FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Jan 26, 2016

The Nightmare-ening Day 7: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010)

I'm not sure if it's because I've watched so many garbage Elm Street movies in such a short period of time, or if maybe there's a gas leak in my apartment, or what but I have to just say it: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010 isn't nearly as bad as I'd heard it was, nor as bad as I expected it to be. I bet there's some kind of lesson in there about "judging things for yourself" and "internet opinions." But in my internet opinion, this remake gets some things wrong, sure, but it also gets a lot of things right.

(I can't believe I'm saying that about a Platinum Dunes movie for Charles Nelson Reilly's I getting soft?)

The single biggest thing the film gets right, of course, is this attempt at reviving the 80s horror movie trend where ladies wore sports jerseys as pajamas. Bravo, remake! If only you gave us a moustache or two...

Anyway. The gist of A Nightmare on Elm Street stays true to the original: Freddy Krueger haunts the dreams of several high schoolers in Springwood, Ohio. If Freddy kills them in their dreams, they die in real life. He's motivated by a lust for revenge and a love of murder (aren't we all?) because a mob of unruly vigilante Elm Street parents burned him alive years earlier.

This 21st century incarnation of Krueger isn't a child murderer who escaped justice due to a technicality, however; this Freddy is a child molester who is subjected to mob justice once the children tell of his crimes. That is some surprisingly heavy shit, and it gives a depressing, fucking icky tone to the entire affair. Audiences who have fond memories of (sigh) "Welcome to prime time, bitch!" and Freddy donning sunglasses to crack wise on MTV must have found all of this a shock. Horror fans have long rooted for the bad guys thanks to the outrageous kills they inflict on insipid, "deserving" characters...but you just can't root for a child molester. I applaud the film for daring to go there; finally Freddy Krueger is as reprehensible as he should be. An even darker nightmare, perhaps, is that his return marks the return of the memories the Elm Street children have long repressed. This is not a "good time" slasher flick.

Alas, alack, in the details the remake occasionally falters, sometimes egregiously so.

What do you do, say, when you're tasked with remaking a classic horror film that features some of the genre's most indelible moments? Do you ape them, or try to put your own spin on them? I'm not sure what the right answer is; director Samuel Bayer, however, elected to do both. Some iconic moments are simply recreated, and I'm not entirely sure what the honest effect of these moments is like. As an Elm Street Oldie Hawn, I simply nod in recognition. In 1984, I was scared and startled by them.

Other times, Bayer tries something new to much lesser effect. CGI nonsense aside, Freddy emerging from the side all washed out in brown is not nearly as impactful as when he looms over Nancy from the darkness.

Where the Nightmare remake lets us and itself down the most, however, is with its treatment of Nancy. The original Nancy is one of horror's greatest Final Girls, so "into survival" that she determinedly takes control of a terrible situation as she tries to save her own life and the lives of her friends. She literally turns her back on the monster as she reclaims any bit of power she gave him. She's a strong-willed hero, dammit, and she's only 15.

It seems that perhaps someone wanted to play with the Final Girl trope in Nightmare 2010, if only to toy with veteran audience expectation. I've got no issues with changing up a trope, but if you're going to do it, make it worthwhile. Here, Nancy is simply a milquetoast slice of nothingness, more like the type of nameless slasher victim who gets killed early on rather than the hero and main character. There's a bit of an attempt to give Nancy some depth–instead of simply being a dork with a boyfriend, she's an artistic loner–and while actress Rooney Mara's inherent strangeness works for the character to an extent, there's simply nothing interesting for her Nancy to say or to do and most of the time she comes off as bored with the entire affair. Ultimately she isn't saved by her own pluck and ingenuity, but by a fella, dammit. Then she gets one of those "cool" one-liners and ugh, you guys. While I guess you could technically say that original Nancy also had a one-liner to end her face off with Freddy, it wasn't so..."horror movie." If as much care and attention and effort had been given to Nancy (not to mention the other characters) as had been given to Freddy's new backstory, this remake really could have been something.

