I came to terms with remake culture some time ago. After a four hour rant following a first viewing of the Hills Have Eyes remake, I concluded that remakes are not the originals, and neither are they trying to be. After all, when treated as the covert sequels that they are, they fare much better. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) was far better than Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. Friday the 13th (2009) kicked Jason Takes Manhattan‘s ass. The Hills Have Eyes (2005) cooked, killed and served up Hills Have Eyes part II (1985) to its inbred offspring faster than I could say ‘Reaper no dumb like papa Jupe’.
By the time A Nightmare on Elm Street was slated for remake, I was in the right frame of mind. ”How can it possibly be worse than Freddy’s Dead?”, I thought. Nay, I even scoffed at the idea that it could be worse than Freddy’s Dead. In fact, I began to regard the idea of a remake with some hope. The new Elm Street presented a good opportunity - a return to the dark Freddy, real creepiness, no jokes. That is exactly what Bayer & Co promised – so far so good…
Two unprecedented events followed: (a) I went to the cinema to see it after vowing to never set foot in a multiplex again (long, grumpy story), and (b) I walked out mid-way through the film. I have subsequently sat through the full film twice on DVD. It does not get any more tolerable with repeated viewing.
What went wrong? I’ve seen a lot of bad films over the last decade, surely this cannot have been that bad? Surely… it must have been… better … better than Freddy’s Dead…?
Well, that depends on how much tolerance you can muster for 95 minutes of gaping plot holes, implausible decisions, and illogical events (even accounting for the supernatural nature of the plot). The script is awful, and the CG effects are so bad that they make the 1984 original look cutting edge. The acting isn’t much better. Rooney Mara is a vacant mannequin drifting through what can only be described as the most limp and pathetic final girl performances that has ever (dis)graced the genre. That she later disavowed the film is only to be expected: she should be embarrassed.
Freddy is put on display too openly from the outset. He isn’t scary because he is always just there, shouting at the protagonists, mimicking Heath Ledger’s Joker, or exclaiming ‘MAAAAHHH’ to-camera to signal the end of each nightmare. What is scary about that? The original worked because Freddy was rarely displayed in full – he was present in fragments, back-lit to obscure his visage. Freddy didn’t need to shout. Englund was physically small, but the character was powerful because he was genuinely creepy. Bayer has obviously decided that characterisation is all a bit unnecessary since he has a ‘loud noise=big jump’ button. Our respective ideas about what constitutes fear-inducing differ greatly.
Nancy is fluffed then, but so too is her counterpoint. Without the bedrock Freddy/Nancy relationship, the film has no centre to speak of. We had better hope the peripheral ideas are creative… In fact, they are, but it only makes matters worse. The film offers glimmers of hope in the form of nascent ideas – micronaps, a computer entering sleep mode, a reference to the pied piper of Hamlyn – which never come into fruition. The filmmakers present these various elements as ‘interesting’, but there is no substance and no follow-through. If they are interesting ideas, they need to be nurtured rather than presented as self-evident.
This problem infects the film at all levels. Nightmare (2010) is all surface, and no depth. Aside from the well edited pharmacy sequence, this is a rag-bag collection of missed opportunities and lessons in generic, sterile film-making. At least Freddy’s Dead had personality. Granted, it was the personality of an obnoxious 13-year old, but at least it wasn’t soulless. Amanda Kruger is spinning in her grave, along with Bob Shaye’s vision of New Line’s bright future (circa 1985). As a way to flip the bird to its founder and the flagship series that made the company name, the remake is fitting, not least since it replicates the facelessness of New Line’s new owners. The dream is over and the nightmare has begun.