Saturday, July 9, 2016

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

Freddy Krueger is a rare find among the breed of 1980s slasher killers. Not only was his mode of attack - killing people in their dreams and his patented finger-knife glove - unique, but unlike the masked Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees, he could talk, and he really had personality, as demented, sick, and evil as it was. Much credit belongs to Robert Englund, who played Freddy in every Nightmare on Elm Street from the original through Freddy vs Jason

We accept different actors playing James Bond. We accept different actors as Batman. But for some roles, it's really difficult to accept anyone else when one particular actor becomes so associated with the part, and anyone else, no matter how talented, will be scrutinized and possibly rejected. For example, a number of actors essayed Inspector Clouseau, including Alan Arkin and Steve Martin, but for most people, the only Clouseau is Peter Sellers.

This brings me to the 2010 remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street. I have to ask myself: can I accept anyone else besides Robert England playing Freddy Krueger? To the remake's credit, it found the best person possible to don the fedora and claw: Jackie Earl Haley, a wonderful actor who, like Englund, might not be the most physically intimidating person but is more than capable of playing creepy, dark, and menacing.

Well, Haley does an admirable job, but he can't overcome a weak makeup job and a poor script that rehashes too much of the original. The movie is slickly produced and works overtime to avoid being campy. It tries to be scary and eschews the silliness of the later sequels, but overall, it's a generic teen slasher pic, lacking anything particularly memorable or iconic.  The remake also overcomplicates Freddy's character and has little of the thematic depth Wes Craven's original.

The plot is mostly the same, but some of the backstory has been changed. Instead of a child killer who got released on a vague technicality, Krueger is revealed to be a child molester (which he probably was in the original, too, but that was never brought up) at a preschool. The parents of the kids, instead of taking him to the police, burn him alive because they don't want to their children to have to testify on the stand (never mind there was plenty of other physical evidence that would have locked Krueger away for life), and years later, when those kids are in high school and have long repressed their memories, Freddy begins going after them in their sleep.

Initially, Nancy (Rooney Mara) and Quentin (Kyle Gallner) are convinced they must have lied about the accusations and that their parents (including Clancy Brown in essentially the John Saxon role as school principal) murdered an innocent man. This would explain why Freddy doesn't kill them right away when he has the chance. He prods them toward discovering the truth, but then it turns out, nope, they didn't lie. He really did molest the kids.

In the original, Freddy was just a sick, sick bastard who enjoyed killing kids. That was enough. He didn't care what they knew or didn't; he just wanted to hurt them. This Freddy, I don't what he was waiting for. Much of his personality is stripped away. He seems all business, less of a cackling demon and more of a grim, vengeful walking corpse. Instead of taunting the kids, he has more or less expository conversations with them, and the flat dialogue doesn't help. And the makeup is too stiff; he looks like one of the CGI vampires from I am Legend. I can't recall Freddy cracking a single smile, even when he makes an occasional joke.

Some of the scares and imagery of the original are repeated like the claw in the bath tub, the face in the wall, and Freddy's boiler room lair. The characters are lifeless, and the film has little of the surreal dream weirdness you'd expect it to have (though I did like the hallway floor that becomes a pool of blood that Nancy sinks into as she tries running away). Kids end up in the dream world, and Freddy comes after them. Where is the wonky dream logic and imaginative set pieces? Nothing compares to Johnny Depp getting sucked down into his bed or Freddy elongating his arms the length of an alleyway.

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