After watching the “re-imagining” of the 1984 Wes Craven feature, I was forced to ask myself a tough question, a question that made me reassess whether I could review this movie objectively at all, given my attachment to the original.
The question: Was the original “A Nightmare on Elm Street” actually good, or did it just seem that way because I was a kid when I saw it?
Luckily, I was able to answer this question after hearing my mom’s answer: “The original was a classic; it scared the $#!% out of me.
So, if the most important grown-up in my young life (who also saw the original “Night of the Living Dead” at the theater) experienced real fright during the original “Nightmare,” then it’s safe to say that Craven’s version is worth it’s salt, regardless of audience age.
Now it’s 2010, and there’s a new “Nightmare” (not to be mistaken with “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare,” which was its own brand of awful). The case made to justify remakes such as this is that they introduce a proven (read: profitable) work to a new generation. Personal opinion aside, there is a good chance that enough was done in this version for this generation to appreciate the re-imagining that was made with their viewership in mind. The differences between the 1984 film and today’s feature suggest that the slight shift in focus accounts for societal changes over time, as well as the consideration that fans of the old one would need a modicum of freshness to make it worth their while. Unfortunately, director Samuel Bayer failed to deliver on that consideration, not because he did a shot-for-shot remake, but because the updates suggested that the spirit of the original story was not a priority.
2010, never do it again…
The set-up of Bayer’s “Nightmare” is consistent with the original. A homicidal burn victim named Freddy, who wears a Freddy Krueger swea—oh, right—kills teenagers in their dreams.
In Craven’s “Nightmare,” Freddy terrorized the children of the people who’d hunted him down and burnt him alive. Bayer’s “Nightmare” teased out the back-story that all of the teenagers attended the same preschool where Freddy, who turned out to be a child molester, was the groundskeeper.
Although these are different approaches to the same story, Bayer’s execution asks the audience to take plot points for granted without due explanation. For instance, every teenager might not remember what life was like when they were five years old, but Bayer expects the audience to accept that none of the teenagers in the movie remembered each other once they reunited in high school (highly unlikely). This convenient amnesia may have also been at play in Craven’s film, but it wasn’t a major plot point, so it didn’t matter.
Employing the suppressed memory device unnecessarily complicates a story that was originally quite simple. In the 1984 back-story, the parents of Elm Street’s exacted justice on Krueger, a man who would lure children to a boiler room to kill them. The parents, represented by Nancy’s mother (played by Ronee Blakley), stood firm in their decision to take the law into their own hands, even when confronted with it later.
Conversely, the parents of 2010 Elm Street—represented primarily by Quentin’s father (Clancy Brown, a.k.a. The Kurgan) and Nancy’s mother (Connie Britton a.k.a. hubba hubba)—expressed doubts during the hunt for Freddy. Nancy’s mother attempted to be the voice of reason, but gets shouted down by the other parents. Showing the potential for remorse added nothing to either version, so it is difficult to understand why it got attention this time around.
Another part of the story that may have been a statement about today’s teenagers is when Quentin (Kyle Gallner) believes that the parents of Elm Street may have wrongly accused Freddy of his bad deeds. This new wrinkle implies that bleeding-heart remorse for parental wrongdoing is a sentiment that is accessible by the mainstream. I don’t know anything about this feeling, but maybe today’s teenagers do. Hopefully, this is just a reality to which I have no access. Otherwise, it was just a different way to thicken the plot for the sake of having more movie to show, which is annoying. “A Nightmare on Elm Street” didn’t need any red herrings before, so why should it have any now?
As for the monster himself, the aforementioned plot elements rendered him powerless. The story became less about the killer and more about the kids uncovering their past. Since the movie became a horror/mystery, there was nothing that Jackie Earle Haley could have done to fight for his rightful focus. Whether you appreciated his performance, naturally compared to Robert Englund’s, is unimportant because the plot choices in Bayer’s film made it difficult to know what an exceptional portrayal of Freddy would be.
I wanted to like this movie, but I could not do it. Maybe I’m too old for this sort of thing…or maybe Hollywood should begin to take chances or new ideas (and not just new to this country by way of Korea [Remember that trend? Woof]). The lack of originality on the big screen is an ongoing gripe by many, so I won’t belabor the point here. Suffice it to say that “A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)” was not fun to watch by someone who loved the original.