Film Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

A nice poster that gets across the dark, sinister aspect of Freddy Krueger they wanted. It’s not the playful, almost cartoonish ones we saw in the 1980s.

After eight films across nearly 30 years, I’ve finally arrived at the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street in 2010. Now, unlike 2009’s Friday the 13th film, which was more of a re-imagining, this one is actually a remake in the way people have come to think of it: nearly shot-for-shot.

The same people behind that re-imagining are behind this remake: Michael Bay, Andrew Form and Brad Fuller of Platinum Dunes. What’s weird to me is that since it’s the same people, and they envisioned a amalgamation of the first four Friday the 13th films into a re-imagining, and as I said in my review, for the most part, it worked, why are they doing almost a shot-for-shot remake here? You know, in the 2000s, there was a lot of the mindset, “With better graphics, this movie from X time period would be great for a remake.” Without having done the research yet, my speculation is that people figured A Nightmare on Elm Street would be one such film. Think of what we could do with better CGI! But that misses the point: In 1984, the practical special effects for the first film (and the films to come) is what made that film and made the franchise so memorable, and (at the time), 26 years later, still hold up. They didn’t need CGI.

Horror movies in general don’t need CGI. The practical special effects are more fun and come across better than CGI. I mean, one thing they do that is blasphemous to fans of the series is that they use CGI, in conjunction with special effects makeup, on Freddy Krueger’s face to make it more like a burn victim’s face. Now, I will admit. In some of the latter films, where we get a lot of closeups on Freddy Krueger’s face, the practical special effects makeup isn’t good. It’s too rubbery and they’re right, it doesn’t look like a burn victim’s face. But CGI?! I can’t abide by that (I may eat my words; I’ll let you know after I watch the film).

All of that said, now looking at the Wikipedia details, they did originally want to take the best of the films and re-imagine the series like they did for Friday the 13th. Instead, they went with the reboot, but with the idea of making Freddy Krueger scary again instead of the MTV-ified Freddy Krueger cracking jokes. To that end, they brought back Wes Craven’s original idea he omitted from the first film of making Freddy Krueger a child molester, too. He’s not just a child killer. That idea I do support: Making Freddy Krueger scary again. But I still think you could’ve done that in the re-imagining way rather than the shot-for-shot remake way.

In the director’s chair is Samuel Bayer, another music video guy brought in (begged in) by Michael Bay out of the music video world to do a major motion picture horror film. And by that, I mean, he literally only ever did this film. It’s ironic that we’re trying to get away from MTV Freddy Krueger, and then we bring in an MTV music video guy. I’m also worried, having not seen this film in 10 years, that it’s going to have that Michael Bay glossy music video sheen style I didn’t like in the Friday the 13th remake. Again, if you’re trying to make Freddy Krueger scary again, glossy music videos isn’t the way to go.

I can’t be too hard on Bayer, though, he did 1991’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video for Nirvana, and that’s awesome. Most people having that to their credit could call it a day. So good on him.

One of the screenwriters and the sole story credit goes to Wesley Strick, who also did 1990’s Arachnophobia, and the Martin Scorsese remake of Cape Fear in 1991. And I’m going to go there: He also co-wrote a terribly underrated film, 2005’s Doom, the video game adaptation, starring The Rock. Yeah, I said it! I love that movie.

Co-writing with Strick, or more accurately, someone brought into rework the script, is Eric Heisserer, who I instantly love upon seeing that he wrote the screenplay for one of the best films in the last decade, 2016’s Arrival, which was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the 89th Academy Awards, and lost to Moonlight, which I haven’t seen. That’s all I need to know about him. (But he also did 2011’s Final Destination 5 and 2018’s Bird Box; I love this guy, whose name I only just learned five minutes ago!).

So, we have a great writer, and we also have another Academy Award-nominated person (for 2006’s Little Children) in front of the screen: Jackie Earle Haley, who is doing someone many consider blasphemous, replacing Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger. It’s a daunting task considering so many fans can’t see anyone else in that role, but, to be fair, Englund can’t do it forever. And Haley is a fantastic actor. I personally most think of his bad-ass, believable portrayal of Rorschach in the 2009 comic book adaptation Watchmen.

