Though most horror remakes of late have suffered from ‘money over merit’ syndrome, Rob Zombie’s 2007 ‘reimagining’ of John Carpenter’s classic monster-in-the-shadows flick ”Halloween” (1978) was one of the few exceptions to the rule. What Zombie did was meet both the studio and the fans half-way – he gave the studio their scene-for-scene remake of the original (all the iconic moments and so on that made the first film such a resounding success) but then added his own ‘twist’ to proceedings – thus serving up a nice back-story for the character of its slashing central character that had never been told before before segueing into the film thirty years before. The result (unlike say the recent remakes of other classic horror flicks such as ”The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, ”Prom Night” and ”Friday the 13th”)? A flick that was out to please purists as much as virgins to the series. In short, it wasn’t a wasted exercise to do over Michael Myers – not when so much new was done with him.
For the most part, many feared a remake of Wes Craven’s landmark fright-fest ”A Nightmare on Elm Street” even more than Halloween. Part of the charm of Craven’s 1984 flick – which told the tale of a badly-burnt demonic figure who knocks off teenagers in their dreams – was its low-frills charm – there was something magnificent about the guerrilla-style film-making and special effects techniques then-broke writer/director Craven and producer Bob Shaye were forced to use on the film. But in addition to that, most were up in the arms that Robert Englund, the thespian who’d made the character of ‘Freddy Krueger’ his own, playing the role in 8 films, wouldn’t be returning. Unlike fellow horror monsters Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees (from ”Friday the 13th”), and Leatherface (from ”The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”), Krueger wasn’t a mute monster that lurks in the shadows – he had a voice, a presence, and a way about him. Quite simply, one couldn’t imagine an Elm Street movie without the wonderfully wicked comical styling’s of the terrific Englund under the make-up. And considering that in recent years Englund had been attached to an ”Elm Street” prequel that would chronicle the origins of his most beloved character, the fact that the studio decided to discard that project and instead Xerox the original – with another actor – only cut deeper with the series’ many legion of fans.
But then the trailer for director Samuel Bayer’s remake of ”Elm Street” surfaced – and, quite frankly, it didn’t look too bad. The new Freddy, played by Oscar Nominee Jackie Earle Haley (”Little Children”, ”Watchmen”) would take some getting used to, but the fact that it ‘suggested’ it was as much a prequel to Craven’s film as were a remake, colored most of us intrigued. Might Bayer have taken a page out of Zombie’s ”Halloween” book?
How trailers can mislead, hey?
Platinum Dunes’ (they’re the crowd that also remade ”The Amityville Horror”, ”The Hitcher”, ”The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, and ”Friday the 13th”) remake of ”A Nightmare on Elm Street” is exactly that – a blatant scene-for-scene remake. The ‘back-story’ of Krueger that the trailer hinted at? Sure, it’s there, but it lasts about all of ten minutes, and the rest, an audaciously slothful scene-for-scene clone of the original – just without the punch or power of its predecessor.
The kids of Springwood are all having bad dreams about the same guy – a badly-burnt dude wearing a Christmas jumper and fedora who dons a razor-bladed glove. The guy is, of course, Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley) a revenge-seeking demon who, many years before, was burnt to death by the parents of Springwood, after it was discovered he’d molested their children. Freddy’s somehow (it’s never explained here; suppose it was never explained in the original either so no big beef) discovered the power to kill the children, now teenagers, who ratted on him all those years ago, via their dreams. One-by-one, Nancy (Rooney Mara) and her friends (played mostly by recognizable young TV and ”Twilight” stars) are hunted down in their slumber by the sadistic sucker.
The ‘wall’ scene, the ‘bath’ scene, the ‘body-bag’ scene, the ‘jail’ scene, the ‘tongue’ scene, the ‘funeral’ scene, and the ‘bleeding bed’ scene – they’re all here. But despite the advances in technology, none of the moments (particularly this one’s ridiculously awful CGI ‘Freddy coming out of the bedroom wall’ moment) work even half as well as they did first-time around – mostly, because we’ve seen them before, but also because those scenes haven’t been half as well put-together as they were by the original team (My wife put it best : “It’s like a group of school kids went out and just remade their favourite movie scene-for-scene but because they didn’t have the know-how or resources to replicate some of the film’s more famous scenes, they just did what they could do by using their old ibook’s visual effects program”).
Ok, so Craven’s ”A Nightmare on Elm Street” wasn’t a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, it was, for all intents and purposes, a simple straight-forward slasher movie- but the thing that pushed it from the shallow end to the deep end was its superb characterizations, magnificent performances (In addition to Englund’s terrific performance as Freddy, Heather Langenkamp and a then-unknown Johnny Depp shone as the film’s heroine and hero, respectively), and heart – by that, I mean it was made by people who genuinely wanted to make the best movie possible; they mightn’t have had much money, but they had the determination and the talent to make the scariest, funnest and most entertaining picture they could.
Bayer’s remake may have had more money, but it has none of the heart – it’s made by people who have no respect for the franchise (that was pretty clear from day one though, being that they never even asked for Craven’s blessing to remake his film), scripted by someone (Wesley Strick) who has added nothing even remotely new or interesting to proceedings, and filmed with less flair than an unsponsored race car driver’s speedster. This is sloppy point-and-shoot plagiarism.
To be fair, the always-good Jackie Earle Haley makes for a pretty fine Krueger, and in a better movie (even a better remake), we mightn’t have minded so much that he’d stolen someone’s pass to gain admittance to the Boiler Room, but the fact of the matter is Englund could’ve still have played the part here – remake or no remake, there’s no real reason for the actor to have been replaced, especially considering he spends over three-quarters of the film in make-up anyway. In fact, by keeping Englund on, the film, even with its terrible script (about ten minutes of it – the ‘back-story’ part – should’ve been filmed, the rest, rewritten) and lazy helmer, might’ve turned out endurable.
The young cast, try as they might (”Melrose Place”’s Katie Cassidy and ”Terminator : The Sarah Connor Chronicles”’ Thomas Dekker faring the best), are also no match for the ensemble of the original film – Basically, this lot are bland, and unlike the main protagonists in the original picture, we don’t so much care what happens to this lot – so long as they suffer.
“A Nightmare on Elm Street” (2010) is now streaming on Paramount+