February 12, 2015 The Anatomy of a Remake: A Nightmare on Elm Street
On November 16th, 1984, an icon in cinematic history was born. His name was Freddy Krueger, and he was about to give the kids of Elm Street some nasty nightmares. A Nightmare on Elm Street redefined not only slashers, but also the Horror genre itself. In a world where masked menaces preyed on naughty teens, Krueger attacked them where they were most vulnerable – in their dreams. Director Wes Craven (The Hills Have Eyes 1977, Scream 1995) brought us a fear we cannot control – the fear of falling asleep, only to never wake up again. A Nightmare on Elm Street was a huge success, terrifying movie goers across the country. What made this movie so unique was its ability to incorporate a storyline where the victim became just as iconic as the villain. That victim is Nancy Thompson, played by the wonderfully talented Heather Langenkamp (Just The Ten Of Us television series 1988-1990, Tanya and Nancy: The Inside Story 1994). What more perfect actor to play a hideously burnt maniac with a striped sweater and knives for fingers than Robert Englund himself, in the most memorable role of his career. The franchise propelled Freddy Krueger into a household name. The movie cost a total of just under two million dollars to make, but made that back its first weekend, grossing over twenty-five million dollars at the American box office.
As with most successful films, A Nightmare on Elm Street spawned several sequels. Wes Craven himself re-imagined his own story to deliver us A New Nightmare in 1994. In 2003, Krueger was even pitted against another titan slasher in Freddy vs. Jason. With the huge success of Freddy vs. Jason, fans were ready to see even more of Krueger. So, with no surprise, word spread of a remake of the classic film, and in 2010, it became a reality. The reactions of the fans to this news was mixed. One side said leave the classic be, it is impossible to catch that lightening in a bottle twice, while the other side said to bring the burnt boogieman in for a newer generation. A Nightmare on Elm Street opened on April 30, 2010 and marked Samuel Bayer’s directorial debut for a feature film. The bladed glove was handed down to Jackie Earle Haley (Watchmen 2009, Shutter Island 2010). Haley took the role and made the super villain his own, using a darker, more aggressive approach. The reviews on the sequel were mixed, and the inevitable comparisons had begun.
The original A Nightmare on Elm Street starts with a dream sequence where Tina (Amanda Wyss: Fast Times At Ridgemont High 1982, Better Off Dead 1985) is being stalked by an unknown assailant in a boiler room as the iconic glove is being made by worn and dirty hands. Tina confesses her dreams to her best friend, Nancy Thompson (Langenkamp), only to find out they are both having the same nightmare. As Nancy and her boyfriend, Glen (played by the very young Johnny Depp), stay over frightened Tina’s house one night, Tina’s boyfriend (Jsu Garcia, as Nick Cori: We Were Soldiers 2002, Collateral Damage 2002) shows up unannounced. Tragedy strikes as dreams become reality in a brutal scene that has been burnt (no pun intended) into the minds of Horror fans everywhere. The violent death of her friend sends Nancy into a world of the unknown. Afraid to fall asleep and plagued by surreal nightmares when she does, she is followed by her policeman dad (John Saxon: Blood Beach 1980, Black Christmas 1974), and has to deal with sudden, violent death all around her. She finally learns the truth about her “dream demon” and discovers his identity: a child murderer who had been burnt alive by the parents of the now dreaming children, now out for supernatural revenge. Nancy knows she must do anything and everything to stop Freddy Krueger, the man hell bent on sickened hurting those lynch mob parents. A showdown of significance wraps up this amazing piece of Horror culture.
The remake follows the same road of storyline but occasionally throws on a blinker and makes a slight detour. The writer to fill Cravens shoes is Wesley Strick (Cape Fear 1991, Wolf 1994) along with producer Michael Bay (Pearl Harbor 2001, Transformers 2007) and his team, Platinum Dunes. Nancy’s role was replaced by the now well-known Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 2011, Side Effects 2013). The role of her overprotective police officer father had been cut out to make the character of Nancy that much more alone and helpless. As Nancy’s friends keep dropping off one by one, she comes to the conclusion that the dream stalker must be stopped. More information about Fred Krueger, aka The Springwood Slasher, comes forward and leaves Nancy as the only one that can stop the malevolent evil. The film broke box office records for midnight showings and grossed a total of one hundred fifteen dollars worldwide. Fans overall were angry at the changes that were made, calling it a reboot rather than a remake. Some character changes included making Krueger an elementary school gardener instead of a high school janitor, but the biggest difference in 2010’s edition of the story was the vivid light that was shown on the origins of Freddy.
The two Freddy characters are actually very different and show very few similarities. Englund’s Krueger was more wisecracking and enjoyed being a deceased dream stalker. Where Haley’s portrayal was more hell bent on making these kids pay. Haley’s Freddy Krueger was more outraged and resentful of being murdered, as he leaves out the endearing one-liners that helped make the original so successful. Appearance wise they are quite similar, but Haley’s burnt skin make-up seems to go for a more realistic grotesque look. One big change in appearance is the noticeably height difference between the two, as Englund stands much taller. While the original played off of mystery, the remake wanted the audience to hate the Krueger character even more. This decision gave fans more background and flashbacks on the macabre nature of Freddy. Although the original was glorified for its practical effects, the remake does a nice job in placing CGI where it best seems fit, never overusing it. While the writers and production team of the remake changed, fans can find homage in the fact that founder of New Line Cinema, Robert Shaye, acted as executive producer on the film. So any way one slices it, A Nightmare on Elm Street delivers on both versions, depending on their point of view. For those who thought it was safe to go back to sleep, keep dreaming. As long as there is Horror, there will always be a place for Elm Street.