One out of Five Stars
Rated R/102 min.
I remember when Freddy Mania hit in the ’80s, and you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing Freddy Krueger, the monster played by Robert Englund in Wes Craven’s 1984 horror masterpiece, A Nightmare on Elm St. The character began as a frightening embodiment of our collective boogeyman fears, but the seven (!) sequels lightened Craven’s dark vision and Krueger became more a tongue-in-cheek trickster, a homicidal jester with one-liners to soften the blow of his razor fingernails. Not long after the hugely popular fourth entry, Freddy became a Halloween costume staple and spawned his own TV series, a 1-900 number, comic books, a rap tribute from DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince and an item I actually owned: a Krueger Christmas ornament. Craven returned to the series ten years after its inception with the brilliant Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, a thoughtful, ahead-of-its-time, movie-within-a-movie that opened the same day as Pulp Fiction and quickly disappeared. Since then, other than the underwhelming Freddy Vs. Jason, it seemed the character had gone into retirement.
Until now. This Michael Bay-produced remake could please die-hard fans, with its many in-jokes, a few good scares and a respectable, promising start. The set-up is the same: teens living on Elm Street are having shared nightmares and suddenly dying in their sleep. Krueger’s origin is presented, the carnage commences.
Even in the more cheesy sequels, this series towered over the tacky, uninspired Friday the 13th, Halloween and Child’s Play franchises. It provided a showcase for great directors like Craven and Renny Harlin and launched actors like Johnny Depp, Patricia Arquette and Englund, who’s still-unsettling Krueger is one of the greatest movie monsters in film history.
An especially ugly aspect of Krueger was the knowledge that, in addition to being a child murderer, he was also a pedophile, which the original series discreetly implied but the new movie puts front and center. This genre has a reputation for pushing the envelope, but the film’s almost fetishistic emphasis on child molestation crosses the line.
Replacing Englund is Jackie Earl Haley, who simply isn’t scary: his make-up makes him look like a hairless Siamese cat and his voice is the same redneck growl that Billy Bob Thornton used in Sling Blade. The scenes that recreate classic moments from the original are duds; only the brooding original score gets a solid update.
In 1984, scenes of young teens downing coffee and anti-sleeping pills to stay awake were jolting; today, overly medicated teens can be found lining up at any Starbucks, making the tragic plight of the victims now a common part of high school life. It doesn’t help that none of the teens onscreen have much personality and feel like interchangeable parts from countless other slasher flicks.
The film peaks early, during the opening diner scene, but, where the original was suspenseful, edgy and even funny throughout, this remake-of-the-week is predictable, humorless, heavy-handed and ugly in a way the filmmakers may not have intended.