Back in 1984, Wes Craven wrote and directed a little picture titled “A Nightmare on Elm Street” for a fledgling distributor by the name of New Line Cinema. New Line had made its name for itself releasing early John Waters works and films with titles like “The Virgin President.”
Thanks to Mr. Krueger and his seven-and-a-half sequels, the company rose to prominence, eventually gaining enough traction to spend $300 milllon on the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, shortly before imploding spectacularly. This year, Michael Bay’s horror boutique, Platinum Dunes, released the remake.
Freddy Krueger was a bad, bad man. As a human, he molested and murdered children before being burned alive by the townsfolk, kinda like Frankenstein without all of that “duality of man” bullshit. Years later, he returns to haunt the surviving children, killing them in their dreams. Most die horribly, but a few of the more morally reserved adolescents fight back. Also, there are a lot of loud score swells and fingernails-on-chalkboard sound effects.
On the surface, a “Nightmare on Elm Street” remake sounds ideal. While the original still stands as one of the best horror films of the 1980s, ranking behind only “Hellraiser,” “Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2” and “Videodrome,” new digital effects would seem to open many doors for the franchise. Plus, after all the sequels, spin-offs and video games, the original character had certainly lost his punch.
Unfortunately, instead of making a balls-to-the-wall slice of surrealist insanity, the filmmakers chose to play close to the chest with the more bizarre elements of the dream-demon’s saga. If anything, this film is less visually baroque than any of its predecessors.
The film is a fairly close retelling of the original, keeping names, locations and even street addresses consistent. But a straight remake doesn’t quite make sense here, because the original was a mystery and today, everyone and their mother knows all about Freddy. (I called my mother; she knew.)
So, instead of cutting to the chase and giving horror fans a lean, mean slasher with all the Freudian horrors that a $28 million budget can buy, we get an hour of characters slowly figuring out what the trailer already told us during the first 15 seconds. Following this is a rehash of the third act we already saw in “A Nightmare on Elm Street” installments one through seven, as well as in “Freddy vs. Jason.”
The slow build might work if the audience had anyone to care about, but not a single one of the protagonists ever does anything that could be reasonably construed as interesting or endearing. At least the “Friday the 13th” remake differentiated the women by the cup size of their unbound breasts.
There is no character development whatsoever. All the dead teens talk alike, all the dead teens act alike and all the dead teens have the same mumbling, emo-style inflection. Costume designer Mari-An Ceo almost deserves a writing credit, because she does far more in terms of establishing characters than any of the words from co-screenwriters Wesley Strick or Eric Heisserer, although they provide at least one howler for the ages when one character unironically yells, “Oh no! She’s having a micro-nap!”
And even when two of the dead teens finally do find something interesting — Krueger’s rape lair, filled with pictures of the surviving girl — they do absolutely nothing with it. The idea is actually kind of brilliant. After 80 minutes of nightmare scenarios, the heroes finally find themselves standing in the middle of their own real-life nightmare. It’s a really solid, act-two break. Instead of exploring this trauma, they make out… in the rape lair.
And the cinematography is just as bland as the writing. This is yet another one of those modern horror films that thinks shooting in bleached colors is spooky. It’s not. Who came up with this idea? There is nothing scary about shooting an entire movie in blue tones. If you want a monochrome effect, just shoot the damn thing in black and white.
Much more frightening is how horrendously shot this thing is. With jumpy, Steven Bochco-cop-drama-style camera work and lazy framing, the whole picture seems to be set on autopilot. Samuel Bayer has enjoyed a long career as a music video director for songs like “Smells like Teen Spirit,” but apparently he was all out of camera tricks by the time he made it to this, his first feature.
Jackie Earle Haley is good, filling the shoes of Robert Englund admirably. His Freddy is menacing, and the makeup is ghastly. But that’s about as far as the scare factor goes. Aside form some exceptionally loud moments the movie has no tension to speak of, mostly as the result of significant re-shoots that leave the final product a structure-less mess. Even the kills, a usually reliable attraction in slasher flicks, are rather mundane. The film could easily be cut to a PG-13 without losing much.
This film easily ties the nearly unwatchable “Part 4” as the worst Freddy movie ever. And let me reiterate, there are now nine movies featuring this character. It’s worse than the unintentional gay panic of “Freddy’s Revenge;” worse than the bizarre plot retcons of “Dreamchild;” worse than the cartoony kills of “Freddy’s Dead;” and, amazingly, worse than the CGI bong-smoking caterpillar in “Freddy vs. Jason.” The real nightmare here is the idea of paying to see this crap.