*I am assuming that most people know the story of A Nightmare on Elm Street before I begin, if not, my comments might not make sense and may contain spoilers*
I should start by saying that I have a big problem with movie remakes. I don’t really understand why any director or writer feels the need to re-engineer a perfectly good (in some cases iconic) film. I’ve heard the arguments about presenting a foreign film for the English-speaking market, showing a different slant on a story to give it appeal with a wider audience and updating the special effects because advances in film techniques allow it. But I generally don’t think these justify a remake.
So it was not with an open mind this Hallowe’en that I approached the remake (or re-imagining or rebooting or whatever other wanky phrase you want to dress it up in) of my favourite ever horror movie: A Nightmare on Elm Street.
I avoided it in the cinema as I feared I’d be made too angry by paying to see it. I planned instead to purchase it when it hit the 5 quid DVD bargain bin. As luck would have it, a fellow horror fan agreed to lend it to me so my watching of it was free. Had he known the extent of my hatred of remakes, I think he might have demanded a fee to cover the costs of the DVD in case I got too annoyed by it and stamped it into the ground.
So, the movie: I tried, I really tried.
I should have known that I would hate it as soon as I read the back of the DVD case.
“a sinister man with a disfigured face, a frightening voice and a gardener’s glove with knives for fingers”
A frightening voice? Really? Really? Since when have you heard anyone comment on the scary nature of Fred Krueger’s voice? Surely his screeching knives being dragged across red-hot boiler pipes, or his face in fedora shadow, or his penchant for gutting teenagers in their sleep is a tad more terrifying than his tone of voice?
Anyway, where to start?
The story has been altered slightly so that Fred Krueger is no longer a child killer but a child molester (and gardener at the local pre-school – hence the need for a gardener’s glove in the DVD blurb). Apparently something that Wes Craven considered in the original but dismissed. The re-imagining of Freddy in this way is in part a step to create a more sinister, lecherous character and tries to take him away from the comedy clown he became in the sequels. My problem here is that if we’re comparing like for like ie Freddy in Elm Street 1 with Freddy in remake 1 then I think we’ve ended up with a weaker demon.
In the remake he comes across as more human. This is achieved by using a deeper back story which calls the accusations of him as child molester into question. Was he wrongfully killed by the parents of Elm Street? Is Freddy actually in the right? I found this jarred with me as Fred Krueger should exist purely as a figure of evil, or what’s he doing terrorising and taking the piss out of potential victims in their sleep? New Freddy was weaker, lacking in the wicked sense of humour and personality of the original. I’m not meaning this as a criticism of Jackie Earle Haley (brilliant in Shutter Island), I had high hopes for him in this role. I just think that Robert Englund is too much a part of Krueger’s character for him to be successfully re-imagined by someone else.
Can I talk about the voice now?
Freddy’s new voice was laughable. I spent much of the movie thinking ”who does he sound like?”. Then it hit me. Fred Krueger sounds like Paul McKenna. Look out for his hypnosis DVD to help you sleep, just in time for Christmas!
I thought that yes, the new special effects were good. But they’d had 26 years of redevelopment time to come up with this and to be honest I’m not sure it was all that much better. There’s a kind of charm about the old Freddy and his Mr Tickle arms dragging across the walls in darkened alleyway. The Tina/Kris scene where she’s flung around the room by the unseen Freddy was much improved. But other key scenes from the original seemed to have been filmed just to keep them in. The result was a mismatch of storyline, as if everything had been shot, thrown together and then mixed up for the final edit. Weird.
For a balanced review I guess I should comment on other aspects of the story and to be honest I didn’t hate any of the actors in it. But at the end of the day I have a fondness for Englund’s Krueger. I grew up with him and I don’t like him being messed with.
I was so unhappy with the remake that I followed it swiftly with a rewatch of the original!
I’ll end with a comment from Tina’s mother (from the original of course) on her daughter’s torn nightdress:
“Tina, either you cut your fingernails or you stop that kind of dreaming”.
Sleep tight and don’t dream.