Out of all the 80s slashers, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET has a unique edge on its ilk. Not necessarily because it’s the best one, but because Freddy Kruger actually has a personality and a voice. He’s a killer that is both sinister and playful, and toys with his prey before dispatching them in whatever disturbing fashion he desires. So, after all the offerings that Platinum Dunes has given us so far, it only makes sense that they finally enter the dream world with their take on Wes Craven’s most famous creation simply because he’s the last of the big, early slasher icons that they haven’t tampered with yet. And while NIGHTMARE is one of their better efforts, it’s still a subpar film with some great ideas that just don’t quite work.
NIGHTMARE’s best attribute is that it’s tonally in-check with the original and A NEW NIGHTMARE: dark and dreary, with a straight-faced approach to horror. PD’s remake isn’t a fun film at all; in fact, there are only two or three intentional jokes throughout the film. Freddy is changed from a child killer to just a child molester (yes, I know Craven originally wrote him as a molester but it was changed before shooting), and while that does fit in with the cold and grimy feel of the film, it pretty much makes him impossible to root for. It’s not that killing a child is something you wouldn’t frown upon, it’s just that horror films – especially slasher franchises – have proven that audiences will root for killers again and again, regardless of how old their victims are. But are people going to get behind a quasi-playful, occasionally pun-spewing child molester for one or more films? I will say this, though: I think it’s very ballsy to reinvent a beloved franchise character and make him impossible to root for.
This also brings up the glove, Freddy’s iconic trademark. In the original film, he uses it to kill children and before the opening credits, he’s shown constructing the glove. Later on, we’re shown the glove again in the real world, as Nancy’s mothers takes it out of the furnace to prove to her that Freddy isn’t a concern anymore. In other words, the glove transitions from the real world into the dream world. Here, the glove has no connection; it’s like Freddy went to the dream world Home Depot and constructed himself one off-screen. While alive, he was a gardener at a preschool and is never shown wearing the glove, nor did he really have a reason to; he never killed anyone while he was alive. We have a flimsy back story given during a school lecture, where a teacher discusses how Medieval weapons and torture devices were all uniquely constructed, and then we’re shown a picture of one that vaguely resembles the famous claws. We’re also shown molestation victims with claw marks on their clothes and skin. So, that brings up the question: If he was just molesting kids, for what purpose did he construct the glove for as a human? Was it just so he could leave proof that he was pedophile and get caught? He’s never shown with the glove as a human, so for all we know, he was using the hand rake from the beginning to scratch the kids. I think what it comes down to is that screenwriters Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer figured that Kruger is so well-known that they didn’t need to explain the glove. Their lazy approach would be akin to showing Jason in a FRIDAY THE 13TH movie going from wearing a sack over his head to a hockey mask without any explanation of where he got the new accessory from.
Story wise, the remake follows the original’s beats pretty closely. There are a few variations (it’s updated for the 2000s), but it’s basically the same formula: dream, death scene, repeat. If anything, I would say that the film moves along at a much brisker pace that many of the sequels yet, at the same time, it manages to be somewhat boring. During the first 45 minutes, there’s essentially no story progression; it’s just dreams and killing without much explanation. Only when there are two characters left halfway through the second act are any explanations given. Once the story does get going, it goes full steam but there are three really excellent ideas presented that never reach their full potential. In fact, they’re so great, it makes me wish I could’ve seen a movie where all of them play a huge prominent role.
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The first is the idea of micronaps. Micronaps are 2-5 minute periods of time when you fall asleep without really knowing it, which cause you to wake with a startle. In the original, we got entertaining, playful scenes such as Freddy sticking his tongue through a phone. In the remake, we get Quentin (Kyle Gallner) and Nancy (Rooney Mara) talking about going out on a date and then Freddy shows up and makes them swerve off the road. The guy has control over dreams; he’s not a crossing guard. Even taking into account this new interpretation, Freddy should be running around doing all sorts of crazy, inventive stuff. Yet, he never manages to do anything unexpected.
The second deals with the character of Marcus Yeon, played by Aaron Yoo. His character has a video blog site that Nancy comes across, where he describes his nightmares and sleep deprivation. On the wall of his room is a giant “nightmare map,” which one would assume is a map of the nightmare world in which Freddy resides. Unfortunately, the idea never comes into play. It just sits there in background, taunting you with how cool it would be to have Nancy and Quentin venture into the dream world with it and get the upper hand against Freddy. Another quirk with this scene deals with the uploading of Marcus’ final video blog. It’s very obvious that Freddy kills him at the end of his last video, so who posted it? Don’t you have to hit an upload button?
The third, and biggest, wasted opportunity is one that deals with Freddy’s guilt. The question of whether he really was a child molester or not is brought up later on in the film and presents a very interesting dilemma; unfortunately, the question is answered 15 minutes later. For a question that’s as significant as that, there should be more doubt and discussion about the idea in the film itself. Personally, I would have loved to see the whole film based around this idea and it would’ve blown my mind if he had been innocent and he was knocking off the children to spite their parents. And while I won’t hold it against the film that it didn’t go my way, I will say that it is rather pointless to bring up a huge idea like that and then quickly dispel the notion in a matter of minutes.
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Scenes done in homage to the original don’t quite resonate like they should, instead just seeming like a vastly inferior version of something that was done better more than 25 years earlier. The wall stretching scene’s CGI is laughable and doesn’t have the organic, textured look of the original. And Tina’s death from the original, which had her being slashed mid-air and thrown around her bedroom, is much tamer and has far less arterial spray involved. The one that holds true – which I’m sure was unintentional – is the bad acting of Nancy’s mother, played by Connie Britton. The argument between her and Nancy in her office had me in stitches, with their banter boiling down to, “You’re lying! Are not! Are too!”. The acting of all the teens are acceptable for the most part, with Rooney Mara being the most monotone and yawn-worthy of them all. Jackie Earle Haley is the stand-out, and he plays an excellent Rorschach… I mean, Freddy. He plays both the human and dream version of Kruger distinctly different and well.
Despite a cool scene or three and the fact that it’s infinitely less frustrating than FRIDAY THE 13TH, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET never reaches the plateau that it so earnestly tries to reach. It’s chock-full of interesting ideas and it looks nice thanks to Samuel Bayer’s grunge aesthetic, but a worthy trip to Slumberland this is not.
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