I believe I was still living in Boston–or about to move to Boston, anyway–when the news hit that Michael Bay’s production company was going to try its hand at remaking A Nightmare on Elm Street. I want to note right here at the beginning that I am not totally against remakes. There have been fine remakes over time. The Wizard of Oz (1939) was a remake from the original silent version (Pamela disagrees with me on this, since one had sound and one didn’t; but back then it probably didn’t matter to the person bitching about it). Ben-Hur with Charlton Heston was a remake. The Man Who Knew Too Much with James Stewart, directed by the master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock, was a remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much by a young British director named Alfred Hitchcock. David Cronenberg’s version of The Fly. The most recent version of Dawn of the Dead. Stephen King said that the a few years ago remake of The Last House on the Left was one of the ten best films of 2009 (I haven’t seen it, but will). No, I wasn’t against anyone remaking A Nightmare on Elm Street, I was against Michael Bay, Brad Fuller, and Andrew Form doing so.
They’d produced the remake of The Amityville Horror, which I thought was horrendous. I didn’t see any of their other remakes because they just looked…well…bad. I respect Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre but it’s not a favorite movie. Friday the 13th has never done much for me. But A Nightmare on Elm Street…well, that was another story. If you’ve been following my Nightmare in Gautham series, you know why. I had always sort of fantasized about someone who got the possibilities of the mythology of Nightmare, who understood that Freddy Krueger was as much metaphor as slasher monster, someone who knew how to get under people’s skins and create a beautiful shot would step up to the plate and take it over. Better than that, I would have loved for Warner Bros. through New Line to return to Wes Craven and see if he wanted to try to redo it with a larger budget and better effects. Even better than that, I fantasized that my writing would become huge, that the movie studios would call and ask, “What do you want to do?” and my answer would be, “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”
But Platinum Dunes with Michael Bay, the creative genius who directed the crapfest known as The Transformers, was the guy who got the glove. I was nervous.
Then came news that Samuel Bayer, who’d directed Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (which always reminded me of a horror movie), had been tapped to make his feature film directorial debut with this movie. Interesting choice, but maybe….
Then came news that Jackie Earle Haley had signed on to play Freddy. Now my interest was piqued. I hadn’t seen him in anything but had heard enough about his performances. As time passed, I saw two of his most recent big roles. First I saw The Watchmen on DVD. Haley is the best part of the movie. Then I saw Little Children, where his performance was great. Yeah, I got jazzed for the new Nightmare.
As I saw more and more about it in the months leading up to the 2010 release, my interest grew more and more. That was when I originally wrote the Nightmare in Gautham series, fueled mainly by anticipation (not to mention ideas that had run through my head for decades).
So the Sunday morning of May 5th, 2010, Pamela and I went to a local movie theater for a private screening. Actually, it wasn’t meant to be a private screening, but Pamela and I were the only two people in the theater. I guess no one wants to go to see a horror movie at 10:20 on a Sunday morning. Yeah, my wife loves me. The movie was done by noon and we went for pizza afterward. That night, I wrote the first version of the following essay.
I have seen the remake/reboot of A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) only one other time. I think that tells you something.
Some of the actors playing the central characters. Rooney Mara as Nancy Holbrook. She had a strong personality and isn’t too bad as Nancy. My biggest complaint about her character is that it takes the audience too long to get to know her and then doesn’t give her as much to do as she deserves. In the years since, Mara was in The Social Network and was the titular character in the U.S. version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She brings a frankness and intensity to Nancy that the other characters lack. The same could be said about Kyle Gallner as Quentin and Katie Cassidy as Kris. I thought both were pretty good in the movie but neither were given much to do. The stand-out performances came from the adults, Connie Britton (though this didn’t show her range like Nashville does), Clancy Brown, and even Jackie Earle Haley as pre-burn Freddy.
Some of Samuel Bayer’s visuals. This movie is miles above some of the visual styles in the later Nightmare sequels, though with all the talk in the interviews about how “beautiful” the movie is, there could have been more from him. There have been some internet reports that there were clashes between Bayer and the producers and I wonder how much that had to do with it. Still, the film was pretty solid visually.
Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger. I write this with some reservations. He was, physically, a good match for Freddy. Also, the dude is creepy without makeup, so in the makeup he was able to go a little further. Freddy’s anger and rage came through quite clearly and it was Haley’s performance more than anything that helped with that. Of course, the strongest part of his performance had been seen last year in the teaser trailer, which features Freddy running from the Elm Street parents and eventually getting burned alive.
