The Austin Chronicle

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Rated R, 95 min. Directed by Samuel Bayer. Starring Jackie Earle Haley, Rooney Mara, Kyle Gallner, Thomas Dekker, Kellan Lutz, Katie Cassidy, Clancy Brown, Connie Britton.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 7, 2010

"Remember me?" leers the molten swath of scar tissue that, from 1984 to 1994 (not counting a post-millennial addendum in 2004), was New Line Cinema's unlikely dream boy. Unlikely because the character of Freddy Krueger, as originally written by Wes Craven, quickly became a taboo-smashing and unrepentantly subversive antihero of the horror genre, a dead yet dream-stalking pedophile and child murderer who nevertheless achieved an iconic stature in global pop culture. More than a quarter-century on, that hellish iconography – angular and game actor Robert Englund beneath the battered fedora, the filth-encrused fashion-disaster sweater, the razored right-hand glove that in retrospect seems an inspired sick joke at Michael Jackson's permanent expense – remains as strong and as instantly recognizable a brand as almost anything else in the history of film. (It's worth noting that prior to embarking on his film career, Craven had received degrees in both psychology and philosophy/English – the latter a master’s, from Johns Hopkins no less.) The original Nightmare messed about with Freudian and Jungian dream theories without forsaking the director's primary concern, mainly making a horror show that replicated the skewed, anxious unreality of a bad dream. Watching Craven's masterpiece today, you're struck by just how fluidly surreal it is, slipping as it does back and forth, often with zero warning, from the banality of the stock teen characters’ waking lives to the pointedly horrific unworld of their dreams. It packs a creepy wallop that still manages to summon the heebie-jeebies today. No small feat, that, and one that's unintentionally underscored by the forgettable mediocrity of this dull, banal, and oddly uninspired remake. Produced under the aegis of Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes (also responsible for iffy remakes of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Friday the 13th), the chief point of interest here is Haley's portrayal of Krueger: Can he make it his own? The short answer is no, not at all. Despite slightly more realistic foam latex burn effects and a relative absence of the punning japery that effectively hobbled much of the horror in later Eighties-era franchise outings, Haley's Freddy Krueger is a slight and pale imitation of Englund's (and it's impossible not to compare the two performances). Certainly (and, probably, thankfully) it doesn't come close to the cringy disturbathon that was Haley's previous pederast role in Todd Field's Little Children. But this Nightmare’s second-act surprise hinges on a notion that is so dopily conceived that it smacks of desperation on the screenwriters' part. There's ick here, to be sure, but no chills, no screamy-dreamy skewings of reality, and, when you get right down to it, no fun. It's less a nightmare than a case of cinematic woolgathering. Wake up and go rent Wes Craven's original, and let the bad dreams in.

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