If you were going to re-cast Freddy Krueger, I can’t think of a better guy than Jackie Earle Haley. I can’t. Add in Heisserer on the pen, and they sure seem to be taking this film seriously and trying to make it work. The talent is there, and the talent doesn’t stop there, as making one of her first feature film debuts as Nancy is Rooney Mara, another Academy Award-nominated person, having been nominated for Best Supporting Actress for 2015’s Carol. She’s most known perhaps for the 2011 film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which shockingly, I haven’t seen yet.

Unfortunately, Mara seemed to hate the experience. She told Vogue Magazine in 2011:

“I hated it,” she says. “It left me thinking, If this is what is available to me, then I don’t necessarily want to be an actress. And then I got the script for The Social Network.”

Ouch, that’s unfortunate.

I swear, the connections to Smallville and/or Supernatural keep happening. Kyle Gallner, who plays Quentin Smith, was Bart Allen (aka The Flash) on a few episodes of Smallville! He was also on CSI: NY, another show I’ve talked about liking. And it continues: Katie Cassidy, who plays Kris Fowles, became something of a screen queen herself with roles in 2006’s When a Stranger Calls and Black Christmas. But, she also was Ruby in Supernatural! Good grief, in a good way.

Mr. Krabs is in this, too! Clancy Brown, who plays Alan Smith, does the voice for Mr. Krabs. Now I’m really geeking out. Connie Britton, who plays Dr. Gwen Holbrook, is also in this, and has a lot of respect on her name in the television world.

So, again, between the writer, the idea of wanting to make it scarier, and the cast, the ingredients are here for something special. But something I suspect that’s going to hold this film back is that remake aspect instead of a re-imagining.

What’s interesting here is that Haley was contracted for the remake, of course, but also two sequels. Additionally, Mara was contracted for a sequel. Yet, here we are 10 years later without a sequel. What does that tell you? I know I’ve seen this remake, but I genuinely don’t remember it. Again, what does that tell you? But that’s also good because I have no expectations, only some apprehension at the remake aspect.

The synopsis on Amazon Prime reads, “Freddy’s back in the update of Wes Craven’s classic tales of the hideously disfigured dream-stalker and his prey.”

Not much to go on there, but we are that sweet spot I always talk about of around 90 minutes for this film.

The opening music over the credits certainly starts us off with a more sinister and ominous vibe. I also like the mirror effect on the credits to give it that dream world quality.

Dang, we aren’t messing around with this one. We open at the Springwood Diner, which is apparently the cool spot everyone hangs out at (Ohio, everyone), and Dean (played by Kellan Lutz of Twilight fame) gets killed in the diner by Freddy Krueger in a rather gruesome scene. It looks like (since it’s happening in the dream world) that he stabs himself in the neck instead of Freddy Krueger doing it. And poor Kris has to watch this happen. On that score, then, so far, I’m wrong about it being a “shot-for-shot remake.”

That also gives us a chance to hear and see Haley’s Freddy Krueger, who admittedly, I only heard Rorschach when he spoke. But as the film goes on, his voice takes on a different, sicker quality than Rorschach’s.

We do, however, get our first shot that’s similar to the first movie, when Freddy Krueger comes through the wall against Nancy. Of course, here it’s a CGI effect instead of a practical special effect, and it doesn’t look as neat. The 26-year-old version prior looks better, to be honest.

Okay, as usual, I’ll eat some of my words. The nightmare sequence when Kris falls asleep in class, starts in normal slow motion, and then all the kids burst into charcoal ash or whatever, looks great. And then they got me later on when Kris and her ex-boyfriend, Jesse (played by Thomas Dekker) are sleeping. She goes to the bathroom to refresh, comes back, lays down, and Freddy Krueger pops up where Jesse was, “Found you!” Made me jump!

Kris is then tossed about similar to Tina in the first film until she’s killed right in front of Jesse. It looks great and it’s pretty horrifying. And like the first film, Jesse gets arrested for her murder.

“Oh god.” – Jesse, in the boiler room during a dream.

“No, just me.” – Freddy Krueger.

As opposed to the first film where Rod is killed by Freddy Krueger in his jail cell by himself, when Jesse is killed here by Freddy Krueger, he’s sharing a cell with someone. That makes it more horrifying, although different storytelling-wise: The first film is trying to make it seem like (to outsiders) that Rod did kill Tina, and then killed himself in jail.

