Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) Reviewed

Pre-roast Freddy still experimenting with signature weapon choices.

Sometimes low expectations are the magic key to being a horror fan. If you approach every sequel with Dawn-of-the-Dead hopes and demand Let-Me-In quality from every remake,  fourteen times out of ten you’re bound to be punched in the stomach with Black-Christmas-2008 disappointment. But if you keep your hopes hovering at a comfortable Book-of-Shadows:-Blair-Witch-2 calibration (I kinda’ liked it. Sue me.), you may find yourself having a greater appreciation for the consistent mediocrity of mainstream horror. This might sound like giving up and accepting shit for dessert just because Mom’s out of ice cream, but the horror genre has always had an uphill battle before it. Its success or failure usually hinges on making over-the-top ideas work. Things like the paranormal, masked slashers, and re-animated corpses have to be effective and in some cases believable. Only horror’s first-cousin genre, sci-fi, has similar conventions working against it, but sci-fi has a leg up in that its movies are often set in space or the future where rules can be changed and reality subverted by simply opening with a title card reading: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” This argument for low expectations has never seemed more relevant than it did following a late-night home screening of the not-as-bad-as-I’d-heard Nightmare on Elm Street remake.

Before you cast me off into the Phantom Zone of irrelevant movie critics, hear me out: NoES 2010 is not good. In fact it’s barely mediocre with a backward lean toward bad. BUT STILL! Who knew to expect that such an abominable idea could even flirt with mediocrity by blowing rank slobbery kisses from across a crowded room? Not me! I was ready to hate it. REALLY hate it. I couldn’t WAIT to hate it. After all, while far from being a perfect Wes Craven flick (does such a thing exist?), the original NoES has lots to recommend it. For one, it’s legitimately scary, mostly original, and features John Saxon. It’s also one of the first horror movies I deliberately invited into my childhood for the sole purpose of scaring me silly. (Up until then, I had only inadvertently scared myself silly by stumbling upon horror while flipping around the pay cable channels or having it forcibly rammed into my fragile consciousness as birthday-party-sleep-over entertainment.) That’s why I love it. I really do. I’m not sure it deserves its knighthood status as “Sir Nightmare on Elm Street the Classic.” Clunky acting, inconsistent practical-effects quality, and the most face-palm-inducing coda in horror history (see: Ronee Blakley yanked through a tiny front door window/red and green striped convertible top, etc.) are hard-to-overlook flaws. But yes, it certainly makes my top-25-of-all-time horror list and a remake, despite being totally expected, is every bit as unnecessary as the rest.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the boiler room: the new NoES made my skin crawl with some effectively grotesque imagery and a new take on a semi-sacred horror icon. Jackie Earle Haley, best known as the ugliest Bad News Bear and the first actor in the unfortunate position of risking being typecast as a child molester, brings something to the mythology of Freddy. I’m just not sure what it is. Truth is, in the past Freddy has only been effectively scary twice: in the first and third entries. Aside from that, he’s most often presented as a lecherous wisenheimer with a penchant for boiling down teen personalities to a single definitive cliche’ (comic book fan, D&D nerd, druggie, marionette maker, anorexia sufferer) and killing you with it. Haley’s Kruger isn’t very funny (though he’s given at least two or three quips to fill some sort of contractual Kruger-quota I’m guessing). He’s definitely creepy and gross, but without  actually ever being…y’know…scary. So what do you do with that? His make-up, the focus of most horror-fan-boy bitching, just works for me. There. I said it. This is what burn victims look like and it makes some sort of twisted sense that someone left looking like this by suburban vigilantes would want to infiltrate the dreams of bland telegenic teens and kill them. (That said, I’m not sure why anyone felt the need to cling to the red and green sweater, which always seemed to me like a poor costume choice that was accidentally cemented in place by references to it in dialogue. But the fedora? Totally worth keeping!) Freddy 2.0 is meaner and more perverted and in the context of this story, his afterlife dream persona seems like a natural amplified extension of the living Kruger we meet in a series of flashbacks; the movie’s singular improvement over its namesake. So let’s talk about that.

