The horror genre must be running out of ideas. What with the recent remakes of "Halloween," "Friday the 13," and others. Most of theses films were artistically unnecessary but commercially successful, appealing largely to teenager and college students. I recently read a study that showed stronger interest in the slash genre among younger women (in high schools and colleges) than ever before).
You can add to the list of unsatisfying and frustrating horror remakes New Line's "reimagining" (as the producers would like to label it) of "A Nightmare on Elm Street," which was the studio's first chapter in what became an extremely successful franchise in the 1980s.
To be sure, the 1984 "Nightmare on Elm Street" and its director, the estimable Wes Craven (who later on made better horror features) lacked the critical cache that had accorded unlike John Carpenter's "Halloween," the scary film that came out of nowhere and launched a whole new cycle in 1978. Craven wrote the original "Nightmare" after reading a series of newspaper articles about children who had suffered through a war and died from the power of their recurring nightmares. Released in 1984, the low-budget film, which starred Robert Englund as Freddy, became an international sensation for New Line (affectionately called "The House That Freddy Built") and spawned many sequels.
Craven's film, as well some of the later entries, were genuinely scary, technically polished and delivered the goods expected from the genre at a time when violence, blood and gore were still used in moderation; the excess in these departments came much later, and now seems the main raison d'etre for remaking them.
The director of this "Nightmare" is Samuel Bayer, better known for his impressive music videos, such as "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Boulevard of Broken Dreams." Bayer makes a disappointing feature debut, a movie that despite its decent budget feels like a quickie, lazy, pedestrian enterprise. Bayer's style for his videos was grungy, grainy, and sitinctive, in sharp contrast to the routine and impersonal one that marks his new film, which could have been helmed by any hack director in Hollywood.
My impression is that Bayer is more skillful and deserves better material to work on than this routine narrative, and produced by director Michael Bay' production company Platinum Dunes. Regrettably, Bay has become Hollywood's revival specialist-guru of the horror genre, but almost every remake produced by him is inferior to the original, leaving bad taste and perhaps even damaging the prospects of the original films to be revisited by a new generation of viewers.
In the 1980s, Freddy represented a new kind "anti-hero," a scarred man with a ragged slouch hat, dirty red-and-green striped sweater, and metal gloves with knives at the tips. Also novel was a narrative that blurred the lines between dreams and reality: Here was a monster that existed in the nightmares of his victims and preyed on them when they were most vulnerable, in their sleep. Like "Halloween," the tale's most frightening element was based on the notion that a vengeful killer prevailed in our own neighborhood, walking and killing in broad daylight.
Like other reboots of popular franchises, this "Nightmare" aims to distinguish itself by offering an origin story of sorts, centering on Freddy Krueger's pedophilia by way of explaining his inner demons that define and beset his existence as a serial killer.
Writers Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer claimed to have used Craven's 1984 film as a blueprint but evolved the ideas further to presumably explored the psychological elements of Freddy's troubled and complex persona as a righteous avenger, who might have been falsely accused. However, despite their bold move to deal with pedophilia, they have crafted an unremarkable story, in which most of the teenagers, who are paying for the sins of their parents are boring and undistinguishable, unlike the original, in which each of the teenagers had a distinct personality.
Arguably, Jackie Earle Haley is a better and more well-rounded actor than Robert Englund, who became a celeb and an icon after starring in the 1980s series. In recent years, Earle Haley has proven to be an especially intense and eccentric supporting actor, as was evident in his Oscar-nominated turn in "Little Children," and more recently in Scorsese's "Shutter Island."
Here, again appearing with melted-face makeup, Earle Haley gets top billing, which is a good thing. However, he doesn't register as strongly and as frighteningly as he could have as a result of the poorly written text and mediocre staging of horror. Englund played the role with droll humor and energy, qualities that are missing from Haley's interpretation and the whole film, which is witless and spiritless.
I could never imagine that I would recommend viewers to see the 1984 picture, but compared with Bayer's "Nightmare," Craven's film is intelligent, restrained, less reliant on gore and special effects, and far more suggestive and frightening.