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Movie review: 'A Nightmare on Elm Street'

May 04, 2010|By BOB GARVER / Special to The Herald-Mail
  • Jackie Earle Haley portrays Freddy Krueger in New Line Cinema’s horror film, "A Nightmare On Elm Street."
Warner Bros. Pictures,

I'm probably one of the few people who likes the sequels to 1984's "A Nightmare on Elm Street" more than the original.

The point of the original is: "there's a killer who can murder you in your dreams." A scary concept to be sure, but once you see it done once there's no reason to see it done a half-dozen more times.

The point of the sequels is: "We've got a whole bunch more Freddy Krueger!"

It is Freddy, not the nightmares, that is the key to the franchise.

Freddy Krueger is the villain of the series, and the only character to be in all its installments (he keeps killing off the good guys). Unlike many slashers, Freddy is actually scary-looking with his horribly burned face, whereas most of the other psychos wear generic masks and need to be holding sharp object to be frightening.

This isn't to say that he doesn't use anything sharp, his modified knife-glove is iconic. His other big advantage is that he can talk. He didn't have much to say throughout the first "Nightmare," but by about the second sequel, he was a real chatterbox, adding much-needed intentional humor to a franchise that frankly was already unintentionally hilarious.

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I was thrilled when I learned that Jackie Earle Haley was playing Krueger in the remake. Haley is an accomplished, Oscar-nominated actor. He can be funny when he wants to be, and plays creepy almost too naturally. He also has a face fit for a horror movie, although the Freddie-burn makeup obscures this. Still, Haley seemed to fit the role perfectly. I waited anxiously to see how the personality that Haley would give Krueger. Eighty percent of the way through the film, I was still waiting.

All too much like the original, this version of "Nightmare" presents Freddie as The Killer, not as Freddie. We don't see much of him, we don't hear much from him. All he does is pop up, sometimes to kill people, sometimes to hurt them, but usually just for the sake of popping up.

Sometimes pop-up scares are a good thing, if your brain can figure out the setup for how the pop-up happened. But as long as there's a dream going on, Freddie can pop up anywhere he pleases, which is cheating. It is also unnecessary, Freddie is scary enough through his appearance and his actions. He doesn't need to be playing the part of a boogeyman.

His victims are typically uninteresting teens. Surprisingly, the films limits Freddie's sights to a group of five, most of whom (except for the inevitable first victim) get significant screen time. I'm actually in favor of keeping the number small, there's nothing to be gained by a high body count when it's clear the filmmakers aren't going to be getting creative with the personalities, dreams, or killing methods.

The dreams themselves are a missed opportunity. The kids lack the imagination to have proper dreams. Blame it on iPods or whatever, but they only dream about the situations that are already happening. This is to make it more of a surprise when Freddie pops up in the middle of their houses. But I like it when Freddie interrupts wonderful, crazy dreams.

The film actually picks up at the end when all the boring buildup is out of the way, Freddie can get slash-happy, and we get a particularly gory version of the standard post-resolution instant pop-up. But it's too little too late. The film's underestimation of the face of the franchise is ultimately its downfall.

"A Nightmare on Elm Street" is rated R for strong bloody horror violence, disturbing images, terror and language. Its runtime is 95 minutes.

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