Remakes don’t necessarily have to be bad. Rarely will a newbie surpass its predecessor in terms of quality, but occasionally, they will bring something new and enjoyable to a classic tale. Dawn of the Dead is one example of this and The Amityville Horror is another. A Nightmare on Elm Street is not.
Wes Craven’s 1984 slasher was an original in every sense. Local man Freddy Krueger is burned alive by the neighbourhood parents for killing children. Feeling this was unjust, a murderous and indestructible Freddy seeks revenge ten years later by hunting their teenage offspring in their dreams and gruesomely slaughtering them in their sleep. The concept is unique – and scary, creating a world where it’s fatal to fall asleep.
Surprisingly enough, Samuel Bayer’s adaptation of Wes Craven’s 1984 slasher is not a total train wreck. It paid due homage to the original, with a reawakening of the long silent Nancy as the leading victim; but new face Rooney Mara (while very good) holds none of the magic that Heather Lagenkamp captured twenty-six years ago. Evaluated on its own terms, Nightmare on Elm Street measures up there with today’s so-so horror flicks. The problem is, as a remake, it never will be. Perhaps it’s just the absence of a young Johnny Depp playing the role of Nancy’s boyfriend.
Impressively, big name actors were not used to draw crowds, and the acting was actually decent compared to recent efforts like Halloween or Friday the 13th. The real disappointment was that Robert Englund did not appear to reprise his alter ego: the one and only Freddy Krueger. Jackie Earle Haley does a great job as Freddy – creepy voice, menacing stance – but the truth is that despite doing what he could with what he had to work with, there are fundamental aspects of this Freddy that are just all wrong.
For one thing, the scars that usually disfigure Freddy’s face and make him so frightening are absent. This Freddy looks like a poor melted man. Instead of being terrifying, Freddy evokes sympathy. Not only does he look like he’s escaped from the burns ward, he shows human emotions. He gets angry.
Gone is the wisecracking demon who delights in torturing his prey. This Freddy is jaded, resentful and really pissed off. He raises his voice and loses his cool a number of times and the flashbacks of him as a normal man are just lonely and sad.
Briefly, there is a suggestion that Freddy might have been an innocent man who unjustly paid the ultimate price, but thankfully this idea is barely explored. Instead, a rampant theme of paedophilia rages in its place. Disturbing, sure, but there’s nothing wrong with making the audience squirm. The problem is its lack of subtlety.
Freddy Krueger was a child killer, but Wes Craven had the brains and skill to only ever imply that he may have additionally been a paedophile. What Craven understood, and where Bayer ultimately fails, is the power of suggestion. Movie makers today just don’t seem to get it: what’s scary is what you don’t see and what you don’t say. There’s no need for Freddy to slobber on Nancy or mount her in bed. We already know Freddy is diabolical, it’s up to the director to cleverly bring something uniquely grotesque to the villain, not abuse the obvious.
Overall though, this retelling is visually very loyal to its namesake. The kills are chillingly imitative, with the final girl being haunted through the walls and the obligatory blonde thrashing around on the ceiling in her sleep. As a testament to one of the horror movie greats, Nightmare on Elm Street 2010 may not have anything credible to contribute to cinema, but it is not as offensive as the die-hard fans would imagine and, at times, even mildly entertaining.
Corina Thorose is completing a Graduate Diploma of Journalism at La Trobe University.