two two-twoonie tuesdays later, a review on A Nightmare On Elm St. (Spoilers? Yeah. We got spoilers.)
There’s a moment about 15 minutes into A Nightmare on Elm Street when Chris, a distressed girl who witnessed her friend Dean slit his own throat in the Springwood Diner, drives up onto her street–the camera follows her 2009 VW Bug across the frame and rests, softly, on the street sign that says “Elm St.” I thought, “Oh yeah,” and realized that in the original Nightmare this shot was done a little bit sooner, a little bit earlier, to give relevance to the film’s title.
This maligned Michael Bay-helmed reboot of the 80′s horror classic didn’t need this shot. We never needed to have the characters explicitly mentioned as living on Elm Street because, right from the get go, if they’re being haunted in their dreams, if they’re being stalked by a diachromatic-sweater-wearing murderer, they’re on Elm Street. This is now an inescapable fact of the Hollywood film universe, and this remake has the massive shadow of a Wes Craven horror classic propelling it from the moment you buy your ticket. Lets face it, if people are anything like me, they want to see if Michael Bay helped fuck up this franchise as bad as he did Friday the 13th.
Reviews are in that this film is not scary. In fact, the almost exact-reproduction of the original film’s sequencing is reported as being “not enough” to justify this as a horror. And hell yeah, it’s not that scary. There are great jumpy moments. I jumped quite a few times and delighted in the sparse and well-used violence. This is, across the board, the reason that this film is failing at the box office. Because these kids are merely residents of Elm Street by name, they don’t have the true horror of Robert Englund’s Freddy Krueger stalking their dreams.
But let’s take a step back and critique this movie on its own merits. Unlike the Friday remake, it is not a torture-porn fiasco. There is more jumpiness than goreyness and there are no breasts to make this an exploitationfest. Jackie Earle Haley is no Robert Englund, but his face doesn’t look like something you can buy in a Value Village around Halloween time. The sound mixing on his voice made him an ever-present sonic force coming somewhere from the back of the theatre, a use of dream-sound I haven’t seen since The Science of Sleep, and I think even Michel Gondry would revel in the use of dream-weirdness. A carpet that seamlessly transforms into a narrow river of thick, deep blood? A kitchen where pots and pots of pigs hooves are boiling to the point of flame? Wonderful.
The closeness I felt to each of these useless, hopeless teens was amplified, I think, by the fact that this movie is not about the promiscuity-morality play that stalks the margins of the slasher films of the eighties. This film does not open with a girl sleeping in her bed, immediately a sexual object for the camera. It opens with a guy, dozing off in a diner. He is our first face and our first identification.When he offs himself we walk with the witness of his death, Chris, who is left to doze in and out of classes at school and remain convincingly haunted throughout her days. This girl is the remake of Tina from the first movie, who has her boyfriend for a sleepover and is lifted to the air in her dreams and slashed high above her bed, cutting her shirt and showing her breasts. However the 2010 character’s EX-boyfriend comes into her window uninvited. She sleeps with him for comfort, but doesn’t engage in anything more than spooning and when she’s killed in the same way, she is tossed, violently and clunkingly about the room, and is left clothed, breasts concealed.
Then we follow her ex, who is convicted of the murder and put in jail. Cross-cutting starts between him and two others who are haunted similarly, trying to stay awake while reading the Pied Piper of Hamlin. Like everyone else, the guy in jail is killed, and the narrative switches for the last time to the two in the book store. This shifting from helpless loser to hapless teen keeps you from getting too attached, but also serves to make you into the only spectator that matters: you start identifying with the constant, and start rooting for Freddy.
This is where the big difference of the film happens. Nancy, our final female protagonist, learns from her mother that all of these kids that are dying went to the same pre-school, where a gardener named Fred Krueger sexually assaulted them–the dreams are repressed memories coming to life. BIG difference from 1984′s “child-murderer” Fred Krueger. In the 1984 film, the child-murderer Krueger was burned alive by the old townsfolk and is now exacting revenge on its new inhabitants. In this incarnation, however, the child-molester Krueger is burned alive by angry parents and acts as though he did nothing. He weeps as they trap him inside a warehouse and kill him, “What is it that you think I did?” One of the kids even says “We would have said anything! You believed us and now you’ve killed him.”
So Krueger’s innocence is implied. The film stays interesting right through this whole moment, because we’re trying to figure out what it is Krueger wants from the children. One other victim says on a videoblog that, in his dreams, he was being led to a basement of a pre-school, because thats where the man wants him to see something. Of course, our two protagonists make a day-trip to figure out what it is. It is implied that this is the “secret cave” that the children were led to, and, maybe, were lying about. Maybe Freddie just wants retribution. Proof. I’m on the edge of my seat.
Where this movie really soared for me was this secret cave. A hidden room in the basement of the old school that I did not know what to expect of. And when they get there, hoping to find some clues, they find pictures. Of Nancy. And the quote: “He led us here to remind us what he did to us.” It is in this moment that the film becomes a dark, horrifying experience. We’re left to identify only with Krueger, who may just have a typical movie-monster vengeance, and instead we find ourselves with nothing to hold on to, in the middle of a paedophile’s dark hideout, disgusted that we thought of him as anything more than a monster.
From here, the director has no qualms about demonstrating Krueger’s perversion, including a scene where Nancy is in the dress she wore as a child. The film doesn’t cross any lines visually but Haley’s delivery of his few lines are nothing short of disgusting, and yes, effective. A horrifying portrayal of a child abuser and the prevalence of abuse in the victim’s lives well into adulthood.
The film is not just about a soft “child-murderer,” but goes right ahead and says what he was. You could read that Englund’s Krueger was always this type of pederast, but the 2010 film has the precedent and the balls to talk about it. At the end, after Nancy lights Krueger and the school of her past on fire, a flock of civil servants are there to put out the fire and take care of things, implying the kind of societal cover-up and silence typical of a child-abuse narrative.
It’s pretty hot topic to talk about abused children and the smudged polaroids sitting in the basement of some long-forgotten school, and I don’t award any points to Bay for helping this happen. But there is no way to make A Nightmare on Elm Street frightening anymore. It’s been done and seen to death, and the tropes visible in the first film are non-threatening now. However, there is a way to make the film more disturbing, and they’ve done it. We’ve seen slasher films to death. The release that comes from seeing the monster killed at the end, and the horror that sinks into us as we leave the theatre because he’s still alive, these are old, boring emotions. On top of this, we’ve talked violence to death. As a culture, we seem to even be okay with it. A man going about killing people is not a threat. The real threat, the real man we want to see killed, the real horror we feel when we realize he’s still crawling around out there, is the thing we don’t talk about, the man we don’t want our kids to see, the man who is worse than a million murderers, and truly a more horrifying film villain. And so I say to the reviewers, you allowed Mystic River but couldn’t pick up on the disturbing vibe of this flick?
It may not have been a more scary film than the original, but it’s a better made movie. And in fact, if you made it scarier, more violent, you’d be turning us into the victims, making us identify with them. And that’s something no one can wish on someone else.Tags: film, non-fiction, review