It's frustrating because the film is so bold in some respects and so dull in others. It's not just the characters, it's the weirdness of the dream world–and, I am absolutely not talking about people turning into meatballs or any "wizard master" cheesiness. I mean in the 1984 film, the world of nightmares was reality skewed: think Freddy's arms extending to impossible lengths in the alleyway or the random appearance of a bleating goat or some such. Perhaps in the remake they're trying to make the point that the characters are so exhausted they literally can't discern dreams from reality, I don't know...but when the nightmares look like waking life (but a little bit grimier), it makes A Nightmare on Elm Street little more than a regular slasher flick and that's a shame.

Still, I can't say I didn't enjoy it because I did, so there. Maybe more so because of what it tried to do and what it could have been than what it actually was. Maybe it's because I suffered through Freddy's Dead yesterday and watching the bottom of my foot for 90 minutes today would have been more enjoyable. Or maybe Elm Street 2010 isn't that bad? Hmm, maybe I need to read some more internet opinions before I make up my mind.

P.S. why does Kyle Gallner always look so sad in everything


Pax Romano said...

IMHO, this one drops the ball, when it is indicated that Freddy may NOT have been a molester. I was shaken for the few minutes when we thought this might be the reason for his vengeance...but sadly, that was discarded and indeed he was guilty.

Stacie Ponder said...

100% agreed. I'm glad that was just a misdirect because it would have been a HUGE mistake. I spent a good 15 minutes (or however long it was) just stewing!

P. K. Nail said...

I remember liking this more than expected as well, but one of my biggest problems was the recycled lines (including the "wet dream" line from Dream Warriors, which here is completely inappropriate) and the fact that Freddy just talked too damn much. It's not exactly new to roll one's eyes at Freddy's one-liners over the course of the franchise, but one thing I appreciate about the original NOES is that Freddy barely speaks at all -- usually just whispering the characters' names. He has just a few actual lines, and they're all more creepy than campy.

I also still feel like this was the strongest of the Platinum Dunes remakes, but we all know how low a bar that is.

Unknown said...

I've loved reading your take on these flicks! I watched them all a few years back for my October slasher-thon. While I can understand why people don't care for the remake, I was surprised, too, by how many things I dug about it. I ultimately think it didn't work, but I appreciated some of the new twists. If you're interested, here was my take (please ignore the bad punctuation - I was apparently sleep deprived myself while writing it.)

Anonymous said...

I'd been planning to skip this one because, well...Platinum Dunes. But maybe I'll check it out.

Stacie Ponder said...

Nice take, Sean–you summed up a lot of my feelings about this one and the original perfectly. I liked NEW NIGHTMARE a bit more than you, but I see what you're saying about it. (I don't think it's "scary" or anything per se, but I admire its meta-ness, which was fairly refreshing at the time,)

As far as the remake goes, even *I* don't think it works–it REALLY fails with Nancy and in a few other areas as well, but I like a few things about it. I dig the central concept and what they TRIED to do, at least, and ultimately I found it very watchable...particularly for a Platinum Dunes remake. But even calling it "watchable" puts me in a minority–many people loathe this movie completely. What an exciting world!

G.A. Redman said...

What did you think of Jackie Earle Haley's take on Freddy?

Stacie Ponder said...

I thought he was pretty alright! I prefer Englund in the 1984 film, but part of that, I think, is that his Freddy wasn't as chatty. I liked the makeup a lot, thought, and thought he was appropriately skeevy and menacing (if a little mush-mouthed).

Colleen said...

His name is CASSIDY!

And, yeah. He's sad in everything.

Unknown said...

I dont get all the hate for this.
I thought it was pretty good.
I mean this and the original are the only decent Elm St films.
I like the fact that they made it darker with the paedophilia aspect, and I liked the way they linked his job as gardener to his appearance in the dream sequences I.e the wedding claw turning into the glove.
When you compare this to films like Texas Chainsaw which is a crap stain on the memory of Tobe Hoopers original, its great