“You have to stay awake! Do not fall asleep!”
We hear those words said from one character to another throughout the brand shiny new remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street. I wonder, though, if they aren’t really intended for the audience. I can only speak for myself, but I had to stifle an unusually high number of yawns.
As I’m sure you already know – unless you’ve been avoiding horror movies since the ‘80s – the Elm Street mythology pits teenagers – 25-year-old supermodels in this case – against Freddy Krueger. He’s the man of your nightmares and will kill you if you fall asleep and slip into his world.
So, with these movies we spend a lot of time watching teens drink Red Bull and pop all sorts of stimulants – legal and otherwise. They then wander about like finals week flunkies on their third straight all-nighter, all blurry-eyed, wobbly, and irritable. And they’re never quite sure if they’re awake or dreaming.
Because of this, the teens fail to realize that the weird goings-on all around them are “dream weird” rather than “this world is really funny ‘ha ha’ weird” until it’s too late and Freddy has filleted them with his trademark six inch finger-knives.
The problem with this series reboot is that it assumes not only that my prior three paragraphs are common knowledge, but also that they express all that a viewer wishes to see in an Elm Street movie.
Thus, we get a teenager – man, I can’t even call him a “teenager” with a straight face – sitting alone in an empty, dimly lit diner and struggling to stay awake while odd things happen all around him. Then, suddenly and with a flash of shiny steel and a jolt of very loud music on the soundtrack, Freddy is upon him. There is blood everywhere. End of scene.
Then, the same repeats again and again. And I do mean the same, only varied by a different “teenager” and by a different dimly lit setting. Basements are especially good for this sort of thing and these “teens” obviously forgot to read the memo stating that hiding in closets and peering out between slats is never a safe haven in a horror movie.
It’s all wearily repetitive, even abstract. We don’t get to know characters. We just see them set up for the kill. And it’s not scary at all. We know that if a girl looks into a mirror, turns away, and looks back again that Freddy’s burn-scarred face will be there staring back at her. And no crashing sounds can be loud enough to turn what we expect to see into something frightening.
I had high hopes that casting Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger would be a stroke of genius. But not even that really works. Oh, he looks suitably creepy and he’s perfect in flashbacks showing us Krueger’s pedophilic past. But he’s too perfect, even lazy perfect.
His Oscar-nominated performance in Little Children was such an unforgettable portrait of a pedophile that he now seems forever stuck. One takes one look at him and instantly thinks, “Creepersville.” He’s become the go-to guy when a movie needs an instant psycho, a sort of creepy guy shorthand. Just add water.
The same thing happened with his casting in Watchmen. He needs to mix it up a bit, maybe play a throwback to his work in The Bad News Bears (1976). He’s definitely too good for Elm Street.