A Nightmare on Elm Street
Wes Craven’s original A Nightmare on Elm Street was produced on a budget of $1.8 million—a pittance even in 1984—and went on to earn $25.5 million at a time when that looked like real money, especially if you think of it as a 1,500 percent profit. It spawned seven sequels and two TV series, and served as Craven’s ticket to the (comparative) big time after a decade in low-rent schloxploitation.
That’s what the producers of the new A Nightmare on Elm Street are talking about when they call their movie a “reimagining of Wes Craven’s original classic.” As classics go, Elm Street wasn’t exactly Citizen Kane; hell, it wasn’t even The Curse of the Cat People. The fact is, the new movie is an entirely appropriate link in the Freddy Krueger franchise chain—A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) was a mediocre, half-baked movie, and so is A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010).
“Reimagining” Craven’s movie was arguably a laudable idea, since it was only half-imagined in the first place. Craven came up with an interesting idea—a group of teenagers having fatal nightmares about the same disfigured monster with knives for fingernails—then didn’t bother to develop it into a story, either because he didn’t have time or because he knew he didn’t have to. This time out, the filmmakers can’t pretend they didn’t have time to come up with a story—it’s been 26 years, after all—but if anything, they knew even better than Craven did that they didn’t have to, so they didn’t.
The extent of “reimagining” in Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer’s script seems to have been to change Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley, taking over for the venerable Robert Englund) from a serial child murderer to a child molester at a preschool; to make the nightmares in which he stars a manifestation of the repressed memories of his former victims; and to add a brooding goth veneer to Nancy (Rooney Mara) and Quentin (Kyle Gallner), the two longest-surviving of Freddy’s would-be victims. End of reimagining.
Tagging along as the nominal director is Samuel Bayer, making his first big-screen feature after a long apprenticeship in music videos for artists such as Pat Benatar, Green Day and Metallica. I say “nominal director” because Bayer adds little to the proceedings; the phantom at this rather paltry feast, even more than Freddy Krueger, is Wes Craven himself.
There is one truly impressive image in the movie, and it’s a CGI echo of Heather Langenkamp sinking up to her ankles on the stairs back in 1984. This time, Rooney Mara is chased down a hallway where the thick carpet morphs into a mire of black blood, into which the hapless girl plunges out of sight and emerges gasping and screaming. Trying to decide who deserves credit for this isolated moment provides a fleeting bit of diversion while waiting for the final “surprise” shock and credit roll. Is it Bayer? Strick and Heisserer? Some combination of the six dozen people credited among the special-effects crew? What difference does it make? In any case, a passing nod (if not an enthusiastic thank you) should go to Mara’s stunt doubles Nikki Hester and Natalie M. Meyer, one or both of whom gamely ventured into what looks like a long, narrow vat of red-tinted Hershey’s syrup. Like Ruth Gordon gobbling up Lucky Charms and Pepsi in Where’s Poppa?, that’s the kind of dedication to one’s craft that shouldn’t go unrecognized.
Another thing that shouldn’t go unrecognized is the sad irony of having to go all the way down the list of stunt doubles to find someone to commend for dedication to their craft. Is there any movie franchise that cries out less for revisiting than A Nightmare on Elm Street? After eight movies and two TV shows, is there anything Wes Craven left unsaid about fiendish Freddy and his hapless, pretty young victims? Did Bayer, Strick, Heisserer and the movie’s 11 credited producers really believe there was some nuance, some undiscovered depth to be discovered in the primal wail of teenage dreams?
I’m no great fan of the original, but give Wes Craven credit: He started from scratch, and he earned every penny he made fair and square. These new guys just wanted to cash in. Well, mission accomplished. Spend it in good health.