I did my homework with this one. In the last three months or so, I have watched all seven of the Nightmare on Elm Street films (I’m including Wes Craven’s New Nightmare as canon – ’cause it’s awesome – and ignoring Freddy Vs. Jason), so one can’t argue that I’m under-researched for this review.
The franchise itself is interesting. Conceptually, Wes Craven’s creation blew the opposition (well, Friday the 13th at least) out of the water. The series had some brilliant moments, and a wealth of material to be explored from a Freudian perspective (check out the book ‘Phallic Panic’ by Anneke Smelik for more on that). That’s not to say that any of the sequels weren’t gratuitous – most of them were – but if you took the best parts from each of the six ‘straight’ horror films in the franchise, you’d easily have a couple of the best hours of horror cinema ever created. Then there was New Nightmare, which plunged headlong into a decidedly postmodern take on the franchise itself, and was a clear forerunner to Craven’s brilliant Scream (we’ll just ignore Vampire in Brooklyn that came in between, shall we?).
So this was a rare occasion where I felt that rebooting this franchise wasn’t such a bad idea. They could take the good – the horrific nightmarish imagery, fear of the ‘other’, subtext about the sins of the parents et cetera – and beef up the parts that were lacking in the original films – namely, character depth and an overall consistent approach to Freddy’s powers. Alas, this remake isn’t quite as good as that.
There are certainly instances in this new Nightmare that work. The performances of the two central kids, Rooney Mara and Kyle Gallner, are great. Gallner, who appeared in ‘Veronica Mars’, is at risk of getting typecast, and the same could be said for Jackie Earle Haley, who, instead of playing a paedophile (Little Children) or a superhero (Watchmen), is playing a paedophile superhero. Furthermore, his voicing of Freddy sounds a lot like Rorschach, which is a little distracting. The fact that the makeup makes it hard for him to talk isn’t great, either.
The deviations that the film takes from the original are quite interesting too. As is sometimes the case with a reboot, A Nightmare on Elm Street goes to lengths to provide a fuller backstory to everyone’s favourite bogeyman, and does it very well. The focus on micro sleeps is interesting also, particularly when the earlier films had characters nodding off at the most ridiculous of times (falling asleep whilst doing bench presses would have to be one of those – see Nightmare on Elm Street 4). Seeing Quentin (Gallner) and Nancy (Mara) become more and more sleep-deprived, despite the former filling himself with medical stimulants, is entertaining also. These feel like desperate people. By not delving deeper into the characters of the parents who are responsible for all of this, however, the film misses out on a golden opportunity.
Where the film makes mistakes, however, is by recreating moments from the original. None of these work. In fact, some are so out of place (the hand in the bathtub, the bodybag in the school hallway) that they seem to have only been filmed to fill out the trailer. Also, the Nightmare series boasted some of the best visual effects ever seen in the 80s, and they were predominantly physical effects, too – prosthetics, robotics, stop-motion. Here, we get subjected to some awful CGI (specifically in the recreation of the head coming out of the wall, which was done brilliantly in the original with the use of latex or some such) and really ruins the moment.
I’m surprised that this film has got such a critical panning, especially in comparison to the Friday the 13th reboot, which was categorically worthless, in my humble opinion. For any fans who stuck through the original seven Nightmare films, there’s something to enjoy here. For anyone else (or those like myself, who, up until three months ago, had only seen the first and the last instalment), then there’s not a great deal of entertainment to be had. If the filmmakers had been brave enough to keep it original, rather than rehashing the old-school moments, then this might have been something more.Rating: