A Nightmare on Elm Street

Interesting fact before I begin. In 1992, Anthony Hopkins won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of the cannibalistic genius, Hannibal Lector, with less than 20 minutes of screen time in the film. With less than 20 minutes, Hopkins grabbed our attention and gave us an amazing sense of tension, horror and for most, something new to fear.

Less than 20 minutes.

Maybe there’s a lesson in that for the makers of the re-imagined “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”

I’m just saying.

Anyway, on to the review.

Freddy Krueger. A sick pedophilic murderer has enchanted horror movie fans from the very first scene of the original “A Nightmare on Elm Street” in 1984 where we watched in sick fascination as he created his iconic knifed glove. Since then, he’s invaded the dreams of dozens of dozing teenagers in eight feature films and the two seasons of the television anthology, “Freddy’s Nightmares.” Originally introduced to us by mastermind Wes Craven, Freddy Krueger has become a horror legend and even earned New Line Cinema the tagline of “The House that Freddy Built.”

So, as is it goes right now in Hollywood, it’s prime time to reintroduce Mr. Krueger to a brand new generation of moviegoers who may have forgotten how to have a good nightmare.

Directed by (accomplished) music video director Samuel Bayer, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is a re-imagined, modern day telling of Krueger and his wicked wrath on the teenagers of the above-mentioned street. In all, the story is the exact same as the 1984 version with only a few minor tweaks. Just in case, here is a quick refresher – angered by his despicable actions (?) to their children, a group of parents come together and hunt Krueger down in search of justice. While locked in a small building, the parents do their best to force him out, but instead end up encasing him inside a fiery tomb. Now, years later, their acts and lies have come to the surface and Kruger is killing their now teenaged offspring in the one place the parents cannot protect them … in their dreams.

Scary huh? Well it should be.

But it’s not.

The issue with this “Nightmare” is that it just never really works together. It seems to jump from one dream sequence to the next and unfortunately, you just don’t care about the kids being traumatized. I know that Freddy is what everyone is really paying to see, but honestly, horribly bad acting by several of the supposed teenaged actors and poor overall storytelling get in the way.

As Nancy, the lead character and Freddy’s “favorite,” Rooney Mara (“Youth in Revolt”) does pretty well and, in my opinion, holds her own against the Krueger character. She instantly has that look of innocence about her and it’s a little heartbreaking when the facts of her history with Krueger actually come to light. But, she’s about it. Which is very disappointing; especially in the case of Thomas Dekker (best known as John Connor from the television series “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”) who dreadfully overacts that you almost want to laugh every time he tries to be serious.

In terms of the story, like I said, it just never comes together well. Visually, it’s pretty clear that Bayer knows how make a stunning movie. “Nightmare” is excellent in how the shots are made and how, as the film progresses, the real world and the dream world start to overlap. However, the story never compares to Bayer’s high sense of style. I was impressed on how they were able to expand the creepiness of the Krueger character by showing him and how he engaged with the children when they were young, but as older teens, their quest for the truth really falls flat. Maybe it’s the way the parents’ and the teenagers’ plights come to a head. Maybe it’s the choppiness of the story. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s just not scary. I’m not sure. But I am sure that, as a horror movie, this film under delivers.

For me, the biggest disappointment was that the nightmares don’t get cool until the third act. They are all basic retreads from past “Nightmare” films and the dream world isn’t really explored until near the end. Lots of potential not tapped. Plus, it’s just not scary. Sure it’s full of the jumpy, quick scare moments, but that’s not sustainable. One jump does not equal fear and after a while you just know when, how and where the scare will be. Predictable is probably the nicest word I can use.

And yet even after all of that, the question that everyone wants to know the answer to … how was Freddy? Jackie Earle Haley (“The Watchmen” and “Shutter Island”) does pretty well as Krueger. While there is sure to be some debate as to how his Krueger measures up to Robert Englund’s original, I liked him. Of course, he’s a different kind of Freddy and that is where most of the debate will turn. Haley is able to push the creep factor but, instead of being as psychotic as the original, he reserves himself a little more and relishes in the power he holds over the teenagers. However, like the film itself, he never really is able to show his real potential until the near end. Which is a shame because that was where I really enjoyed his portrayal. Like I said, people will either love him or hate him, but it’s going to be very hard when the other guy has so many hours of film behind him.

The filmmakers did make one big mistake with the Freddy character though and in the end, really underwhelms the movie. They show him way too much. I don’t mean that they have him in too many scenes. They show too much of him – his whole body and face way too early and way too many times. Let me explain. If you go back and watch the original, Freddy is in the shadows for most of the film and you never get a perfect view of his face. We can tell what he’s wearing and all, but that was part of his power. Of course this was probably because of make-up issues back in 1984, but it made his character more of a mystery in that first film. As a restarting point in this new version, they just show all the goods right away and all the mystery is lost. Maybe this was because they were afraid fans would make fun of the new make-up. Who knows, but for me at least, it took some of that good old-fashioned fear out of the mix.

Overall … eh. It’s a well-made movie and the younger movie watchers in the audience seemed to have fun jumping at all the right parts, but bad storytelling, underachieving acting and not enough scare makes this a one and done for me.

Let’s hope the sequel is a little better. Maybe by then the filmmakers will brush up on the term scary, watch “Silence of the Lambs” and see what less than 20 minutes of fear can do to an audience.

2 out 5 doses of No-Doze.

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