A re-imagining of the horror icon Freddy Krueger, a serial-killer who wields a glove with four blades embedded in the fingers and kills people in their dreams, resulting in their real death in reality.
When assessing a remake, should one make a straight comparison to the original film or judge the work as a stand-alone entity?
In the case of Samuel Bayer’s re-imagining of Wes Craven’s iconic 1984 shocker A Nightmare on Elm Street, we can assume that a lot of talented young people are hoping that it will be their big break, so the decent thing to do would be to judge them and their film on its own merits. But then, the film only exists because New Line and producer Michael Bay saw a chance to exploit the following that the original enjoys"¦ should they not be held accountable for their actions, too?
It is 2010. A group of high-school students are experiencing fatal nightmares, and the few that survive these somnambulist assaults share the vision of a hideously scarred man, whose razor-claw torments them as they sleep. When the jock, his hot girlfriend and the smart-mouthed bad boy are all dispensed with (Bayer’s dedication to maximising the blood splatter is admirable), it is left to the shy-guy from the swim team and the artistic loner-girl to confront the demon that is cutting a swathe through the teenagers of Elm Street.
Director Bayer is making his film debut with A Nightmare on Elm Sreet after a decade in the music-video trenches, and his training as a compiler of small-screen images shows. Shunning the versatility offered by cinema’s widescreen canvas, Bayer shoots his pretty cast in extreme close-up most of the time, and relies on indecipherable snap-edits and loud sound grabs to elicit audience response.
As the monstrous dreamstalker Freddy Krueger, Jackie Earle Haley struggles to convey any sense of menace under a tonne of latex makeup intended to portray the horrible burns inflicted upon him by a vengeful mob (whom we encounter in a pointless flashback). So poorly applied is the prosthetic skin, his lips are immobile and demand that his dialogue be (badly) dubbed; the make-up team have also flattened his nose and separated his eyes, making Freddy Krueger look a lot like a blue-tongue lizard.
Despite the opportunity to create nightmare worlds and dreamy, surreal terrors, Bayer sticks pretty closely to ho-hum slasher movie conventions. Good things are hinted at in the opening, when a roadside diner transforms into a slaughterhouse strewn with heads and hooves, but this imaginary spin is as good as it gets. Further burdened by some woefully hammy acting (mostly from the adult cast, it must be said), Nancy Drew-like detective work and silly coincidences that mean far more to the film’s logic than they should, A Nightmare on Elm Street, perhaps appropriately, is a soporific bore.
This is bad enough in its own right, if it weren’t for the fact that Bayer and Bay’s messy hatchet job takes its inspiration from one of the great American horror films. Wes Craven’s classic was a deeply unsettling journey into the teenage psyche, a playground rich for interpretation within the horror genre. In Freddy Krueger, Craven and actor Robert Englund conjured a villainous predator, perfectly at ease in his hunting fields – he existed wholly within the dreamscape of our minds, but he massaged and manipulated the surrounds until they embodied the victim’s ultimate psychological horror.
None of the subtlety of design or depth of imagination that Craven got so right 26 years ago is evident in Bayer’s film. Freddy comes and goes, sometimes in his steamy factory and sometimes in your home, but none of it has relevance. There are some visual nods to the original film – the chilling 'bodybag dream’ sequence is mimicked, but to less effect; the bathtub sequence, which drew gasps in the original, earned giggles from the preview audience; and Craven’s famous 'Grand Guignol’ ending, which featured Ronee Blakely and a too-small window, is telegraphed and rehashed.
Worst of all, Bayer and his writers Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer mess with Craven’s established mythology – in one scene, a victim is taken into Krueger’s dreamworld while he is swimming! How do you fall asleep swimming!?
Ultimately, the remake plays out more like the parade of increasingly daft sequels that milked the last drop of blood out of the Krueger franchise, and ultimately killed off the un-killable character (with the exception of Craven’s own 1994 effort, New Nightmare, which was a very smart Hollywood satire). Producer Michael Bay has turned horror film milestones The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), The Amityville Horror (2005), The Hitcher (2007) and Friday the 13th (2009) into lame, smoke-and-mirror non-events, and his profit-hungry M.O. is wearing very thin and looking very tired. Dare I suggest that, with a nod to Freddy, Mr Bay takes a little nap....