After Platinum Dunes gave two other famous horror icons a makeover - Leatherface in the ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (2003) and Jason Voorhees in ‘Friday The 13th’ (2009) - they then gave Freddy Krueger a sharpening of his infamous steel claws. Unlike those mediocre efforts of mixed results that were at least passable entertainment, this is just a disappointing load of incompetent decisions made by people who just do not have an understanding of the horror genre.
From the outset, this remake is a prime example of product filmmaking. In the original film, when introduced to Freddy we did not even know what he was let alone whom he was. There was a mystery to this throughout most of the movie. The way his introduction is ushered in here is as if we are supposed to know who and what he is already. The film is primarily for the franchise’s fan base and a new generation who are aware of the character’s high profile in popular culture. In the opening scene, director Samuel Bayer reveals Krueger in his entirety robbing him of any elusive bogeyman qualities. His complete appearance is to please the fanboys and young impressionable newcomers who expect it after a tirade of commercial advertising for the product (sorry, movie) with the villain’s image as the main selling point. While the Freddy Krueger of Wes Craven’s original 1984 film was the opponent and Nancy Thompson was the heroine and lead character, here it is obvious who the true star of this corporate business strategy really is.
The only real positive here though is actually Jackie Earle Haley and his mean spirited performance as this new incarnation of Freddy. The character has gone back to his dark roots of the first two Elm Street movies but at the same time, it is also a new take on him. Haley succeeds in making the role his own as a once creepy, sick, vile paedophile that is now a demonic homicidal force of absolute hatred consumed with revenge. Every time he is on screen, he spits out embittered venom of complete and utter contempt; he really wants to kill these kids and does so in such a merciless and sadistic way. His humour returns to the very dark and is not of the campy type of Robert Englund’s performances in later entries of the original series. This supplemented with him reliving his sick paedophilic lust when taunting his would be victims whom he abused as children. This is disturbing stuff… too bad it is not all in a much better film.
I really liked this new take on the character’s portrayal because it made me hate him in a good way. After all he is the antagonist who the audience is supposed fear and loath - the man of your dreams you love to hate. He is not the joker anti-hero Krueger of the late 80s and early 90s with the audience rooting for him rather than fearing him. It is not good horror when the movie’s monsters are no longer scary with the audience on their side with no sympathy given towards the victims.
Craven actually intended for his film for his monstrous creation to be a child molester rather than a child murderer. During production, a controversial child molestation trial got much coverage in the media. Craven did not want his movie having a connection with these events, as he wanted to avoid accusations of exploiting such vile acts. However, it was always an underlying theme in the original Elm Street series that in life Freddy Krueger was not just a child killer. In this update it is brought to the forefront with the writers losing the murderer part and replacing it with full on child inference. It is just that they got his motives for his evil doings in the dreamscape afterlife all wrong.
Here the writers have Freddy taking revenge on the people he sexually molested as children because they told their parents of his abuse. To have him take revenge on the kids themselves for seeking their parent’s protection in defence against his physical sexual harm is just plain wrong on the part of the writers. Not only is it in severely bad taste but it misses the point of Wes Craven’s film. In the ‘84 movie, Krueger seeks revenge on the people who burned him to death by killing their children. It has a social subtext of adolescents struggling in society with the baggage they carry around from their parents. The teenagers paying the price for their parent’s past sins. The new character traits here are fine but it is a very bad idea to have changed the motive.
Less backstory told as an urban legend through dialogue adds more to the mystic of the monster with Craven’s movie being a good example of that. This remake also reveals a deeper connection between Freddy Krueger and the female lead of the film Nancy Holbrook (Rooney Mara) as he abused her as a child. The Nancy here is as dull as dishwater compared to the bright and resourceful heroine Nancy Thompson was in the original movie. She showed real spirit and determination in defeating her fears eventually turning her back on Freddy in the film’s ending and robbing him of all his powers. This is a sub-text of overcoming repression, which resides in the subconscious of our dreams with Krueger the embodiment of that repression. This remake is devoid of sub-text of any kind. The end of this movie also lacks any of the exciting tense thrills of the original’s climax with the final confrontation between Freddy Krueger and the two protagonists over in a flash.
The cast of teens put in average performances at best and the characterization is duller than duller. Nancy Holbrock is the pits and the rest of the characters are almost as uninvolving. It is not that they are unlikable as they are not obnoxious but are just boring. Male lead Quentin Smith (Kyle Gallner) who is the equivalent of the first film’s Glen Lantz is an Emo type drip as opposed to the handsome jock Johnny Depp was in Wes Craven’s movie. Nancy and Quentin lack any real chemistry together with the characters of the parents being just lifeless as we get the usual conflicting relationships between them and the two teenage leads.
Although Jackie Earle Haley’s performance is a force of sadistic malevolence, most of the murder set-pieces are executed without the balls to make uncompromising violence. They instead settle for watered down for the masses frights like the tribute scene to Tina Grey’s death lacking its extremity with a safer and lamer version. When they are brutal, there is little imaginative innovation. The filmmakers fail to capitalize upon the use of CGI in utilizing it for what could have been a string of epic dreamscape sequences. This makes for unlike Craven’s movie just another standard slasherthon. They even use CGI for the bloodletting and splatter which is about convincing as Keanu Reeves playing hamlet. Honest to God to use CGI for blood is just fucking lazy! Bayer injects into the dream sequences a blatant and abrupt change in stylistic visuals from the reality scenes insulting the audience with the notion that something bad is going to happen by employing an obvious dark and grimy look of danger. We know straight away that Freddy is going to appear and do something nasty. This shallow rehash does not have any suspense at all.
One of the more potentially interesting ideas trying to break through here amongst a tired plot with terrible pacing is the introduction of micro-naps. The concept of people dreaming while still awake after a long period of sleep deprivation with the blurring of what is real and what is not creates a heightened threat of danger for Nancy and Quentin as they prolong their lack of sleep. This would have been great if researched properly. According to the film when awake for seventy hours the symptoms start but this is completely not true. First off, in Wes Craven’s movie, Nancy Thompson went seven days without sleep and she did not go through anything like that. Secondly, from my own experience suffering from insomnia a great deal when I was younger I never had a problem with any of this after missing well over seventy hours sleep. So unfortunately, this idea is completely wasted.
I grew up with ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ (1984). It is a film I have analysed countless times and is a wonderful surrealist piece of pure unadulterated terror. This half-arsed recycle is just a slasherfest and what with the lack of mystery and suspense, the kills are terrible making it a bad one. The creative energy of Craven’s movie is not present here - all of the dreamscape surrealism, mystery, suspense and sub-text that the first film encapsulated are non-existent. Even with Haley offering some redeeming quality this insulting piece of shit does not deserve a pass.
* out of ****
Dave J. Wilson
©2012 Cinematic Shocks, Dave J. Wilson - All work is the property of the credited author and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.