Monday, May 3, 2010

A Forgettable Nightmare -- Reflections on "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (2010)

It’s becoming increasingly harder and harder to find original horror films in today’s market as producers prefer to remake tried and true standards of yesteryear. For every Paranormal Activity there’s a Friday the 13th and My Bloody Valentine waiting in the queue. The logic makes sense, of course, even if the final product doesn’t: a remake is less of a financial risk because there’s already a built-in audience, whereas something new – especially in horror – has to build an audience on word-of-mouth, or has to spend more money by reeling in an ‘A’ list actor. Unfortunately, without any risk-taking involved, you end up with something mediocre – at best – or absolutely dreadful – at worst.

So, which is the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street? Mediocre or dreadful?

I’ll get to that in a moment. In the meantime, I want to explain why this actually matters to me.

I saw Wes Craven’s Nightmare for the first time in 1985. Actually, I saw about 20 minutes of it. I spent the remaining running time hiding behind the television, afraid that Freddy Krueger would pop through the TV screen to slice and dice me. It was the scene where he comes at Tina in her dream and throws her around the ceiling of her bedroom, leaving bloody smears across the white walls. I remember blood spewing from her chest and thinking – “I’ll never sleep again.” It was traumatizing for me.

It wasn’t until last year that I finally finished watching the original. I know how stupid it must sound, but it was hard to separate myself from that nine-year old hiding behind the TV. I’ve seen a lot of horror films since I was nine – many far far scarier than Nightmare – but few had the same primal hold on me that Freddy and his claws did.

The reason A Nightmare on Elm Street is such an important film in horror cinema is because of the way Wes Craven exploited one of our biggest fears: the vulnerability of sleep. He created an icon in Freddy Krueger that people in my generation associate more closely with the Boogeyman than any other image. Michael Myers and Jason were cold and distant, but Freddy got up close and personal, taunting us, teasing us, and ultimately killing us on a terrain that we always feel is safe – our own mind.

With this in mind, it’s hard to watch a remake of Nightmare objectively. I was able to watch the remakes of Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre objectively because they never left such an indelible imprint on me. Nightmare, on the other hand, had left a scar on me.

Unfortunately, the wound was not re-opened by this re-make. Samuel Bayer’s version of Wes Craven’s masterpiece is an entertaining pile of shit. Yes, I said entertaining. I didn’t hate it. I just thought it was bad.

This version of Nightmare is slightly different than the original. It tells the story of the kids of Springwood, Ohio. They are being haunted in their dreams by a burned man in a green and red striped sweater with knives for fingers, named Freddy Krueger. When one is killed while dreaming, the rest begin to deprive themselves of sleep in order to keep from facing a similar fate. Eventually, Nancy and Quentin – our heroes – discover the dreams contain clues pointing them towards understanding their own hidden past and Freddy’s origin.

What was bad about it? Oh, let me count the ways.

1. Acting. I really felt like the actors – who represent the garden-variety teen-types we see in standard horror films – were doing a rehearsal reading of the script. As a result, bad writing was made even worse by actors that couldn’t sell it.

2. Script. The movie begins too fast, slows down too much in the middle, and doesn’t pick up any steam until the end. The scares were predictable. Freddy pops out when you expect him to. And, lastly, the dialogue has that wooden, I’m-just-here-to-push-along-the-plot tonality. There could have been some good characters in here, but they weren’t given any room to breathe.

3. Sound editing. Every time Freddy pops out on the screen, there’s a “boom” sound effect. This is remarkably annoying. I felt like I was in a studio audience for a live TV show, waiting for the “applause” and “laugh” signs, so I could freak out on cue.

4. Missed opportunities. The movie presented an idea missing from the original – the kids could have been lying to their parents about Freddy’s crimes, making him a sympathetic killer looking for revenge against the kids whose incriminations led to his fiery death in the boiler room. Unfortunately, this idea was presented for about thirty seconds before being dismissed. I guess the writers wanted their villain cut-and-dried. Another missed opportunity came during a scene in which Freddy is torturing a kid he had already killed in the real world. He tells the kid that the brain lives on a full seven minutes after the body dies. “That means we still have six minutes to play,” Freddy gloats. This is the only time in the movie Freddy is given room to be truly menacing, and it is a major missed opportunity for some very creative scares.

5. Tributes to original. This new version of the movie would have benefitted from eschewing all scenes from the original film. Any time it tried to recreate a scene from Craven’s movie it fell flat. For example, the scene involving Tina flopping around the ceiling, spray painting blood was recreated here with a new girl named Kris. There wasn’t nearly as much gore, or as much of a shock. The scene with Nancy in the bathtub was also revisited, and it came across as really forced and stupid. It was as if the filmmakers were trying to throw these in for the fans of the original to make us feel good; all it did was remind me of how good the original was. The same is true with the use of Freddy’s one-liners. I didn’t want to hear Jackie Earle Haley growl, “I’m your boyfriend now.” That belonged to Robert Englund, and him alone.

Despite all these flaws, I still didn’t hate the movie. Maybe it’s because there were so many lame sequels in the original franchise that I couldn’t hate it. Is this film worse than Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare? Fuck, no! That was beyond awful. This film suffers a different – and maybe worse fate.

It will ultimately end up being forgettable. And that’s why re-makes are going to keep costing Hollywood millions. Fans of horror stories don’t mind shitty movies – we just can’t stand forgettable ones.


  1. i agree with most of that..... wait ALL of it

  2. Thanks, Connor. I agree with you, too...