A Nightmare on Elm Street (**)

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A Nightmare on Elm Street.  98 mins.  R.  Directed by Samuel Bayer.  Written by Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer.  Starring Jackie Earle Hayley, Rooney Mara, Kyle Gallner, Katie Cassidy, Thomas Dekker, and Kellan Lutz.

Hollywood's obsession with trampling all over our cherished memories of '80s favorites continues with this stylish but dour remake of Wes Craven's 1984 horror classic, A Nightmare on Elm Street.  Produced by Michael Bay through his Platinum Dunes production company (the same one that pissed all over the Friday the 13th and Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchises) and directed by long-time music video director Samuel Bayer (Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit"), this new Nightmare exists solely to grab a quick buck the weekend before Iron Man 2 comes out.  It purports to be scary, but really all it does (over and over again) is trot out the same boo!, make-you-jump flash cut accompanied by an impossibly loud sound effect.  That technique quickly grows tiring though, and all you're left with is the comparison of Robert Englund's Freddy Krueger, and Jackie Earle Hayley's take on the character.  Needless to say, Hayley has taken on a thankless task that largely proves unimpressive.

Freddy Krueger is one of horror's greatest icons, and as embodied by Englund over the course of eight pictures - he went from scary to funny to downright campy during that time.  Though Hayley and the filmmakers treat Freddy more seriously here - the character, as written, is a bit disjointed and hard to pin down.  It doesn't help that Hayley plays him using nearly the same voice he used in Watchmen as Rorschach.  Also not helping?  The make-up.  I get that they were trying to make Freddy look more believably burned - but he just looks like a mess of clay.  You can't really see any facial expressions, which renders everything Hayley does as one-note and repetitive.  I like Hayley (and congrats on the career resurgence), but I miss Englund in the role.

The plot of the new Nightmare hews closely to the original - hitting most of the same story beats.  Bayer even cribs several of the same shots in Craven's original.  I guess the big addition here is some added mythology to the Freddy backstory.  In the original, he's a convicted child killer.  Here, he's an alleged pedophile.  Poor Hayley - between this and Little Children, the guy is starting to get typecast.  Everything else is pretty much the same though - group of high schoolers find themselves getting picked off one by one when they go to sleep, where Freddy waits to kill them while they're dreaming.  The high schoolers are played by a bunch of TV castoffs, including Katie Cassidy (Melrose Place), Kyle Gallner (Veronica Mars) and Thomas Dekker (The Sarah Connor Chronicles).  None of them are very good.
Neither is the pacing or the structure, which is rather shapeless and unfocused.  The movie has a hard time picking a central character and sticking with them.  It stays with one character for about 20 minutes and then kills them and moves on to the next.  By the time it finally settles on two of them at the halfway mark, Nancy (Rooney Mara) and Quentin (Gallner, playing the Johnny Depp character from the original), the audience has lost any interest in their outcome.  Not that it matters - all these new horror flicks want to do is put the audience through hell and then give them no adequate resolution.  There always has to be one last "scare" at the end, regardless of whether it makes any sense story-wise.
It's easy to come down hard on remakes because they are typically not as good.  Of course, the 1984 Nightmare is better, but it's not like it was untouchable.  In the hands of better actors and filmmakers, even with Hayley still playing Freddy, this could have been decent.  But, alas, I'm stuck having to say what I usually do: rent the original instead.

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