The Good: Great effects, Scary, Wonderful concept, Lighter cheese factor
The Bad: Still not great character development.
The Basics: A reimagining of the original, the 2010 A Nightmare On Elm Street has Nancy and her friends plagued by a killer in their dreams that can kill them in reality!
I’m not big on horror movies, at all. In fact, it’s a genre I’ve never gotten into because they do have a tendency to be formulaic and somewhat repetitive. That and I’m not big on excessive gore. If it serves a purpose, sure, it works, but gore for the sake of gore does not impress me. But, last year, the local ice cream shop put in a little arcade and my partner and I got into playing the A Nightmare On Elm Street pinball. It might seem like a pretty weak link, but because of that, we sat down together and watched A Nightmare On Elm Street (reviewed here!) and I found that I enjoyed the concept enough that I liked the film, even with some of the camp factor going into it.
So, after enjoying the original and being impressed by the performance by Jackie Earle Haley in Watchmen (reviewed here!), I allowed myself to get excited about the concept of a remake of A Nightmare On Elm Street when it was announced that Haley had been cast as Freddy Krueger. So, when I had the opportunity to go to a screening of A Nightmare On Elm Street, I took it. It is worth noting that I’ve only seen the original once and I have not seen any of the sequels. So, while I recognize several of the seminal scenes from the original A Nightmare On Elm Street - Kris levitating as she is torn apart by her dreams and Nancy being hunted by Freddy in the bathtub - ones that might have been in subsequent incarnations in the franchise have passed me by.
The premise of A Nightmare On Elm Street is simple. Nancy has a nightmare in which she is pursued by a horribly burned man who has a glove outfitted with knives on it. She awakens but soon discovers that she is not the only one to have dreams about the gloved man. Nancy’s boyfriend, Quentin, has cuts on his hand from a tangle with the man in his dream and soon, Kris and Dean are confirming that they have seen the same man in their nightmares. Soon, the bodies are piling up and the young people begin dying in the real world from things they encounter in their dreams.
Not taking the attacks lying down, Nancy tries to uncover who the man in the shared dreams is before more people are killed and while she and her friends struggle to stay awake, they find themselves increasingly at the mercy of Fred Krueger.
The reimagining of A Nightmare On Elm Street is very much not as campy as the original was and the acting and special effects are vastly improved in this version, arguably because the writers and director Samuel Bayer had a much clearer idea of what they were doing. Writers Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer deserve a lot of credit as well for the psychological undertones they infuse throughout the film. So, instead of just being a bland slasher film where a bunch of Hollywood good-looking people get killed, there is some intriguing characterplay done, even in the settings. So, for example, at various points, characters find themselves alone in their dreams and the haunting nature of their settings works wonderfully to create a sense of character realism. Nancy finds herself alone in a room which fills with snow and another moment where the people who are supposed to help Kris abruptly disappear leaving her trapped with Freddy in her dream. Quentin has the archetypal high school nightmare involving public nudity and the settings the characters find themselves in make for a strong sense of the universal teenage experience and add a frightening realism to the movie.
A Nightmare On Elm Street capitalizes on the dream settings and the psychological horror in a way that the original did not do as well. The young people might not be terribly likable, but the viewer cares as they get slaughtered because they seem to be generally decent young people with active imaginations and above average intelligence for their circumstances. The effects, which make the transitions between dreams and reality more alarming and intense, create a strong sense of realism in the dreamscapes without it ever seeming cheesy. In fact, what makes A Nightmare On Elm Street so worth seeing is that it is distinctly low on cheese. This incarnation of Freddy Krueger is frightening to look at and psychologically damaged. He does not make jokes, he is not funny or laughable in a way that makes him entertaining or one want to dress up as him for Halloween. Instead, he is downright disturbing and it is far more than the make-up that makes him so.
This is where Jackie Earle Haley lives up to the expectations for the role. Brining more than just his gravelly voice to the park, Haley stares down the other actors and delivers lines that could seem like ridiculous catchphrases with a coldness and ruthless quality that make them stick. He steals the show from the young cast of teenagers and twentysomethings who his character is picking off.
It is worth noting, though, that A Nightmare On Elm Street is very high on gore. This is a slasher film and Samuel Bayer is not afraid to have the characters sliced up on screen. There is blood everywhere, but for the scariest moments that linger, the horror does not come in the bloodiness of the film - which makes the cuts hard and deep - but rather in the torment leading up to the cut. The film adequately prepares most viewers for being able to close their eyes and they can usually miss the fountains of blood by doing so.
But, it’s “that kind of film” and it is done very well. When one proceeds with caution for it, they will discover the film is gross, but genuinely frightening and if you’re up for that, this is a great way to go.
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© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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