The feeling of the movie. I was actually pretty tense during most of the movie the first time I saw it in 2010 (for the record, Pamela didn’t feel the same way; she disagreed with me, “I was never scared or even startled, mostly because they showed it all in the promotional stuff and because the movie was just not scary”). Upon watching it again, the tension that the film brings has little to do with the story but more to do with the anticipation that something is going to happen, some sort of boo! More on this later.
The final battle between Nancy and Freddy. The creepiness of Freddy tormenting Nancy on her bed with her unable to move was a nice touch. The rage that Haley brought to Freddy and Mara’s perseverance in battling him gave the movie a harder edge. Rooney Mara nearly matches Heather Langenkamp’s resolve, but without the silly Wile E. Coyote gimmickry. It’s not perfect, and has some terrible missteps, but overall in enjoyable.
Freddy’s new personality is a little stale. Haley wasn’t bad with the lines (“Talk about a wet dream,” for instance) and some of the other Freddy things he did; licking Nancy’s face when they are outside the preschool; the scene at the end when Nancy is in the little girl dress on her bed and Freddy is taunting her; these are some of the good things about the new Freddy, but he doesn’t have the bad-ass strut he once did or that defiant stance that fucked with his victim. In other words, some of the things that made Freddy what he was is missing. It would’ve been a bad idea for Haley try to mimic Robert Englund’s performance, but you’ve got one of the coolest weapons in cinema history on your hand, and all you do is scrape pipes and the walls with it, and sometimes flicker the fingers? Sometimes Freddy limps. Sometimes not. Also, he just doesn’t fuck with the victims enough, and he barely takes joy in it when he does. In the attempt to take Freddy away from the clown he had become, they made him a little too serious.
The Freddy makeup. The decision to go with more realistic burns was an error. What made Freddy’s burns scary in the original series was that they were kind of fantastic, not all that realistic. They were creepy in the dark, they were creepy in the light, they were creepy from afar, and they were creepy up close. The makeup in 2010 Nightmare looks too similar to that of real-life burn victims and becomes unsettling in a way that the filmmakers probably didn’t intend. And unless the camera is close-up, you really can’t tell what’s going on with Freddy’s face. He looks like a strange meatball with a body. Haley also wore contact lenses, one that was milky-gray, again, like a real burn victim might have. Robert Englund (mostly) didn’t wear lenses which helped give Freddy character. You never see the glee Freddy has taunting his victims because the eyes are hollow.
The CGI wall. It didn’t work in the commercials or in the movie. The $1.98 version in the original still creeps me out. This one made me roll my eyes and shake my fist at the screen.
The plot holes. The Elm Street parents never had any evidence that Freddy hurt their children, yet they track him down and burn him alive. The thing that made Wes Craven’s original so chilling was that the justice system failed the parents, so they then took the law into their own hands. I would think that with the Tea Party out there saying that people need to take their government back, with people like O.J. Simpson getting off a murder rap, that the twenty-first century Nightmare would eat that shit up. But no, the parents take the five-year-olds’ word that Freddy the gardener had done something bad to them and then go cook the guy. Quentin was shocked at this, and so was I. It doesn’t make sense.
Then when Nancy and Quentin go to the old preschool where Freddy had done some bad stuff to them as children, it’s pretty apparent the place has been closed down for a while. They break in, see how it has been vandalized over the years, go into the basement…and find Freddy’s little home, dusty, filled with cobwebs, but still there. How do they know? Why, because of the fingerknives lying on the workshop table. Yeah, so, all the parents pull their kids out of the preschool, the gardener disappears, the place closes down, and no one cleans the fucker out? I would understand if Freddy’s secret room were still there, untouched, with the pictures of Nancy and his Dark Knight clown mask on the wall, but the living quarters? Really? Which leads me to:
The past. Freddy Krueger was the gardener living in the basement of the preschool. Yeah. In the early 1990s, after Adam Walsh and all those other happenings in the world, would a preschool allow a gardener to live in its basement? And if it did, would a good parent send their child there? And even if one parent did, would others? It doesn’t make sense. There is no logic, which is scarce in this movie (remember, Michael Bay’s name is attached).
So in the past, the kids go home with cuts on them and tell their parents about going into “the special cave” where, it’s hinted at, Freddy molests the kids. However, he doesn’t seem to kill any of the kids. So when Craven was making the original, they dropped the molester part and for this one, they drop the killing part. All right…when Marge Thompson tells Nancy in the original that Freddy was “a filthy child murderer,” the audience understands what filthy means. But if this Freddy isn’t a killer, why fashion the glove? Because of all the things wrong with Krueger’s mind, he isn’t stupid. So he’s going to do bad things to the kids and cut them and expect the parents to never find out?
