(On Cable TV, August 2016) Watching this A Nightmare on Elm Street remake so close to seeing the original is an exercise in comparing different film eras. The eighties were marked by rapid experimentation, at the frequent expense of polish or logic. The Teens, especially at the Hollywood studio level, are about crass commercialism, storytelling templates and visual slickness, even if the result often feels as if it comes off an assembly chain. In A Nightmare on Elm Street’s case, there’s also twenty-five years of accumulated fannish expectations regarding Freddy Krueger, who’s been featured in five sequels, one crossover, videogames, comics, Halloween costumes and enough merchandizing to make anyone wonder why we’re cheering for a serial child killer. Thankfully, the remake goes easy on the homages: While this new version of A Nightmare on Elm Street keeps more or less the same structure as the original and doesn’t dare deviate from its iconography, it’s also relaxed about doing its own thing. The acting is much better (Jackie Earle Haley is fine as Krueger, while it’s a surprise to find Rooney Mara in a pre-stardom role here), and so is the cinematography. The progress in special effects technology means that the remake is far more visually cohesive than the original. There is a pretty good sequence, for instance, in which action in a small supermarket seamlessly shift into a boiler-room nightmare and that’s the kind of intricately controlled special effect set-piece that the 1984 low-budget film couldn’t even aspire to execute. On the other hand, this reliance on digital wizardry means that this remake looks far more deliberate and restrained than the original. Everything from director Samuel Bayer seems planned, with few surprises or genuinely upsetting visions along the way. (This being said, I’m more annoyed than I expected at the last gory death of the film.) While this A Nightmare on Elm Street does stand on its own as an average horror movie, it does pale in comparison to the loopy terrors of its inspiration. Even five years after the remake, it seems clear that the 1984 original will be remembered for far longer.
(On DVD, August 2016) I was about to watch the 2010 remake of Nightmare on Elm Street without paying homage to the 1984 original … but then common sense came back to me and I had to take a look at it. Despite the film’s flaws, I’m glad I did, because this original Nightmare has a few things that weren’t captured by the remake. Probably the most significant of them is the eerie horror of the film’s dreamlike logic: Freddy’s first confrontation alone has more disturbing imagery than the entire remake, and the roughness of the film’s execution often highlights the disarming surrealism of writer/director Wes Craven’s vision. It’s this nervous energy that runs through Nightmare on Elm Street and makes it far more memorable than many slasher horror movies of the time. In other aspects, the film doesn’t fare as well: The acting isn’t particularly good (Heather Langenkamp is disappointing as the lead, and Johnny Depp does not impress in his big-screen debut), the pacing stops and goes, the cinematography is recognizably low-budget. And that’s without mentioning the somewhat unsatisfying ending, which just throws reality and nightmares in the same dumpster, then sets fire to everything and runs around laughing. Meh. It’s worth noting, from a perspective thirty years later, that Freddy’s character in this inaugural film, even played by Robert Englund, isn’t the wisecracking chatterbox of latter films: he largely remains this implacable threat and that further distinguishes this film from latter sequels and remakes. While this original Nightmare on Elm Street isn’t, strictly speaking, an exceptional movie or even a particularly good horror movie, it does have, even today, something more than other horror movies of the time. No wonder it still endures.