Given the advances in special-effects technology and the rise in audience blood-thirst over the 26 years since the original “Nightmare on Elm Street” was released, you’d think the new remake would be ripping good fun. So it’s odd how flat the movie is, and how rote its regurgitation of the familiar story. The young actors this time around are a colorless bunch (the 1984 film featured Johnny Depp and the memorable Heather Langenkamp); and in the role of the mock-horrible Freddy Krueger, Jackie Earle Haley can’t really hold a claw to Robert Englund, the great cackler who played the part in the first picture. The movie’s not bad; there’s just nothing really new in it. And the vintage teen-scream thrills, once so fresh, now seem stale.
The picture’s by-the-numbers fright structure is established right at the beginning, as we see Dean Russell (a very brief appearance by Kellan Lutz, of the “Twilight” films) fending off dreams in the Springwood diner. “I can sleep,” he tells his girlfriend, Kris (Katie Cassidy). “I just don’t want to.” Then — a knife-fingered glove flashes into view! Then — the diner goes dark and empty! Then … well, as I say, it’s a very brief appearance.
Dean and Kris’s high-school classmate, Nancy (Rooney Mara, of “Youth in Revolt”), has been having strange dreams, too; and so has her would-be boyfriend, Quentin (Kyle Gallner, of “Jennifer’s Body”). Soon, they discover that they and their friends have known each other much longer than they had thought — that as small children they’d all attended the Badham Day School together. Badham is long-closed but still extant, decrepitly radiating bad vibes. What could have happened there? The parents in town all seem to know, but they’re not talking. So it’s left to Nancy and Quentin to start digging around — and before long they’re noting a suspiciously high mortality rate among the onetime tykes of Badham.
It turns out, as we well know, that Badham’s former gardener, Fred Krueger, is at the root of the evil dreams. Krueger, now dead, was a child-murderer in the original film; here he’s said to have been a child-molester — or was he? Quentin fears that the awful stories about Freddy that he and his friends told their parents — which drove them to set a fire that burned the man alive — might have been misguided little-kid fibs. Which could be why Freddy, in search of beyond-the-grave revenge, is now haunting their teenage dreams, where he’s ripping them apart with his razory claws. Who can stop him? Probably not Quentin — too sensitive (he wears a Joy Division T-shirt). That would leave …
It’s all coming back, right? There’s not one surprising development in this movie. Music-video king Samuel Bayer, making his first feature, dutifully replicates the iconic scenes from the first film: the clawed glove rising up out of Nancy’s bubbly bathwater, the hysterical girl being flung about a room by the unseen Freddy’s malignant force. But most of the “shocks” here are just cheap jolts, all supplied by Freddy in the most predictable way. Is that an empty mirror we see? A long dark road? Prepare for the sudden arrival of the legendary barbecued psychopath.
Haley appears to be playing Freddy as a cross between the child-molester he portrayed in “Little Children” and the wonderfully nutsoid Rorschach he gave us in “Watchmen.” He’s a skillful actor, over-qualified for this role, but there’s not much he can do with it. The character’s ratty fedora and flame-broiled skin are virtually unchanged from the first picture, but Freddy no longer has any good lines. (Well, there’s one, in the scene in which, with a clink of his claws, he explains how a girl’s pet dog wound up in a pool of blood: “I was just petting him.”)
So Freddy is no longer the lovable wisecracker we once knew; and after a quarter of a century and seven previous films in the original “Nightmare” series, he can no longer really terrify us the way he once did, either. Which raises the unavoidable question: Why did the filmmakers feel the need to do such a formulaic remake? Why did they think anyone would feel a need to watch it?
Check out everything we’ve got on “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”
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