Retro Review: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010){0}

Despite what the cynics say, there are many different reasons why someone(s) would want to remake a horror film like Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street:

1. Easy money, because the script is already done — and there’s always a few nickels to wring out of nostalgia and “name recognition.”

2. You love a classic film and you have a new idea on how to build from it. (See: John Carpenter’s The Thing.)

3. Easy money.

4. An original film may have a cool concept but feels hopelessly outdated today. (See: David Cronenberg’s The Fly.)

5. The money thing again.

6. A horror classic is so iconic, you simply have to do your own bad-ass riff on it. (See: Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead.)

7. Huge piles of … you get the point.

For a while there it was Dark Castle churning out remakes like House on Haunted Hill13 Ghosts, and House of Wax — but over the last several years the title of Horror Remake Machine has gone to the Platinum Dunes boys. Rubber-stamped by Michael Bay and two of his pals, Dunes has been responsible for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (which I still contend is a rather fine remake), The Amityville Horror (which I contend is a sleeping pill), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (if you already re-made it … prequelize it!), The Hitcher (mouth-punchingly bad), and Friday the 13th (passable at best). And when Platinum Dunes ventures outside of Remake Junction, the result is The Unborn (yikes) or Horsemen, a film that redefines the word “unwatchable.”

The Dunes guys know the remake formula by now, which only serves to make the witless, worthless A Nightmare on Elm Street. such a relative disappoint. “Relative” because, really, one doesn’t expect a lot of freshness or originality from an ’80s slasher flick remake, but “disappointing” because the producers knew they were heading in such a slavishly “paint by numbers” direction, and they just didn’t care. This is the exact same film as Wes Craven’s 1984 classic — if you suck out all of the first film’s creativity, creepiness, and dark cleverness. And I’m not saying Nightmare 2010 is a bad film in comparison to Nightmare 1984. I’m saying it’s a terrible film, period. Arid, inert, lazy, lethargic, drab, dreary, genre shelf product that piggybacks on a highly-esteemed horror property, and doesn’t even seem to give the effort the film (and the fans) deserve.

Adapted (poorly) by Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer, the story deals with a group of kids who all begin dreaming of the same horrific villain. We soon discover that the mystery man is Fred Krueger, a local pedophile who was burned alive by the neighborhood parents one day, and now he’s back for some nocturnal payback. And if you thought I delivered that plot line in drab and perfunctory fashion, hoo boy, just wait till you see how first-time director Sam Bayer delivers the goods. Apparently some sort of whiz on the TV commercial and music video circuit, Bayer directs his first feature like he can’t wait for his second feature. The endless scenes of cutie-pie whinery are shot in exceedingly flat fashion … and you’d think that a young director would take to a bunch of carnage-laced nightmare sequences with a lot of enthusiasm, right? Not Bayer. Even his dream sequences look like low-budget jewelry commercials. All wind machines and sharp shafts of light filtered artfully through tree branches. Yawn.

The cast is no help at all. Even the great character actor Jackie Earle Haley and his Freddy Krueger gesticulations are undone by a combination of the screenplay’s swampy logic and Bayer’s inert pacing. Plus the new make-up makes Freddy Krueger look more like a villain called Ferret Face. The four main kids would look more at home in a J. Crew catalog than in something ostensibly called a horror film. Among the grown-ups you’ll notice a bored-looking Clancy Brown — because lord knows that’s the character actor to hire when you’re looking for “sedate and unmemorable exposition presenter.”

As to the question of “what’s new vs. what’s old,” here’s my scorecard: the “new” is a bit more exposition regarding the pre-boogeyman days of Freddy Krueger — which makes no sense to me because the more you explain an evil monster … the less evil he becomes. I assumed that Rob Zombie’s take on the Michael Myers story would have taught us that lesson forever, but hey, whatever justifies a screenwriting credit for the remake team, right? Because really, aside from the specious little additions to Freddy’s back story (which get tossed into the narrative trash bin in laughable fashion), there’s nothing “new” in the new A Nightmare on Elm Street. It seems like whenever the remake team got stuck — which was often — they would just turn Wes Craven’s original flick on, and then they’d ape whatever they saw onscreen. But only the visual stuff like “claw in the bathtub” or “body bag sliding down the hallway.” That’s an easy way to fill 45 seconds, plus it’s something you can toss into the trailer too!

The whole thing just reeks of laziness.

The best horror remakes go in new directions. The decent horror remakes tread the same ground, but do it with some style and energy. The weak horror remakes simply trade on someone else’s 20-year-old spurt of creativity. And then there are horror remakes like A Nightmare on Elm Street., which are so generic, so lazy, and so forgettable they may as well have “we’re not even trying” plastered across the bottom of the screen.