Welcome to Elm Street: The Remake

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I’ll say this about the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street: it could have been worse. Yes, it’s pointless and unimaginative and producer Michael Bay should still be ashamed, but I didn’t hate every minute of it. I can’t say the same for Rob Zombie’s dreadful take on Halloween (2007) or the unholy mess that is 2009’s Friday the 13th.

Don’t get me wrong, A Nightmare on Elm Street is not good. It’s not terrible, if only because it has a few decent scares — all of which are, of course, shamelessly lifted from the original. (Tina’s death is still Tina’s death, even if her name is Kris and she’s played by Katie Cassidy.) It’s clear that this remake — like all of the other recent horror rehashings — was designed to bring new fans to the series. And how do you appeal to kids today? Lots of jump scares, apparently.

And here’s where I have to admit something: I was more startled watching the 2010 A Nightmare on Elm Street than I ever was watching the original. Jump scares are effective, because they are loud and jarring and — in this case — constant. So is the new Nightmare scary? Sure. I wasn’t exactly on the edge of my seat: it would be more accurate to say I was slumped down in my seat with my fingers in my ears. But yes, I jumped. A lot. Does that mean the remake is somehow more successful than the original? Please. I may have been freaked watching that movie on the big screen, but it’s never going to, you know, give me nightmares. In contrast, the original haunted my childhood to the extent that I had to make a pact with my subconscious never to dream about Freddy Krueger. (This is entirely true and adorable.)

Jump scares are cheap and they’re easy to avoid. When you’ve seen them once, they’re ruined forever. Good horror may employ a jump scare or two, but it doesn’t rely on them. In the 2010 Nightmare, they are relentless. I will concede that there one or two memorable visuals: Kris being tossed around in the air and dragged onto the ceiling, Nancy seeing her dead friend taunt her from a body bag, Freddy’s glove emerging from the bathtub. But wait, we’ve seen these already. Yep, they’re nearly shot-for-shot “borrowed” from the 1984 original. Lazy. Oh, and the classic shot of Freddy emerging from the wall above Nancy? Ruined by half-assed CGI. When will they learn?

The cast is passable. I’ve always liked Kyle Gallner and Thomas Dekker, and Katie Cassidy somehow didn’t turn me off forever with her role on (the remade) Melrose Place. (Actually, she was one of the few good things about that show.) Rooney Mara takes on Nancy, and she’s fine but forgettable. All of these talented young actors have the misfortune of appearing in a film that doesn’t let them do much of anything. Maybe the next Johnny Depp is among the bunch, but no one gives anything resembling a breakout performance.

And where to begin with Jackie Earle Haley’s Freddy? Haley was doomed from the moment he was cast, just by virtue of not being Robert Englund. It’s one of the major problems with this remake. No one cares who’s under Jason’s hockey mask or wielding Michael Myers’ knife. But Freddy Krueger is Freddy Krueger — accept no imitations. If the film wanted to completely recreate the character, then why use the familiar striped sweater and fedora? It only makes Haley’s status as not-Robert-Englund more noticeable. This Freddy is more brutal, to be sure, but he’s also far less fun. The nightmares he creates are means to an end, lacking any sense of irony or humor. He only speaks one pun (I know, right?), and it’s lifted shamelessly from part five. Wisecracking is essential to Freddy’s persona. Just imagine if Jason or Michael suddenly got chatty: it would be equally jarring and, well, stupid.

But, much as it pains me to admit this, Englund’s Freddy isn’t scary anymore. The franchise fell apart with sequels that were too campy to be taken seriously. Even Freddy vs. Jason (2003), which ups the gore, is mostly just silly. To which I say, so what? I’d rather have another preposterous sequel that’s messy and fun than a soulless adaptation. Or hey, no more sequels at all. Let’s make some good new horror — brutal, sharp, original. The French have been doing it for years. But I digress.

Here’s the part where I tell you to look away if you care about getting spoiled, because I’m about to give away the ending. Normally, I wouldn’t, but a) I don’t give a crap, and b) so many of this movie’s problems are located in its final act.

Let’s start with the big reveal that’s obvious after the first five minutes: the victims in the 2010 A Nightmare on Elm Street were abused by Fred Krueger as children. That’s right, he wasn’t a child killer in this version — he messed around with them instead. Now don’t get me wrong, that’s still really fucked, but it also destroys any semblance of logic the original had. (‘80s horror: not big on making sense.) In the 1984 movie, the parents had to kill Freddy before he killed more of their own. The legal system had let them down, and they were forced to take matters into their own hands. The parents here, however, never even bothered reporting Krueger to the police — they just chased and torched him. Maybe this is supposed to be commentary on our desensitization to violence or the threat of mob rule, but it’s a huge and improbable leap. Anyone who’s seen Last House on the Left — the 1972 original, damn it — knows that parents only kill psychos as revenge for murder. Eye for an eye, duh.

But more importantly, all this child molestation nonsense is icky. It’s uncomfortable for the wrong reasons. There’s a whole bit with Nancy and Quentin (Gallner) deciding that they made it all up. You know, like kids do. I’m sorry, but implying that kids aren’t to be trusted when it comes to reporting the bad touch is tacky — even if, eventually, they realize Krueger really was a creep. That scene is equally awkward, with Nancy looking through a series of dirty Polaroids taken of her at age five. The audience squirms for all the wrong reasons. This kind of shock factor is manipulative and, honestly, more distracting than anything else.

And then there’s the ending, which is similar to the original’s except somehow more nonsensical. My main issue with it? Quentin, Nancy’s would-be boyfriend, lives. This is the problem in most ‘80s horror updates. The originals almost always have one survivor, the so-called Final Girl. (Just read Carol Clover’s Men, Women, and Chain Saws, if you haven’t already.) But new horror can’t seem to do this, as though the idea of one teenage girl outlasting a movie monster is too much to believe. Instead, the boyfriend has to come to the rescue, as in the aforementioned Friday the 13th remake. How can there ever be another “scream queen” a la Jamie Lee Curtis if we keep sheltering our final girls? The slasher movie doesn’t need a hunky male hero (or Gallner, who is more cute than hunky) to protect its female lead. Perhaps, as Cheryl suggested while we were talking about this, it’s just easier for a modern male audience to identify with a dude than — God forbid — a girl. To which I say, man up and take it like a woman.

Look, I’m obviously very attached to the Nightmare on Elm Street series. I’ve spent the past week rewatching and reviewing the films to the extent that I’m (almost) burned out. And this review-turned-rant is fast approaching 1300 words. So, yes, I’m passionate and any remake was bound to disappoint me on some level. The new Nightmare may not be the worst ever, but it’s still a misguided mistake. And if I have to sit here and blather on so that New Line (a.k.a. "The House that Freddy Built," now a part of Warner Bros.) doesn’t make another sequel — because they care — then so be it.

If you’ve read all the way through — not just this epic post, but also the ones preceding it — then many thanks. I hope Cheryl and I were able to help you remember or discover horror’s greatest series.

For now: good night, folks. Sweet dreams.

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