Nancy Holbrook had repressed memories. All right, I diggit. Nancy Thompson and all their friends do, too. Huh? That was always a plot point that stuck in my craw, from Craven’s masterpiece to this movie. Now, I have a very good memory. I remember being five years old in kindergarten, and four years old before it. Like the guy who knocked me into the snow as he was walking by carrying a shotgun after an argument with his girlfriend. I can remember that day very well. I also remember at two years old stepping on a large, black thumbtack-thing that lodged itself into the center of my foot. I still hate going barefoot. But Nancy, Nancy, Tina, Kris, Glen, Quentin, Rod, and Jesse can’t remember their peers either disappearing or themselves being molested by someone they seemed to love? One of them repressing the memory, sure, but all of them? I don’t know.
Another story issue concerns the Elm Street kids. Nancy, Kris, Jesse, Quentin, and Dean are all aware of each other and are all friendly, but they aren’t friends. The movie opens with Dean, who’s been having nightmares. We even see a bit of one. Kris comes to the diner where Nancy works (only for this scene) and Quentin and Jesse are eating. Jesse and Kris have recently broken up and Quentin and Nancy eye each other. This is pretty much what this version of A Nightmare on Elm Street does to introduce and build characters. By the end of the scene, Dean is dead. Kris believes in Freddy right away, and tells Jesse this at Dean’s funeral. Jesse tells her that nothing is going on when Nancy approaches them and tells Kris she believes her. Jesse tells Nancy to fuck off. We then spend more time following Kris, who seems like an over-privileged girl than her 1984 counterpart, Tina. Kris is the Janet Leigh of this film, just as Tina was in her version, only Kris is devoid of any real character. Even the sadness inherent to Tina’s life with her mother who went away for the night with her boyfriend is gone: Kris’s mother is a flight attendant who’s leaving for a bit. By the time Nancy becomes the star, we still don’t know her, because no one is really talking to her. Still, Jesse goes to see her after Kris’s death. After Jesse dies, Quentin informs her that he died in his sleep, though anyone in the jail who found his mangled body would believe otherwise. Again, there is no logic, and there certainly isn’t any characterization.
Because these Elm Street kids aren’t friends, we never learn who they are, and we never care who they are. The second half of the movie, which focuses on Nancy and Quentin in their search to uncover the truth about Freddy, almost reach a level where one may care about them. Almost.
The use of the quick extreme close-up and Freddy turning his head. It’s used too much. In a promotional video for this movie that is on the DVD of The Final Destination, they show Kris in her attic with a flashlight. The beam goes over some boxes, one of which has an old fedora on it, and when the beam slips back, the hat is an inch higher and Freddy is peeking at her. She screams and I screamed when I saw it on YouTube. They replaced this creepy moment with Freddy’s face coming at the screen quickly, like those internet videos meant to scare people. A genuinely creepy moment replaced with an internet scare. Nice.
Lack of internal logic. I know I’ve mentioned this several times already, but it’s really bad. Nothing really makes sense, and not in a nightmare-come-to-life kind of way, either. By making this new Freddy not kill the children, they remove the need for the glove. By making him a gardener that lives on the premises of a daycare/preschool, they remove the very real fact that parents would not have allowed that by the 1990s. By having the kids not be friends, they remove any pathos or empathy from the viewer. The story falls flat because the characters are as bad as some from the worst sequels.
The Morning After
In the grand scheme of Nightmare movies, I rank the remake between Dream Warriors and The Dream Master in terms of direction and feel and between The Dream Master and The Dream Child for Freddy, but overall, it’s just above Freddy’s Revenge and Freddy’s Dead. During the pre-movie press, Platinum Dunes and New Line kept forcing every person who had anything to do with this movie to say the movie was a re-imagining but it feels more like a lame sequel. Also, the movie just isn’t scary. Well, not in the way I thought the original was.
Overall, this Nightmare doesn’t do it for me. When I first saw it, I liked it well enough, but time and a second viewing have changed my mind. I don’t like it, because it feels devoid of the very things that made me love the original and its sequels. I’m not against remaking Freddy or the Nightmare on Elm Street series (I even have a great idea for a reboot…one that people I’ve told it to have actually been surprised by), but this one is weak at best, and flimsy the rest of the time.