiences, giving them neon flashing arrows that forewarn “hey, this kid’s going to run into Freddy soon.” It doesn’t improve on the first film, whose seamless transitions between dreams and reality made it truly creepy.
The new Springwood is a land of green lawns, money, and white-trimmed colonial houses where teenagers with flight attendant mothers drive brand new VW convertible bugs, wear UGGs, and are generally gorgeous. The original cast included Heather Langenkamp, whose quirky girl-next-door looks were perfect for the role of chaste sweetheart Nancy, and a young Johnny Depp in his first movie role as Nancy’s sweet, obedient boyfriend Glen. The new cast, though not downright bad, is terribly boring. Statuesque, slender blond Katie Cassidy’s role relies solely on her ability to look pretty while crying. Mara, Gallner, Lutz, and the rest of the cast are good-looking, thin, and tedious. Connie Britton, who’s brilliant in TV’s “Friday Night Lights,” and Clancy Brown, a great character actor, play the vengeful parents who doomed their kids to Freddy’s wrath. They’re suitably shady, but John Saxon and Ronee Blakley as Nancy’s original parents were sympathetic and flawed, giving the original movie an adult aspect the new one misses. Finally, Craven’s movies always follow the rules of horror (watch Scream if you want a rundown), one of which is that anyone who has sex dies. Not to complain about lack of sex in a horror film, but part of the fun of the seventies’ and eighties slashers was knowing the promiscuous would get their due punishment. Fans will recognize many of the iconic scenes from the original, with slight, effects-laden alterations that are completely unnecessary.
Finally, let’s talk about Freddy. Jackie Earle Haley is a slight man with a high voice, but when given the right role (such as Watchmen’s Rorschach or Little Children’s Ronnie McGorvey), he can transform into a disturbing weirdo. Unfortunately, the original Freddy, Robert Englund, left a legacy that just can’t be enhanced, and Haley is unmemorable as scarred, baritone-voiced Krueger. Without giving away too much about the way Freddy looks, let’s say the new mask doesn’t improve on the old. The new is perhaps more realistic, but Freddy haunts nightmares because he’s a figment, an ancient evil with a visage to shock even arrogant teenagers—and the realism was never the point.
Strick and Heisserer leeched every bit of humor from the original and quashed it. Part of the fun of the first Nightmare (1984) was Freddy’s over-the-top jokiness combined with his insane brutality. Subtract that predatory gleefulness and you have an unsatisfying flick with a villain as unmemorable as the kind that capers through eighty-minute low-budget slashers that end up going straight-to-DVD. Michael Bay produced the new Nightmare on Elm Street, which is the sixth slasher remake in the last decade with his name in the credits, and as with the others, Nightmare is completely unoriginal and unnecessary. Loud noises, a few good gory scenes, and a pretty, dull cast of characters fuel the new movie, and it’s a real shame. Take it from one who adores horror film: watch the original. It’s far more entertaining.