I tried something a little new this weekend with Mrs. Grumpy-to-be. Normally, we have movie tastes that are close enough that we can agree on something to watch together. However, this usually means that, as a horror fan, I have to forgo most of the new genre films that come out because that's the one thing that my lady just doesn't have the stomach for. This time, though, we decided to go on a movie date where we watch different movies. And I gotta say, I think we're on to something here. That's why I'm excited to bring you a movie review for the first horror movie I've seen in the theaters in three or four years, Michael Bay's remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street.
First, let me address the elephant in the room when it comes to today's trend in horror movies: the remake. I grew up watching the staples of the horror genre: A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween, Hellraiser, and of course the gaggle of sequels churned out by each franchise. So to have to sit and watch Michael "Make Things Go Boom" Bay gobble up all of the rights to these movies just so he can profit off of the name is pretty heart-wrenching. You know damn well the movies won't be as good as the original, but the name has the power to make us buy a ticket even though we will probably walk away disappointed. And here is where I think Michael Bay has horror fans of my generation by the balls. Being born in 1984, I wasn't even alive for the premiere of most of these movies, and I was way too young to go have my parents take me to the theater to see any of the sequels. So, I had to make do either waiting for them to come out on TV or by renting them on video. I never really got to experience the event of going out, cheerily buying overpriced popcorn, and seeing these icons on the big screen. The remakes coming out today give us a chance to do so.
Now when it comes specifically to remaking A Nightmare on Elm Street, there were a couple of other factors that intrigued me. Firstly, modern special effects would allow for more creativity when playing with the dream sequences in the movie. Even though the effects in the original movie were pretty damn creative for their day, I could see a case for improved visuals with updated technology and I wanted to see if director Samuel Bayer could utilize them well. After watching the movie, I can say that in some ways he did, and in some ways he really, reeeeeeally didn't. When it came to developing a frightening atmosphere, the effects were right on the mark. We see a classroom full of students disintegrate into ash as one of the teens (I really don't feel like remembering who was who) falls asleep during school. We watch blood burst in a torrent from the ceiling (a nod to the blood volcano from the original, perhaps?). And the line between reality and dream is constantly blurring in a way that just wasn't possible when the original movie was produced. However, as often happens in horror movies nowadays, computer-generated imagery (CGI) was very overused. The drawback to CGI is that 9 times out of 10, I can tell that it's CGI. Freddy's make up is the prime example for this movie. I read that they were going for a look that more closely resembled the effects of being badly burned which I supposed they needed to do through CGI, but if you know that's what you're looking at then it's that much harder to pretend it's real and get lost in the movie.
Speaking of Freddy, the other thing that interested me about the new Nightmare was the choice of Jackie Earle Haley as the new Freddy Krueger. Now, for most fans of the original movies, casting someone other than Robert Englund as Freddy automatically counts for strikes one, two, and three. But if they were going to recast the role, I really can't think of anyone better than Jackie Earle Haley. I was as surprised as anyone when they cast Kelly Leak from the Bad News Bears as Rorshach for the recent film adaptation of The Watchmen, but I think you'd be hard-pressed to find someone else who could turn a small, skinny redhead into such a believable badass. So why couldn't he do the same for Freddy? Unfortunately, his role was usually just a Robert Englund impression of hammy one-liners. Haley does alright with this but it seems a bit forced. He really shines through, however, when Freddy's rage boils over. Just as with Rorshach, a pissed off Jackie Earle Haley is a terrifying Jackie Earle Haley. But Freddy rarely reaches that point, so Haley's abilities were squandered.
***Spoiler Alert*** The writers also waste what appears to be a good opportunity to make their own unique vision of Freddy Krueger. In the original films, Freddy was a evil child killer before and after he was killed by the parents of Springwood. In the updated version, more emphasis is put on Freddy as a pedophile rather than a murderer, and throughout the movie they toy with the idea that maybe Kruger was innocent and wrongly accused and murdered by overanxious parents. This idea is dropped, however, when we learn that Freddy was indeed guilty and deserved whatever he got. But I can't help wonder if it wouldn't have been more interesting had they made the movie their own by making the human incarnation of Freddy be innocent. Now, the Freddy that haunts our dreams should not be a sympathetic character. We all know and love Freddy as a sadistic demon who will psychologically and physically torture his victims. But what of this demon was created not by the inherent evil of a man, but by the actions of those who thought he was evil. I don't know, it's just a thought. ***End Spoiler***
Now, as remakes go, this one wasn't terrible. The obligatory twenty-something actors playing teenagers were all passable, I had a good time with the various surprise scares, the gore left me satisfied, and honestly I just enjoyed the nostalgic value of bringing back something fun from my childhood (screw you normal people and your Sesame Street). If you can put aside the fact that Michael Bay probably had no business making the movie in the first place, you can probably get some entertainment out of it. If you don't need to make an event out if it like I did, however, you might just want to wait for it to come out on DVD. Grade: C+