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Movie review - 'A Nightmare on Elm Street': A real nightmare without old Freddy

DO DREAM IT'S OVER: Jackie Earle Haley doesn't deliver the maniacal menace of his predecessor in the Freddy Krueger role, Robert Englund.
DO DREAM IT'S OVER: Jackie Earle Haley doesn't deliver the maniacal menace of his predecessor in the Freddy Krueger role, Robert Englund. (New Line Cinema)

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By Jen Chaney
Friday, April 30, 2010

Freddy Krueger used to be such a fun guy.

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Sure, he wore a ratty sweater, had a complexion like a blister-covered relief map, repeatedly invaded people's dreams, then shoved his deadly finger knives into their torsos. But he had such a sense of humor about the whole thing.

Unfortunately, in the remake of 1984's "A Nightmare on Elm Street" -- don't call this a re-imagining, people, because imagination is the last thing at work here -- good ol' Fred loses any sense of playful shock he once possessed and turns into a generic figure meticulously manufactured to simultaneously gross and freak us out. It doesn't work.

Jackie Earle Haley -- who earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his role as a sex offender in 2006's "Little Children" -- assumes the Freddy persona made iconic in eight previous "Nightmare" movies by, as this movie makes abundantly clear, the irreplaceable Robert Englund. The basic story line remains the same: A bunch of teens in a cozy suburb called Springwood start having simultaneous bad dreams about the same homicidal dude, dreams in which some of them are viciously murdered, and some of them wind up dead in real life.

Screenwriters Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer take a couple of liberties with the original back story. In the '84 version, Krueger was a child murderer burned by a mob of angry Springwood parents after being freed from prison; this time, he's a suspected pedophile set ablaze by a mob of angry Springwood parents after taking innocent children to his dank basement home underneath their preschool. Because, you know, most accredited preschools are totally cool about letting weird guys reside in their basements.

The flick spends most of its time re-slashing its way through scenes already familiar to anyone who saw Wes Craven's original, while adding enough "modern" tweaks to make this "Nightmare" relevant to younger audiences. Remember that scene from the first "Elm Street" where a terrifying silhouette of Freddy nearly bursts through the wall above our heroine Nancy's bed? Well, in the 2010 version, we see that same scene again -- only this time, Nancy is listening to her iPod.

As for Haley, he pours every bit of menace he can muster into Krueger but can't overcome the listless direction by Samuel Bayer, or the completely unterrifying, updated Krueger makeup job foisted onto his face. When Englund wore the pockmarked, ghoulish guise, he seemed genuinely creepy, even when he was cracking absurd jokes. But the "new" Krueger looks like some melted-candle hybrid of the Pale Man from "Pan's Labyrinth" and Hans Moleman from "The Simpsons."

Even when he rips off a halfway decent one-liner -- "How's this for a wet dream?" he barks at Nancy (played with zero intensity by Rooney Mara) as she slogs down a liquefied hallway, in yet another scene ripped straight from the first "Street" -- all we can think of is how much we miss the Englund Freddy. Man, that guy knew how to have a killer good time.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

1/2

(95 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for strong bloody horror and violence, disturbing images, terror and language.


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