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November 26, 2010

Movie Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

Well, it’s official. We are in remake hell. I really, really wanted this to be good. It had everything going for it. Competently made, good budget, Jackie Earle Haley (who’s turn as Rorschach in The Watchmen was wonderful) but in viewing A Nightmare on Elm Street a few great truths were revealed to me. 1) Mainstream horror is no longer made for people like me and 2) Modern audiences are stupid. I will go into much further detail on both of these items as we progress, much to the chagrin of you, gentle reader, but this is something we need to talk about. A Nightmare on Elm Street scared the proverbial crap out of me in 1984. Wes Craven devised a character that we, physically, could not escape from. There was no solace to be found one town over, or by making it to dawn or by escaping the campground. Freddy Krueger could kill us in our sleep… and he enjoyed it. Take that same premise and update it 26 years later and what we’re left with is an overwrought story and an underutilized mood. Remove iconic horror film characters out of the equation and, even then, A Nightmare on Elm Street remains uninspired and flat stealing the best elements out of the original and slapping them on a green screen. Hold on to your fedoras, because this could be a bumpy ride.

In tackling the two great truths above, one should first determine whether or not he or she is the target audience for a Platinum Dunes remake. There have been precious few of these remakes that are geared toward dyed in the wool horror fans with only The Hills Have Eyes standing out, in my opinion. The rest, like A Nightmare on Elm Street, cater to the teeny-bopper of the 21st century. Devoid of creativity, play-dated to death as children and suffering from an oppressive helicopter-parent culture, today’s youth is not prepared to be truly scared. That’s fine but it doesn’t make it all right to not push those thematic boundaries. The original NOES was a thing of beauty with some very startling imagery. Nancy’s bathtub adventure was fraught with suspense, tension and danger. In the new version, that same bathtub gag was used with surprising ineffectiveness. Freddy’s glove rises as the new Nancy falls asleep. She wakes up and it disappears. End. Done. There is none of the struggle, the audience fearing for Nancy’s life and sanity, like in the original. We suffered with Nancy in 1984, she was sympathetic because the danger was real. As filmmakers, we’ve tempered horror to a point to make it palatable to the weakest of stomachs. NOES (2010) was nothing more than an exercise in “I fell asleep, Freddy sliced me,” over and over again. There was nothing unique about it because the target audience cannot handle anything unique. Today’s youth are, dare I say it, unsophisticated viewers. They have no sympathy for the characters in modern horror because the characters are just like them. Never exposed to any real danger, only that devised in a computer. CGI has it’s place, assuredly, but there is nothing more unsettling than a practical, physical special effect. As Robert Englund pressed his face through the bedroom wall in 1984, physically in the same room as our heroine, we feared for her life. In 2010, the new Nancy must endure a computer generated image of Freddy Kreuger pressing through her bedroom wall. A very obvious computer image that ruins the illusion… but that is what the target audience needs. Faced with real horror, caring about characters and their survival would drive this generation to go fetal and speed-dial their parents. This generation, for the most part, was never allowed to play unsupervised in the dirt, for Pete’s sake, and now we expect them to react cathartically to a well crafted horror film? Please, they have been Disney-fied.

Additionally, I made the bold claim that modern audiences are stupid. Well, they are. It has been a disturbing trend, beginning in the mid 1990s, where the horror film has been forced to explain, in excruciating detail, every aspect of the story and plot. Do I care if Michael Meyer’s mother was a stripper? Does Fred Krueger’s origin need to be micromanaged? Is the family dynamic in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre worth all of that inactive screen time? No! Seriously, when will we realize that explaining evil takes away evil’s impact? It is this explanation, though, that modern audiences need in order to make the connections in their little heads that leads to story comprehension. A new study has been released that says that, on average, Americans read at a 6th Grade level. We can extrapolate from there that reading comprehension is also pretty low. Watching a movie and taking thematic elements and piecing them together is just like reading, without the bothersome page turning. If our audiences only read at a 6th Grade level, they are only comprehending the narrative at a 6th grade level which means everything needs to be spelled out for them. Michael Meyers couldn’t just kill people, he has to have a tortured childhood. Fred Kreuger couldn’t be targeting these kids in order to avenge his death at the hands of their parents, he had to have molested them. Evil doesn’t need a reason. Let me say that again, louder:


That’s what makes evil scary. That’s what makes Fred Kreuger scary. Reasons, back story and softening the antagonists in our horror films allows the modern audience to fully comprehend their motivations. In most of these films, the antagonists have deeper characters than the hapless souls they are killing but, without those reasons and back stories, the horror filmgoer of today will not comprehend the narrative. Remember, 6th Grade level, right? Everything needs to be delivered on a silver platter and spoon fed or all hell breaks loose.

I am a huge fan of independent horror for these reasons. I guess that those films are made for me, the thinking horror fan. The genre itself has gotten a bad rap since it’s inception, but now, thanks to America’s intellectual coma, that bad reputation is starting to come true. When done well, the horror film is societal commentary, wrapped in a scary little package. Horror films are metaphors for what we, as humans, are afraid of. We wrap up our real-life monsters in latex and goo and project them on a forty foot screen so we can feel safe when they are defeated. That is when a horror film works but, like A Nightmare on Elm Street, just having the proper elements doesn’t cut it.

Oh, and just so this is official, the Blu-Ray release featured quite a few special features that I didn’t care about and the transfer was gorgeous, although it didn’t matter.

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