Samuel Bayer's A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
Here's the link to the published version of the review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
It's been more than 25 years since Wes Craven gave us the original horror classic, and now, several sequels later, "A Nightmare on Elm Street" gets an update with fresh faces, a slightly different Freddy, and a few scenes of homage to the original. So far, the remake has been receiving a critical lashing, which makes it quite a surprise to find out that it's actually not half as bad as people have made it out to be. It has its own little differences that allow it to come into its own, starting with a slightly tweaked story.
The film begins at a diner in Springwood. Dean (Kellan Lutz) has been having terrible nightmares where he is being attacked by a mysterious figure with knives on his hands. While talking it over at the diner with his friend Kris (Katie Cassidy), she suddenly sees him kill himself with a knife. She soon finds herself being plagued by similar dreams and discovers that some of her other friends, Nancy (Rooney Mara), Jesse (Thomas Dekker), and Quentin (Kyle Gallner), are as well.
The dreams all share the commonality of a burn victim known as Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley) who shares a connection with them, but they're just not quite sure what that connection is. After more of their friends die in their sleep, they begin to delve into their own pasts trying to find out what the clues in their dreams mean. They must unravel the mystery before sleep catches up with them, where Freddy lurks in their nightmares, ready to destroy them.
If you're familiar with Craven's original film, you'll remember that it follows a somewhat similar outline, except that it was mainly one teen trying to figure out the mystery after a couple of her friends are killed in their dreams. Both films have a dark backstory for Freddy Krueger, except that there's slightly more info in this remake. In the original, he was a child murderer, but in this film....well, let's just say it's tweaked as well.
Now, let's attack Freddy directly, so to speak. The original Freddy, Robert Englund, became infamous in the role, making it part evil, part silly. He also left quite a big impact in the small amount of screentime he had. The new Freddy, played by Jackie Earle Haley of "Little Children" and "Watchmen" fame (the guy is no stranger to dark characters), sadly doesn't leave much of an impact with his small catch phrases. His impact comes more from presence rather than dialogue.
Aside from not really having any memorable or meaningful dialogue, there's also the matter of the strange voice Haley decides to use. At times, he sounds like he's drunk, other times he sounds like he has brain damage, and sometimes it's both. In trying to make the character purely evil, I suppose there wasn't much room to put as much emotion (if that's even the right word for it) into the voice that Englund had used to give the character a little personality.
There are several winks at the original that fans will enjoy. One student can be seen in a bodybag at the end of a school hallway, the infamous glove is seen rising out of a bathtub, and a teen magically floats into the air while having a nightmare. The remake uses these parts of the original for small moments and never tries to lift the entire scene from it.
The "A Nightmare on Elm Street" series has gone on for quite some time with six sequels (seven if you count "Freddy vs. Jason"). Most of the sequels just never managed to recapture the magic from the original save "Wes Craven's New Nightmare," the seventh film that takes a fascinating approach to the material by involving the cast and crew of the original film.
What Craven did so well with the original was to use mood and atmosphere to bring out the dread and suspense of the situation, most notably with the boiler room, which was Freddy's main hangout for the first film. Director Samuel Bayer is able to get some of this for the dream sequences in his film, though to less effect. I got a little worried near the beginning when a terrible CGI shot had Freddy inside wallpaper, looming over a teen's bed. Luckily, it moves on to using more effective means of building the suspense, especially when the real world and the dream world start to become one for the sleep-deprived teens.
Many people have already made the mistake of holding this film up to the original, expecting it to be just as good, but it just isnít. However, taken on its own, itís still an entertaining horror film and an interesting take on the material. It may simply come down to your own tastes. If you like films like this, then you'll probably enjoy the remake. I, for one, tend to get a kick out of most horror films, whether good or bad. I enjoyed the remake of "Friday the 13th," though it was for completely different reasons (Power's out? There's a killer on the loose? Time to take a shower!). "Elm Street," while not great, is also a decent remake and worth a mild recommendation. We should count ourselves lucky that it didn't turn out to be as disastrous as the remake of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" or Rob Zombie's butchering of "Halloween." 3/4 stars.
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