When Platinum Dunes announced plans to remake the original Nightmare on Elm Street, I had mixed feelings. I was a fan of the original series, and watched all seven movies. I even watched that dreadful Friday night program Freddy’s Nightmares. I guess you could say I have a soft spot for the film series.
However, when Jackie Earle Haley was announced as the new Freddy Krueger, he was fresh off an electrifying performance as Rorschach in Watchmen, and I was officially on board with the remake. I couldn’t think of anyone better to step into the role previously played by Robert Englund.
So while watching the remake, I was surprised at how odd it was to see someone else play the role. I didn’t dislike Jackie Earle Haley’s performance (though I do wish he hadn’t sounded exactly like Rorshach), but I guess I didn’t realize that Robert Englund had become synonymous with Freddy Krueger in my mind.
Several scenes in this remake were taken directly from the original movie, and it kind of made me wonder, “Why bother with a remake?” Well, for starters, you introduce a whole new generation of horror fans to the iconic Freddy Krueger character. Plus, there’s the money.
While I found the film to be mired in mediocrity, I recognize that if you are unfamiliar with the original you might find this a breath of fresh air. Compared to other genre films, it has an original premise, and provides enough jump scares to keep you tense and on the edge of your seat. For your first taste of Freddy, you could do worse.
The basic story differs little from the original. Four friends discover that they all share the same nightmare, after they witness the brutal slaying of a classmate in a diner under unusual circumstances. They all have been dreaming of a burned madman in a striped sweater who relentlessly pursues them wielding knives in place of fingers. They quickly learn that whatever he does to them in their dreams happens in real life.
The teenagers frantically try to figure out how to stop the dreams and their tormentor. Along the way, they uncover a sinister conspiracy among their parents to keep them from learning the truth. Terrified to go to sleep, the teens rely on coffee, speed, and whatever else they can get their hands on to stay awake. Just watching people go through sleep deprivation is exhausting, and it adds to the overall dread and tension of the movie.
The predictably attractive cast features Katie Cassidy (Harper’s Island, Melrose Place), Kellan Lutz (Twilight), Kyle Gallner (Jennifer’s Body), and Rooney Mara (Youth in Revolt.) Clancy Brown and Connie Britton are the token parental figures. The acting is about what you have come to expect from a horror movie marketed to teenagers.
While the film doesn’t take a lot of liberties with the original story, there are a few things I enjoyed in this version. Freddy’s back-story is fleshed out a lot more than the original. There is even an attempt to make Freddy appear sympathetic, and that couldn’t have been done without expanding the back-story. The back-story also serves to establish the connection the kids have to one another a little more in depth than the original.
Freddy’s makeup in this movie is considerably better, too. Haley looks like he really could be a burn victim, whereas Robert Englund always looked like a guy in lot of plastic makeup.
Director Samuel Bayer has built up his resume directing music videos, and he brings an artful touch to the movie, particularly the dream sequences. They are quite beautiful and ethereal, though I wish there hadn’t been quite as many. The film vacillates quickly between dream and reality sequences, and sometimes I just wanted to take it all in, instead of flipping back and forth between the two.
It is too bad that the film doesn’t build on any actual fear, though. It takes the easy way out and tosses in a lot of jump scares. These are initially effective, but immediately forgotten.
Bottom line, the uninitiated should find Nightmare suitable for a scary date night, but disciples of the original series will be underwhelmed.