A Nightmare on Elm Street

Movie Information

The Story: A reworking of the 1984 film with razor-gloved-madman-from-beyond-the-grave Freddy Krueger dispatching meat-on-the-hoof teens. The Lowdown: Uninspired, unscary and just not very good at all.
Score:

Genre: Half-Baked Horror Reboot
Director: Samuel Bayer
Starring: Jackie Earle Haley, Kyle Gallner, Rooney Mara, Katie Cassidy, Thomas Dekker
Rated: R

High on the list of movies that don’t need remaking is Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). High on the list of people who should be forcibly restrained from having anything to do with movies is Michael Bay. It follows, of course, that Bay and his factory o’ pointless remakes, Platinum Dunes, would in fact undertake such a proposition. While the results here are not quite as bad as other Platinum Dunes rehashes, they are eye-glazingly pointless and totally underwhelming. Where the original was a monument of creativity and subtext over budget, this is an object lesson in overproducing, bad casting and a dearth of creativity. Nearly everything that can go wrong does, while the one interesting idea the movie has is squelched soon after its arrival.

The new version is essentially the old version with a different—and unnecessary and less effective—backstory, along with bad CGI goosings of the original’s effects. For an isolated example, look at the scene in Craven’s film where Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) leans into view—thanks to a latex wall—to hover over a sleeping victim. It was brief and it was creepy as hell. Here we have a CGI variant that goes on too long, is stupidly punctuated by a roar, looks cartoonish and isn’t creepy in the least. In fact, there’s a checklist you can go down of things that worked in the original that don’t work here.

It’s almost as if the things that made Craven’s first film genuinely scary have been carefully taken out in favor of evoking the less horrific sequels. Where is the suggestion of Freddy’s ability to extend his arm length in nightmarish fashion? The self-mutilation demonstrations of his utterly debased evil? The fact is that there’s no hint of them, but there’s no shortage of the Chatty Kathy-doll version of Freddy of the sequels. In the original, Freddy had very few lines, and they were mostly menacing, e.g. “I’m gonna kill you—slow.” The nonstop wisecracks came in the sequels, which were clearly more interested in being “fun” than in being scary.

Transforming Freddy (Jackie Earle Haley) from a child murderer into a pedophile might have been reasonable had it been handled differently or actually gone anywhere other than down a blind alley. As it stands, parents discover something’s “not quite right” about the friendly gardener who dotes on preschool children by finding 10-inch-long claw marks on little Nancy’s (Kyra Krumins) back—a highlight of unintentional comedy. And raising the prospect that maybe he was innocent—only to discover he wasn’t and seemingly justify burning him to death—isn’t just pointless, it subverts Craven’s subtext that the supernatural horror of Freddy is the product of vigilanteism.

The plotting is haphazard. The sense of Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) from the original film slowly piecing together the idea that she can bring Freddy out of the dream world and into reality is replaced here with Nancy (Rooney Mara) just realizing it. But then the characters in this movie are generally dumber than their earlier counterparts. One of them even pauses to lock the doors on her convertible VW, even though the top is down. Oh well, this is a movie in which a character meets a spectacularly bloody end in a jail cell and it’s merely noted by the authorities that he was found dead in his cell.

The casting doesn’t help. Rooney Mara evidences none of Langenkamp’s innate intelligence. Kyle Gallner (The Haunting in Connecticut) as the hero (more or less the old Johnny Depp role) is weak and always looks like he’s about to be unwell. Thomas Dekker (TV’s Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) as the “bad boy” appears to be sulking over the fact that he looks too much like Zac Efron to register on his own, but not enough like Efron to be him. And what of Haley’s Freddy Krueger? Apart from sometimes looking distractingly like Ron Perlman in his makeup, he’s remarkably unremarkable. Haley’s Krueger doesn’t boost the film in any way, but it’s probably the performance the movie deserves. Rated R for strong bloody horror violence, disturbing images, terror and language.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

12 thoughts on “A Nightmare on Elm Street

  1. Dread P. Roberts

    For an isolated example, look at the scene in Craven’s film where Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) leans into view—thanks to a latex wall—to hover over a sleeping victim. It was brief and it was creepy as hell. Here we have a CGI variant that goes on too long, is stupidly punctuated by a roar, looks cartoonish and isn’t creepy in the least.

    So, they spent a ton more on animation, to make a terrible, fake recreation, of an effect that was perfectly captured sixteen years ago? An effect that any amature filmaker could’ve done better without CGI? Yeah, that makes sense.

    To be honest, after seeing the box-office financial pull for this crap, I’m having a hard time not being upset. To me, this is (blatantly) nothing more than a lazy studio cash-in – it’s sickening. I just know there’s going to be more and more of this stuff, as a direct result of the theatrical success. Damn you Michael Bay!

    Yes, I know I can always go back and watch the original (thank god); but that doesn’t change the fact that I want more good stuff coming out in the future. This is serious people – please, I beg you, STOP rewarding production comanies for lazy cash-ins.

  2. Dionysis

    “STOP rewarding production comanies for lazy cash-ins.”

    Amen to that. I am also getting sick and tired of these crappy retreads by unoriginal hacks. I sometimes wonder how in the world financing is secured for this dreck (‘hey, why not a remake of _______; today’s kids don’t know squat about the original, and they’re so shallow and vacuous all we need are a few hot-to-trot teens to scream a lot and die…guaranteed to make piles of cash’).

  3. Ken Hanke

    So, they spent a ton more on animation, to make a terrible, fake recreation, of an effect that was perfectly captured sixteen years ago?

