Producer Michael Bay is on a murder spree. He is systematically slaughtering remakes of classic horror/slasher movies from the '70s and '80s, churning them out in slash-bang fashion. He has destroyed what was good about Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Last House on the Left, and Friday the Thirteenth and now, true to form, has lowered A Nightmare on Elm Street to new slice and dice depths of schlock and mediocrity.
Elm Street was created by Wes Craven (Hills Have Eyes, Scream) in 1984, franchised into nine slasher films and also spawned a television show, novels and comic books. In case you're from Mars, here's the plot: a group of teens suddenly share the same nightmare involving a scary guy in a tattered red-and-green-striped sweater and fedora. This serial killer/monster, Freddy Kruger, wielding a glove with knives as fingers is stalking and killing people in their dreams, resulting in their actual deaths. The wisecracking Freddy has a special motivation. His victims are the teenage children of a group of vigilante parents who hunted him down and burned him alive because he was a child molester.
Incorporating Bay's brazen tactics, music video director Samuel Bayer (Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit) helms his first feature with a colorful pulsating panache. But there are no surprises. Bayer tamely duplicates many visual cues and effects sequences from the original including, but not limited to the irritating fingernails-on-a-blackboard sound effects. Keeping at an eerie drive-in pace, Nightmare builds some nice suspense here and there, but all the scare scenes are done in by a relentless and ultimately predictable amount of shocks from nowhere. This is the equivalent of hiding and yelling "boo" at someone.
New screenwriter Eric Heisserer and veteran Wesley Strick (responsible for Scorsese's Cape Fear) follow the formulaic horror genre. The story skips, however, from one idea to the next, sending mixed messages and metaphors that combine with an idiotic sub-plot allowing for Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew-style investigating that goes nowhere fast.
The acting throughout looks misdirected, but most of the teens are believable when they're angst-ridden, frightened and spewing blood. Clancy Brown shows up as an unrealistically concerned parent, high schoolers Kyle Gallner (the permanently sad-faced kid from Haunting in Connecticut) sports a Joy Division T-shirt to let us know he's hip, and heroine Rooney Mara looks like she's already graduated from college.
Jack Earle Haley (trivia: he played the badass Kelly in the original Bad News Bears) follows in the footsteps of Robert Englund's Freddy, who got campier with each sequel, finally becoming a mere caricature. Here, Nightmare doesn't allow Haley much more than an opportunity to grunt like a ghoul. He just seems like a dripping-faced runt in a striped sweater with an ax to grind, and the fedora has never been explained.
The blurred line between dreams and reality has always been fascinating. But that concept is merely just touched upon here. The idea that a boogeyman could go from nightmare to nightmare, appearing anywhere at any time wreaking havoc with his razor hand should be a never-ending creative field day for filmmakers. Luis Buñuel, the great surrealist filmmaker who worked with Salvador Dali, once said of his films "when in doubt... put in a dream sequence." Wes Craven knew this and that's why he was a horror-film genius.
Still genuinely creepy, this somber gory remake might hold its own as a new feature if we weren't so steeped in the Kruger saga or if it brought something new, rather than following Bay's predictable formula.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Directed by Samuel Bayer
Starring Jackie Earle Haley, Kyle Gallner, Rooney Mara, Katie Cassidy, Clancy Brown Rated R