A Nightmare on Elm Street

Horror fans are a nostalgic group.  After all, the prime examples of our genre all came about more than twenty-five years ago.  More than any other genre group, we’ve been riddled with terrible sequels, needless remakes, and an avalanche of just plain bad movies.  So when someone, anyone, ventures forth to remake one of the four undeniable classics (Nightmare, Friday, Texas Chainsaw, and Halloween) there is an instant and understandable uproar.  Tag Michael Bay’s name in the opening credits and you can double that ire.  With that said, Samuel Bayer was facing an uphill battle when he was picked to helm the Platinum Dunes adaptation of A Nightmare on Elm Street, penned by Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer.

The story is much the same as the original.  In Springwood,a group of teens begin experiencing the same sort of nightmares, their nocturnal thoughts all invaded by a badly burned man wearing a knife infused glove.  You know his name – Freddy Krueger – a school janitor at a kindergarten who innocently loves children.  Okay, so you know that he doesn’t innocently love children and when his dark secret comes out, the parents of Springwood hunt for justice, leaving the man full of vengeance, deep burns, and the same implausible dream-powers of the original.

The origin is toyed with slightly – there is more depth to Krueger’s backstory, with some twists and turns that tease a little bit but, by the end, make the right choices in terms of Freddy’s characters.  His victims are all attractive members of the same kindergarten who have since been separated to block out the memories, though many of them become friends again in High School, when the nightmares begin.

The remake gives more focus to Kris (Katie Cassidy) to the point you begin to think she’ll be taking of the heroine role.  Never fear, stalwart fans, Nancy is the focus here after Bayer dangles the very attractive Kris in our faces for awhile, toying with your expectations.

With dream filled vengeance right from the very start, the film doesn’t let up as Krueger tallies up his victims while they sleep, leaving Nancy and shy boyfriend-hopeful Quentin to decode the dream messages and find out exactly why Krueger is tormenting them.

Much to my satisfaction, the dream demon isn’t trying to tell them anything – he’s just trying to fuck with them more.  The Nightmare franchise had no doubt fallen very far to this point, with many of the films being silly, cheesy, and downright bad.  The original is correctly given credit for being more serious and frightening, but this new installment takes Krueger to a new level of evil.

Simply put, Freddy Krueger is one mean motherfucker.  Sure, in the original he tormented and killed some kids, but in this iteration, he seems to be a good deal more upset about how things played out.  He takes pleasure in the torment and teases his victims – not with puns, but with the knowledge that the brain can stay alive for eight minutes after the heart stops.  Translation?  He’s got seven more minutes to torture you after you’ve already died.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Part of the joy of Nightmare films for me was that Krueger, as the melted version, was such an asshole.  He was a kind of campy pervert with a playfully bad mouth, but now he’s a real pervert with a mouth meant to insult. His campy playfulness is replaced with an evil tormentor streak.  I found this incarnation to be a far more menacing threat.

Attempting to compare Jackie Earl Haley to Robert Englund would just be strange.  Englund did some amazing things with the role and it will always be his character.  I wouldn’t want to take anything away from him, but Haley does do an awesome job.  While Krueger does menace the teens from the very start, Haley isn’t given free range to open the character up until the last twenty or so minutes – and this is where he turns evil.  He’s no longer toying with the kids or just killing them, he’s actively insulting them.  His secret is out of the bag and he’s enraged, full of hate.  You believe this time that his anger is so great that somehow his spirit has a real power to infest your dreams.  It’s also worth mentioning that when Haley is portraying the seemingly innocent side of Krueger, the human side, you believe him.  He wins you over, just like he did the children.  He’s a sweet, simple man.  Haley’s considerable acting talents are not wasted here.

I enjoyed A Nightmare on Elm Street thoroughly.  At the risk of being flamed in the comments, I dare say it’s better than the original.  I’ve since watched Craven’s film twice and think Bayer’s has some obvious technical advantages – the remake has beautiful cinematography, great special effects (save one or two digital moments), and a much bigger budget.  This Platinum Dunes film is scarier, too.  As a macho man, no horror movie really “scares” me (it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie), but this flick does deliver well-timed jump scares and effective musical cues to keep you on edge.

If you’re willing to go into this film without a stubborn boner for the fist film, you’ll enjoy it.  If you’ve never seen a Nightmare flick, you’ll enjoy it.  I’m not the greatest fan of the original franchise, but I have seen every installment multiple times and like them.  This is a very worthy addition and it is probably my favorite of the whole lot, in many ways.

The film is more comparable to the original it revisits, which might be it’s only downside to me.  The dreams are less insane than in the follow ups and many are more straightforward than they have to be – I do enjoy a bit of sarcasm and exploration with the nightmares, though most of the sequels got that all wrong by the end.  As a new starting point, this iteration of the nightmare is a great start – I’d love to see Jackie Earl Haley expand this darker Krueger in more films.

The Upside: Freddy Krueger is more menacing than ever.

The Downside: It is a remake, despite how well it’s done, and some may take issue with the early focus on Kris rather than Nancy.

On the Side: This is Samuel Bayer’s first feature film, having cut his teeth in the music video world.

Grade: B+


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