Another shot similar to the first film happens when Nancy takes a bath and Freddy Krueger’s knives-for-fingers glove pops up between her legs. It looks pretty good! I can’t say they did it worse, but again, not sure we need to see the same iconic bathtub scene again.

We have the same backstory, of course, that Freddy Krueger was hunted down by the parents and burned alive, and then the parents tried to keep that a secret from the kids. But the difference this time is that the kids were molested, and that we just linger on it longer. We see normal-looking Fred Krueger, who much like Englund as normal Krueger, Haley as normal Krueger looks creepy still.

There is a slight wrinkle to the mythology that makes what the parents did to Fred Krueger worse. In the original, Fred Krueger gets off on a technicality for the murders of scores of children, so that’s what spurs the parents on to take vengeance into their own hands. But in this one, the parents haven’t even called the police. They’re simply skipping that part and going after him anyway. That makes me a smidgen sympathetic to Freddy Krueger because of due process and all of that.

We see this flashback when Quentin is at the swimming pool for the swim team, and he sees all of this happen in a nightmare. At the end, Freddy Krueger comes running out of the warehouse at Quentin while on fire and his angry face looks great. Great special effect!

After the fact, though, Quentin questions whether he was even guilty to begin with. That they were children and they could’ve made it up, similar to perhaps the Satanic panics of the 1980s. But that … would change the entire mythology of Freddy Krueger if they killed an innocent man. That said, if he was innocent, he’s still killing people now, and that’s wrong. So Quentin’s anger seems a bit hyperbolic.

In another similar shot to Tina in the body bag from the original film, we get Kris in the body bag here. Another great effect is when Nancy is running from Freddy Krueger and goes upstairs and the hallway turns to like a blood swamp; it’s gross and effective.

It turns out Freddy Krueger actually was guilty … shocker. But still, due process matters. Gotta say that.

Finally, one last great special effect that does look better than the first film is that just like that film, Nancy’s mother gets pulled through a door/mirror by Freddy Krueger, but it looks a lot better here.

My thoughts on the film is that it’s similar in a way to Freddy’s Revenge where it’s almost unrelentingly dark, and for that reason the sequel, and perhaps this one, aren’t talked about as much. The original has the “being the first” going for it, and the other films have a mix of horror and levity, so these two films are like the ugly stepchilds of the franchise in that way. But that aesthetic works for me. I loved Freddy’s Revenge, and this remake is actually better than I anticipated after re-watching. If they had committed to this being more of a reboot rather than remake, where they include famous shots of a film fans are going to automatically love more and make them think of a film they love more, that’s where they err. Take those out, and I think you have a more pleasing film.

Haley is better than I was expecting (and I already had high expectations), as I think he fills those Englund shoes quite well, and the makeup on his face, CGI and otherwise, is the best Freddy Krueger has looked probably since Dream Master? Also, there’s nothing remotely likable about Freddy Krueger here, and that’s a good thing. He’s disgusting and gross and dare I say, a bit scary! That’s how it should be.

But here’s my hottest take. Even though she seemed to hate doing it, Mara is a better Nancy than Heather Langenkamp. Granted, Mara is a better actress; no shade to Lagenkamp, as I like her quite a bit as a “final girl.”

Some of the special effects on the nightmares look good, too. And contrary to what I thought, this film is dark aesthetically, too. There’s no Bay sheen or Bayer sheen here. Again, it’s an unrelentingly dark film in every aspect, and that includes the cinematography.

On a $35 million budget, this one made $63 million domestic and $52 million overseas for nearly $116 million. So, just like the Friday the 13th remake, both remakes are the most successful films at the box office in the respective franchises aside from another film that didn’t get a follow-up, Freddy vs. Jason. How did none of these films get sequels?!

To this day, both films are in the top 10 box office grosses for horror remakes.

I know there’s a popular thing to do where after a film is critically panned, years down the line, contrarian fans come back and go, “You know what, that movie was actually pretty good.” It’s somewhat been happening with Freddy’s Revenge. But I’m being serious. This is actually pretty solid! I’m not sure I would rank it above any other film in the franchise, which sounds like a knock, but the franchise is strong. Maybe above Dream Child? I didn’t care for that one as much.

If it’s been a while since you’ve seen the remake, I recommend it. I dig the dark and gloomy and return to form for Freddy Krueger as a scary, disgusting and unlikable pest.

If you take out the unnecessary scenes that are similar to the original film, there's a lot like to like about this reboot.

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