A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

One, two, Freddy’s comin’ for you…
Three, four, better shut the door.

The echoing sound of children’s voices singing that refrain has stuck with me since I first saw A Nightmare on Elm Street twenty years ago. It’s easy to forget, given the comic turn the franchise would ultimately take, but the original Nightmare on Elm Street was one of the most terrifying and innovative horror films of its time. Its novel approach to its villain’s creation – he’s already dead when the movie starts, with no explanation given as to how he’s able to manifest himself in kids’ nightmares – and its blurring of the lines between dreams and reality were previously unseen. And the iconic madman himself, with his horribly scarred visage, dirty red and green sweater, and razor-fingered glove, was truly unforgettable.

Since the franchise went insane and lost any relevance it might have had long before Freddy ever tangled with Jason, it certainly appeared ripe for a reboot. If nothing else it seemed like a movie that could benefit from modern special effects technology. Beyond that, though, I had a hard time imagining what improvement an update could offer. Not much, it turns out.

"But we're too pretty to die!"

The story: A bunch of high school kids are hanging out in a diner. One of them describes some scary nightmares he’s been having and how he’s afraid that if he goes to sleep again, he’ll die. It takes all of two minutes before he does both.

Afterward the kids who were with him in the diner begin to experience the same dream: a disfigured man in a fedora, with knives on his fingers, chasing them into a boiler room. But who is he? Why is he hunting these poor kids in their sleep? Where the fuck is Johnny Depp when you need him?

Not the chalkboard. Anything but the chalkboard.

Biggest letdown: Unlike the recent reboot of Friday the 13th, which I really enjoyed, this Nightmare is nearly an exact clone of the original. With just a few exceptions, the characters’ names are even the same. (I ask you, when in the last twenty years has any parent named their child Nancy?) So if the story and the characters and even many of the shots are copied verbatim, what’s the point of all this? Even the enhanced effects budget is mostly wasted. Freddy’s burn prosthesis, for example, is naturally a marked improvement from the original rubbery pizza face, with tasteful CG touches to make the effect even more ghoulish. But the downside to all those chunky, realistically melted features is that Jackie Earle Haley’s ability to emote and even talk is much more restricted than was the case with Robert Englund, who remains the one and only Freddy in my book.

Worse yet, the decision to cast Haley as Freddy – based, I’m assuming, on the brilliant idea of combining the voice and presence of Rorschach from Watchmen with the child molester from Little Children – turns out to be incredibly counterproductive. I’m all for the resurgence of a forgotten actor but Haley is a fairly limited thespian to begin with and I have a hard time believing not one of the alpha-type boys in the movie would have the guts to at least try to fight Freddy, who stands all of five feet tall and weighs about a hundred pounds. Instead they all just cower and die in rapid succession, even though Freddy doesn’t offer much to be afraid of other than incessant, gravelly yammering before each kill.

Somehow, I thought you'd be taller.

Why you should watch: The one thing I had hope for after seeing the trailers was the idea that maybe in this version Fred Krueger was an innocent victim, falsely accused and murdered for crimes he didn’t commit. I won’t give away whether that’s the case or not, but the mere suggestion speaks of some semblance of intelligence behind the reboot. If Freddy is at least possibly innocent – in addition to turning Haley’s immanently pathetic stature into an asset – that could provide an opportunity to task the surviving children with “solving” Freddy’s mystery and putting his tormented soul to rest. It’s funny but that trope, which has become so dreadfully boring and overused in horror movies today, actually lends a speck of novelty to an otherwise pedestrian remake.

Memorable Moment: How about a moment that wasn’t there: nobody gets sucked into a bed and regurgitated in a gushing fountain of blood. You’re gonna boost the bathtub claw shot, but not that? Weak.

Look familiar?

And here’s something else: when one of the soon to be slaughtered high schoolers starts remembering troubling details from her past, she goes hunting through her parents’ attic for clues. She comes upon a box neatly labeled, “1st Grade – 1996”. So this movie came out in 2010, when she’s in high school, but she was in first grade in 1996. I’m not great at math but I’m thinking either this script sat on a shelf for a few years and nobody told the prop guy, or this girl should be buying her friends beer. Also, I am old.

"I should be in college by now!"

Choice quote: “If I sleep, I dream. If I dream, I’m dead.” I know that’s not at all choice, but if you watch the movie (please don’t) I defy you to find something better. A note to New Line Cinema: when you buy a Nightmare on Elm Street screenplay and Freddy’s quips aren’t remotely quotable, you may want to think about a rewrite.

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