Back from the dead after being hunted and roasted by vigilante parents, crispy faced child torturer Freddie Krueger (Haley) returns for a fresh batch of Elm Street victims by hunting them down in their dreams.
You can burn him, chop off his head and make him appear in a Fat Boys video, but no matter how hard you try, Freddie Krueger just won’t die. Eight movies, a TV series, comics, books, novelty oven gloves... He’s been so lucrative for New Line (who in the past were nicknamed the House That Freddie Built), that this reboot should come as no surprise. If Krueger does have a chance of dying, he’ll be milked to death.
The pitch here is to revive him with an origin story and it’s not entirely unwelcome. Last time Freddie was seen on screen, he was advertising crisps on Italian telly. If that strikes fear into you, you’re scared of potatoes, not Freddie Krueger. Reshaped by the sequels into a demented Vegas act, he lost that malevolence way back. So the challenge is simple: make Freddie scary again. Otherwise, it’s just fancy dress on a big budget.
Elm Street has rolled out of Michael Bay’s horror garage Platinum Dunes, who know a thing or two about mechanical horror remakes. Whether it’s Amityville or Texas Chainsaw, and no matter who’s directing, Dunes’ movies all look and feel the same. Buff casts, cold green striplighting, zero sense of humour... This entry from MTV veteran Samuel Bayer fits right in. The visuals are fashionably gloomy, as is the cast, and there’s not a smile or a fright or a heartbeat in it.
Which is odd, as the story’s no different to the ’84 original, albeit with the odd footnote. The chief addition is the introduction of the idea of “micronaps” – meaning Freddie can pop out at any time. With a concept tweak like that, you should be primed on the edge of your seat. Instead, the movie dials down to a static, brooding tempo that aims for ominous but just comes out exhausted. As the sleep-deprived cast crumple from scene to scene, a sense of fatigue sets in, and it flatlines right up until the anticlimax. There’s no doubting Bayer’s eye for a polished, grungey visual but he clearly skived off at Tension & Suspense School. Nearly every scare here has been fixed in post, cooked up in the sound studio with a One Louder button for the jumps.
Jackie Earle Haley’s Freddie is less flamboyant than Robert Englund’s but he’s a compact, menacing presence all the same. What he’s up against are some truly dodgy Freddie 2.0 upgrades – try a backstory that switches him from child killer to paedophile (Now, does that make him a scarier proposition? Or just a more unpalatable one?), or a makeup makeover that... well, takes some getting used to. Authentic burns victim? Or the mothership alien from Close Encounters after falling face-first into a grill? Either way, he's faceless.
When a remake relies on restaging so much source material, as this does here, you can’t help but rewind the original in your head. Wes Craven’s film plays a bit cheesy/nasty nowadays, but it’s littered with unforgettable scenes – Johnny Depp’s blood-geyser bed, the marshmallow stairs, the wall-climbing sequence... There’s not one memorable moment here, not one kill that sticks, just various shades of the same grey nightmare. Freddie’s back, but the blades are blunt.
Haley earns his stripes but Bayer's reboot is a bland anticlimax.