After the financial success of both the Halloween and Friday the 13th remakes, it only made sense for the third big ’80s slasher series to be resurrected. It also makes sense for it to be given the remake treatment last, as A Nightmare on Elm Street was the last one out of the gate even back when it was first released. The slasher genre is cyclical, it seems. Maybe we’ll go through this all again in 25 years.
However, before remaking something, one has to question whether or not the property in question is worth doing another time. In the case of A Nightmare on Elm Street, there was no reason for a remake. The story hasn’t been taken in a different direction, there isn’t a different idea or point being presented, and the original film still stands up as one of the horror classics. It’s smart and scary, which is what made it the more “highbrow” slasher film of the ’80s. I get why someone might want to remake Friday the 13th, as it didn’t withstand the test of time — and was arguably never a good film — but with A Nightmare on Elm Street? This remake isn’t justified.
Do you even need to know the plot? The film is the eighth standalone film featuring Freddy Krueger (here played by Jackie Earle Haley, taking over for Robert Englund) as the antagonist. He’s been altered slightly here. He never killed children while he was alive; he worked as a caretaker at a preschool and was “friends” with them. Now he’s haunting the dreams of teenagers, and if he kills them in the dream, they die in real life.
The mystery this time revolves around the parents hiding something about Freddy — which, spoiler alert, revolves around them burning him alive, despite having no proof as to whether or not he ever molested the children — and the teenagers trying to figure it out and then attempting to stop Freddy from killing them. The “did he or didn’t he?” mystery would work well to potentially make Freddy more interesting, except that we’re watching him kill people regardless, which means he garners little sympathy.
The lead characters: Nancy (Rooney Mara) and Quentin (Kyle Gallner). If there’s one good thing that remake borrowed from the original, it was focusing on a small group of characters. It allows for more of a connection with the audience. They basically spend the entirety of the film running around town, trying to learn Freddy’s history, all while attempting not to fall asleep. A Nightmare on Elm Street introduces a concept called “micro-napping,” in which characters fall asleep for seconds at a time, allowing the filmmakers to have Freddy pop up for a jump scare whenever they think their film is getting dull.
Actually, the “micro-napping” concept works effectively at permitting Freddy — the film’s most interesting character — a chance at more screen time. This version of Freddy isn’t the taunting, more jovial character he wound up being in many of the later Nightmare on Elm Street sequels; he’s mean and dark. He still makes a couple of puns, which he steals from earlier films (“How’s this for a wet dream?”), but at least he’s back to being a menacing presence.
Liberal borrowing from the other Nightmare on Elm Street films winds up as one of this film’s biggest issues. We’ve seen most of these deaths before, and they were often done better with the practical effects in the ’80s than they’re done with CGI in 2010. If you’ve seen the earlier chapters, you’ve seen pretty much everything that’s going to happen in this one. Obviously, the goal is to draw in new audiences, but for the initiated this will feel like a lesser imitation of something you once loved.
At least Jackie Earle Haley is having a lot of fun as Freddy, and while nobody can replace Robert Englund, Haley does his best with the material. However, apart from the change from child killer to possible child molester, there’s not a whole lot for Haley to do except plays Freddy just like Englund did (at least, when he was still a serious killer). It allows the film to fit in well with the others, but it would have been fun to see Haley take the character in a completely different direction, and would have helped give the film a reason to exist.
It’s tough to support A Nightmare on Elm Street. It doesn’t justify its existence by doing anything new with the franchise. It’s not scarier, more intelligent, or even that different from the original. It plays out like a competent impersonation, but nothing more. Sure, it might get you to jump a few times, but for a film that already watched slasher remakes come and go with little critical (but a lot of financial) success, it should have been much better, especially as a remake of a horror classic.