    Except that it was 26 years ago (it doesn’t seem possible, but…), that just about sums it up. The same thing happens in the updated version of where Nancy runs up the stairs and the steps have turned to sour cream or whatever gooey substance she got bogged in. Now she falls into some effect-y looking pool of oil-looking stuff. Craven’s scene was actually dreamlike. This looks like she just encountered one of those Laurel and Hardy potholes that seemed to proliferated in the streets on Culver City in the 20s and 30s.

    To be honest, after seeing the box-office financial pull for this crap, I’m having a hard time not being upset. To me, this is (blatantly) nothing more than a lazy studio cash-in – it’s sickening.

    “A (blank) and his (blank) are soon (blanked).” And as long as that holds true, it will continue to happen.

    I just know there’s going to be more and more of this stuff, as a direct result of the theatrical success.

    Angel Heart is in development.

    I want more good stuff coming out in the future.

    There will undoubtedly be some. There has been some — nearly all of which has “underperformed” because of our collective addiction to brand names — or other extraneous factors (like Joe Drake murdering Midnight Meat Train).

    This is serious people – please, I beg you, STOP rewarding production comanies for lazy cash-ins

    Here’s the problem — there’s a younger audience out there for this stuff. If you have the stamina for it, go check out the IMDb message boards where you will find people (I hope they’re kids) enthusing over how the remake of Chainsaw Massacre “rocked.” You’ll even find this happening with things like the remake of The Hills Have Eyes and its even worse sequel.

    That crowd isn’t going to listen to you. A more effective approach might be to try to get people with some degree of judgment and frame of reference for anything pre-2000 to actually support the more original horror films that come along even if they don’t always hit the mark.

  4. Ken Hanke

    all we need are a few hot-to-trot teens to scream a lot and die…

    Yes, but that’s not new. You’ve just described 95% of every slasher film for the past 30 years. Only now we’re at a time when people are calling Friday the 13th a classic.

  5. Dread P. Roberts

    Except that it was 26 years ago

    Haha…further evidence that I shouldn’t be an accountant, and do math with other people’s money (unless I work on Wall Street, I suppose).

    This looks like she just encountered one of those Laurel and Hardy potholes that seemed to proliferated in the streets on Culver City in the 20s and 30s.

    This is beginning to sound like a Mel Brooks slapstick/parody film. If only that were the case. *sigh*

    A more effective approach might be to try to get people with some degree of judgment and frame of reference for anything pre-2000 to actually support the more original horror films that come along even if they don’t always hit the mark.

    Well, I do take pride in the fact that my wife and I turned a decent amount of people on to Let the Right One In. The only problem is that this usually (as was the case here) happens after the thing has been out on DVD for awhile, rather than when it was in theaters.

  6. Ken Hanke

    Haha…further evidence that I shouldn’t be an accountant

    Don’t feel bad. I had to think about it.

    The only problem is that this usually (as was the case here) happens after the thing has been out on DVD for awhile, rather than when it was in theaters

    And therein lies the problem — and I’m not directing this at you in particular, but at all of us in general, and I’d be as bad if I didn’t see these things for free and have to go see them. But the fact remains that if we turn over the moviegoing to kids (and that’s broadly speaking because there are kids with taste) this is all we can expect. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again — where our parents (or maybe grandparents in your case) were the folks who didn’t read the book because they were waiting for the movie, we’ve become the folks who are waiting for the DVD.

  7. And therein lies the problem—and I’m not directing this at you in particular, but at all of us in general, and I’d be as bad if I didn’t see these things for free and have to go see them. But the fact remains that if we turn over the moviegoing to kids (and that’s broadly speaking because there are kids with taste) this is all we can expect

    I don’t know Ken, hasn’t that always been the demographic most horror films have gone after?

  8. Ken Hanke

    I don’t know Ken, hasn’t that always been the demographic most horror films have gone after?

    Originally, no. Probably not really till the advent of drive-in movies in the the 1950s. And even that kind of changed once the more respectable Hammer films and Corman’s Poe (and one Lovecraft masquerading as Poe) cycle. I’d also say it’s generally going to be now if it’s PG-13 (The Ring being a notable exception), but there have certainly been horror films in the past ten years that weren’t aimed at kids — or solely at kids.

  9. travis

    When I watched this I walked outwith a “meh” feeling but the more I think about it I really hate this movie. I know every generations says “there is no creativity in Hollywood anymore” but never have I felt the urge to say that cliche’ before. Lazy filmaking , plain and simple.

  10. Vince Lugo

    I’m a big fan of the Elm Street series (the original is one of my all time favorite films) and I had high hopes for the remake. I was not entirely disappointed, but I can understand why people wouldn’t like it (in particular, I agree with the criticism that Freddy was a bit too talky here).

    I did ultimately enjoy the film (even jumping at several spots) and I think Jackie Earl Haley did a very good job as Freddy. Also, I think the remake actually improved the original’s ending. They did the same ending, but they did it better.

    Get ready, folks. For better or worse, WB has already greenlit a sequel, in 3D no less. Sounds like fun!

  11. LYT

    Unmentioned as a cause of this remake…Wes Craven is having a hard time getting work, and has been selling remake rights to ALL his older properties in order to make some money (Hills Have Eyes, Last House on the Left, this…I hear People Under the Stairs and Shocker are coming).

    I have it on fairly good word that he didn’t especially want to be doing Scream 4…but it’s what he’s able to get made. I think if he thought it were feasible to make sequels to his older properties rather than remakes, he would. But Nightmare on Elm Street the remake sounds more viable than Nightmare on Elm Street part Nine (if you count New Nightmare as 7 and Freddy vs. Jason as 8)

  12. Ken Hanke

    Actually, I was surprised to not see Craven’s name on the film in a producer capacity, since it’s on all the others. I am baffled by the idea of remaking The People Under the Stairs. Once it’s no longer a slap in the face of Reagan and Bush the Elder, what’s left?

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