'A Nightmare on Elm Street'
The remake is slick enough and by modern standards it's only medium bloody"You gotta stop that kinda dreamin,'" said the naive mother in the original 1984 "Nightmare on Elm Street," and of course the advice was not heeded, and Freddy Krueger (billed as "Fred Krueger") and his metallic claw-fingers wiped out teenager after teenager, and a franchise was born. Director Wes Craven's film never did get the critical respect of, say, John Carpenter's first " Halloween," but its creepiest scenes — the body-bag appearance at the high school, the bedroom sequence showing a Krueger attack without showing Krueger — revealed more filmmaking smarts and gore-oriented invention than audiences could find in the entire bankrupt "Friday the 13th" series.
Every title in the previous paragraph has been subjected to a remake or two by now, including "Nightmare." The new one is slick enough, marking director Samuel Bayer's feature debut. (His videos include "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Boulevard of Broken Dreams.") By today's standards, it is only medium-bloody, though it's more than usually grim, its young protagonists sullen enough to qualify for the "Twilight" movies. Yet it affords precious little sadistic pleasure, partly because it "dares" to lay out more directly the pedophiliac demons plaguing Freddy the serial killer.
Even when he was just a serial killer without the pedophilia, Freddy was a mixed blessing as far as slasher anti-heroes go. The notion that a boogeyman, a specter in a fedora and melted skin, could flit from nightmare to nightmare, appearing anywhere at any time and then disappearing — well, if someone or something has that much latitude, you're dealing with a perilous shortage of narrative rules. It's a strength and a weakness. With Craven's original, the blurred borderlines between dreamscape and reality gave the best images an eerie force and unpredictability. The remake works the same idea to death. After the 40th or 50th sudden appearance of either human or inhuman figure at the window, or in the bed, or in the bathroom mirror, you feel as if you may be expiring yourself: death by a thousand shock cuts.
I hope Jackie Earle Haley drew a nice fat check for this assignment; the role asks criminally little of him beneath all that goopy melted-face makeup, yet he enjoys top billing. (Rent "Little Children" if you prefer to see Haley create a genuinely frightening portrayal.)
As the "Nightmare" remake's dour, sleep-deprived teens attempt to fend off the worst and keep their throats intact, the movie settles for less and less, though occasionally you get an image to remember. The last 10 seconds, for example, bring the shock plus a certain precision missing from the previous hour and a half. I've seen far worse horror remakes, but let's not grade on too much of a curve: This "Nightmare" offers dutifully grinding thrills of a routine sort.