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So this is what it has come to. Hollywood should really stop making ‘revisionings’ and just tack on another number to the end of the once sacred horror franchise they decide to desecrate. I’ll admit, the new A Nightmare on Elm Street isn’t that bad, at least as far as formulaic genre flicks reveling in blood and gore while leaving any sense of ambiguity out the window go. What truly made the original scary and still fresh when watched today—especially for newcomers unfamiliar with the tale—is that it left so many things open. You know that the parents killed Krueger, but not exactly what happened to precipitate the act until later installments, and you realize the dreams are coming to life, but are thrown one last curveball at the end to make you wonder if anything you saw even happened. Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes’ crew tries their best to mirror that brilliant ending of contemplation, but by making it happen as characters return home from the hospital, not with dead friends alive again for an ‘a-ha’ moment, it’s only one more flimsy attempt at eliciting a reaction and leaving an opening for a sequel since the real ending pretty much shuts the door to one.

I know a lot of critics have been panning the cast; I personally thought it was a pretty decent collection of young actors. The original’s were quite lame in comparison, the simple fact they appeared young, naïve, and scared all that they had going for them. These kids are familiar faces to the genre doing what they know. I’ve always been a Kyle Gallner and Thomas Dekker fan, the latter showing range in fare such as My Sister’s Keeper while the former remains entrenched with the supernatural. Katie Cassidy shows some promise although a bit stilted in her fear, Kellan Lutz was almost unrecognizable looking half the size he was in the Twilight movies, and lets just say Rooney Mara is a better actress than her big sis—unfortunately that doesn’t say too much, but she gets the job done. They even threw a consistent performer in “Friday Night Lights’s” Connie Britton as Nancy’s (Mara) mother and the ever-fantastic Clancy Brown as Quentin’s (Gallner) Dad. The real winner in the performance category, though, is Jackie Earle Haley showing the non-remorseful side to a pedophile after getting an Oscar nod for portraying the other kind in Little Children. You don’t cast a guy of his talent without showing him in action; thankfully we get to see him pre-burn, even though his nightmarish visage does the job too.

Even so, this is one of the film’s major pitfalls. In order to get their money’s worth, they need to show Haley becoming the Krueger that Robert Englund made famous. The only way that is possible is by revealing the children’s past and the horrors supposedly done to them by this pre-school gardener. By giving evil a face—and how insane is it that the writers have the kids play detective in order to exonerate the guy—you take away the intrinsic fear he instills by his mystery. Seriously, they even plug in the whole ‘Pied Piper’ allusions to beat us over the head even more. It is all further proof that American moviegoers have seen their IQs dwindle in the past few decades, leaving the ‘chicken and the egg’ puzzle of whether Hollywood caused our complete ambivalence to being spoon-fed answers or if our complete idiocy has made them dumb down everything because the lowest common denominator is now synonymous with the class valedictorian. It’s a real shame because it not only wastes the considerable talents of Haley—based on past work and his performance here—but also those of director Samuel Bayer. This guy has vision, and Elm Street had flashes of the visceral brilliance seen in videos for Manson, Garbage, Cranberries, and of course the Pumpkins’ Bullet with Butterfly Wings. If only he had an intelligent screenplay to showcase them.

There are many nods to the original, from the first female death while boyfriend lays next to her to the body wrapped in plastic being dragged feet first through the school to the knifed hand rising between Nancy’s legs in the bathtub. Frankly, it’s all done better here due to technological advances. If you could take the death scenes from this remake and plug them into the effectively constructed narrative of the original, you’d have one damn fine movie. A couple things are included in variation to appear new like having Quentin pulled under the water rather than Nancy or have her come through a bedroom ceiling while a pool of blood stays above instead of Depp’s claim to fame bed vomiting masterpiece of the original. The aesthetic here is honestly the one shining star in the abyss of been-there-done-that unoriginality, having but one misstep showing how traditional effects do oftentimes out magic the wonder of computer graphics—Haley’s Krueger pushing through a wall has nothing on Englund’s head protruding in the dark; that was one freaky scene made laughable in its redoing.

Sometimes visuals can trump story, but never in a film that has taken an effective script and made it mediocre. If I wanted to see two kids go forth and discover the answer to the mystery of Krueger’s origins and see whether their repressed memories of sexual abuse were reality or not, I’d watch one of the infinite procedural dramas that liter television. I go to see a horror film to be brought into a world of the fantastical, where violence can be seen as an art form and maybe, just maybe, I could actually get scared for once. Alas, the new Nightmare is anything but. The filmmakers try and humanize this monster who is supposed to be haunting our dreams, taking all that makes him formidable and horrific away, turning this manifestation of pure evil into a misjudged victim of mob mentality. You need to see the face of Fred Krueger in order to appreciate the craft that Haley brings to the role, but it only belittles what his performance as Freddy adds to the table. It’s a real shame too because the guy has the presence necessary to rule that boiler room lair, using the screech of metal on metal to race chills down your spine and turn the Righteous Brother’s Dreams from soothing melody to demonic theme song. All the makings for a quality horror are here; the story just makes sure it keeps a place amongst the tweener torture laughfests of now, never rising to the lofty status of its yesteryear’s genre finest.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5/10

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photography:
[1] JACKIE EARLE HALEY as Freddy Krueger in New Line Cinema’s horror film, “A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Courtesy of New Line Cinema
[2] (L-R) ROONEY MARA as Nancy and THOMAS DEKKER as Jesse in New Line Cinema’s horror film, “A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Courtesy of New Line Cinema

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