Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Re/Made: A Nightmare on Elm Street [part 2]

Attention! This article contains spoilers. To those of you who haven’t yet seen the movie - congratulations.
The opening credits of every movie should be used to set the tone and/or begin to tell the story. By necessity the title cards – from distributor to director – can last up to 2 minutes. Apart from confirmation of the one or two featured movie stars the audience doesn’t give a flick.

In the credit roll of A Nightmare on Elm Street 1984 the claw glove icon is crafted. In 2010 the credits roll over a se7en-esque collage of children – the furies – playing hopscotch and jumping rope. The original credits introduced the theme music. In 2010 for the first time in the franchise that theme is absent – in the credits and throughout the movie.

What sort of reboot would ignore the iconic theme?

A film can be remade with the best intentions. A talented filmmaker can turn the old into something current. Martin Scorcese’s Cape Fear 1991 is a remake of the ’62 original. It features Robert De Niro in a seduction scene with Juliette Lewis playing a 13 year old. It is a corruption scene.

Samuel Bayer is a successful music video director (which is not a prerequisite to being a filmmaker) ergo the absence of the classic theme is astounding. Human beings have a Pavlovian response to music. The 50 year old James Bond franchise understands that. This is change not for the better but for the sake of it.

This is Platinum Dunes.


The first scene is indicative of how badly written this film is. All four major characters are introduced and their inter-relationships are crudely drawn. There is too much information yet each character is indistinguishable from the other due to their morbidity. The dialogue is that bad - Nancy has a bitch tongue that serves no purpose but to alienate the viewer. None of them have character motivation: Dean confides to his girlfriend that he hasn’t slept for three days, that he’s afraid he’ll die in his sleep. She tells him to snap out of it.

They’re just nightmares. They’re not real.”
- Kris

As he waits for her to return from the Ladies he nods off. Freddy appears and kills him. Kris sees Dean struggling with a knife then cutting his own throat.

I laughed out loud. What should have looked like suicide looked like a struggle with the invisible man.

In a departure from the previous 8 films the dreamer dies in the first scene. It’s an attempt at fast pacing but it denies the audience resonance. Dean is dead thus so is the impact of his dreams. The movie has to start over to achieve a haunting so Kris takes the lead. Kris is unsympathetic. The core audience know she is a dead man walking so it is futile to invest hero status in her. The filmmaker fails to understand the Janet Leigh plot point by having already done away with Dean. The dramatic trajectory struggles from a lack of a defined lead.

The next scene is Dean’s funeral where Kris has a front row seat. She falls asleep and sees Freddy for the first time. Kris is the only woman in stories told to have fallen asleep at the funeral of her boyfriend whom she saw die. Such is the calibre of the plot.

Wesley Strick[1] rewrote Cape Fear 1991. It has a seamless narrative. He clearly understands tempo and pacing in a screenplay so Platinum Dunes hired Eric Heisserer[2] to rewrite him. Strick is not a literary genius but he does have at least an adequate track record. Why he allowed his name to remain on this toilet paper is a Writer’s Guild mystery.


The story differentiates itself from the original by casting Freddy as child molester as opposed to child murderer. Wes Craven’s original version of Freddy was as murderer and molester. Craven rescinded the latter part as an act of self-censorship[3]. Freddy is a better creation for it - his evil had no rationale. In this remake Freddy the child molester does not commit murder until after his death.

 “You want to know who Fred Krueger was? He was a filthy child murderer who killed at least 20 kids in the neighbourhood. Kids we all knew.”
- Marge Thompson
A Nightmare on Elm Street 1984

The glove was his hand crafted murder weapon.

It’s not something a child molester would use.

Thus the trademark of a 25 year old franchise has no narrative position in the reboot. This is Platinum Dunes. Astounding.

The paedophile angle raises further problems of plausibility. Would middle class Americans – including a psychiatrist – lynch a child molester? This is what does happen in America when a preschool is thought to be staffed by paedophiles[4]. The angle exists purely for shock value. It is a high price for the viewer to pay for entertainment.

The film is populated with characters that defy logic – the worst of the bunch being Kris. After witnessing Dean’s death she asks Jesse what happened. The non-dimensional role is enhanced by Katie Cassidy – a non-dimensional actor who has one facial expression and no talent to screen. She makes Amanda Wyss’ Tina look like Ophelia as played by Winona Ryder.

The original Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) is the best Final Girl in the history of horror. She battled the demon three times and won the rubber match. The reboot Nancy Holbrook is played by Rooney Mara.

refunds please

The set pieces culled from the original – the face in the wall, the claw in the bath, the death on the ceiling - were all highlights of the trailers. In the original there was no set up build up or musical cue when Freddy pressed his face against the wall above a sleeping Nancy. However in 2010 the scene is neon signposted because it stands in isolation; it doesn’t relate to the previous or subsequent scenes. In ’84 it was a part of Tina’s death sequence. It was Freddy’s movement that knocked the crucifix off the wall which woke Nancy. In 2010 Nancy wakes up of her own volition. The set pieces from the original were culled specifically for the trailers.

The imbecilities of the plot are legion. Such as when a blood covered Jesse breaks into Nancy’s house and grabs her from behind. She doesn’t even scream. They’re not even friends. There are too many inconsistencies to mention all but it is possible to mention everything that works.

The original fails to ask the basic question – why now? Why are the kids dreaming now? In 2010 Dean was in therapy. The shrink took him back to his childhood and that’s when the dreams started. The other tweak is Tina’s dream. She leaves Rod in bed because Freddy calls her outside. In the reboot Kris goes looking for her (or Kincaid's) barking dog. 

Short is the joy that guilty pleasure brings.
- Euripides

At the time of writing the North American gross is $33million[5]. That’s a hit. Final US take will be about $75m. I’m better with words than with numbers – I’m using Halloween 2007[6] as a paradigm. Parent studio Warner Bros. has already announced a sequel. The horror fan base is the most loyal of all genres (even more so than those sci-fi weirdoes) but it will not tolerate much more of the same. Warner Bros are not pointing out that this is the least successful opening weekend of the (three) new icon reboots. $33m is not a hit. It’s to be expected. They should remember what happened to Halloween 2 2009[7].

There are those who will like this film (tourists). There are those who will defend this film (contrarians). The core audience will reject it. The horror community knows a good movie from a bad one and has the self awareness to enjoy both. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010 is not so bad it’s good. It’s too bad it got made.

In the final analysis of a remake can the film stand up on its own? This film couldn’t stand up without scaffolding. Platinum Dunes have used up all the goodwill built over the last 25 years in one weekend. It’s not just the exploitation factor – to which all moviegoers give a modicum of consent – it’s the ineptitude. I don’t think Samuel Bayer was trying to make a bad film. I don’t think he’s capable of making a good one.

The original A Nightmare on Elm Street has haunted us for a quarter century. It has survived the video nasties witchhunt[8], the upgrade from VHS to Blu-ray, and seven sequels some of which brought it into disrepute. It will survive this reboot attempt because it is a quality story. It is honest. The viewer can see that on screen.

Thank you Wes.■

I’m going to return to this topic when the DVD comes out because there’s a lot more to say. There’s more to read from Reznor at Koopaskeep[9] and click Project Child Murdering Robot[10] for the best written blog on the internet. I can say that because it’s got nothing to do with horror.  

The incoming documentary Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy 2010 is released May 4th and will be reviewed shortly after.

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