Nightmare on Elm Street: Freddy Krueger’s Disturbing Rebirth

For no good reason, Freddy Krueger has come back to life. But that won’t stop his return from being a terrifying ride into the world of dreams now, will it? Certainly not.

As an avid fan of avoiding anything disturbing, bloody or in any way scary, I can tell you that I wasn’t exactly looking forward to seeing Freddy Krueger rise from the ashes like a knife-fingered phoenix. But having enjoyed – much to my surprise – the most recent remake from Platinum Dunes, Friday the 13th, I was at least optimistic. That, and the casting of Jackie Earle Haley as the new Freddy reeked of potential brilliance. In Watchmen, Haley was the essential Rorschach. He had the exact amount of intensity that one would like to see from a scary slasher, that was clear.

What wasn’t clear, at least at that point, was how right Haley would be for this new brand of Krueger. He isn’t the same Freddy that emerged from Robert Englund. He’s a darker, more tragic and twisted vision of a man murdered by a town full of angry parents. He’s an unrelenting dreamscape killer, a downright terrifying and grand figure who haunts the minds of a group of hip teenagers. But there’s something more to his story, something that didn’t exist in Wes Craven’s seminal slasher classic from 1984. In this rebirth, the story behind the man who kills you in your dreams is played with, twisted about, and turned into something deeply disturbing.

This week, after taking in my first screening of director Samuel Bayer’s new Nightmare, I saw fit to revisit the original. And after said visit, the most striking thing about the difference between the classic and contemporary is the steep shift in the tone of Freddy’s background. In the original, he is simply a child killer who was rightfully burned by an angry mob of moms and dads. There is never a discussion of his potential innocence, never a discussion of what he did beyond simply killing a few kids from the neighborhood.

In this new film, the black and white is stripped away to create an unsettling landscape of gray. And as Freddy’s story begins to unwind and the film’s action crescendos, we see that this new Freddy isn’t just less of a jokester, he’s also more unnerving as a villain.

It’s a thematic change that may not sit perfectly with those beholden to the original film, but certainly one that makes this remake interesting. For the first time in their careers as repackagers of horror iconography, producers Andrew Form and Brad Fuller have created a completely new antagonist out of a familiar mold. Jackie Earle Haley’s Krueger doesn’t just look like a deeply unhinged burn victim out for gruesome revenge, he is a complete embodiment of evil. And it’s terrifying. Even more so than the original.

Perhaps it speaks to the contemporary audience. In this age of torture porn and audience shock trauma films like Hostel and the recently released Human Centipede, it takes more to scare us than it did in the 80s. But rather than go for the gross-out, Fuller and Form chose to make their Krueger shocking based on who he is, and not just what he does. This, in a sense, is the perfect way to honor the original and bring something new to the table – a task that all too often seems out of reach for most remakes. In this instance, they hit the nail on the head. And with the resurrection of the name Freddy Krueger comes something intensely scary and unexpected. Something that might just honor the original by haunting the dreams of a new generation.

A Nightmare on Elm Street is in theaters now.

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