A Nightmare On Elm Street review

Horror fanatic Duncan checks out the remake of A Nightmare On Elm Street. Does the new Freddy Krueger cut the mustard?

You may or may not be aware of the books of Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, but it seemed fitting to write this review in a similar vein.

Basically, they wrote adventure game stories in which the reader made a series of decisions that would result in different consequences. For example, if you chose to spit in the face of a zombie, rather than, say, remove its head with your axe, you would turn to a different page and read your fate.

So here, intrepid reader, are the options and outcomes for you to choose from:

a) You had never seen a Nightmare On Elm Street film, so decided to rent/buy the original and see what the fuss was all about. The outcome was that you had a fantastic evening, in which you witnessed a five star example of horror genius in its purest form, which not only contained believable characters and performances, but instilled you with a genuine and affecting sense of dread, which so few movies are capable of doing.

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Upon reflection, it also occurs to you that what separates Freddy Krueger from his other peers who’ve been in contemporary remakes is that, unlike the masked Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and Leatherface, what made Freddy Krueger was the performance. You felt that Robert Englund was utterly irreplaceable and couldn’t possibly be played by anyone else, becoming the embodiment of one of the most frightening cinematic icons ever created.

You will also have seen one of my all time favourite films, which I last saw while working at a school, in what was arguably the most authentic and realistic screening. There was a small group of sixth formers who were studying horror, so in the middle of the day, in a bright classroom, I showed them the original Elm Street and there were screams throughout.

Given that the audience was more familiar with Wes Craven’s Scream trilogy, it was an eye opener for them, a chance to see where the influence came from, and for so many films that followed.

To add to that, some of Elm Street’s scarier scenes take place in the same sort of location we were watching it in, so when the teacher burst into the room mid-viewing, the students hit the roof.

It was perfect, and a joy to share the sheer terror with another generation.

b) You’ve seen bits of other Elm Street movies, maybe Freddy Vs. Jason, so you feel like the new film could be exactly what you need to hook you in to the mythology, as old movies can’t really be more frightening than new ones, surely? If you choose this path, then read option d) to see what will become of you…

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c) You are a fan of the original A Nightmare On Elm Street, you maybe even love the whole series, well at least Dream Warriors. You can either choose to ignore the remake on principle, in which case your love remains unchanged and you stroll blissfully into another day, or you read option d)…

d) You watch the new 2010 remake of Elm Street. You suffer a slow and painful demise and witness one of the most awful films of recent times. You attempt to rationalise the torturous experience, but you fail as a seething anger washes over your body and soul, suddenly finding yourself shouting in the cinema when it finishes. The anger and shock prove too much, your head explodes. You are dead.

Okay, so maybe your head doesn’t literally explode, but everything else is true. The remake is amazing for one main reason: it actually fails to make Freddy Krueger scary.

Not only is he not scary, but like the rest of the film, he fails to have an impact at all, becoming boring in the process. It’s like a master class in irony too, as the one thing the film made myself and my girlfriend want to do was sleep, which is the last thing it should ever be able to achieve.

I should also draw attention to the fact my girlfriend hasn’t got the strongest stomach for horror and will jump at almost anything, but the new Elm Street didn’t manage so much as a jolt out of her, just a few yawns.

Breck Eisner’s The Crazies, out earlier this year, proved how it was possible to make a skilful and restrained remake, perfectly building an atmosphere of threat and suspense, while carefully observing and then avoiding, certain horror pitfalls.

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Director Samuel Bayer, by contrast, seems to possess absolutely no understanding of horror at all and that makes me indescribably angry.

His version of Elm Street stinks of a quick cash-in, failing to have one single redeeming point, so let me address the faults.

First up, the casting now seems like a lazy way of hooking us geeks into feeling some support for the film, to the point where I felt it was a manipulative decision. Here we have Thomas Dekker (John Connor in the great Sarah Connor Chronicles), Clancy Brown (of Highlander and Starship Troopers), but above all Jackie Earle Haley, known and loved by many of us after his turn as Rorschach in Watchmen, as Freddy Krueger.

When Haley was announced as Englund’s successor, there was a collective sigh of relief from a lot of Elm Street fans, who felt secure in the knowledge that at least the role would be in safe hands, but this isn’t so, I’m afraid.

It’s not really his fault, but his physical presence isn’t imposing enough, his intimidation technique is a repetitive slicing of his finger blades, but worst of all, his make-up is rubbish. It’s neither as scary or repulsive as it was two decades ago, and you understand why they kept it under wraps for so long.

He isn’t helped by Freddy’s dialogue, which ends up being a poor attempt to copy the originals’ pithy one liners, but without the visual or physical threat. The other cast members fare no better, suffering some truly abominable lines, while looking quite embarrassed and dialling in some terrible performances. We know they can do better, so do they, but no one seems to care.

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It doesn’t help that the script suffers from the same problem as Clash Of The Titans, as the writers attempt to make the film slightly different from the original, without thinking about how that will affect our compassion for the characters. Here the group of teens are all so damn miserable that you think they’d welcome death.

While the original was a superb exercise in isolating the character of Nancy from the adults, especially her parents (her father, despite being in the police, wouldn’t listen, while her mother was a drinker), here Nancy just has an ineffectual mother, who’s a terrible liar and doesn’t affect much of anything. Even Nancy is reduced to being an ‘artist’ and therefore instantly labelled as ‘a bit angsty and detached’, without ever looking the part.

Sadly, there’s more. If you thought the back story, shown in the trailers, looked promising, then I can tell you it lasts for mere minutes and is offset dramatically by one of the main characters watching the whole thing in Speedos. Yep, Speedos. Out with the drama, in with the unintentional laughs.

The easy jump scares and reveals of Freddy are so clumsily signposted that a lot of the time he appears in shot slowly, before actually doing anything. This was made even more obvious when the editor chose to use the jilting technique, used so prevalently in Japanese horror years ago.

The director can’t even copy the scenes out of the original correctly. Freddy coming out of the bedroom wall is a shocking piece of CGI, the bathtub/glove shot was so ineptly handled that I hit myself in the head with despair. Also, all the transitions between reality and the ‘dream world’ are made so visually obvious, that you are never in any doubt as to when the characters are asleep or not, which ruins any chance of surprise.

I imagine the director is terrible at hide and seek, shouting, “I’m right behind this door! You’ll never guess where I am! Boo!”

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Please, please, just this once as an act of faith, go and buy the original collection of A Nightmare On Elm Street movies. I checked and all seven are available in a boxset from play.com for £12.99. That’s less than the price of two cinema tickets. Get some friends round, stick on the 1984 classic and do not waste your time and money on this lazy, boring, inept attempt to cash in.

Oh. and whoever decided to give the new version the tagline ‘Welcome to your new nightmare’ should probably have realised that part seven was called Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, so this one can’t be.


1 out of 5