There's really no comparing the latest rendition of A Nightmare on Elm Street to Wes Craven's now-iconic 1984 slasher film. The original is far better and mind you, I say this having never actually -- you know -- seen the original. Nonetheless, I'm certain of this for very serious reasons, which I will address below.
First, as a responsible film critic, I certainly intended to see Craven's movie. The re-make was required viewing, both for CNN (where I review films Saturdays between 1 and 2pm PT with anchor Fredricka Whitfield, who couldn't be lovelier, by the way) and my new web show, What the Flick?! (a spin-off of The Young Turks). So obviously, professionalism essentially mandated I also watch Craven's version, which I missed in 1984 because:
A) Horror films upset me.
B) I was busy trying to keep Joanna Picciotto from breaking up with me (I failed).
Anyway, my plan to see the original this week was sidetracked by several factors. Among them:
1) The afternoon I set aside to see the movie, the Rockies and Diamondbacks played a thrilling 10 inning game, ending in a 12-11 Arizona win.
2) I'm sort of lazy.
3) Horror films still upset me.
There is an upside. I went into director Samuel Bayer's remake without any preconceived notions about what Nightmare ought to be, knowing only that the villain -- the character who haunts his victims in their dreams -- is Freddy Krueger. The movie trudges along as expected for the first two acts, with no shortage of severed arteries and disemboweled extremely attractive young people. Freddy also emerges unpredictably (and when I write "unpredictably" I mean "predictably") from where you'd least expect him -- and therefore most expect him -- in every single dream sequence.
That aside, Bayer -- who's directed hundreds of commercials and music videos, including Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit -- has created a visually interesting film. Nightmare doesn't appear even remotely cheap. There's a quality to the production, an appropriately glossy look. Two moments of dream imagery really stand out, one where Rooney Mara (Nancy) is running from Freddy, but the floor beneath her suddenly turns to blood, slowing her down. Then it starts to envelop her like quicksand as Freddy closes in. The second has Nancy racing to escape through her house as she frantically reaches the front door, only to discover it has no knob. I'm pretty sure anyone who's ever had a nightmare felt the chills.
(SMALL BUT IMPORTANT SPOILER ALERT)
But it's in the third act that the film becomes a celluloid nightmare. Whereas Freddy Krueger in Craven's original had committed the unimaginable act of murdering children in his past, the Freddy in the remake is a former child molester who haunts his former victims in their dreams.
So when Nancy says "F*** you" to Freddy and he responds "that sounds like fun," it's a hideously uncomfortable moment shrouded in the shlocky interplay of over-the-top horror movie fun. Then it gets worse. As Nancy lies pinned on a bed in one of her nightmares, she's wearing a little white dress and the Mary Jane shoes she wore as a child -- the 5-year-old girl Freddy molested. Then Freddy lightly grazes his garden sheer fingers over her body and says something like, "Ooh, you're wearing my favorite dress."
At this point, the film becomes horrifyingly inappropriate. It's not that child molestation should be taboo for filmmakers. Quite the opposite. It's a worthy subject matter to pursue from the perspective of both the victim and the accused. But it's a theme to explore soberly and thoughtfully, not to be woven into the narrative of a horror film intended as a campy diversion.
By the way, Jackie Earle Haley -- who plays Freddy here -- gives a compelling and far creepier performance as a man accused of exposing himself to a minor in the engrossing 2006 film Little Children.
I'm certain those responsible for making this Nightmare re-make had no intention of portraying sexual crimes against children as anything other than monstrous acts. In all likelihood, it was done to make Freddy -- prior to his disfigurement -- as unsympathetic a figure as possible. But intent aside, the result is a tasteless disaster.
Also, the rest of the film isn't any good either.
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