‘Nightmare’ has become generic
“A Nightmare on Elm Street’’ bastardizes the Wes Craven original. Teens in a small town are having nightmares starring the same fellow. His name is Freddy Krueger. He’s fast, nimble, and strong. He has burned skin. He wears a fedora, a striped pull-over, and a glove with knives along the fingers. He’s part Michael Jackson, part Wolverine, part commercial for ProActiv Solution. Freddy kills kids in their dreams. Why becomes clear, if not logical, as the bodies pile up.
We are treated to one victim being whipped around her room like a doll. We discover a new search engine (Gigablast!) and spend time with Jackie Earle Haley, who plays Freddy.
Monsters, whether perceived or real, are nothing new for Haley, who has spent his resurgence making people uncomfortable with humanized readings of a paroled pedophile in “Little Children’’ and as a wrenched shut-away in “Shutter Island.’’ Here he’s all camp, tweaking his lines for laughs. This Freddy has far more in common with Jigsaw, the high-minded serial killer in “Saw.’’ It took the original Freddy Krueger, Robert Englund, several sequels and a spin-off (“Freddy Vs. Jason’’) to become something of a joke. But by then he had our blessing to trash his reputation.
Craven’s original, released in 1984, wasn’t great, but it aced a good test for such a movie. Days after it was over, sleep seemed risky. The movie managed to unite slasher movie conventions (the horny always perish) with intergenerational angst: The kids suffered for their parents’ sins. It also introduced us to Heather Langenkamp, who made a stoic heroine in three “Nightmare’’ movies, and Johnny Depp, whose death by mattress has yet to be topped.
Craven seemed curious about exploring the ways surrealism merged dream-life with its waking counterpart.
By comparison, this remake, has the formal sophistication of a Hoobastank video. Visually, it’s interchangeable with remakes of “Friday the 13th,’’ “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,’’ and “The Crazies.’’ There are no characters, per se, just mascara-ed lead-singer-like boys and model-generic girls dying in scoop-neck tops and skinny jeans.
Depressingly, the movie has been released by New Line Cinema, whose fortunes were so reversed by the original “Nightmare’’ that it became known as “The House That Freddy Built.’’ It’s embarrassing to see them fling their first big hit into the microwave.