Twenty-six years ago, a stripy jumper wearing child killer entered the world of pop culture thanks to Wes Craven’s 1984 slasher A Nightmare On Elm Street. The film gave a feature debut to Johnny Depp and the franchise it spawned would earn Robert Englund cult status amongst horror movie fans for his portrayal of Freddy Krueger. Seven sequels and $350m in box office takings later and it was inevitable that Hollywood would seek to reboot things.
Enter Michael Bay and his production house Platinum Dunes, responsible for recent atrocities such as the remake of Friday the 13th and The Unborn as well as 2003’s remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and it’s 2006 sequel. Unsurprisingly, A Nightmare On Elm Street is everything you’ve come to expect from this outfit, with the only saving grace being the casting of Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger.
Haley’s filmography over the last few years reads like a who’s who list of the deranged. From paedophile Ronnie McGorvey in Little Children and Rorschach in Watchmen to George Noyce in Shutter Island, it seems like his recent roles were all building up to one such as this. His take on Freddie is a lot more menacing than the campy one-liner spewing machine that Robert Englund has treated us to for nearly a quarter of a century. The raspy, gravelly lisp that Haley gives the character makes Krueger an intimidating and deeply sinister force.
The script has us thrown right into the middle of the confusion, the paranoia and the slowly unfolding plot, with characters getting bumped off at all corners. It mirrors the original to a degree, but because it fails to give us an early connection to any one character, when the blood starts flowing and people start dying, we just don’t care. And nor, it seems, do the rest of the cast. Bodies start getting ripped apart from the middle, and nobody seems to be that bothered about it. There’s nothing underpinning the carnage unfolding upon screen, which leaves you yearning to forget the warnings and just sleep.
A good 30 minutes of Elm Street’s opening is spent setting up a 30 second premise – when burnt-face man kills teenagers in dreams, they die in real life. This plodding 30 minute window is also filled with enough bait-and-switch character changes to detach you from the film completely. One time would have been too many here, but twice?
The only thing that Elm Street does do right is to expand on Freddy’s original backstory. Wes Craven originally conceived Freddy as a child molester, but rewrote the character as a child killer during production. The reboot has him as a child molester once again, with the script putting out the troubling question of whether the children’s stories of abuse are actually true. It’s never delved into and played out quite as much as it should have been, but these scenes are deeper and handled with a lot more attention than the rest of the film.
A Nightmare On Elm Street is a horror movie without the horror, a slasher movie with far too much focus on bloody set pieces than on character and plot. Unimaginative and done better countless time before – in the original, for instance – the scariest thing to be found here might just be the fact that a sequel has already been granted the green light.