(One two, Freddy’s coming for you….again.)
Some directors like to make shot-for-shot remakes of horror classics (Funny Games, Gus Van Sant’s Psycho). Others like to borrow the stories of psychos and take them on a horrifically off-course journey into mediocre murder plots and overdone death scenes (the recent reboots Halloween, Friday the 13th, Prom Night). Samuel Bayer likes to do a little of both.
Bayer’s reinvention of the Nightmare On Elm Street franchise is essentially just a modernized (when the kids go to sleep, so does their MacBook!) version of the classic you’re-not-even-safe-while-you’re-dreaming story. So much so, it seems like he penned the flick in his happily undisturbed sleep.
The plot is pretty much plagiarized (A group of kids start getting offed by sadistic burn victim, Freddy Krueger, while catching 40 plus winks – and resort to drug use, java jolts and shameless flirting to stay awake) and the characters are carbon copies of their 80s counterparts, minus the sweater vests and ratted hair (Nancy, her single mom, her blonde friend, her sorta nerdy sorta boyfriend). Oh, and the killings? We’ve seen them all before (Main character almost gets it in the bath? Check. Blonde chick is gutted in mid-air? Check. Boyfriend gets slaughtered in jail? You betcha!).
The only real difference is between this Elm St. and the old one is the actors (no Johnny Depps here), the time period and a minor, yet totally creepy, change in Freddy’s back-story (Bayer’s Krueger didn’t murder kids, he just, you know, sexually abused them and made them paint with blood). The problem is, Bayer forgets to include the best parts of the original series, forgoing quality writing and innovative storytelling for special effects, buckets of corn syrup and creepy backdrops (see: the poorly lit diner, the grungy basement crawl space, the winding empty hallway). He probably thought he was meeting horror fanatics and budding gore whores halfway with his cut-and-dry style, but his lack of imagination just leaves you feeling half-baked.
The one thing he got right was casting Jackie Earle Haley. The dude is superbly creepy as the new Krueger, especially considering he’s got monster-sized shoes to fill. He is basically his character in Little Children, with third-degree burn, a Value Village sweater and a fedora. Believe it or not, the only thing he’s missing is a sense of humour.
What made Robert Englund’s Freddy so legendary – and separated him from the silent killers (Jason, Michael Myers) of classic slasher cinema – was the fact that he knew how to pick out a prime pun, turning what could have been a straight-up creepfest into a campy horror girl’s wet dream. Sure, the diss-and-dissect game wore thin after the fifth sequel, but it was the reason you watched Freddy Vs. Jason. Earle Haley’s one-liners, on the other razor-sharp hand however, are deadly serious. And not in a good way.
Lack of spunk aside, A Nightmare on Elm Street is a good popcorn flick, for the most part. There’s one great shot of Freddy leading group story time at a bookstore. In the original, it would have resulted in a surreal montage, set to that ever-creepy theme music. But on today’s Elm Street, the fucked up fantasy only appears for a few seconds, barely giving you time to get in on the joke – or get creeped out. B-
Starring Jackie Earle Haley, Kyle Gallner and Rooney Mara. Directed by Samuel Bayer. 95 Minutes. 18A