I hold Wes Craven’s original Nightmare on Elm Street as one of my favorite horror movies of all time. It introduced one of the genre’s iconic characters in a way that was effective and terrifying, and it never cheated the viewer. We all understood the rules: if you slept, Freddy could get you. Later films added a bunch of cruft but never improved on the intense scares of the original. And now, we’re getting that most fashionable of remakes: the reboot. Rewinding back to the original film, placing it in the present day, and casting a new actor behind the scarred mask of Krueger. How does it stack up?
It’s fair to say that the new Nightmare works better than any of the other recent horror restarts, and that’s primarily on the shoulders of Jackie Earl Haley as Freddy Krueger. The 80s Freddy was incarnated in British actor Robert Englund, who brought a manic glee to his homicides. He really enjoyed finding new ways to slash up teenagers, and it showed in his work. Haley wisely chooses not to emulate Englund’s take on the character, instead taking him to a much darker place. The major change in Freddy’s story is to blur the question of his original guilt. The original Krueger slaughtered a bunch of kids, but the new one may have just molested them – or not – before being burned to death by a mob of outraged parents. This doesn’t make a huge difference to the plot, but it’s interesting that they thought a note of doubt would add to the character.
While not a dedicated shot-for-shot remake like Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, Nightmare does replicate some of the original’s iconic moments, using CGI in place of old-school effects. The new additions to the story do help ground the horror in a modern world of cell phones and Red Bull, and the “micronap” idea is actually pretty smart. There’s already a sequel on tap, so I’m more than curious to see what the filmmakers do when they’ve fully stepped out from under Wes Craven’s giant shadow.