Theatrical review: A Nightmare On Elm Street

One, two, Freddie’s coming for you. Again.

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Certificate: 18
Director: Samuel Bayer
Screenwriters: Wesley Strick, Eric Heisserer
Cast: Jackie Earle Haley, Kyle Gallner, Rooney Mara
Distributor: Warner Bros
Running Time: 95 mins

Remakes, like them or loathe them, are an unavoidable aspect of the contemporary cinematic landscape. They are fuelled in no small part by the trend for retooling horror classics for an audience precluded from seeing the originals on anything other than DVD by virtue of their date of birth. Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production company specialises here in serving up the slashers of yesteryear, with CG-aided glossiness, and as a business model it is hard to fault, with all its output turning a tidy profit. The films themselves, though, have tended to be far from essential and this new A Nightmare On Elm Street, from music vid turned feature helmer Samuel Bayer, is no different.

Empty and unnecessary, it is a remake in the most literal sense. There’s no re-imagining, or ‘inspired by’ bogus claims here; this new Nightmare is the same story – a group of teenagers are terrified in their sleep by the red-stripe-sweatered, blade-fingered Freddie Krueger who can kill you in your dreams – told with newer technologies but diminished effect. Indeed, several key scenes are replicated wholesale (the iconic, squirming bathroom scene; a claret-laden and gravity-defying bedroom death), but the effect has been to lessen their impact. Indeed, one of the original’s standout moments saw Krueger’s shape loom out of the wall above protagonist Nancy’s (then the excellent Heather Langenkamp, now the bland Rooney Mara) bed, the practical effect possessing a threat and terror that its new CG-manufactured counterpart never reaches.
Bayer’s movie is not a shot-for-shot redux à la Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, though, and Strick and Heisserer’s script does offer a few moments of creativity – Freddie has been ‘upgraded’ from child-killer to a paedo-predator; ‘micro-naps’ place the soon-to-be-slashed in constant danger – but their dialogue is stilted and is never more than perfunctory. Jackie Earle Haley – who was one of the standouts in Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island – replaces Robert Englund as the dream-stalker but despite a few choice moments (“After the heart stops beating, the brain survives for seven minutes giving us more time to play”), he never captures the otherworldly menace of the character’s initial creation. For those never subjected to sleepless nights by Craven’s genre classic, this is a poor man’s introduction to Freddie.

A slasher greatly reduced rather than remade, this stab at serving up nightmares for a new generation never threatens to leave a scar.