Michael Bay is the producer that brought us remakes of “Friday the 13th” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (spun off into “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning”). He’s a smart businessman because horror is a profitable genre, made especially more profitable when a recognizable icon like Jason or Leatherface is attached to it.
So it’s only natural that Bay would hitch his wagon (he also remade “The Hitcher” for whatever that’s worth–not much, it turns out) to Wes Craven’s iconic Freddy Krueger character with a remake of 1984′s “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”
Unfortunately, you can file this movie in the “pointless remake” folder as well.
Having worked on seemingly every single music video from the 1990s, director Samuel Bayer is a slick, technically proficient filmmaker. He’s exactly the kind of guy you don’t want when the movie you’re making relies heavily on atmosphere and an air of mystery.
The original Freddy Krueger (as played by Robert Englund) had an evil sparkle in his eyes and a knowing smirk. As played by Jackie Earle Haley under 16 layers of burn makeup, this new Freddy is a nondescript mess. The low, gravelly voice that worked so well for Haley in “Watchmen” (his Rorschach was the sole highlight of that misguided film) doesn’t match his unmoving, rubbery face.
As before, this new “Nightmare” focuses on a girl named Nancy who, along with her teenage friends, keeps having nightmares where a man in a striped sweater with knives for fingers is trying to kill her. One of the creepier things about Craven’s original story was the lack of backstory surrounding Krueger, who was a notorious child murderer from 10 years earlier. The parents of the children, bent on revenge, burned Freddy alive. That’s all we knew about this mysterious madman, and it was enough.
Now, thanks to screenwriters Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer, we get a lot more background on Krueger, who now has a past relationship with his new targets that is somehow unbeknownst to them. Sound confusing? Well, it’s all explained away by the convenient plot device of repressed memories. This is a typical and disturbing trend in modern movies. Especially in the horror genre, it is a detriment to the scary mood of the film.
What we are left with is a higher body count and a faster pace, but no tension. The result is that “A Nightmare on Elm Street” feels even more formulaic: Kid has nightmare, wakes up, something surreal tips us off that they’re actually still dreaming, Freddy appears and kills them. Lather, rinse, repeat. This reduces the movie to nothing more than a slasher film (which, ironically, is what the original franchise became after the first movie anyway).
When I was a kid, I sneaked into a theater to see the original “Nightmare” and was haunted forever by one image: Nancy’s recently murdered friend calling to her in a bodybag in the middle of the school hallway. The buildup (a term modern horror doesn’t seem to be familiar with) to that moment was intense and there was a sense of sadness and loss that Nancy felt that I understood immediately.
When this moment happens in the remake, its indicative of the entire film: It exists as another centerpiece for some gore and is gone in 60 seconds. Welcome to the low-impact world of modern franchise horror pictures.
Movie fans be warned: Next up for Michael Bay’s horror remake production house? Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”