A Nightmare on Elm Street
Dir: Samuel Bayer
New Line Cinema
The best Wes Craven films were about unsettling audiences with horrifying invasions of the mundane. The Hills Have Eyes disrupted the average family road trip, The Last House on the Left brought real danger to teenaged cavorting and even Scream brought fear to horror movie culture that thought it knew all the rules. A Nightmare on Elm Street is the most extreme case — one where the very act of sleeping is dangerous to its hapless protagonists. Because the ghost of a burn victim would kill you with his claws. Because, after so much sleep deprivation, you couldn’t tell if you were awake anymore.
Part of Nightmare’s effectiveness was the inability to tell reality from dreams. This is because Wes Craven shot everything the same so we the audience couldn’t tell if a character was dreaming until it’s too late. Which isn’t to say that the remake should follow the original to a T. There’s a lot you can do with the basic premise of a supernatural being killing kids in their dreams, and it’s better to take advantage of that to scare old fans and new alike.
Too bad this new version tries to follow the original to a T. And when I write to a T, I mean character arcs, scares and even shots. That awesome tub shot? It’s there. The blood spewing bedroom? It’s there, but with a twist: this time the blood comes out of the ceiling!
Because director Samuel Bayer so closely imitates the original, the remake comes off as misguided with its elaborate sets and incessant, oppressive atmosphere. We’re never unsettled because Bayer is just trying so hard to creep us out that we know when we’re in a nightmare because characters are immediately transported to grimy sets left over from Saw sequels. Bayer, known for his music video work, creates a film where the plastic atmosphere might be effective for three minutes of a Smashing Pumpkins song, but just tires during 90 minutes.
The cast is as ephemeral as you’d expect with these Platinum Dunes remakes, with the requisite CW-caliber pretty actors that have been trained to suppress any sense of personality so confused young teens can easily imprint on them. While on paper Jackie Earle Haley sounds like a good casting decision, he isn’t given much to do to make the role his own. He growls, has a few decent one-liners, and slashes a lot with his claws. For an apparition driven by revenge, his kills are surprisingly quick. You’d think he’d take a bit more pleasure in murdering these teens.
Most offensive to the horror fan are the perfunctory kills. While one could expect a 26-year-old slasher film would seem tame nowadays, the original A Nightmare on Elm Street remains incredibly mean right down to its big fuck-you ending and gloriously nasty murders. Both movies have only a handful, but the original makes them count in a way that the remake does not, which is a sin for a movie that dares us to fear going to sleep.
Alas, what could have been had the people behind A Nightmare on Elm Street taken more risks. And not just with gore, either — there’s a lot to explore in the idea of being destroyed from within at your most vulnerable state. Instead, they’ve literally remade a film and thus took no risks except in making a story about a dreamtime killer actually sleep-inducing.