A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010)
Starring Jackie Earle Haley, Rooney Mara and Kyle Gallner
Directed by Samuel Bayer
Written by Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer
Don’t fall asleep.
That might be the mantra Freddy Krueger’s would-be victims keep repeating to themselves on screen, but judging by the number of yawns and sighs punctuating last night’s preview screening in Toronto, it’s also good advice for any moviegoer thinking of taking in this new version of the horror classic this coming weekend.
Which is not to see that A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010 is a complete disaster. Jackie Earle Haley, who proved that he can channel both psychopathic rage in 2009’s Watchmen and disturbing perversity in 2006’s Little Children, is the best Freddy we could hope for under the circumstances, and endows his take with both a physical fury and a revolting eroticism which proves he was the right man/monster to fill Robert Englund’s frayed red-and-green sweater. (Kudos to the show’s make-up department for re-imagining the Freddy look in a more realistic but still horrible way.)
Likewise, music video director Samuel Bayer (best known for filming Nirvana’s iconic ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ clip), here making his directing debut, lenses some intensely creepy visuals, although most of them are ripped off from original Nightmare director Wes Craven, albeit with subtle (some might say almost non-existent) tweaks.
Plot-wise, this Nightmare doesn’t deviate much from the 1984 version. Pedophile Freddy Krueger is burned to death by angry parents, and years later he takes his revenge by killing their children in their dreams. Our heroine Nancy (Mara: Urban Legends: Bloody Mary), one of Krueger’s victims, discovers the truth behind Krueger’s death and tries to kill him before he kills her. We do get to see Krueger’s back story, and the final confrontation has slightly more emotional resonance than Craven’s original, but the thinly-written characters and sometimes unintentionally funny dialogue undercuts what is supposed to be scary.
Really, there is no reason for this movie to exist, save to generate profits, which is perfectly fine – I’m not going to start railing against Hollywood for favouring commerce over creativity at this point – but if you’ve seen the original then this is merely a curiosity. Craven’s film wasn’t perfect – the acting was generally only adequate, some of the dialogue was wooden – but the sheer imagination on display and its execution made it and Freddy iconic for a reason: they were new and scary. Bayer’s visual sophistication is evident, but none of his images are more disturbing than what Craven created 26 years ago, computer generated imagery be damned.
If you’re 14 – as I was when the original Nightmare came out – and have no emotional stake in the Nightmare series then go see this. You will be entertained. You may even be scared depending on your tolerance. (After all, Nightmare is a mainstream horror property, not some niche B-movie for fanboys only.) Then watch the original and compare the two. For this viewer, who has seen all the (mostly) crappy sequels and understands Freddy Kruger’s cultural legacy (he’s been parodied on The Simpsons, for Christ’s sake), this Nightmare on Elm Street was a hollow exercise in futility and certainly not a cut above the original.