"Smile and keep your eye on the pedo!"

Freddy’s history as a child killer was always based on innuendo rather than specifics. Originally conceived as a dangerous pedophile, he was watered down for mainstream audiences as a child killer. (How one is more acceptable to audiences than the other is a head scratcher if ever there was one). No innuendo here! The portrayal of the real-world-pre-torched antihero of the remake makes no bones about the windowless-white-van intentions of preschool gardener and handsy handyman, Freddy. Many cite this literal interpretation of Kruger’s history as a weakness; a go-for-the-jugular shock tactic showing a lack of imagination. Nah. When this version’s Nancy is confronted with a found box of Polaroids featuring she and her preschool classmates, it’s a bold jaw-dropping moment for a movie that otherwise seems resigned to playing things safe. Whereas the motivations for the vigilante parents referenced in the original seemed to be protecting their children from a known child killer, 2010’s parents are hellbent on revenge stemming from atrocities enacted on their children; the ones who survived (and blocked out) every parent’s worst nightmare. Child killers and child molesters are equally appropriate for taking the law into your own hands with a gas can and a torch, but the revenge element hits home in a completely different way this time. Throughout the Nightmare series, parents are portrayed as misguided, out-of-touch, denial-bound dopes, but this time you sense that a collective anger still exists and protecting their children from memories of childhood horrors seems far more noble than parents protecting themselves by keeping the kids in the dark about that one time they killed a guy.

Another positive of this version? It looks pretty good. Self-aware references to some of the pre-CGI set pieces from the original abound (gloved hand emerging from Nancy’s bath, Freddy’s shape pushing through Nancy’s bedroom wall, the body-bag drag in the high school halls, etc.) and come across as pretty ham-handed. But the sets and original scenarios are artfully constructed, if not all that scary. So for what it’s worth, this NoES is pretty anyway.

Remember this ol' gag?

…aaaaand that’s about it for the plus column. Lest you thought this remake was getting a pass, I’m here to tell you that everything else is pretty much crap. Though mostly well-acted, the teen roles are flat and interchangeable. Nancy, as portrayed by Heather Langenkamp, was a mousy next-door every-girl; less-than-pretty and mostly wholesome, but tough, resilient, and inventive. Rooney Mara’s Nancy is just…well, depressed and tired-looking. She’s as flat and bland as any other character in the movie and that’s a shame because her namesake is, for my money, queen of the “Final Girls.” That this version didn’t have it’s own interpretation of her booby-trap battle with Freddy from the original’s climax is one of the biggest ball drops in remake history.

Also, the pacing is herky-jerky and the story, poorly plotted. There are lots of gaps that need filling, and most of them amount to glaring missed opportunities brought to you by the same movie that saw fit to wedge literal recreations of nearly all of 1984’s most memorable effects into it. For instance, why the bladed glove, Fred? No answers here! He just has it as if he picked it up at a hardware store. In fact, there’s really no cohesive narrative anywhere. The running time is mostly made up of strung-together vignettes and non-illuminating exposition. You could probably shuffle the scenes and end up with a nearly identical viewing experience.

I didn’t hate NoES, but I don’t recommend it to anyone but the curious. In the cannon of horror remakes it finds a comfortable place above The Fog and Friday the 13th, just below The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and miles and miles beneath Dawn of the Dead and The Fly. It’s just a shame anyone still bothers to have any hopeful expectations of horror remakes. Low expectations keep movies like this from making you want to give up altogether and gouge out your eyes. On the upside, the abysmal critical reaction and fan response to Nightmare 2010 means we may have a fighting chance of being spared a sequel. But I wouldn’t count on it.

*1/2 – One and a half stars out of four.

At least...

...they got the coda right this time.

~ by Number5ive on January 14, 2011.

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