The end of April is here and another remake in the endless array of unoriginal ideas that has graced the silver screen of late has come with it. “A Nightmare On Elm Street,” however, isn’t half bad.
The story is the same as before. Fred Krueger was a janitor at a preschool who may or may not have played bad touch with the children of Elm Street. Krueger gets off on a technicality, and the parents of said children do what is apparently the only option they have left; lock Freddy in a building and bury him alive. So, of course, Freddy is now back from the dead and haunting the children’s dreams, killing them off one by one for revenge.
The “A Nightmare on Elm Street” series had become more parody than anything else by the end of its seven film run, and this revamp brings some hope of redemption to the dormant franchise. This is director Samuel Bayer’s first major studio outing, having previously worked primarily on music videos. Where Hollywood once relied on the new-wave film school directors like Scorsese and Spielberg, they now get the directors who directed four-minute videos for pop punk songs.
Jackie Earle Haley plays Freddy as the cold-hearted psychopath that he is supposed to be. Haley’s Freddy isn’t the bastard son of a hundred maniacs; he’s just a janitor who had a predilection for pederasty and was brought down by good old-fashioned vigilante justice. Freddy gets you in your dreams, when you’re most vulnerable, and there is little you can do to stop him. He should be creepy, but Robert Englund’s version just became an anti-hero. Haley plays Freddy as dead behind the eyes, cold and confident, toying with his prey until that moment when his bladed glove enters their sternum. He is made even apprehensive by the flashbacks of his days as a janitor. Sweet and gentle in nature, the gloved one is the diametric opposite of his former self.
You don’t want to root for this Freddy. Freddy’s burnt body is eerily constructed to resemble actual burn victims, and his dream world is bleak, rusty and decrepit. His methods no longer resemble an “R” rated “Looney Tunes” but the acts of a slasher in a horror movie, doing what he is supposed to be doing.
The ingenue actress and relative newcomer Rooney Mara is put in the role of Nancy, Freddy’s favorite of the Elm Street children. She plays Nancy as an outsider; a girl who hasn’t quite come into her own yet and is struggling to be accepted. It’s hard to buy. Mara seems to be playing the caricature of what someone told her a geek should be, a nerd in the background of a high school sitcom.
Quentin (Kyle Gallner), Kris (Katie Cassidy) and Jesse (Thomas Dekker) are classmates of Nancy’s, and the lines are kind of fuzzy as to how this group actually works together. Kris is seemingly Nancy’s friend, but Nancy has no friends, and really wants her admiration? The relationships are hard to discern, but it doesn’t matter as the kids are little more than body bag fodder anyhow.
The dream world is dingy and creepy and where most of the scares in the film take place. Freddy spends most of his time stalking and taunting, and tends to rely on cheap pop-up gags and sudden flares of strings to get shrieks, but Haley is such an intense character actor that it is easy to forgive these transgressions.
A good majority of the film also relies on re-creating iconic scenes from the original “Nightmare,” most notably the razor glove in the bathtub. When trying to create a universe of your own, it’s a bit of a cop out to depend on something the audience has seen before.
This recent string of remakes of seminal horror movies being produced by Platinum Dunes and Michael Bay have been slick and stylish imaginings of classic horror, all looking phenomenal, but lacking substance. “A Nightmare On Elm Street” is creepy and surreal, putting the scare factor back into the modern horror film. If they can keep self-referential humor and parody out of this outing, the franchise is destined for great things.
One can only wonder how long it will be before this franchise runs itself into the ground too, and viewers are treated to New Freddy vs. New Jason.