Directed by: Samuel Bayer
Starring: Jackie Earle Haley, Kyle Gallner, Rooney Mara, Katie Cassidy, Thomas Dekker
High on the list of movies that don’t need remaking is Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). High on the list of people who should be forcibly restrained from having anything to do with movies is Michael Bay. It follows, of course, that Bay and his factory o’ pointless remakes, Platinum Dunes, would in fact undertake such a proposition. While the results here are not quite as bad as other Platinum Dunes rehashes, they are eye-glazingly pointless and totally underwhelming. Where the original was a monument of creativity and subtext over budget, this is an object lesson in overproducing, bad casting and a dearth of creativity. Nearly everything that can go wrong does, while the one interesting idea the movie has is squelched soon after its arrival.
The new version is essentially the old version with a different—and unnecessary and less effective—backstory, along with bad CGI goosings of the original’s effects. For an isolated example, look at the scene in Craven’s film where Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) leans into view—thanks to a latex wall—to hover over a sleeping victim. It was brief and it was creepy as hell. Here we have a CGI variant that goes on too long, is stupidly punctuated by a roar, looks cartoonish and isn’t creepy in the least. In fact, there’s a checklist you can go down of things that worked in the original that don’t work here.
It’s almost as if the things that made Craven’s first film genuinely scary have been carefully taken out in favor of evoking the less horrific sequels. Where is the suggestion of Freddy’s ability to extend his arm length in nightmarish fashion? The self-mutilation demonstrations of his utterly debased evil? The fact is that there’s no hint of them, but there’s no shortage of the Chatty Kathy-doll version of Freddy of the sequels. In the original, Freddy had very few lines, and they were mostly menacing, e.g. “I’m gonna kill you—slow.” The nonstop wisecracks came in the sequels, which were clearly more interested in being “fun” than in being scary.
Transforming Freddy (Jackie Earle Haley) from a child murderer into a pedophile might have been reasonable had it been handled differently or actually gone anywhere other than down a blind alley. As it stands, parents discover something’s “not quite right” about the friendly gardener who dotes on preschool children by finding 10-inch-long claw marks on little Nancy’s (Kyra Krumins) back—a highlight of unintentional comedy. And raising the prospect that maybe he was innocent—only to discover he wasn’t and seemingly justify burning him to death—isn’t just pointless, it subverts Craven’s subtext that the supernatural horror of Freddy is the product of vigilanteism.
The plotting is haphazard. The sense of Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) from the original film slowly piecing together the idea that she can bring Freddy out of the dream world and into reality is replaced here with Nancy (Rooney Mara) just realizing it. But then the characters in this movie are generally dumber than their earlier counterparts. One of them even pauses to lock the doors on her convertible VW, even though the top is down. Oh well, this is a movie in which a character meets a spectacularly bloody end in a jail cell and it’s merely noted by the authorities that he was found dead in his cell.
The casting doesn’t help. Rooney Mara evidences none of Langenkamp’s innate intelligence. Kyle Gallner (The Haunting in Connecticut) as the hero (more or less the old Johnny Depp role) is weak and always looks like he’s about to be unwell. Thomas Dekker (TV’s Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) as the “bad boy” appears to be sulking over the fact that he looks too much like Zac Efron to register on his own, but not enough like Efron to be him. And what of Haley’s Freddy Krueger? Apart from sometimes looking distractingly like Ron Perlman in his makeup, he’s remarkably unremarkable. Haley’s Krueger doesn’t boost the film in any way, but it’s probably the performance the movie deserves. Rated R for strong bloody horror violence, disturbing images, terror and language.