Friday, April 30, 2010

Freddy's back for needless but not-bad "Nightmare" reboot


A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
94 min., rated R.

One, two, Freddy's coming for you. Three, four, try not to snore . . . because Hollywood has run out of ideas but not money, and apparently you can't keep an infamous boogeyman down. After Leatherface, Michael, and Jason got rebooted, it was only a matter of time until their fourth party, Freddy, got reanimated. And from producer Michael Bay's corporate, soulless horror remake machine no less. In this glossy but empty “re-imagining” of Wes Craven's 1984 horror classic "A Nightmare on Elm Street," the story is pretty much the same nightmare. Springwood teens are dying in their dreams and then dying for real, all by the same murderer, Mr. Fred Krueger. He lures his sleepless, bags-under-their-eyes victims to his boiler room, so they need to stay awake with Red Bull, Ritalin, and shots of Adrenaline. In some way, these young people are all connected, dating back to pre-school, but their parents won't tell them the truth.


The deal-breaking question: is this darker, slicker reboot even necessary? No, not one bit; it's merely serviceable. The original "A Nightmare on Elm Street" stumbled upon an innovative idea, blurring the line between reality and fantasy, and created an iconic character. Then it spawned eight sequels. Craven achieved more of a primal, unsettling piece of horror to remember, even on a slovenly, much smaller budget. Samuel Bayer marks his directorial debut (after Nirvana and Green Day music videos) with professional, good-looking sheen, but this repackaging misses the point and unavoidably invites constant comparison. Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer's script feels haphazardly written and the visual call-backs to the original (which used practical effects) are decidedly less chilling. The classic moments of Freddy's clawed glove emerging from a bubble bath and a bloody body bag being dragged through the high school halls are reproduced albeit without much unease, but Bayer surely has a handle on the cool look for some of the surreal dreamscapes.

Twenty-six years ago, Robert England made the iconic Krueger all his own, giving him a homicidal glee. Jackie Earle Haley does a game job of subbing for England as the deadly dream reaper with scissorhands, fedora, and a Christmas striped sweater. His face sunken in under mounds of burnt-to-a-crisp make-up and his voice distorted, the actor looks more like a reptilian scarecrow and sounds like Lord Voldemort. More tormented and pervy, Haley's Freddy isn't very menacing and less of a cutup, although he does crack wise with the kind of bad puns that the series' sequels continued to thrive on ("How's this for a wet dream?" as Nancy sinks down into a goopy hallway). Save for pretty blonde Katie Cassidy as nightmare-plagued Kris (a variation on the original's Tina), the rest of the teens are anonymous dullards. Rooney Mara, a Twitter-generation Emily Blunt, is too sullen and one-note as the withdrawn Nancy, lacking any of Heather Langenkamp's resourcefulness. Kellan Lutz, Thomas Dekker, and Kyle Gallner will hopefully use this as a jumping-off point for their acting careers, akin to Johnny Depp making his debut in the original. 

Like most horror remakes, this gloss-over has more CGI (where Freddy leans out of the wall over a sleeping victim's bed), more needlessly spelled-out and sordid backstory (making Freddy a pedophilic gardener, not a child murderer), and less inventive kills but more cheap shock cuts with loud stings of music and Freddy popping out to cut someone. Make no mistake, "A Nightmare on Elm Street" hits its marks with jolty surprises and has some neat touches of its own. That final scare with Nancy's mother (Connie Britton) is a hoot, there's cute use of The Everly Brothers' tune "All I Have to Do Is Dream," and this time, the sleep-deprived teens can die even when up and about having a “micro-nap.” 2010's "A Nightmare on Elm Street" won't put you to sleep, but it's nothing to lose sleep over, either. Good night, Freddy. 

Grade: C +

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