Tony ‘Razorglove’ Fyler has been having nightmares.
Comparing the original Nightmare on Elm Street from 1984 with its 2010 re-make is, apart from anything else, a more interesting experience than comparing, say, the original and modern Halloween movies or the original and re-made Omen films. It’s more interesting because Freddy’s very existence, his core victims, and the raison for his d’etre are all highly specific.
Freddy’s a paedophile and a child-killer. His victims are very distinctly children when he’s alive, and teenagers when he ascends to his dream-demon status, and he depends for his scares and his kills on nightmares, on the things that scare those teenagers. Society’s understanding of Freddy’s kind of psychological deviancy has moved on since the 80s – in essence, he’s become the bogeyman de siècle, as more and more real child-killers and/or rapacious paedophiles have come to light. In the pre-net 80s when Freddy first burst on screen, such people tended to be loners, isolated by their psychology in society, or locked away for the public’s safety. Nowadays, there is an ever-present societal fear of people with deviant designs on children, and yet there are more organised rings and online communities for people who want to do harm to children. You’d expect, in a 21st century Nightmare, some executive notice to have been taken of the way society has changed. What’s more, the whole idea of parents executing vigilante justice on a child-killer who walked free in the 90s, and yet kept it somehow secret, is less believable than it was in the 70s, when the original Freddy was supposed to have been roasted. The way the media has grown to handle such stories would seem to make the notion of a 21st century Freddy being handled in the same way as an 80s Freddy unlikely to the point where it loses connection with the reality of the viewers. It’s equivalent to the parents of Soham quietly executing Ian Huntley, and no-one ever noticing.
But as it turns out, probably the chief differences between the two incarnations of the original Nightmare on Elm Street are money and expectations. When the original was made, there was no legend, no baggage, it was just a low-budget movie to take a potential reality and give it a horror twist. The 21st century Nightmare is above all about making a Nightmare movie. It knows what people expect of a Nightmare movie, indeed of the first Nightmare movie. So whereas the original Nightmare had to string out its discovery process, and make the world in which it was set feel like a representation of the world from which the audience came, the makers of the re-make opted for a kind of half-world; the teenagers feeling like modern 21st century, post-grunge teenagers, but the world in which they live feeling more in tune with that of the original 80s script than anything particularly up to date (with the exception that house phones have become cellphones, library books have become online searches, and jail cells have CCTV). That means the thrills and kills that are delivered have to work extra hard in 2010 to not feel like they themselves are re-treads of a 30 year old idea.
It’s important to note though that the cast of the 21st century Nightmare are better, more believable actors on almost every level and in almost every case than their 80s counterparts. There’s still a degree to which they come off as everyteens, but they do certainly work as modern everyteens, swearing realistically and putting two and two together at a post-Buffy speed – everyone’s dreaming about the same man, and everyone’s dying. That means something weird and freaky’s going on, they realise, no matter what their parents tell them.
Where the new movie rather falls down is in the industrial-scale trauma-induced forgetfulness on which it hangs its premise. In the original Nightmare, it’s never pretended that the victims of the nightmare-Freddy are the same children he abused when he was alive. The original concept was that parents of other children, scared that if allowed to go free, he would catch, abuse and kill those children as he had done to others, burned him to death to prevent that outcome. The new Nightmare demands the massively unlikely event of them all having been abused by Freddy, and then forgotten that they went to pre-school together, that they were abused by him, that any of it was real. There’s even a deliciously modern liberal twist in the new Nightmare where Quentin, one of the everyteens, rages against his father for “killing an innocent man”.
But no. Freddy works on no level as an innocent, and the group-psychosis is something of a chasm through which the plot of the re-make demands we drive. On the other hand, someone learned the lesson of “showing, rather than telling” in drama when it came to the re-make, because whereas in the original Nancy’s mother simply tells the story of Krueger, in the new movie they find the time to also show the pursuit of the paedophile, and his immolation. Also, Wes Craven has always wanted Freddy to be a child molester but that aspect of his character (which makes a perfect degree of sense) was relatively smothered in the original, whereas in the new version, it’s very much front and centre, with the finale surprisingly explicit about what happened to both the young Nancy and what Krueger intends to do to her endlessly in his dreamworld, even dressing her in a grown-up version of the dress she wore as a child. In a post-Yewtree world, it’s right that genuine horror can be gleaned from this sort of scenario, but nevertheless it makes for less comfortable viewing than the original.
So is the 2010 Nightmare another in the long series of shot-for-shot remakes by a different generation?
No. There’s a surprising number of shot-for-shot re-runs, certainly – Kris’s anti-gravity death, the jail cell death of her boyfriend (though in the new version this is rather more gruesome and begs the question of being captured on video), the ‘micro-nap’ shot of Kris being dragged off in a bloody body bag, and the shot of the Krueger glove between Nancy’ legs in the bath are all here. But in its essence, this is a retelling, with a different set of expectations and a different feel to the original.
So which is better? That depends entirely on why you’re watching a Nightmare movie. If you want a good romping slasher movie, go 1984. If you want a more believable, squirm-inducing creepfest, the 2010 Nightmare still has enough new nastiness to make it worth your watching.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk