In the 70's, Wes Craven was on the fringes of the horror scene, making hard to swallow gritty tales like The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes (both of which have seen modern day remakes). In 1984, however, Craven presented the world with a new vision. Gone were the rapists and inbred murderers. In their place stood a single man, burned and scarred, with a bladed glove that would become his trademark. The man was Freddy Krueger, and the film was A Nightmare On Elm St. The movie, while also low budget, centered on regular high school teens, and had the unique concept that Freddy killed them in their dreams. The film was a hit, spawning all sorts of sequels and spin-offs. More than that, it was a genuinely scary and creative slice of horror that still carries an impact today. Now, Wes Craven is no stranger to remakes. His debut, The Last House on the Left, was itself a re-imagining of Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring, and Craven has seen his first two films remade already. But Nightmare is a horse of a different color. While Craven's first outings are cult classics, Nightmare is a genuine classic, and Freddy himself is a modern day horror icon on par with Jason, Leatherface, and so on. So perhaps it's fitting that the picture has been remade by Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes, the company responsible for both the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday The 13th remakes. But is the remake justified?
Something terrible is happening to the kids of Springwood. When they go to sleep, they see a man in a red and black sweater, badly burned, wearing a glove with blades on the fingers. The nightmares are vivid and a little too real, but no one thinks too much of it until Dean (Kellan Lutz) kills himself in the local diner. After that, Kris (Katie Cassidy), Nancy (Rooney Mara), Jesse (Sarah Conner Chronicles' Thomas Dekker), and Quentin (Kyle Gallner) begin comparing notes, only to discover that they're all sharing the same nightmare. As more people get killed in their sleep, Nancy and Quentin try and discover the terrible secret behind the man in their dreams, whom they only know as Freddy (Jackie Earle Haley, Watchmen).
Right off the bat, you know something is wrong with the new Nightmare on Elm St. The opening credit sequence looks like it was a rejected concept for Seven, and the music lays on thick and heavy. The diner where Dean kills himself is dark and musky, filled with imagery more suitable for Jigsaw than Freddy Krueger. Yes, this Nightmare is a dark one, but its dour tone and grim color scheme do not heighten the tension. Instead, it dulls everything to monochromatic sameness, making neither the waking world nor the dream one terribly attractive. One of the great things about the original film was how it took place in normal suburbia, which only made the dark secret underneath the white picket fences all the more horrifying. In this film, everything is already so dank that the only secret that could surprise us is if anyone in the movie was actually happy with their lives.
This isn't the only change for the worse. The whole structure of the story has changed, and not for the better. In the original (at this point I should warn you that this phrase will occur frequently throughout the review), the death of each kid was a set piece unto itself, distinct from the others. And we knew enough about the characters to care about their death, leading to a whole lot of tension and scares. In this movie, the characters are cardboard cutouts, one-note at best and utterly boring at worst. The movie kills the two more interesting characters early, leaving us with Nancy and Quentin, whose leaden tones practically send us spiraling into our own dream worlds. And as for tension, you can just throw that notion out the window right now. The characters are so nonchalant about each other's deaths that you'd think this sort of thing happened every weekend. This isn't helped by the cast's complete and utter lack of personality, charisma, or presence.
But by far the worst problem is with Freddy himself. Prior to this, Freddy had only ever been played by one man: Robert Englund. Freddy was unique among horror monsters in that, unlike faceless slasher such as Michael Myers, Jason, and Leatherface, Freddy had personality. He had wit and he had style (a trait that would be abused in the film's many sequels). Whether or not you cared about the people in each installment, you always knew you'd get a good dose of Freddy, and that was a welcome element. Here, Freddy is as bland as the teenagers he hunts. Jackie Earle Haley plays him completely straight, without a trace of a smirk. It doesn't help that his face looks like something that you might find in the toilet after eating too much Taco Bell, whereas Englund's Freddy looked like he had just came straight out of the furnace, all wet and glistening (in the first film, at least). But more than anything, the sense of maniac joy that Englund brought to the part is gone. Part of what made Freddy so scary, aside from the fact that he'd kill you if you slept, was the way he exhibited such obvious glee in his killings. He never tried to be scary, and in doing so, became more scary than we could have imagined. Haley, in doing his best to be intimidating, comes off as a bore.
Even worse, the dream world, half of the attraction of the series, is completely wasted. When you think of the Nightmare series, what do you think of first? For me, it's the bizarre dreamscapes that have made the series unique among horror franchises. In this film, all of that is gone, replaced by the dour pumps and pipes of Freddy's final resting place. And it's never been easier to tell when someone is dreaming versus when they're awake. The lights flicker, the music becomes ominous, the whole color scheme changes. And when the film introduces the element of "micro-naps," small less than a minute waking dreams, it just becomes an excuse to make Freddy into yet another jump scare. The few sequences that are lifted directly from the original are almost invariably ruined by the inclusion of useless CGI, turning convincing practical effects into overblown computer generated farces.
Honestly, I don't even see the point of this remake. The original Nightmare on Elm St. is still disturbingly effective (as is Craven's pre-Scream self-referential A New Nightmare), and even the worst of the sequels exhibits a level of creativity that's wholly absent here. Even the ludicrous Freddy vs. Jason knew how to have fun better than this drab, bland, mindless remake. Throughout the movie, I kept wondering why the characters didn't pinch themselves to wake up, and by the end, I was pinching myself in my seat, hoping desperately that A Nightmare on Elm St. 2010 was nothing but a bad dream.