WARNING: this post is totally spoiler-FILLED.
I saw Rob Zombie’s Halloween and my confused reaction was, “What was he trying to do to such an iconic film?” I saw the Friday the 13th remake and thought, “Whatever. Another Jason film. Fun while you’re in it, but pretty forgettable (yet totally rewatchable every time it’s on cable).” Now I’ve seen A Nightmare On Elm Street and all I can think is, “How in the hell could they blow it so bad when drawing from such a frightening original source?”
The weakness of this film perfectly illustrates the brilliance of Wes Craven’s 1984 original. Even when 2010 tries to toss in favorite moments from the original (Tina’s wall crawl death, Glenn’s blood bath scene, Nancy’s near bathtub “fingering,” Tina’s body drag through the school hall) they feel like afterthoughts or pale imitations that fail to impact viewers the way they did in the original.
That’s not to say 2010 doesn’t have its moments, even if some of them do rely on CGI. There’s a frightening scene in the “Tina” character’s attic (not named Tina this time around). When Nancy sees the Tina character’s body calling out to her from the body bag, the horrific imagery is intensified in the remake. Although loved because it’s a classic camp moment, the final kill (Nancy’s mom) in the original is so cheesy that even with the use of CGI in the remake, a similar bye bye to mom is a visually gore-iphic blast. And what is implied by Freddy’s speech to one of his victims about how the mind lives on for several minutes after death perfectly echoes much of what made the first film so great—the power of suggestion over the actual spelling out of every detail.
That’s what we have here. For starters, Freddy is only kept in shadow for a tiny bit at the beginning of the re-imaging before his face is constantly being slammed right up in the camera, accompanied by the blaring sound of slashing knives for cheap jump scares. 20 minutes into the film, we’ve seen him at least three times in brightly lit close-ups for long durations that reveal how much less frightening his look is than the ghoulish appearance of Robert Englund’s Freddy. Instead of looking gross and freshly burned, Jackie Earle Haley’s Freddy comes across as a dirty pervert who caught on fire and lived (in dreams) to tell about it. He’s just not scary. And he’s WAY too conversational with his victims from nearly the start, something the original Freddy didn’t do until later in the series when he became more of an iconic anti-hero than a horrifying monster. In the original, Freddy’s sadistic persona spewed short taunts like “Watch this!” (cuts off his fingers) and “I’m your boyfriend now, Nancy!” (sticks his tongue through the phone to lick her mouth), and performed gruesome acts like letting Tina peel his face off during a struggle to reveal his heckling skull or calling out to Nancy in Tina’s voice while wearing a “Tina mask.”
Freddy’s torture of kids in the original is a mind fuck, but it still suggests that when he was a living, filthy child murderer (as Nancy’s drunken mother describes him), he did perverted things to them. However, the focus is on him in the present—a boogeyman that kills teenagers in their sleep. In the remake, Freddy’s whole identity is reliant on his past as a pedophile. It’s all spelled out for us, right down to the discovery of naked pictures of children in his secret room, Freddy telling Nancy how she smells different now and dabbling in some disgusting sexual foreplay with her on a bed. The subject of pedophilia is repulsive for sure, but the bottom line is, a burned pedophile (the new Freddy) just isn’t terrifying to people who were never sexually abused, but a hideously disfigured monster that kills people in their sleep with finger knives (the original Freddy) most definitely is because he’s not as discriminating. Anything goes—or rather, anyone goes.
Then there are the “teenagers” in the remake. They lack the youthful innocence demonstrated by Heather Langenkamp in her frilly pajamas and Johnny Depp with his raging teen hormones in the original. In 2010, from the very start Nancy is portrayed as a gloom-and-doom, depressed, moping, pretentious artsy outcast, as is a majority of the other teens. As the film progresses and the truth is revealed, I guess we can accept that they are all fucked up because of their repressed memories about being molested by the school maintenance man when they were just children, but why is it that all these kids have repressed their memories? A dozen people do not handle childhood trauma exactly the same, yet NONE of these kids can remember that they were molested!!! Really???
Yes, that’s the connection the new film goes for to change it up. In the original film, Freddy’s “motive” was to make the parents who burned him alive suffer by killing their children. In this film, Freddy is killing the very children he molested to get revenge on them for breaking their silence years before (and then forgetting they told on him?). In the original film, the suburban parents were the ones who were a mess (sluts, alcoholics, white trash) as a result of keeping the secret of what they’d done to Freddy. In 2010, the parents seem to be living life fine and oblivious to the toll the situation has taken on their children. Plus, Nancy’s father is not the police chief in this film. In fact, Nancy doesn’t even HAVE a dad. That’s right. There is never any mention of her having a father, living or dead, married to his mother or divorced from her. Talk about plot hole, especially when the very same character’s father had such a prominent role in the original film, and considering Nancy is the ONLY character to have the same name in this remake.
