Adaptations & Remakes is an ongoing feature where I take a movie or a book and compare it to its remake and/or adaptation.
Happy Halloween, everyone! If you’ve been checking on the blog throughout the day, you’ll know that earlier in the day, Tiny applied his newfound appreciation for the Halloween franchise to compare Carpenter’s vision with Zombie’s depiction. Then a little later, Mike lent his slasher expertise to tackle the original Friday the 13th against its modern day counterpart.
Now I am here for the sacred final post to close out the holiday season. I’m comparing Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street against the 2010 remake featuring Rorschach himself: Jackie Earle Haley. Enjoy and let me know what you think.
Of course, you can find more of Mike and Tiny’s Shocktober contributions (Shocktributions, if you will) on the Shocktober page and don’t forget you can follow them and me on Twitter and like The Obsessive Viewer on Facebook.
Freddy Krueger stalks and kills from beyond the grave; infiltrating the dreams of his victims and murders them in sick, if inventive, ways.
Despite being a kid who immediately latched onto the Scream franchise in all of its genre resurrecting glory, I could never get into Nightmare. My kneejerk reaction to the movie as a kid was to notice how dated it seemed. I was a smug 6th grader living his 90s life and thumbing my nose at anything related to the 80s.
So I tried to go into this viewing with a bit more of an open mind and without thinking of the sequels too much. The result was the most enjoyable viewing of A Nightmare on Elm Street I’ve had out of the three or four times I’ve seen it over the years.
I didn’t have this issue when I watched it this time around. In fact, I enjoyed the mid-80s feel to the movie. It made it seem a bit like a time capsule of an era of horror that we don’t see much anymore. Not to say the special effects are bad. On the contrary, there are some magnificent horror set pieces in the original movie that puts some of the cookie cutter dreck that litters the genre today in its place.
Things like a geyser of blood spewing from a bed are handled differently these days. If it were done today it would be flashy and probably contain a fair amount of CGI. In the original, it’s conventional and works only to enhance the tone of pure dread that was already established. I loved it.
My favorite thing about the movie, however, is how true it seemed in its depiction of the parents. I put myself into the mind of the parents in this movie this time and found a new enjoyment. If I had a kid who refused to sleep and seemed deathly terrified of it, it would raise an eyebrow. But I would never think it had anything to do with the murderer my friends and I killed years before.
The scenes between Nancy and her parents make this movie for me. When she calls her father, pleading with him to break down the door and wake her up, I was on the edge of my seat. It was the way her father, knowing she’s “safe” at home, appeased her and told her he would come save her that got to me. John Saxon plays the scene really well as a father who just wants his troubled daughter to get some sleep.
Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger (Fred, as he’s called here) performs the character at his most frightening. Some of his tactics are a little hokey, but they’re forgivable because they exist in a dream state and are more reflective of the time than of his personality.
The only real issue that held over from past viewings to this one was my reaction to the ending. I have such a problem with cheap scares, it seems (see my Adaptations & Remakes: Carrie post). So it may just be my own personal issue, but A Nightmare on Elm Street’s final scare did nothing for me. I feel like the imagery of the convertible top adorned with Freddy’s color scheme is a visual indicator of how cheesy the franchise is driving toward being.
I will say I enjoyed this movie slightly more than in past viewings. I gained a new appreciation for the way the teens and the adults were depicted and some of the special effects are still jaw dropping today. But I still wasn’t fully hooked and invested with the characters.
How I’d Remake It
I love sleeping. Specifically, I love dreaming. When people who know this ask me about Nightmare, they’re surprised I’m not a huge fan. The conversation always boils down to one point. I find myself always saying that I like A Nightmare on Elm Street as a concept but the finished product doesn’t do it justice.
I would first put an emphasis on the sleep deprivation of Freddy’s victims. Being that I work nights and am therefore pretty consistently sleep deprived, I know how it feels to have your body involuntarily shut down and force you to sleep, if only for very brief moments at a time.
This would become a big part of my remake.
Secondly, I would give Freddy a few more kids to terrorize and kill. The original featured a group of four teens. I think present day audiences want more of a bloodbath to ensue before the end and that can be accomplished with a slightly larger cast of dream fodder.
Above all else, I would try to keep it as dark and atmospheric as possible. The problems that eventually faced the franchise were due to the movies becoming cheesy. Freddy became a wise cracking Spider-Man villain and his methods got more and more silly. I remember seeing Freddy kill someone with a massive cotton swab.
There would be none of that in my remake. To secure the tone and atmosphere, the deaths would be as real as possible while still playing with the bizarreness and physics of the dream world.
In the end, my mission would be to create a supernatural slasher movie that really explores the helplessness of the victims. My hope would be that Freddy Krueger would finally have the chance to become the terrifying and formidable villain that his universe and high concept allow him to be.
How They Remade it:
It’s funny how I approached these movies today. I went into the original without high expectations and came away with a new appreciation for the movie. On the other hand, I went into the remake remembering how much I enjoyed it and ended up falling somewhere in the middle.
The funny thing is, I have seen the remake a couple times before. Each viewing was entertaining, frightening and just all around cool. But now that I’ve gained the experience of a more enjoyable viewing of the original, a few of the remake’s issues started boiling to the surface.
The remake recreates a couple iconic scenes from the original but in at least one they drop the ball completely. When it comes to remakes, I’m of the mindset that when you take a remake, you make it your own. There’s a scene that mimics the bed scene from the original. What absolutely floor me in the original was how utterly over the top, yet grounded the visuals were.
What happens in the remake, however, is that the victim is spun around in the air, slice marks appear on the chest, and then the victim dies. Knowing what happened in the original in this scene, the remake builds up your anticipation only to have no follow through.
Some of the acting early on isn’t terribly great either, but that gets a pass from me. There are one or two lines that bugged me, but the rest of the movie made up for it with Jackie Earle Haley’s portrayal of Freddy.
The tone of the movie gives Haley a chance to dive into the darkness of the role. Some of his dialogue by itself sounds like it belongs in a campier movie, but Haley’s delivery and the tone of the movie prevent this remake from going full Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare.
There was nothing wrong with Englund’s portrayal in the original. But on his best day, Englund felt like a movie monster whereas Haley’s Freddy is a true monster. The disfigurement of his skin and the guttural growl he employs is actually a little chilling. Adding the repressed memory/child abuse bit enhanced the story and made Freddy so much more unsettling.
By far my favorite thing about this movie still is the inclusion of “micro dreams”. Any attention made to the sleep deprivation that goes along with avoiding a murderous, supernatural psychopath is fine by me. As a veteran of shift work and the sleep-deprived mind, I am very familiar with the idea behind micro dreaming. So I actually had a loose personal connection with the movie that allowed me to appreciate the horror in the movie on a slightly deeper level.
Samuel Bayer’s remake of Wes Craven’s classic isn’t perfect by any means. But it introduces some new wrinkles in the horror and new elements to the story that makes up for any hair-brained decisions made in the production.
Really, though, an Elm Street movie seems to only be as good as its Freddy and Jackie Earle Haley knocked it out of the park in this movie.
As happy as I am that I found an appreciation for the original Nightmare on Elm Street and despite the fact I found some new problems with the remake, I have to give the new blood the razor sharp edge here. This is an example of a remake that, while still paying tribute to the original (albeit sometimes poorly), manages to break itself from the mold of a tired and aging franchise.