A Nightmare on Elm Street
“One, two, Freddy’s coming for you.”
This might have been a chilling proposition back in 1984, when Wes Craven introduced the world to that mutated, razor-fingered menace Freddy Kruger in the original Nightmare on Elm Street.
In 2010, Freddy Kruger licks his lips and rubs his knife-nails together, walking with a slight swagger in his step. He’s a melted mess of a monster.
Jackie Earle Haley provides a gaunt, chilling physique during a hurried retrospection of how Kruger came to be—his backstory and metamorphosis, a prequel’s vestige buried in this particular retread—but the actor is otherwise slathered in burnt-cheese makeup and ham.
Haley paired the same pallid image with actual depth of character and performance intuition in 2006’s Little Children, earning himself a supporting actor Oscar nomination in the process. But he earns nothing here except, I would hope, a beefy paycheck.
“Three, four, better lock your door.”
It won’t make a difference; Freddy Kruger comes for you in your sleep. There is no door to lock between the conscious and dreaming minds.
No matter. The young casualties of Kruger’s stalk-and-kill game require a little extra time to discern the logistics, long after the puzzle pieces are assembled in full before them. In the tradition of poorly-staged horror films, the ones who are dying are the ones who are dumb, and the ones who are dumb are everyone.
Freddy makes quick prey of the tussled, trembling Kris, played by Katie Cassidy, and it’s no wonder: she can’t be the sharpest knife on the glove as a high-school student pushing thirty.
“Five, six, grab your crucifix.”
You certainly won’t see any of Elm Street’s occupants clinging to their crosses. Aside from a fleeting exchange about one character’s cross-shaped necklace, religion is out of the picture.
The original Nightmare on Elm Street built a twisted horror fantasy on top of adolescent anxieties, pressures derived from carnal compulsions clashing with expectations from overseers—from parents, academics, and, indeed, God.
The new Nightmare stands on nothing, and it stands for basically nothing—just the unfortunate and unlikely resurrection of a vengeful pervert.
The retelling notches up dramatic lift by explicitly defining Freddy Kruger’s perverse origins while attempting to channel the original’s outrageous, campy use of gore and horror tropes. But to take out the fun and then try to have fun proves futile (it’s basic math, really), and the film seems to spoof itself instead.
“Seven, eight, gonna stay up late.”
Maybe if you bought a Pepsi at the snack stand, or if you took a nap in the theater. For a supposed horror movie, A Nightmare on Elm Street has few true scares.
The film opens with promise on a rain soaked diner humming in the night, but incompetence arrives in mere moments. The writers can’t seem to connect any of the characters or craft a compelling story out of the material delivered to them on a silver platter by Wes Craven.
Director Samuel Bayer aims his focus at the wrong places, and awkward, hasty edits regularly disrupt accumulation of suspense.
The experience improves, thanks in some part to the reserve and resolve of Rooney Mara as Freddy’s number-one target Nancy, but the attempts at terror grow thin and woefully predictable: the slow approach of an innocent, the swell of music, the face-framing close-up, silence, a turn, and boo!
Fear should not be a cookie recipe; Elm Street builds only tension at best.
“Nine, ten, never sleep again.”
I’m already nodding off.
If anything in this movie will keep you up at night, it’s Freddy Kruger’s tasteless taunting of his impending victims, recalling them as children and expressing arousal before slashing through their skin.
This comes on the heels of a massive, botched opportunity.
The newly minted backstory ascribed to the Elm Street tale evokes the daycare sex abuse hysteria that swept the nation during the eighties and nineties. Preschoolers described forced participation in sadistic, ritualistic abuse, and caretakers, some undoubtedly innocent, were unlawfully thrown in jail. Further studies showed major flaws in the testimony of these children, easily persuaded by suggestion or imagination, and many of the convictions were later overturned.
For a moment, Elm Street appears to be heading in this direction, rife with the promise of substantial intrigue, but it sticks with Freddy’s despicable flirtations instead—and as a means of levity, no less.
Since when was child abuse so funny?
With that, I’ll just add one extra line to Elm Street’s little “Buckle My Shoe” rhyming rendition:
“Eleven, twelve, this project should have been shelved.”
Directed by Samuel Bayer. Written by Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer, based on the characters created by Wes Craven.
Rated R for strong bloody horror violence, disturbing images, terror and language.
Runtime is 1 hour, 35 minutes.