By now, we’re all familiar with the arguments both for and against remaking classic horror films, or even not-so-classic ones. There are certain titles within the horror community that are considered more sacred than others, though, and approaching a remake of one of these titles, there will naturally be a more pronounced sense of hesitation for fans.
“A Nightmare On Elm Street” was the film that helped establish New Line as a real contender in the independent world. When it was released, they didn’t have any major marketing muscle to help them. They had to rely on some freaky TV spots and word of mouth, and sure enough, it worked. Not only did it create a new horror icon in the shape of Freddy Krueger, but it also spawned something like 11,000 sequels. That’s an approximate number, but it was certainly enough of them to dilute him almost completely as a figure of fear.
The problem was twofold. First, there was little reason for Freddy’s return, which makes him automatically less frightening. Random horror that just strikes for no real reason is less interesting than horror that is specifically targeting you as a victim, or (even worse) horror that you have brought on yourself. Second, Freddy started to get too damn funny. I hate wise-cracking Freddy. This is a guy who was murdered by a group of parents because of what he did to their children. This is a vile, repulsive human being whose evil was so strong that he he came back from beyond the grave to keep hurting his victims. And yet, by the time the series was done, Freddy was a Halloween costume for children, a joke. Defanged to such a degree that it was hard to remember a time when he was genuinely scary.
Go back and look at that first film Wes Craven made. It’s great because it’s cheap, and because it unfolds with an awful dreamlike quality, where the lines of what is or isn’t real blur completely, and anything can happen. Freddy barely speaks, and the “jokes” in the film aren’t funny at all. “I’m your boyfriend now” is not a joke. It’s just a wretched, awful jab from a sick mind.
One of the reasons I I haven’t been vocally opposed to this new “Nightmare On Elm Street” is because I thought the new script had genuine potential. It wasn’t played as a comedy. It returned Freddy to being an object of pure fear. And the script did something so smart it surprised me. It set up some genuine ambiguity about whether or not Freddy did the things that he was accused of. In this post-McMartin world, there’s a provocative question to be asked using the character. What if Freddy didn’t do it? What if he was just a strange little man who made the mistake of being nice to children, and then those children told a story that got him killed? His fury becomes a righteous fury, and his return from the grave is punishment for a crime that these teenagers have long forgotten even committing.
I also liked that the script I read didn’t seem slavish to the original. It made some nods to the iconography, but it didn’t just recreate every single scare or set piece, beat for beat.
If you’re familiar with the original, check out the trailer and tell me what you think. It looks to me like every major kill and every major beat in the film has been reproduced. There are new images in there, too, true, but I’m surprised how close it looks now. You should check out the trailer I embedded (or click here for a larger version). Most of the major iconography of the first film is there. True, there are some new beats, but for the most part, that’s sort of shot-for-shot.
I don’t think that’s necessarily cause for alarm, but I do hope that when the film is released in April, what we see is a movie that nods to the classic, then stakes its own claim. Of all of our modern movie monsters, I think Freddy is the one that is best suited to a reinterpretation, and I hope this is the one where Platinum Dunes finally gets everything right.
Razor-gloved fingers crossed.
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