Excuses, excuses, I know, but I was bogged down with an absolute bitch of an essay. Well, I'm off for nearly a month before my January exams, and I'll be catching up alright. Have seen four films, this one, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 1, Secretariat and The American. Also, I am looking at copies of Clash Of The Titans, Green Zone, Cyrus and Tony, all of which are to be digested. No doubt something else will end up getting in the mix, but these are all guarantees, place your bets, take my word for it. Keep your eyes on the blog, because they're gonna be coming fast and furious (not an intentional reference, but hey, the world goes round).
Here, as the title suggests, we have A Nightmare On Elm Street. But let it be made clear this is most definitely NOT the Wes Craven classic. Ok. That is not the review summed up, but this is NOT the Wes Craven classic. Incidentally, I watched The Last House On The Left (1972 Craven, NOT remake), and I don't think I'd go so far to call it a masterpiece, but it is in the upper crust of that genuinely nasty brand of 1970's horror films. The original Nightmare is a better Craven film, having developed a strong reputation of late for the blurring of dream and reality. I saw it for the first time recently, loved it, and Freddy Krueger is still scary. Despite this being my first venture into Platinum Dunes’ work, the previous output, consisting mostly of horror movie remakes such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hitcher (two I love), is enough to give me aneurisms. Then of course, the 'mastermind' behind the company: one Michael Benjamin Bay. Yes, that one! Prospects are not looking good going in, but we'll give the film the benefit of the doubt before actually getting a good analysis done.
To fill in for anyone who does not know the story, which has become as well known in horror fan circles as Hansel And Gretel among children, A Nightmare On Elm Street follows a group of young teenagers, among whom some are dying in their dreams. With the bodies being covered in cuts created by a of blade or stabbing weapon, lead teenager Nancy (Rooney Mara) and friend Quentin (Kyle Gallner) discover that the source of all this is Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley): Krueger invades the dreams of teenagers to attack them when they are asleep and at their most vulnerable.
There's your synopsis that most people who are reading this probably know, so although for most of you it’s filler, for the benefit of the few unfamiliar, there we are. To start off with what is good about the film, you have to credit the writers for firing with a different approach. It would be a pointless endeavour to remake a film (unless the cash tills are the voices in your head) without doing something original. While maintaining the basic premise, strong enough to maintain a narrative on its own, Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer attempt to create a deeper backstory to Freddy. In the original Nightmare, Freddy was a mythological force of nature, whereas the remake's approach is to attempt to create a fully fleshed, human Freddy Krueger. Taking a page from Rob Zombie's take on Halloween, this at least gives the audience an original take on the film.
Also to be credited in the film is the cinematography. Director Samuel Bayer has worked in the past on some great music videos, such as Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit and The Rolling Stones' Anybody Seen My Baby. His experience in this medium lends the film qualities in its visual style. The directions he gives cinematographer Jeff Cutter are spot on. Every shot looks very crisp and clear, with the colours being accentuated, each of the tones appearing distinct. This is important in a number of scenes in the film, and keeps you entertained from this standpoint.
Of course, with Robert Englund being the only man to previously play horror icon Freddy Krueger, it is inevitable that the shoes that Jackie Earle Haley fills are to be compared with the man who wore them first. Haley's take on Freddy is very different. Although much is made of the comedy aspects of Krueger in the original, in the first film he is a nasty character. However, even in the first film, albeit in a dark manner, Freddy is a creature of black comedy. Englund's Freddy toys with his victims like a cat with a mouse, whereas Haley's Freddy more of a rat lock-jawing its victims, a creature motivated by desire as opposed to pleasure. Now, Haley plays monster Freddy well, but we don't get enough of his onscreen presence to create the human character. Also, there are fundamental problems with what the screenwriters attempt to do with the character, which is where the film's problems begin.
There are praiseworthy elements of A Nightmare On Elm Street, but is an extremely flawed film. For starters, the screenplay is woeful. While they do attempt to do something with giving Freddy a backstory, the whole thing is fuddled up. In this interpretation, pedophilia is an element that comes into play. One of the driving forces in the unfolding plot is whether or not Freddy was a pedofile and his death at the parents’ hands was justified. The mystery of the film is finding out his true motives. However, there is enough to suggest an argument that leans too much in one direction early on. The example that stands out is an encounter between Nancy and Freddy in the dream world where it is winter. This destroys the crux of there being a mystery, for anyone who has his or her hats on will have already figured it out. Also, the teenager characters are written horribly. Their existence in the script consists of one of two options: A – Fodder for Freddy, and B – Moving the plot from Point A to B. None of the characters are fully rounded and make you want to care about their plight. Finally, every single word of dialogue is rubbish. These are NOT real people. These are cardboard cutouts that exist in a universe of hyper-reality, in which people are defined by one characteristic and not a full personality. It may as well be a silent movie, for you could play it without sound. Not that you would get it, but you don’t care enough to hear the crap dialogue. Clichés abound and Basil-Exposition foaming at the mouth, this is an example of a truly horrible screenplay.
