I may not have been alive during the Nightmare on Elm Street craze, but it had as much as an impact on me as it did those in the 80’s. When I was first getting into horror, Freddy Krueger was my introduction. My gateway to all things horror, so to speak. When I was but a little child. the man gave me infinite nightmares, compelling me to scream “I’ll never watch horror movies!” Boy, how times have changed.
When I started delving into the world of horror, the Nightmare on Elm Street series was my first stop. Thanks to them, I kept coming back. I seen a genre where anything can happen, where your deepest, wildest thoughts could come to life. Where creativity was at an all-time high. Wes Craven’s wicked sense of fear and imagination came together to create one chilling monster. Freddy Krueger was a man that, unlike the Michaels and the Jasons, you couldn’t escape from. If you went to sleep, he’d kill you. If you stayed awake, you’d eventually die of lack of sleep. You had to face the man, whether or not you wanted to. Craven created a villain that wasn’t out to scare you, as much as he was to mess with your mind.
That happened in 1984. Now it’s the year 2010. More precisely, the date is May 1st. I head down to my local cinema to catch an early matinee of the Nightmare on Elm Street “reboot”. As I grab my ticket and head towards the theater room in which it’s being screened, a sense of fear overcame me. This fear wasn’t because I was afraid to be scared by the film. This fear was because of what may happen to a character I hold dear in my heart. A character in which I look up to as a father figure in horror, the man who introduced me to my now current favorite genre. The closer I get to the room, the more this fear consumed me. I was either going to see an intriguing and respectable take on my favorite villain, or a cheap cash-in on his name.
It was a mix of both.
On one hand, the character himself is treated just fine. Jackie Earle Haley plays him with such malice and schadenfreude, that you can’t help but get goosebumps whenever he appears. On the other hand, his fable and surroundings are treated with such carelessness that it makes anything he does feel worthless. His origin is delved into more (which I had no problem with), but they retcon all of it come the final act. A rather intriguing sub-plot of micro-naps are introduced, but are scraped almost immediately for cheap scares. These cheap scares take away any fear that Haley brought to the table with Freddy, as he isn’t allowed to be methodical and creepy. He’s just allowed to jump out of the corner and shout “Boo!” All of this pales in comparison to the worst offense of all; the lack of strong, sorrowful victims.
I’ll be the first to admit that the original film didn’t have a cast of teenagers that all exuded likability. However, the main victim, Nancy (played by Heather Langenkamp) was someone that you could root for. She was a nice, down-to-earth person who put others first before herself. You wanted to see her defeat Freddy and save the day. In this version, Nancy isn’t likable or relatable. This comes down to not only the script (written by Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer, but the actor herself, Rooney Mara. All she does for the duration of the film is walk around with a blank look on her face, not seeming to care about what is happening around her. The film has you believe that she’s an outcast, but I wasn’t buying it. Simply showing her painting and listening to music doesn’t make her an outcast, it makes her normal. Talking to the popular kids that surround her doesn’t help either.
Outside of Kyle Gallner (who plays Quentin), the rest of the cast is the same way. They have no personality or identity. They’re simply fodder for Freddy Krueger’s mischief. The characters in the Friday the 13th “reboot” had more identity than these sad-sacks. If I don’t have anybody to root for, then Freddy’s actions don’t scare me. All they do is pass the time until the credits roll.
Director Samuel Bayer doesn’t help matters by not seeming to care about the project. Instead of creating his own vision, he recreates scenes from the original(s). Whenever he does create something he can call his own, it’s so lazily written and performed. There’s nothing creative about this film. If they’re not stealing from the original(s), they’re simply making Freddy quickly slash his way through a victim with his glove. The dream sequences aren’t elaborate or clever, they’re poorly written and designed.
For everything the new Nightmare does right, it does something equally wrong. Casting Jackie Earle Haley was a plus; casting the teenagers (outside of Kyle Gallner) was a minus. Including a new concept such as micro-naps was a positive; flushing that concept down the drain for cheap scares was a negative. Giving me nearly no reason to care about this project was the biggest detractor of them all.