There is a lot of irony to be found in this remake of this legendary 80s horror. Not because it’s self-consciously recreating a classic, or because it plays upon any of the conventions its ancestor relies on, but because for a film about the dangers of falling asleep it tried damn hard to make the audience nod off.
Freddy Krueger is one of the greatest horror villains of recent years, and his revival was eagerly anticipated: not least by me. My personal hope was that the return of the child killer would revitalise a genre that has rarely inspired in recent years, allowing new writers and directors to experiment with the surreal, the weird and the bizarre. After all, could there be more of a carte blanche than a man whose hunting ground is people’s dreams?
However, it’s just the dishonourable Mr. Krueger that is a recognisable feature of the film, director Samuel Bayer seems so determined to recycle, reuse and just plain repeat every horror convention that the man with the knife-adorned gloves rarely has a chance to shine.
The cameras meander around the predictably twilit sets keeping the angles tight and the depth of field small so that maximum use of the sudden scare can be made. Every build up is so obvious that rather than tensing in my seat with fear I was cringing, or yawning, every time we build up to the sudden appearance of Freddy or his recent victims (who were, of course always accompanied by an inexplicable loud and shrill shriek from somewhere off screen).
When we lapse into the dream world, the sets are not too bad but, because of the aforementioned convention, we don’t see a lot of them. A boiler room features heavily, and like the scares it is uninspired, and the school where Freddy’s back story comes together doesn’t extend beyond a dilapidated and vaguely grimy shell of a set – with little added flair to get your spine tingling, or to hint that a repeat viewing would even be remotely worthwhile.
As to the man himself, Jackie Earle Haley does a good job of bringing him to life both before and after the events which this origin story illuminates. During his time at the school, which we view in m a muddled flashback-dream as one of our protagonists inexplicably manages to doze off in a swimming pool, Haley treads the tightrope of ambiguity pretty well as we try and work out exactly what he did that led to his death, injecting some much-needed drama to the proceedings. I don’t want to give away to much about where they go with Krueger’s background, but I will say that this film treads ground which the original was too scared to tread on and manages, I think, get the tone spot on.
Sadly this skilful scripting fails to carry the film throughout, and the inability to capitalise on the potential of Freddy in his more recognisable incarnation means that the first half of the film fails to provide anything new or exciting either to the franchise or the genre as a whole. The visuals are lacklustre, the scares visible from a mile away and face-to-faces between hunter and hunted lacking the visceral terror required to ingrain this horror grand-master into the consciousness of a new generation.
Despite Jackie Earle Haley’s best efforts, then, this is a big disappointment. All that remains, therefore, is for me to beg Warner Bros. not to ruin the franchise by commissioning any more of them…
This article was first posted on May 3, 2010