Freddy's back -- and he's slicker and more sinister than ever. Also in the remake are most of the familiar characters and scenes you may fondly recall from the campy 1984 Wes Craven classic starring Johnny Depp at his goofiest (as Glen) and Heather Langenkamp (Glen's girlfriend, Nancy).
Music-video-trained director Samuel Bayer's reboot is the same, but decidedly different. His is more poetically Gothic and haunting, less cheesy; more controlled and sophisticated, less rambling and bizarre. The film opens on an ominous rainy night, in a blood-hued diner that is deserted except for a lone teenage customer, Dean, and a waitress. He asks for more coffee. She rudely ignores him and disappears. He follows her into a kitchen on fire, its flickering stove top illuminating the contents of various pots and pans: gruesome animal heads. Then Dean hears the scissoring-steel sound of finger knives.
Less excruciating than the nails-on-a-chalkboard screech of '80s Freddy, Freddy 2010's slicing metal and nail scraping noise doesn't distract as much, making it easier to focus on just how unsettling the burned madman in the red-striped sweater truly is. Watchmen's Jackie Earle Haley plays a pitch-perfect Freddy with a gravely-voiced intensity that fits the film like a glove. Still as murderous as the original, Haley's Freddy -- like the movie -- makes more sense. There's something he wants his victims (Nancy, Dean and the other Elm Street teens whose nightmares he haunts) to know. Though they all know if they die in these nightmares, they'll never wake up. His crimes against children that sentenced him to a fiendish dream existence -- captured in Polaroid pictures we can't see, hinted at with horrified gasps that aren't explained -- seem to be too terrible to reveal. And there's another twist to his and the teens' history not present in Craven's film.
Beyond the big '80s hair, mom jeans, and sweater vests the high schoolers have also changed. Tina is now Chris, Rod is Jesse, and Quentin (rather than Glen) and Nancy (Youth in Revolt's Rooney Mara) aren't as together as they used to be. They're not an official couple, though Quentin obviously pines for Nancy. Like the movie, they're also moodier, more serious, and more damaged than the dorky, air-headed youths of 1984. Clad in Emo attire, Quentin (Kyle Gallner) is a more cherubic Edward the vampire (i.e., Twilight's Robert Pattinson). Nancy, as she admits, doesn't fit in and spends her time scribbling disturbing sketches.
Bayer also maintains and amps up the eeriness in Nightmare on Elm Street's atmospheric signatures, like jump-roping children chanting Freddy's chilling nursery rhyme ("one, two Freddy's coming for you..."). And despite the somber tinge he's added to the story, he's also kept Freddy's taunting "I'm your boyfriend now, Nancy" wit (but not the phone tongue), plus some of the original film's body bag humor. In addition, Bayer's included some 21st-century updates that bring more realism and rawness to the horror tale. Quentin GigaBlast's (Giga-whaa?) sleep deprivation on the web and discovers the danger of micronaps. (Was Google over-budget?) Instead of coffee, the kids stay awake with speed drugs and stolen adrenaline shots.
Fans of Craven's nightmare may complain that it's not the same maniacal fun-house ride. Nor is it a bold reinvention. Still, it's artfully executed particularly by special effects creators and Haley. All in all, Nightmare on Elm Street 2010 still thrills (and is a little fun), especially for younger generations taking their first trip to Elm Street.