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By Brian Lafferty

April 30, 2010 (San Diego's East County) -- Re-imagining a classic movie like A Nightmare on Elm Street is very risky, primarily because there will be constant comparisons to the original. Wes Craven’s 1984 masterpiece has garnered a spot in the pantheon of horror films and spawned numerous sequels with varying degrees of quality. I happily report, however, that the reboot, directed by music video director Samuel Bayer, is a solid piece of filmmaking.


This movie works on many levels, including the script. Screenwriters Wesley Strick (Arachnophobia, Wolf) and Eric Heisserer are wise to not make it a straight remake. The premise is similar; Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley) kills teenagers in their dreams, which causes them to die for real. Yet, the screenplay creates an entirely different backstory and motive for the killings. I will not reveal them except to say they make more sense than in the original and that they are revealed through powerful images rather than through dialogue, as the original did.

Haley’s Krueger is creepy. He is a wisecracker but his lines are delivered in an unsettlingly dry manner. He likes to toy with his victims, including playing a scary game of hide and seek, counting down slowly from three and announcing, “Ready or not here I come.” Watching him, I couldn’t help but think of Haley’s performance of Rorschacht in last year’s Watchmen. He is a worthy replacement of Robert Englund.

As far as the scares go, A Nightmare on Elm Street scores high in that regard. It takes a lot for a horror movie to frighten me. The success in this department has a lot to do with the atmosphere, which is assisted by the dark cinematography and the moody score, which is heard so much it becomes uncomfortable to listen to but in a good way. The deaths are standard when it comes to slasher films but the atmosphere is what makes the movie.

The film utilizes the “jump in your seat” type of thrill similar to that in last year’s Drag Me to Hell. Fortunately, it is not overused. The filmmakers have a great sense of timing with these shots. Many of them take a long time to build up. The waiting becomes unnerving until the very end, when the payoff strikes, often out of nowhere.

In the original, the characters only had to stay awake and they would be fine. In this film, nobody is safe whether they are asleep or awake. It is established that after a certain period of sleeplessness people undergo micronaps in order for their brain to recharge. These micronaps can happen for only a few seconds but they are just as dangerous as deep sleep. In addition, there is ample motivation to stop Freddy: if the characters stay awake for too long, they will slip into a coma and never wake up again.

I cannot say whether this movie is as good as the original because it is not so much a remake but a re-imagining. If it contained the same story and characters, it would be boring and unexciting. The screenwriters wisely take the story and the characters in an entirely different direction. It would be like comparing Chris Nolan’s Batman Begins to Tim Burton’s Batman; same franchise, different approach.

A New Line Cinema release.  Director:  Samuel Bayer.  Screenplay:  Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer, based on characters created by Wes Craven.  Original Music:  Steve Jablonsky.  Cinematography:  Jeff Cutter:  Cast:  Jackie Earle Haley, Kyle Gallner, Rooney Mara, Katie Cassidy, Thomas Dekker, Kellan Lutz, Clancy Brown, and Connie Britton.  Running Time:  95 minutes.  Rated R.

Brian Lafferty welcomes letters at brian@eastcountymagazine.org.  You can also follow him on Twitter:  @BrianLaff.

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