Wet Dreams or Dour Nightmares?

A Review of ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ (Remake – 2010)

One of the last big cash cows of the 1980s slasher cycle has finally been remade, and it’s easy to see why ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street‘ the remake has taken so long to get here. Such is the cultural penetration of serial killer Freddy Krueger and his nightmares on Elm Street that a redo becomes a slightly harder sell than many of its counterparts. For the horror fraternity especially, Robert Englund’s eight movie portrayal of Freddy is treasured and not to be messed with. Hence it’s almost impossible to sit through the 2010 Platinum Dunes remake without the inevitable comparisons between it and it’s predecessor(s).

Samuel Bayer’s ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street‘ begins with the now obligatory Platinum Dunes pre-title sequence (though thankfully shorter than 2009s ‘Friday the 13th‘ 20 minute effort) that introduces us to our teens for the next 96 minutes and surprisingly quickly to the dream master himself, Freddy Krueger. The opening diner sequence gets all of the familiar main plot points established; sleep deprivation, nightmares, and dream deaths. If you didn’t know by now, Freddy exists in teenagers dreams, killing them in their nightmares which manifests itself as death in reality. This sequence kicks off one of the film’s biggest structural issues, that of Katie Cassidy’s Chris. It’s Chris, rather than the Nancy character (Nancy is the lead in Wes Craven’s 1984 original), who inherits the first third of the film, seriously hindering your and Freddy’s connection with the supposed ‘lead’ girl. Cassidy is perfectly fine as a standard slasher victim but it’s rather baffling as to why the first third of the movie is dedicated to her. Why are we introduced to the world of Freddy Krueger through Chris’ eyes and not Nancy’s? It certainly causes a disjointed feel. Nancy picks up the reigns of the Freddy mystery from Chris and is sadly forgettable. In trying so hard to make Nancy a ‘plain Jane’ (as opposed to Cassidy’s hot but disposable blonde) the filmmakers have forgotten to give her any personality. In fact she’s incredibly boring.

Then comes the big question; Does Jackie Earl Hayley deliver as Freddy? Yes he does (although I still think he looks like a gray from ‘Close Encounters‘!). JEH is menacing and frightening. It’s a shame that director Bayer relies on jump cuts and cheap scares as the performance doesn’t require them. Strangely however, there does appear to be a lipsync problem with Freddy’s dialogue, which at times doesn’t match the his on-screen lip movement at all. One wonders whether JEH had issues delivering the dialogue live within the heavy makeup. That aside, Freddy here is enjoyable and yes, there are some old wise cracks such as “How’s this for a wet dream?!”. Perhaps JEH’s  best moments actually come out of makeup when we see Freddy pre-burning during dreams and flashbacks. Here he shows his ability to twist our expectations, manipulating the audience and adding an ambiguity to Freddy’s dirty deeds that is really quite chilling when you realise that child abusers are not obvious monsters with burnt faces, but seemingly ordinary people who can gain a child’s trust. By the finale this Freddy is a decent force of terror, even if he does look like his original dialogue was delivered in Japanese.

Sadly the in between Freddy sequences are laboured and the plot exposition is laughably un-subtle. Where a ‘Nightmare‘ remake should really look to succeed is in the nightmares themselves. In the huge advances in CGI since Wes Craven original, filmmakers are now able to visually render almost anything imaginable. At times Bayer delivers here with trippy touches like indoor snow or the film’s standout dream set-piece; a carpeted hallway turning to blood as Nancy tries to wade through it. Unfortunately most of the dream sequences are tepid. I’d have loved to see some really visually challenging and weird nightmare sequences where Freddy could really cut loose, which never really happens. Only right at the end is JEH allowed to chew the scenery and have a little fun. I’d watch JEH given a second go at the character in any possible sequels, but I doubt that’s going to happen. On the subject of future sequels, is there a set-up for one? Stupid question, of course there is. It doesn’t take all nine movies to realise that you can’t kill Freddy Krueger.

In all ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street‘ suffers from the same old remake issues; stray too far from the beaten path and the fans revolt, keep it too close to the source material and it becomes ‘pointless’ (as so many reviewers will no doubt say). Here the visual and verbal nods to the original (and other entries) are inserted evenly along the way to keep the fans happy, some of which you feel hinder the film’s ability to offer us something new. But then again we’d only complain about that too. In the end, the newest element to whole experience is offered by the only source of interest, Jackie Earl Hayley, who genuinely does bring us a new, if somewhat shackled, Freddy Krueger. It’s not a complete nightmare for sure but it does fall far short of a horror fan’s wet dream.

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