Sunday, May 2, 2010
A Nightmare on Elm Street OR A Nightmare of a Remake
WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS
Ok, so first of all, I can't more highly recommend a series of blogs than my 'net homeboy Evil Dead Junkie's weeklong retrospective of the Nightmare on Elm Street Series over at Things That Don't Suck. Go read it. He provides the kind of insightful commentary usually reserved for art house cinema on b-rate horror and schlock (and I love him for it), but this is an A+ effort even for him.
That being said, I don't have the time/effort/want to discuss the entire series in the detail that he does, and he's already done it better than I ever could. That's why I'm only going to discuss the remake and how/why it fails at things the original succeeds so well at.
I'll try my best to point out positives before I get into picking apart what ruins this experience. Firstly, despite all of its flaws (and it has many, to be sure), it manages to be more watchable than most of the original Nightmare sequels. The sequels almost universally fall short of what makes the first film genuinely shocking and terrifying, and even the ones that don't fall short of that get lost in their own meandering storylines of mediocre performances. This film provides some good jump scares, a great deal of gore and a genuinely creepy performance by Jackie Earle Haley.
In fact, this film, like Watchmen before it, is watchable entirely as a product of Haley's performance. The man is swiftly becoming one of my favorite performers, and to someday share a set/stage with him would be a great pleasure. He's pitch perfect as Freddy, and while he talks more (a lot more) than Englund's Krueger in the original Nightmare, he doesn't get jokey and start spouting one-liners like Englund's later Krueger. He makes you genuinely unsettled, and makes sure that you never forget that he's a kiddy raping psychopath (something the sequels tend to be happy to let you forget).
Unfortunately, the movie surrounding this brilliant performance is flawed so deeply that the best way to watch this movie will probably be to buy the DVD and just watch the scenes with Freddy in them. It wouldn't really affect your sense of dread or any of the buildup, since nearly every dream sequence involves the audience seeing the characters fall asleep. The original film almost never shows Freddy's victims falling asleep. Much as when you nod off and start dreaming, you often don't notice it until something odd happens, or you wake up. The original keeps the viewers perspective that way, not giving any tells of dream sequences until the bizarre begins to happen.
When Nancy nods off in class in the 1984 film, we don't know she has until Tina walks (hops?) into the classroom in a bodybag. And even after that, Nancy doesn't seem to notice that she's dreaming, even following her best friend's bloody corpse down the halls. This is central to the film creating it's atmosphere. The new movie shows us characters going under more often than not, and, in some particularly egregious moments, has blatant lighting changes. The suspense is gone, I now know you're dreaming, and I now know that Freddy's probably going to do something nasty to you, and it won't be a surprise, there won't be any tension.
Also removing tension is the fact that the first act lays everything out for us. We start with average high schooler Dean, and his dream. (This should not be confused with "Dean's Dream," by the way.) In his dream, he's stalked by Freddy through a diner. The same diner he has actually fallen asleep in, as it turns out. Then his hand is cut by Freddy. When he wakes up, his hand is really cut. We now know that what Freddy does in dreams affect's the real world. Thanks for taking all the mystery and suspense out of it in the first five minutes, guys.
The worst bit is, this could have easily been alleviated. He fell asleep in a diner, as I said. There is a knife on the table. We know this, because there's a blatant esablishing shot of it right after he wakes up, sitting on the goddamn table. All they had to do was put the knife in his hand upon waking, and now we don't know if he did it to himself or not. Which is extra interesting, given that his death (which comes moments later) is done in such a way as to make it look like Dean cut his own throat with the same fucking steak knife.
Which brings me to another blaring klaxon of an issue with this movie. The kids figure out what's going on way to fast. In Nightmare '84, the kids all discuss various nightmares they've had involving a man in a dirty striped sweater and a fedora. They talk about his "fingernails," before really discussing the glove. And even when they do, they don't immediately jump to the conclusion of "oh, hey that guy must be killing us in our dreams." In the new movie, there's one brief discussion of it, and, just like the stumbled out of the goddamn Mystery Machine, they've figured out what's going on. Not to mention the parents acting completely shifty and weird when the kids bring up anything even tangentially related to what's going on.
The pacing is just all wrong with this movie, and that's the biggest issue. I could go further into how the boyfriend's death in jail is done to look like suicide in the original, but looks like an invisible Alien burst out of the kid's chest in the new one, but what's the point? I could talk about how the infamous "Freddy coming through the wall over Nancy" scene looks like complete garbage thanks to CG, but you probably guessed that without seeing it. What matters most is that the pacing is horrifically bad in this movie, and that while the third act has some good ideas and genuinely creepy moments, it's all for naught because the ending doesn't make any sense, and you've already been taken out of the experience by the hideously bad buildup.
The best praise I can lay on this movie is that if you've never seen Craven's original, and you've been let down enough by excrement like the Friday the 13th remake/reboot, you'll probably think it's decent enough. Or maybe if you're a big gore hound, you'll appreciate the kills, because they are pretty good, even the last one, despite it not making a lick of goddamn sense.
Really, though? If you're interested, just watch Wes Craven's original A Nightmare on Elm Street. It's much more effective, entertaining, and overall well done than this movie.