Instead, it is the father of the “Glenn” character who plays the authoritative role in 2010, which I guess explains why it is his son who has a dream in which he witnesses the lynching of Freddy, led by his father. Why does Freddy force just this one victim to dream the truth with the most vivid of details? Can Freddy really project a specific dream in your head like a movie rather than just enter your dreams now? And what purpose does it serve other than to allow the entire torching to play out on screen instead of simply being related by a character, as it was by Nancy’s mom in the original? Again, it’s being spelled out for us, and melodramatically at that, with the parents surrounding the building into which they chase Freddy (his old boiler room isn’t referenced in the re-imagining), Freddy inside yelling “Whatever you think I did, I didn’t do it!” and the parents outside barking “Come on outta there, Freddy! We’ll get you for what you did to our kids!” Why bother with the chit-chat when they actually have canisters of gasoline in the trunks of their cars? And why did they take justice into their own hands without even reporting the horrible things the man had done to their children to the authorities? At least in the original they torched Freddy after he was able to walk free due to a legal technicality—and they sort of had the law (Nancy’s dad) on their side to cover up their illegal act.
An extremely glaring problem with this re-imagining is why Freddy has his iconic glove at all! Freddy, as far as we know based on the new script, never killed any of his victims, just molested them. So what purpose did the glove serve? It’s shown to have left scratches on one child’s back and ripped her dress, but if it had inflicted any major damage, she would have required some serious medical attention. Did he use the glove to bully the children into submission or scare them into silence about what he’d done to them? Did he really create that weapon as part of his molestation practices? Or did he know that he’d someday come back in dreams and would need some nifty nightmarish weapon to kill with?
There are a few more crucial aspects to Wes Craven’s film that demonstrate his genius, and it is all pretty much summed up in the title of the film. Craven has said that he titled the film as he did because most people know of an Elm Street in their town, which helps him in bringing the nightmare into modest suburbia so we all feel vulnerable. You truly feel like you’re in a small, close knit town: Nancy can walk to and from school just as easily as carpool with friends; she can communicate with Glenn simply by looking across the street from her bedroom window to his bedroom window; the police station where Nancy’s dad works is only walking distance from her home. Hell, the town is loaded with rich green lawns and trees, blue skies, and bright sunlight. The remake fails to capture the intimacy of the community or demonstrate the fracturing of a suburban utopia, instead relying heavily on the cloak of night and jumping from one disjointed location to another: a drug store, the diner, Nancy’s house, the school.
Craven further knocks down the walls of security through his nightmare sequences. The kids are not even safe in their bedrooms, classrooms, or backyards—take into account the subtleties of Tina being frightened by a rogue garbage can cover and then crashing onto an outdoor table in her yard and pulling the tablecloth over her head to escape Freddy only to have him crawl underneath there with her. Or Nancy waking to find she has dragged pieces of rose trellis from her own front yard out of her dream and into her bed. There are no such domestic details in the remake. Nancy even finds over-the-counter “stay-awake” pills in her bathroom medicine cabinet in the original, while in 2010, she has to stop at a pharmacist so her friend can refill a sleep-deprivation prescription while she’s in the drugstore aisles discovering she can pull things out of her daydreams.
Even when Nancy goes after Freddy for the last time, in the original she’s tucked away in her own bed with her hair cascading over her own pillow, a pot of coffee on the nightstand beside her bed to keep her awake. In the remake, Nancy is lying on the disgusting, filthy bed in Freddy’s secret room where she was molested when it’s time to fall asleep and bring him into her world. His dirty quarters are her world? And forget coffee. Nancy needs to get slammed in the chest by her boyfriend with a syringe full of adrenaline, Pulp Fiction style. On top of all that, gone are the nuances of real dreaming that are so perfectly captured in the original. The inexplicable appearance of a goat running by in Tina’s dream touches upon how illogical they can be, just as Nancy finding a door in her basement that leads conveniently right to Freddy’s boiler room demonstrates the random teleporting we do in dreams. And there’s that brilliant moment when Nancy tries to run up her stairs to escape Freddy, only to find she can’t move her legs quick enough because she’s stepping in some sort of gummy substance that impedes her progress (the visual translation of a sensation most of us have experienced in dreams). In the remake, she instead falls into a goopy mess that looks like a hallway full of blood. While Craven incorporates our actual lack of control over dreams into the fear in his movie, the re-imagining filmmakers exchange those highly relatable details for literal movie moments and generic horror situations.
Generic is the operative word here. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010 will not leave a lasting impression on anyone and it will not scar this generation’s children for life as the original did to its generation (in fact, kids were laughing at the remake in the theater). Remember films from this past decade like The Boogeyman, Pulse, and One Missed Call? This film has more in common with those films than it does with the iconic, influential film from which it gets its name. It’s a film with a promising premise that fails to live up to its potential. Sure, there may be a couple of creepy moments, but it lacks cohesion, so all we’re left with is a couple of “good parts” instead of an entire start-to-finish horror experience. And what’s worse, it may be just successful enough to spawn a couple of even more generic and forgettable sequels.