Credit: Warner Bros.

Credit: Warner Bros.

By Contributor: Jeremy Ponti

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It’s hard reviewing remakes.  The fair thing to do is to let the movie stand on its own, devoid of its connection to the original work.  But that’s next to impossible.  The fact that the movie shares the same title and basic story elements as another title just begs for comparison to the original work.  It’s only when a movie is done right that it can stand on its own as a separate entity (The Thing, Dawn of the Dead).  However, more often than not, the movie fails to be good from even just a basic movie standpoint, let alone comparing to the original (Halloween, Day of the Dead).  Let’s be honest, most remakes will probably fall under the “fail” category.

So where does the Platinum Dunes’ (the same company responsible for 2009’s Friday the 13th and 2003’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ) remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street stack within the bloated pile of Hollywood remakes?

Oh, how I wanted to like the film.  The original 1984 film is a classic and is one of my all-time favorite horror films.  The whole series is one of my top horror movie franchises ever.  So I came into this film apprehensively.  Last year’s FRIDAY THE 13th remake was nothing spectacular.  Not horrible, but far from fantastic.  Overall, it was a hollow experience.  So when I started seeing the trailers, I was already expecting a similar experience.  I was right.

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The biggest problem that the movie needed to overcome was expectations.  If you’re going to call a movie A Nightmare on Elm Street, be prepared to carry with it some baggage.  And if the movie was stronger, maybe it could have overcome those expectations.  Unfortunately, the combination of few frights, a lack of gore, crappy script, unlikable characters, etc. etc. just made the film another hackneyed remake as opposed to another classic entry in the series.

Platinum Dunes and producer Michael Bay know how to make beautiful looking films.  However, their movies tend to be too beautiful.  A product of the digital age of film making, all of the Platinum Dunes movies look too glossy and too Hollywood to be truly scary (especially when the script is so weak).  Everyone is achingly beautiful and always well lit.  This makes for beautiful movies.  But when you’re dealing with a subject matter so dirty and grimy, sometimes glossy just isn’t the right way to go.

So while the film is shot beautifully, they sacrificed suspense in its name.  Everything is telegraphed.  There is no tension or suspense.  The original film worked well because you never really knew if the characters were dreaming.  Was Tina walking around in her backyard checking on a noise or was she actually dreaming?  Man, the school’s boiler room really is scary… oh, wait!  This is a dream.  Director Samuel Bayer heavy handedly uses special effects to shift the characters from the waking to dream world without a hint of suspense.

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While the film is visually well done, the script and characters are not.  You never really get to like the characters.  Everyone is a cliché of the usual horror movie fodder you would expect.  Again, this is where Bay’s gloss hurts the film.  For a group of kids who are supposed to be high schoolers, everyone looks to be beautifully in their early 20s.  There are no “ugly” characters (save for, I suppose, Freddy himself).  You just know that everyone introduced will just be killed and you don’t care because they never really get past “I’m the pretty blonde” or “I’m the misunderstood sensitive guy” tropes.  Even the main hero, Nancy, is unlikable.  Was it the weak acting from Rooney Mara or was it that the script just didn’t work?  Whatever it was, I was rooting for Freddy the whole time.

Speaking of Freddy, Jackie Earle Haley was the best part about the film.  While no Robert Englund by any means, Haley really has the “pedophile” vibe down.  Haley’s portrayal of Freddy was reminiscent of the very first Nightmare film before later movies portrayed him as a one-line spewing anti-hero.  Haley is legitimately creepy, adding interesting character ticks and movements.  It is a shame, however, that the make-up design takes away the expressiveness of the original.  I think that’s what made the original Freddy so iconic.  Oh well.

Ultimately, I truly wonder why they felt the need to remake/reboot the Nightmare franchise as opposed to just adding to the mythos.  The original series had a fascinating (if not convoluted) mythology.  By choosing to reboot it and changing elements in the already well-known and established mythos when the last film in the series was just 7 years ago (2003’s Freddy Vs. Jason), I think they were asking us to forget too soon.  The subtle changes made to the Freddy mythos, I think, might hurt the franchise overall as people still know everything about the original Freddy.  Heck, even non-horror movie watchers know the story behind the original Freddy.  To make such changes (even the minor ones) might impact the movie’s lasting appeal.

I find I keep coming back to the concept of “expectations”.  The successful freddy 4remakes all manage to overcome expectations and forge its own success. Dawn of the Dead (2004) shows how to do it as certain elements from the original are incorporated but the film manages to create its own identity.  Nightmare, however, does not.  Too much of the film borrows heavily from the original and without a solid story/script; one wonders why they even bothered to remake it.   The bathtub scene?  The stretching wall?  The ceiling death?  All of these iconic scenes from the original appear in the remake but they lack the impact of the original.  Why?  Because they all seem too familiar.

In the end, unless you really are just the curious type, save yourself the money and wait until it comes out to rent.  You know… forget that.  Just watch the original instead.


A Nightmare on Elm Street is in theatres now. Check out the preview below.

PREVIOUSLY: Official Trailer for ‘The American’ starring George Clooney!

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