Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Review - A Nightmare on Elm Street

A group of teens are terrorized in their dreams by a brutal killer. One by one as they die off in their sleep, the remaining teens try to stay awake. With little options left, they begin uncovering the history to the serial killer who wears a glove fashioned with razor sharp knives attached to the fingers. A history that may be their only hope for survival and a good night's sleep.

Living up to a film series that was born over 25 years ago is no easy task. Horror remakes come and go, but "A Nightmare on Elm Street" has some epic shoes to fill. The original 1984 Wes Craven horror spawned 7 sequels and a generation of loyal fans. Fans who have made Freddy Krueger a horror icon and a name recognized in nearly every home in America. While not all of the Freddy movies were very good, the first 3 films remain regarded as fan favorites amongst avid horror fans and a testament of the series.

Let's be straight, one would hope that the idea of a remake is to improve upon the original, not to just make a quick buck. With "A Nightmare on Elm Street" that task is not so easy. The original Wes Craven film is nearly a masterpiece. The film hold's up extremely well and remains ultimately frightening. Only its lesser sequels gave way to the slapstick Freddy (that so many fans love), while the original is very dark and not campy in the slightest. Much of the other Platinum Dunes remakes took a original film that felt out-dated or campy and gave it a dose of reality. Both the 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' and 'Friday the 13th' remakes are prime examples of this. The original 'Friday' movies are campy. I love them dearly, but they are goofy. Same can be said with 'Chainsaw,' the original is brutal, but felt so outdated there was no questioning why Dunes went for a remake. 'Nightmare' doesn't feel same. The original could release today and still have an impressive run at the box office.

Director Samuel Bayer has effectively made the fourth best "A Nightmare on Elm Street" film with his remake. With the original 3 films being the better. By any means that is not a knock on Bayer. I liked what he did with the update. I was entertained with most of the movie and their approach to the Freddy Krueger history. The new look to Krueger feels authentic to what a burn victim would look and sound like and his demeanor is awfully frightening throughout. The new score by Steve Jablonsky works fairly well and hints at Charles Bernstein's original theme but never quite equals the magnitude. The updated horror houses some great kills and a fair amount of tension throughout. Some of the kills and nightmares are mirror images from the original film, while some are brand new.

I would like to talk about what works in Bayer's remake first. Right off the bat, the look is outstanding. It is apparent that Samuel Bayer has a great eye and should be given more opportunities at feature films in the future. Bayer delivers a vibrant horror that has all the right contrasts exactly where they are needed. Too many times horror films go dark just to create tension and fear, however the result ends up being an overtly dark film that is hard to follow. Bayer's film is quite the opposite. It utilizes dark sequences, but they are brought to life with vivid color and nightmarish fantasy.

Platinum Dunes and screenwriters Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer do a polished job of weaving in some new backstory to the Krueger lore. Essentially they've taken what was elaborated over the course of 8 'Nightmare' films and expanded it. A specific example of this would be the little girls within the dream sequences that have been used (but never explained) in the original films. In Bayer's remake, those girls' meaning is finally revealed. That said, unlike what Platinum Dunes did with the Friday the 13th remake (grouping the first three films into one), 'Nightmare' structurally sticks to the first film.

Much like the first A Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy Krueger is dark, sinister and most of all vicious. Gone is the laugh-inducing Freddy of that later films. I loved that the Platinum Dunes remake went back to the menacing Freddy and got rid of the stand-up comedian. Krueger does have a few select lines that will conjure up some laughs, but these new one-liners are far more sadistic than we've heard previously. Stuff like, "Your mouth says no, but your body says yes." On paper, surely this kind of dialogue is difficult to see as a joke, but with a character like Freddy, he gets the job done.

It wouldn't be fair to talk about Freddy without praising Jackie Earle Haley and the work he does under the dingy fedora and red & green sweater. I never thought someone could legitimately fill Robert Englund shoes, but Haley made me a believer. I loved him as Freddy. Yes, I even liked his reptilian look. Krueger's new look is far more believable of what a burn victim would look like. Englund's Freddy always felt like a characture. His look like his jokes, got less and less scary as the original films progressed. Whereas the Krueger in the 2010 remake is all fear and no giggle.

Now I guess I should talk briefly about what doesn't work in the remake, namely the young cast. I really was disturbed by how bad the group of young actors were. Absolutely none of the scripted or performed characters did I care about. Sadly, I couldn't wait to see them ripped to shreds by Krueger. I generally overlook one or two bad performances in horror movies, but the whole damn group? Geesh! These guys do their worst to keep you from not fidgeting in your seats. Katie Cassidy, who plays Kris, is probably the only redeemable actor/actress in the cast outside of Jackie Earle Haley. Quite honestly, Cassidy would've been better served playing Nancy Thompson over Ronney Mara. Mara has absolutely no charisma. She is dull and does nothing to engage you in her fears. On a side note, I wasn't a fan with the liberties that were taken with Nancy's teenage self. It's close to what Rob Zombie did with Laurie Strode in Halloween 2 and it didn't work for me at all. Thomas Dekker and Kyle Gallner also do nothing to help the plague of bad acting within the 102 minute horror.

Like any horror movie, there are things to pick apart, but where's the fun in that? Mainly "A Nightmare on Elm Street" is a fairly well put together remake. Is it better than the original? No, but based on the years and years of re-visiting a true horror classic, how could it be? Just seems like an impossible mission. The remake is good and does a noteworthy job of trying its best to recreate a classic. By any means, it is not a bad film or one that I wouldn't see again. Instead it is a film that I would re-watch probably just as much as I do the original three films in the series. Outside of a bad group of teen actors, nothing really bothered me with the remake and it stands as a sensible testament of the iconic horror series.


This is almost exactly what I expected to hear.

If you are dropping this one below the DREAM WARRIORS I am waiting for DVD though. I saw part 3 in the theater when i was a kid and wanted my cash back.