After seven of his own films and a title fight against Jason Voorhees, the man of your dreams has returned to his old stomping grounds. While it may not be exactly the same Freddy Krueger (now played by Jackie Earle Haley) you remember from the original line of Elm Street films (played deliciously by Robert Englund), he’s still cut from the same cloth. Leave it to Michael Bay and his Platinum Dunes to manage to try to reinvent something while only managing to pay homage.
Samuel Bayer may be making his debut film with this reboot of A Nightmare on Elm Street but it’s nowhere near as bad as people have been saying. Instead of coming up with something completely new, Bayer and his screenwriters (Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer) decide to spend their time rehashing not just the first film, but almost all of the past Elm Street films.
With a pre-credit dream/death sequence that sets the right tone at least, we meet Freddy’s first victim, Dean (Kellan Lutz). While sitting in Springwood Diner drinking cup after cup of black coffee, he still manages to doze off only to wake up with a slice on his hand from Freddy’s razored glove. Kris (Katie Cassidy) sits down to chat with Dean to find out why he hasn’t been sleeping but not before Dean falls asleep again and appears to slice his own throat while repeating, “You’re not real.”
Kris isn’t the only witness to Dean’s dispatching as Nancy Holbrook (Rooney Mara), inexplicably name-changed from Nancy Thompson, is a waitress at the local diner. But if you thought Nancy was the main character, you have to wait a few more deaths and even then she never once feels like the heroine of this new Nightmare. First we have to slog through Kris having her own dreams about Freddy and things that go bump in her attic. She could have some skeletons in her closet but Freddy manages to kill her before even she learns the truth.
Finally, Nancy begins sharing her truths about her sleeping issues with her new friend Quentin (Kyle Gallner). Quentin has an unrequited love for Nancy who continually asks her to hang out with the group of friends but Nancy feels like she doesn’t fit in. After a few more deaths and some parental confrontations with Quentin’s father (Clancy Brown) and Nancy’s mother (Connie Britton), Nancy and Quentin learn that they all used to attend the same preschool when they were five years old.
You see, at Badham Preschool there was a groundskeeper named Willie… er, Freddy. The children share the news that he has been taking them to a special “cave” where he abuses the preschoolers. Upon learning this, the local townsfolk chase him into an abandoned, highly flammable hideout and proceed to throw a flaming gasoline tank through the window and light Freddy on fire where he rips off his jacket to reveal the red- and green-striped sweater we all know and love come Halloween time. Where the fedora comes from we’ll never know; maybe he killed Indiana Jones in one of his own dreams. Do I smell one of the weirdest spin-offs ever?
At first, Nancy and Quentin assume that maybe Freddy is after them because their parents declared martial law on an innocent man. Very quickly the film stops playing fair as we never know whether the teens are awake or asleep and they suddenly begin taking micro-naps that the audience is supposed to remember them mentioning a half hour ago while having the requisite insomnia research sequence. Soon the two remaining teens learn the truth about Freddy and figure out the only way to put an end to his reign of terror is to bring him into the real world and battle it out.
Here’s a clue: what happens when you kill something that used to be in your dreams? Won’t that just send Freddy right back into the dream world from whence he came? Yes, there is no way to truly “kill” Freddy Krueger, so why bother with a remake when you could have simply just made a new entry? A Nightmare on Elm Street is what you call a brand name. There’s no need for an update when you already have something that works, especially when you’re essentially attempting to remake the entire series in a mere 90 minutes.
I began to make a checklist of things from the original Wes Craven classic that are at least alluded to in this new outing which, as the film progresses, turns into more of a checklist of events, visuals, and one-liners from all of the past films (Freddy vs. Jason included.) Not that this is a bad thing, but in a way, shouldn’t they have attempted to at least try to come up with their own material? The only thing new this adds is the Freddy back story which just makes him out to be even more of a creep than you ever thought he could be.
Thankfully we are treated to the climb through Nancy’s bedroom window, Freddy rolling one victim around her bedroom ceiling, Freddy’s glove reaching for Nancy in the bathtub, and Nancy seeing Kris in a bloody body bag in a hallway, and Freddy getting called "Fred." However, some of these are totally shortchanged or happen so fast you may not even realize whether it’s a nod to the original or maybe Part 4 or both at the same time (it happens, trust me.) We also get some repeat one-liners like I mentioned before, such as, “Your mouth says no, but your body’s saying yes" … "I’m your boyfriend now," and “Why won’t you just fucking die?” And in case you’re wondering, naming one of the characters “Quentin” isn’t the only Tarantino reference.
One could sit and nitpick the ins and outs of the whole production all day but of course what it comes down to is whether it works as a whole. Where Freddy himself works best is when he’s having standoffs with his victims. Not sure what it says when Freddy is more interesting having conversations than when he’s slicing and dicing and spouting a greatest hits compilation of one-liners. Thankfully Haley gets into character enough to get away with repeating these lines and never feels like that friend who loves the series too much and uses them in everyday conversation.
They say this is a way to introduce Freddy to a new generation; but let's face it, if they’re horror fans to begin with they’ve been watching all of these films for years now anyway. So again, you have to ask what the real point is. My fiancée had only seen the original Elm Street and she liked it more than I did and is not a horror fan. I guess while you can’t please everybody, you can certainly try to win over new fans as longtime fans will continue to line up no matter how much bitching we do once the credits roll. Forgiveness is a powerful thing and we’ll keep coming back for more whether we like the current version or not.
Photo courtesy New Line Cinema