Dir. Samuel Bayer. USA. 2010.

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The original ‘Nightmare’ is the most successful horror franchise in history, so a remake was inevitable. The first though, made way back in 1984 and starring a very young Johnny Depp, although rather cheesy and low budget managed to get a whole generation scared out of their wits. The reasons why are clear when looking into the various reasons why the remake, although with far better production values, fails to press the buttons of the first.

When sitting in a dark cinema theatre in 1984, the opening credits of the first were genuinely unnerving. Set in the private boiler room ‘Freddy chamber’, the central antagonist goes about the business of putting his glove together – one of the most infamous horror props of all time. This sequence was genuinely creepy. No-one knew at this point what was going on or what this was all about. This is one of the problems of the remake: it lacks any element of surprise – we know Freddy so well now that even the attempts at back-story fall flat. Besides – the past of Freddy was done far better when during the franchise sequels we learn of his conception (he was the product of a multi-raped nun). Back stories are better if delivered evolutionary over time. Keeps the mystery alive. Vital for a horror character. 

Nightmare FreddyThe opening sequence in 2010 Nightmare is just too clean. All of it is. Too polished and too fresh looking from the sets to the characters. The parents in the original were damaged, had broken marriages and hadn’t really got it together since the deed of ridding their community of this menace (remember Nancy’s lush mother?). There is also the evident continuity flaw that the kids look too old and the parents just a little too young. The plot follows some of the original points, though it is unclear as to who the central heroine actually is as the first part of the drama centres on Kris – a clean cut blonde, with air hostess Mom and devoted boys around her (also in peril), whereas Tina, in the original was despatched far quicker. The eighties version still clung on to the value system of getting the sexually active of the teens-in-peril out of the way first as was the way in the Halloween and Friday franchises.  The deaths are the same, but lack the horror of the original due to the overuse of CGI (will production companies ever learn that this will not do?). The sequence where Freddy comes through the wall is truly appallingly delivered in the remake – the original had Nancy putting the all important crucifix back on the wall – a nice touch letting us know she is frightened regardless of not seeing what the audience has.

Next to Freddy’s make-up. Englund notoriously sat through hours for this part bless him and the effort showed. The make-up for him was great and christened the termed ‘pizza face.’ He was also the right age and demeanour for the role. Freddy Krueger is a middle aged janitor type – not a badly acne scarred gardener. The whole urban mythology of Freddy is done some damage with the remake. Who he was as an actual person is not really an issue – he is a manifestation of suburban nightmare and modern fear of child molestation. This was the point of the original and the need for the parents to suffer through the revenge inflicted a generation down of their mob destruction of a local demon. Evil should have its place everywhere and will be there whatever adults do. A weakness of both movies is having the parents keep mementos of the monster. This wouldn’t happen of course; the parents would move quickly and destroy any evidence of their collective deed. The fact they all still live on the same street and this lack of credulity is something that has been shamefully overlooked in both movies. One fine sequence in the remake is where the erstwhile heroine Nancy tries to search the rest of her peer group and finds a video diary of another victim miles away – the result has touches of ‘The Grudge’ about it. The malevolence follows regardless of geography.

The remake yields some good things. The ‘prison death’ which was originally delivered without the audience being in on the dreamscape of the victim, is far better in the remake with the poor boy being viciously killed in front of a very confused fellow inmate. The third act with Nancy and her boyfriend investigating their shared dark past is where the 2010 feature has strength, although it does feel a little Scooby Doo like at times.  There is a particularly impressive set piece in a pharmacy which interchanges to Krueger’s lair from the past: Nancy and her man have been awake so long now that they are sleeping in their waking lives and cannot tell the difference between their realities and dreams - only adrenalin shots are between staying alive or the inevitability of a coma – and death. This was a wonderful aspect of the original also but here is a shared effort, which is welcome to witness. The 1984 Nancy grated as she irritatingly pleaded all over the place for her peers not to fall asleep. The plot twists are tighter here and there is a better sense of collective responsibility – something that wasn’t achieved in the original until ‘Dream Warriors’ – the third, most well developed, imaginative and probably the best of the originals. 

The ending is good and ticks the ‘Freddy boxes’ but hopefully now this has put this particular urban monster to rest. There is enough scope for fresh creatures in our present without any further need to dredge our horror past. Though The Abominable Dr. Phibes in this century could be fun……

Now on general release.
Gail Spencer

Also see:

Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare by Ed Cooper
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