A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET - THE PIT OF HORROR REVIEW -- [Posted 30 April 2010]
As the house lights came up and the end titles for Samuel Bayer's remake of 1984's A Nightmare On Elm Street began, the first thought that popped into my head was one I hadn't experienced since my first viewing of Inglourious Basterds last summer. That thought was, When's the next time I'm free to see this again on the big screen? Talk about not beating around the bush in the opening paragraph.
The recent "re-imaginings" or "reboots," if you will, of Halloween and Friday The 13th saw iconic 80's horror staples Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees upgraded for a new generation. Now the slasher triumvirate is complete as Freddy Krueger receives the same treatment in a film that, eschewing the "re-whatevers" of his peers, truly deserves to be called a "remake" proper. And this is because all of the pieces are in place to retell Wes Craven's original story with a few changes and flourishes so there are enough surprises and not so much predictability. The film thankfully doesn't throw in lengthy subplot and/or expository narrative to water down the original tale (Rob Zombie's Halloween, anyone?). Nor does it try to cram in the elements of several of the original's sequels just to throw a nudge and wink at the camera (Marcus Nispel, are you listening?).
Detailing the basic premise is old-hat, since most of us are familiar with Elm Street lore. But since we believe in full-service reviews around here, Bayer's film opens on a rainy night at a greasy spoon diner in Springwood. A high-schooler named Dean (Kellan Lutz) has ordered his umpteenth cup of coffee and is trying very hard to stay awake. Some of his classmates stop in and banter with waifish Nancy (Mara Rooney), the waitress and also a classmate, while Kris (Katie Cassidy), Dean's new girlfriend, attempts to engage him in conversation. When Dean nods off, he suddenly finds himself in a sinister boiler room, where a horribly burned figure in a striped sweater and fedora successively taunts him and ultimately murders him in gory fashion, while in the "real world," Dean suffers an identical fate at the hands of an unseen attacker at his diner booth.
After the funeral, the handful of classmates gradually begin to realize they've been having dreams similar to the ones Dean had spoken of before his death. Once clues about the mysterious burned man come to light, the crispy marauder with a knife-blade glove hikes up his efforts and begins killing them off one by one. Nancy and Quentin (Kyle Gallner) eventually cotton onto some startling information--that the nightmarish Freddy Krueger may be exacting revenge for a wrong perpetrated by the teens' collective parents.
Where the original's Nancy was brilliantly played by Heather Langenkamp as a resourceful girl-next-door, here Nancy is played as a bookish art-school type with a pleasing dry wit and an investigative mind. In place of Johnny Depp's endlessly-horny "Glenn" character is the doe-eyed Gallner as Quentin, whose sad puppy-dog demeanor is somewhat off-putting at first, but once Freddy's cards are on the table, he transforms into a strong and altruistic hero figure. Genre favorite Clancy Brown is great as always, here playing Quentin's dad, who knows more than he'll say about one Fred Krueger. Adjacently, Lia Mortensen is the stand-in for Ronee Blakely's character, Nancy's mother. Played here as a frowsy, dishwater blonde with an unattractive complexion, she is the stubborn voice of denial when proof is piling up in drifts.
The polarizing element for fans of the original Nightmare On Elm Street films here is, needless to say, the recasting of Freddy. And the objections are not because Jackie Earle Haley specifically was cast, but rather that anyone other than Robert Englund got the part. And that's an understandable position to take. Whereas Jason and Michael were each played by a roll-call of different actors and stuntment over the courses of their series, Englund was always the mainstay for Elm Street, and recasting the part--even for a remake--would be unacceptable to many. But to play Bayer's advocate here, it's not as though Haley simply put on the make-up and costume and set out to pick up from where Englund left off. (For a successful such transition, note Julianne Moore taking over the Clarice Starling role when Jodie Foster turned down Hannibal in 2001.)
Haley's Krueger is a very different Freddy, and the complexity of his motivations are more grounded in relevant social issues of today. Imagine Haley's character in 2006's Little Children, if indeed that guy had gotten torched by a mob of precipitous parents, and you've got yourself one highly pissed and deep-fried villain. In a rather bold touch, the script even hints that Krueger might have been innocent of his alleged crimes. Where Englund's make-up design was more in keeping with classic Hollywood monsters, Haley resembles a much more realistic burn victim, making him all the more eerie and unsettling. And if nothing else, while Englund was always entertaining, Haley manages to make Freddy something he hasn't been in many a movie now, and that is menacing.
A Nightmare On Elm Street, while certain to divide fans, has the potential to do one of two things. Either it could usher in a new era of Jackie Earle Haley Elm Street films, or it could generate enough renewed interest in the original series to demand a continuation of that timeline with Robert Englund back in his signature role. Pessimists will doubtless add a third option: that it tanks and kills off the franchise entirely. But as per the opening paragraph of this review, I'm currently checking my schedule as to when I'm free to take in a second viewing on the big screen. This time I'm buying popcorn, though, overpriced or not.
'A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET' A Film by Samuel Bayer
Starring JACKIE EARLE HALEY - MARA ROONEY - KYLE GALLNER - KATIE CASSIDY - THOMAS DEKKER - KELLAN LUTZ - LIA MORTENSEN - CLANCY BROWN
Screenplay by Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer. Story by Wesley Strick. Directed by Samuel Bayer.
[DISCUSS ON OUR FORUMS] [Review By Petch Lucas]
STUDIO: NEW LINE CINEMA
RUN TIME 97 minutes (US)
CERT: USA, R