CAPSULE: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010)

DIRECTED BY:  Samuel Bayer

FEATURING, Jackie Earle Haley, , Rooney Mara

PLOT:  A group of high school students share dreams of a burned, claw-handed man named Fred Krueger. As the students begin to die in dramatic ways, the survivors discover that they share a past of secret abuse at the hands of Krueger. The final survivors take it upon themselves drag Krueger from his dream world and dispatch him once and for all.

Still from A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It really isn’t particularly weird. There are no wild grandstanding dream sequences; they’re all very similar in a “Silent Hill Lite” style.  Given that the central character is a dead man who haunts people in their dreams and can exact real life revenge on their sleeping bodies, Krueger is lacking in imagination.

COMMENTS:  First of all, I should point out that I am not a fan of the Elm St. franchise.  I watched the original many years ago, and watched it again recently in light of the 2010 version, and I enjoyed it.  To my surprise many aspects of the film stood the test of time quite well.  Yes, some of the special effects had aged, but they had a wild, Tex Avery glee in their own madness that was contagious.  The fact that they were practical effects added an immediacy that was quite exciting.  The teens looked and behaved more or less like teens, making allowances for the nature of the film.  It unfolded at a good pace and we had a heroine who stepped up to the plate when called upon.

I didn’t have any objections to someone making a newer version; I  was interested to see it.  I think this movie is what publicists term a “re-imagining” rather than a remake.  The basic idea of the original has been kept.  There is a group of teens, they’re having terrible nightmares, they begin to die horribly, and the killer is Fred Krueger.  That’s as far as the similarities go however, the new film is darker both in mood and aesthetics.  At times it was hard to see where the action was taking place and what was happening.  Everything is dark.  The school is as dark as the boiler room.  The action takes place at night or during some town-wide energy saving drive where everyone seems to be using 20 watt bulbs.

Squinting in the dark has aged the teens a lot; they are a pretty mature bunch of high school types.  Their mothers, on the other hand, look more like older sisters.  Everyone is very slim, well groomed, has perfect teeth, glowing skin, and no one’s mother is an alcoholic.  Even a few days of sleeplessness doesn’t have a dramatic effect on their agreeable appearances.  The movie doesn’t make much of the ordeal of sleep deprivation; we see one lad washing down a pill with a can of Red Bull, but that’s about it.  No one has a coffee machine hidden in their bedroom.

In line with the new darker image, Fred Krueger looks more like a genuine burn victim.  The problem with this approach in the context of a film where Krueger is the terrifying central character is that it robs him of much of his expressiveness.  It was a waste of an actor to hide Haley behind the bland, featureless mask.  He is unable to do much with the make-up, which seems more or less immobile, and whether by choice or necessity all his lines are delivered in a monotone, growly mumble.  Before becoming a caricature in the later films, Krueger was a wise cracking shape-shifter as likely to stick his tongue in your ear as his claws in your chest.  Haley’s Krueger is somber and businesslike; oh, and he’s a bona fide pedophile. The nature of Krueger’s crimes caused controversy among film lovers in the past, it was never really specified just what he did to the children.  But he did kill them.  Krueger 2010 hasn’t killed the children; in fact, they are the teens he is now haunting.  But it’s plain he did molest them.

I’m not sure that one character is more or less distasteful than the other, to be frank.  I would be interested to know the rationale behind this quite specific change.  In the original, Krueger was the Bogeyman.  If you didn’t behave, he would get you, he would kill you, and the children knew this.  We see and hear them singing their skipping rhymes on the sun drenched sidewalks.  In the 2010 version Krueger is the creepy kiddie-fiddler who haunts the pages of the local tabloids; the pervert that modern parents fear lurks in every parked car, every nursery playground.  I’m not sure that depiction sits well in what is a very mediocre teen horror.

In the end, that’s what’s wrong with the 2010 version; it is mediocre.  Like it or not, the original version was different.  It might have been a terrible step along the path to jokey modern horror movies where the wise cracking killer is the antihero and scares are replaced with gross-out moments, but it was never boring.  The 2010 version is a cookie cutter modern horror: all the shocks are signaled with a huge audio cue so that even if you’ve dozed off in the theatre you’ll still jump.  None of the characters are very much concerned when their “friends” are butchered, and it’s hardly surprising because none of them are developed enough for us to care much about them.  One or two scenes from the original version make guest appearances just to remind us that glossy CGI effects are not always better.  Plot devices like mobile phone alarms are introduced and then forgotten when they’d actually be useful.  Adrenaline stolen from an unguarded drugs trolley in hospital has no effect on one character, but they decide to rely on it anyway during the life or death climax.

If you’re going to re-imagine a film that many people love and have strong opinions about then you really should bring your “A” game, and that didn’t happen here.  Krueger could have been anyone; he was really as characterless as everyone else.  There was one idea in the whole film which was new and potentially could have been used to craft a more interesting plot.  For a very short while the writers raised the possibility that Krueger was innocent, that the parents’ suspicions were unfounded and that they had burned an innocent man.  No sooner had I shifted in my seat to see where they were going with this than it was over, we were presented with proof that Krueger was guilty and the film swerved back onto the road to tedium and mediocrity.  This was a sad waste of an hour and a half or thereabouts.  To finish on a positive note though, it was nice to see Clancy Brown on the big screen again.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s indebted to the illogic of dreams (as Freddy’s bailiwick), but determinedly dumb about using it… It gives illogic a bad name.”–Cynthia Fuchs, PopMatters (contemporaneous)

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