A Krueger for the Adderall Generation

04/30/2010 4:00 AM |

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Directed by Samuel Bayer

Producer and existing-franchise exploiter Michael Bay may have settled on a different director to helm his Elm Street sequel remake reboot—the guy who handled the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video!—but the product looks straight out of the Marcus Nispel School for Slasher Updates: grungy settings, more “teens” than the original, more gore, more CGI, more jolts. (Nispel himself graduated on to the upcoming Conan remake whatever.) But the Wes Craven classic was a different kind of horror movie than Friday the 13th or The Hitcher: it was never really just about slaughtering hordes of horny “teens” in too-tight tees for the purpose of sexual moralizing.

Pfft, whatever: that doesn’t stop the new crew from casting models (Katie Cassidy), Gossip Girl rejects (Kellan Lutz) and Pattison lookalikes (Kyle Gallner) as the new Freddy fodder. The least attractive among them, Rooney Mara, stars as Nancy—do parents still name their daughters Nancy?—refigured as an artsy outsider who’s not much of a nonconformist when it comes to her dreams: they’re the same kind of nightmares her turning-up-dead classmates are having, featuring a bugaboo with a burned face, knives for fingers and an ugly sweater. Choosing Jackie Earle Haley to succeed Robert Englund as the fedora’d boogeyman is the movie’s only inspired decision—he does the character justice with his sonorous growl and natural creepiness, revitalizing Krueger by dropping the bon mot campiness that had blighted later sequels—though the producers and whoever else deserve little credit for the supersession since it was as obvious as casting Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela.

The rest of the changes between old and new serve only to make A Nightmare on Elm Street dumber and grosser. (The funniest update: coffee is so 20th Century! It’s easier for kids today to stay awake because they’ve already been prescribed forms of speed, pills which they can wash down with Red Bull.) The ’84 franchise-founder had special effects whose tangibility—Krueger leaning in through the wall, the floor turning into soup—was the source of their eeriness; here the same effects are produced by uninspiring computers, with a conspicuous, and not-scary, artificiality. Craven established atmosphere, created suspense; Bayer does little but punch you in the ear with boo moment after boo moment. The original blurred the lines between dreams and reality; here, the distinctions are much clearer. “I don’t know what’s real anymore” is a common refrain for the movie’s characters, but we usually do (unless it’s time for another boo moment), even though everybody’s dreams always start off exactly where they fell asleep. (Psych! Psych! Psych! Psych! Psych! Psych!) 

The most striking difference is that, here, pre-immolated Krueger is no longer pedocidal but pedophilic, a preschooler-molesting gardener set on fire by a lynch mob of apoplectic parents. It’s suggested that the kids may have lied, that Krueger was an innocent man, which would have opened up an interesting-at-least thematic avenue about spoiled children of privilege—who just grab what they need off of store shelves without paying, who steal drugs from hospitals, who break into abandoned property, who drive convertibles, who live on streets lined by flowering trees, who have big cushy chairs in their bedrooms—getting their comeuppance. Alas, Krueger really did touch the kids, which makes him a classic (and thus not too interesting) return-of-the-repressed representation: the embodiment of a traumatic memory, rooted in childhood, that can’t be killed unless, say, it’s “dragged out into the open”. And even then…well, c’mon, there are sequels to cash in on.