There is an extreme problem with production design going on. In the original, one of the best elements in the actual tension of the film was being unable to tell if the characters were awake or asleep. It made for terrific brain candy, every scene being brought to question by the audiences. Although this is a different interpretation of the tale, the choice in production design differences between the real and the dream worlds denies the film the tension that laced the entire original film. In the real world, which of course is hyper-reality, the tones are bright and have sheen. On the other hand, we have the dream world, which has tones of (you guessed it) grey, brown, black and sickly green in every horror movie since Saw. The cinematography spares it in some ways because there are a variety of tones, but the design does not serve any purpose in furthering the drama of the work. Also, they change the style of the production design two-thirds through the film. We get the hyper-real real world, and the dream is all ‘expressionist’, with dry ice and what have you. For some reason, by the end of the film, the dream and reality worlds are the same thing. It is not a progression that makes narrative sense, and shows the lack of conviction on the filmmakers’ part.
It speaks very poorly of a remake if much of the good elements of the film were already in the original. Remakes in their nature are lazy, but this takes it to the heights of word’s definition. The old Charles Bernstein themes are re-recorded by Steve Jablonsky, who works from these to add his own work to the film. However, the Bernstein themes, still creepy and brilliant, make Jablonsky’s contribution seem weak and meaningless. With a grand orchestra and variety of clanging sound effects backing him, Jablonsky fails miserably, sounding like every other horror movie today. Moment of tension: [FILL IN BLANK]. You can write the score yourself, because this is an industrial machine score that has no life. Also, the main hook in the film is the central concept. As poor as Nightmare is, there is still a strong central concept that gives Platinum Dunes an excuse to churn it out, wrapping a narrative which has been done a million times around this story.
Every horror film that is good, such as the original Nightmare, always seems to have a heart. Regardless of your outright disgust at the work or embracing the homeopathic doses of terror, there is an organic feel to these monsters. On the other hand, films such as this Nightmare feel like machinery. They are not designed for human emotion. They are not designed for a purpose that contributes to society. They are designed for one thing purely: The Almighty Dollar. Michael Bay has become the Antichrist for many film fans: I wouldn’t go so far to say he is the Antichrist, but he is of the vein of George W. Bush, completely unaware of his position in the grand scheme of things. The machinations of this work are designed for business, not for entertainment. Ultimately, you get the impression that they do not care what you think of their film. Heck, Wes Craven, original writer-director of Nightmare, wasn’t even consulted. Take an original idea and do nothing to build upon it, and parade it as ‘a new vision of classic terror.’ There is nothing new about this: there are eight other films with Freddy Krueger. Also, there are a million other horror movies with the whole ‘teenagers suffering’ storyline. Either the film is a construction of machinery that would fry at the concept of logic going beyond its simple, monetary-based comprehension, or the ‘people’ involved wrote the film with accountants present and oil-mongers handing them bribes. The lack of care permeates even deeper than my anti-capitalist stand on things. The version of the film was a theatrical cut on DVD. Apparently, Michael Bay had the film re-cut because Samuel Bayer’s version was considered ‘bad business.’ I don’t know the ins-and-outs of this, but there is a ‘director’s cut’ on the DVD. Most ‘director’s cut’, ‘uncut cut’s’ and what have you are cash cows anyway, but the idea that this isn’t the film audiences intended to see and that they are trying to pass it off as though it is terrifies me.
A Nightmare On Elm Street is a real mess of a movie. To its credit it has good cinematography, Jackie Earle Haley makes what he can of the screenplay, in which they attempt to conceive something new for Freddy Krueger. However, the inception of Freddy Krueger in this screenplay is screwed up, as is the rest of the screenplay. Also, many of the film’s good elements were set in stone from the original Nightmare, so not much work was really required. Finally, the film is murder-by-numbers predictable filmmaking passed off by corporate fiends as an ‘original’ interpretation of a horror classic. Laziness permeates to the core, and the tender loving care that a film requires is non-existent. This resonates in every aspect, acting, screenplay, music etc etc. It leaves me with the overall feeling that if the filmmakers don’t have the strength of their convictions to make an effort with anything other than to make money, or believe in the finished product, then why should I care about their film?
The Thin White Dude’s Prognosis – 3.5/10
The Thin White Dude’s Self-Diagnosis – Pissed (off)
P.S. Sorry about the various ‘NOTs’. NOT!