With Jackie Earle Haley, Kyle Gallner, Rooney Mara, Clancy Brown and Connie Britton; Directed by Samuel Bayer. Rated [R] for strong bloody horror violence, disturbing images, terror and language; 95 minutes.
It’s easy to give the back of the hand to the remake of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Here’s yet another horror film from the ’70s/’80s getting a rehash, just like “Halloween,” “Friday The 13th,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “The Crazies,” “Dawn Of The Dead” and “The Hills Have Eyes” have recently. Why can’t people just watch the original film? It’s only twenty-six years old…
Ah, that’s the rub. More than any of the other horror movies, “A Nightmare On Elm Street” – despite its R rating – was pitched squarely at its teenage audience. Yes, older critics enjoyed the surrealism of the dream sequences, but while many of the adolescent viewers might not know what “subtext” means, that’s what resonated. Freddy Krueger, the bogeyman of the series, wasn’t killing horny teenagers who dared to have sex as Jason Voorhees and Michael Meyers did. He was targeting victims for the sins of their parents, and for the secrets those adults had been keeping from them.
Once the teen focus of the film is front-and-center, it’s obvious why a remake was necessary. Today’s teens no more relate to the world of the ’80s then the teens of that era related to the ’60s. (Or does someone want to argue that ’80s teens were into Frankie and Annette’s beach party movies?) This new “Nightmare” is a relatively faithful remake, in which teens killed by Freddy (Jackie Earle Haley) in their dreams end up dead in real life. The difference is that the teens in this movie are living in today’s world. As they try to figure out the secret their parents are keeping from them, they have cell phones, access video blogs and use Internet search engines. One character is being treated for ADD, something that was not common currency in 1984.
In terms of the actors, it’s only in retrospect that we note that Johnny Depp and Laurence Fishburne appeared in the original series. The teen stars here do what they have to do, but it’s only in the years ahead that we’ll note if a star was born. Instead the only real question is whether Jackie Earle Haley is a worthy successor to Robert Englund. Englund gave Freddy a savagely comic edge, particularly as the series progressed. Haley plays Freddy a bit darker, more in keeping with the original film. He is a character who is reaching out from beyond the grave for revenge. There’s not much character development beyond that.
Instead, two teens (Kyle Gallner and Rooney Mara) are left to solve the mystery before it’s too late. As they watch their friends die, for reasons that make no sense in the real world, we know that something is wrong and that adults are covering it up. Isn’t that the adolescent view of the world in a nutshell? That’s precisely why the original “Nightmare” worked and it’s why this one works as well.
Those who are old enough to have fond memories of the original are probably too old for this “Nightmare.” The high school and college students who will flock to theaters, and who have only heard of the original as a movie that spooked their parents, will find this scary and disturbing, which is exactly what it’s supposed to do.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.