Picture the 1984 horror classic A Nightmare on Elm Street. Now picture that film if it was produced by bombastic Michael Bay, director of Pearl Harbor and the Transformers films.
Now picture all of the worst possible outcomes of that marriage. You don’t have to.
You could just plunk down your hard-earned cash — better yet, don’t — for this craptacular remake.
Not that I can stop you from seeing it. No number of bad reviews (and this is one of many) would have kept me away. Curiosity alone demanded I see the new Elm Street, so when a critic buddy asked if I’d like to tag along to a screening, I did.
I mean, it couldn’t be awful, right? It’s a darker take on a character that had fallen into parody. Its screenplay was co-written by Wesley Strick, who has worked with Martin Scorsese (1991’s Cape Fear). And supernatural killer Freddy Krueger is played by Jackie Earle Haley, an Oscar-nominated actor who was so creepy as Rorschach in Watchmen. How bad could it be?
Really bad, it turns out. Astonishingly, amazingly, how-could-you-possibly-screw-this-up-any-worse bad. Samuel Bayer, a longtime music video director making his feature-film debut, accomplished his stated goal of draining away all the cheeky fun of the Freddy films. Unfortunately, he also drained away all the scares. What’s left is a dreary, poorly-lit slog with uninteresting characters, wooden acting and a complete lack of tension, suspense or energy.
We could spend all day talking about the problems, but two big ones sink Nightmare all on their own. The first is the new Freddy — he’s not scary at all. (Robert Englund’s original Freddy at least was creepy for a couple of films before falling into camp.) Haley’s tiny frame makes Freddy look puny and his voice sounds like an even-more-ridiculous take on the raspy Christian Bale “Batman” voice.
Haley’s not helped by the terrible new Freddy makeup, which presumably is supposed to look like a more “realistic” burn victim, but it robs him of any expression. Freddy’s not scary at all; worse, he’s not even interesting.
You’d expect the new Nightmare to provide some creative new “kills,” but that’s the second huge problem. There are only a handful of kills throughout, and the better ones are taken directly from the 1984 original. In fact, fans of the original will note several virtually-identical scenes, all of them done on a higher budget but without a whit of artistry.
Special note has to be made of the acting, which (with a couple of exceptions) is dreadful. I’ll blame Bayer, because a few of these folks have been decent in other things, but they’re laughable here. (I’m pretty sure Thomas Dekker was attempting to portray Casey Affleck if Casey Affleck had suddenly completely forgotten how to act. And he’s one of the better ones.)
Of all the leads, only Kyle Gallner manages to bring some desperately-needed personality and humor to the proceedings. Gallner single-handedly makes the final act interesting, since you’ll have wanted every other character dead from the opening minutes.
But he can’t overcome Bayer’s clueless direction, which telegraphs every shock and dream sequence from a mile away. One of the most effective elements of an Elm Street film is the subtle slide back and forth from the real world to the dream world.
Bayer doesn’t get this at all. Every dream sequence is clearly defined, completely destroying any suspense. The film spends two-thirds of its running time having its leads uncover Freddy’s “story,” which is ridiculous because it’s a story everyone already knows. It momentarily plays with a slight twist on the original plot — a second of creativity, emerging like a flower through a crack in the sidewalk — then immediately chucks it.
Don’t get me wrong: I love horror films. I don’t even ask too much of them. I only ask that they be either A) scary or B) fun. If they can be both, that’s awesome. But with none of A and far too little of B, the only thing I can give the new Elm Street is an F.
[ Review by Rick Gershman ]