A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Jackie Earle Haley,
Kyle Gallner, Rooney Mara, Katie Cassidy
Director: Samuel Bayer
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: New Line Cinema
Features: See Review
Length: 96 Minutes
Release Date: October 5, 2010
“Why are you screaming? I haven't even cut you yet.”
I can't say I've been a big fan of seeing classic horror movies remade for the new millennium, any more than I'm a fan of being told movies that were major events in my youth are now considered 'classics'. Isn't there enough in my life to remind me just how damn old I am?
Most of the time, the remakes are completely unnecessary and miss the point of the originals. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre horrified millions with very little gore, while Dawn of the Dead pushed bloody envelopes while spinning a bit of satire of consumerism gone amuck. Their modern counterparts overlooked a great deal of what made the movies so immediate and striking in their day. Then there are countless others that barely even trigger a memory for me now: The Hills Have Eyes, The Amityville Horror, The Last House on the Left...and please don't EVEN get me started on Psycho.
So it was with mixed feelings that I sat down to the new version of A Nightmare on Elm Street. This was THE staple horror film of my teen years. It was bold, imaginative, and groundbreaking, even with a meager budget. It was the movie that turned New Line Cinema from a second rate distributor into the mighty muscle machine that would one day roll out The Lord of the Rings. And despite a string of sequels that carried it on far too long, some good, some embarrassing, it always had one edge in that the same actor, the terrific and charismatic Robert Englund, always showed up to play the unforgettable Freddy Krueger.
Now, all that was gone. Freddy was to be reborn, and as much as I winced at the thought of Krueger without Englund, I was most intrigued by the casting of Jackie Earle Haley in the role. Enough so that I decided to chance the movie despite my own better judgment and warnings from friends whose opinions I admire that I was in for a big disappointment.
So what's the verdict? Not bad...surprisingly, actually pretty good. No, it could never dethrone the original, and for the most part, I hope this is a one-time deal and not the start of a new franchise. But I found my overall response was one of enjoyment. This was a remake that mixed just the right amount of new imagination with the right amount of cues from the original that fans would have missed had they just been omitted.
The essentials are the same...some annoying kids played by actors well out of their teens (one girl in particular would have been better cast as a mother than a high school student) are terrorized in their sleep by one Fred Krueger. What changes a little bit is why.
The film dares to hint that Freddy might not be what we've always thought. In the original, he was always a child murderer who somehow went supernatural when a bunch of vigilante parents brought him down. Here, we see Krueger as a gardener at a day care center. He's great with the kids. They love him. Where exactly did it all go wrong?
I don't want to really delve into the mysteries this movie hints at, other than I admit, I kind of admired the boldness of re-imagining the birth of a legendary cinematic villain. And if Jackie Earle Haley was my main reason for wanting to give this new movie a chance, he didn't disappoint. His take on Freddy was a bit different; he didn't try for Robert Englund's quips and sense of fun in being a boogeyman. Haley's approach was more sinister. There was never a wink to let you know it was okay for you to enjoy the murder and mayhem.
Some of the special effects were quite striking. In one stretch, a pair of kids who have been up for far too long become victimized by “micro-naps”, in which an exhausted brain shuts down and restarts even while awake, giving Freddy a few moments of terror here and there. I remember a girl in a pharmacy being chased by Freddy down an aisle, and the sequence kept switching between the very real aisle and the dream world boiler room. Impressively done. And the final scene before the credits? An image you won't shake any time soon.
Like Rob Zombie's Halloween, this movie tries to take an indelible classic that probably should never be touched and attempts to delve a little deeper into the story. It doesn't have the same level of success as Zombie's film, but considering the track record of NO success most horror movie remakes have littered the landscape with, a little success at all is noteworthy.
There's no chance this will ever become the go-to version of this story over Wes Craven's groundbreaking original. I think most of today's kids will still have a better and more frightening time with the first one. If anything, this movie might be more aimed at the older people like me who know A Nightmare on Elm Street frame by frame and could possibly enjoy the chance at seeing something familiar with a few worthy surprises.
I don't know if it was deliberate or not, but many dark scenes in this movie do seem a little murky and grainy, which was also true of the original owing to more low budget and high contrast film stocks. It could be an aesthetic decision, but nonetheless, you will notice it. It's not terribly distracting, and most of the rest of the high definition transfer is what you'd expect from New Line: solid colors, terrific detail, and crisp clear images. Maybe bad dreams are supposed to look a little grainy. Who knows?
No complaints with the DTS HD audio, which elevates the experience singlehandedly to new heights. Krueger's voice always emanates from all channels, making no place feel safe. There is plenty of bass signal and crossovers to make the larger scenes dynamic and forceful. You WILL be rocked back in your seat once or twice. Superbly done!
In lieu of a commentary, you actually get something a little better...you can watch the film in “Maniacal Movie Mode”, which uses picture in picture to take you further behind the scenes as you experience the film. You gets looks at shooting, interview clips with the cast and crew, and more. Very cool.
There is a featurette on “Freddy Krueger Reborn” where all involve talk about re-imagining one of the most iconic horror movies ever. There is an alternate opening and ending, both of which for a change are quite cool; the ending is essentially the same except that you see Freddy reverting back to his pre-burned self. In addition, there is one more deleted scene and short looks at what makes Freddy Freddy, from his victims to his hat, glove, sweater and so on.
Rounding out is access to BD Live and a digital copy disc.
A Nightmare on Elm Street could have easily been just another product from the remake failure factory, but the presence of Jackie Earle Haley and just a touch of imagination mixed with some truly memorable special effects help rescue this from the reject pile. It's worth a look.