It might be its unexpected sense of humor, the inventiveness of its effects, or the pronounced kitschy eighties-ness of the entire production, but there’s something almost wholesome about it now—I mean, once you get past the buckets of blood and sexual subtext.
By comparison, the new “Nightmare” (Not Craven’s interesting experiment “New Nightmare,” but the Platinum Dunes remake of the 1984 progenitor) is completely soulless. Knife-fingers or no, Freddy Krueger just ain’t cutting it with a 21st century mentality.
It’s one thing to strip the plot and retool it for a new audience; that’s a trick the remake of “Death at a Funeral” could have benefitted from. But 2010’s “Nightmare” takes a match to the 25-year history of its central villain, not only abandoning Robert Englund and his iconic performance, but more disappointingly, leaving his critical sense of humor a singed afterthought.
I can honestly say I never found Freddy Krueger frightening, but having seen every “Nightmare on Elm Street” film, he was always the draw—Not because he was scary, but because he was entertaining. Jackie Earle Haley (“Little Children,” “The Watchmen”) dons the fedora and striped-sweatshirt this time around, and in essence, that’s where the similarities end. He’s got some of the same cheesy one-liners that the Freddy of old might have quipped, but Haley, in his practiced Rorschach growl, can’t quite make those punch lines sing.
The character is presented more one-dimensionally sinister and less talky than the earlier incarnation, which forces an odd dichotomy when he’s trying to make us laugh. It’s not that the idea of offing the humor that drove the older “Elm Street” films is inherently a bad one—A hard-edged “Nightmare” film could really work—But screenwriters Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer have no idea how to make the character frightening.
Director Samuel Bayer, who comes from a background in music video, doesn’t seem to have a clue either. Nearly every one of his anti-atmospheric dream sequences culminates with one grisly slash and a loud sound effect—I’d label him a one-trick-pony if I even thought that qualified as a trick anymore. And to top it off, despite the modernist take on the narrative, the script still falls back on carbon copies of the original’s most memorable sequences and imagery, lazily recreated with unconvincing CGI.
On paper, the theory was clearly to reinvent “Nightmare” as a darker horror franchise—But with that tonal shift comes a responsibility for fearless storytelling that Bayer and co. don’t have the guts to follow through on.
In a way, the franchising of horror during the eighties' blockbuster boom (of which Wes Craven’s “Nightmare on Elm Street” and its six sequels were a direct result) is partially to blame for the remake sucking 25 years later. They collectively comprised a bankable textbook on horror, which has time and again provided a financially secure filmmaking model, but one whose original purpose—To scare—Has been diluted to virtual transparency.
And in that respect, 2010’s “Nightmare” isn’t awful so much as it is endlessly unsatisfying. It keeps Krueger’s jokiness in check, but its scares don’t go the extra mile to compensate. While the end result is a lot of things, charming sure ain’t one of ‘em.