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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) (Blu-ray)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) (Blu-ray)
New Line // R // October 5, 2010 // Region Free
List Price: $35.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted October 2, 2010 | E-mail the Author
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As if you need a recap: in the Nightmare on Elm St. flicks, a scarred psychopath with razors for fingers hunts his prey in their dreams. Those who are slaughtered in their sleep also die in the waking world. So, I guess it's kinda-sorta ironic that this remake of Wes Craven's seminal slasher kept making me want to doze off.

Look, I know I'm a guy with a keyboard and an Internet connection, so I'm kind of obligated to bitch about horror remakes. I'm really not one of those people, though: promise. I mean, even though the original Dawn of the Dead is the movie that basically kicked off my lifelong obsession with movies, I still really dug the remake. I think I watched the second take on The House on Haunted Hill theatrically more than any other movie, ever. I'll freely admit to being a fan of the updated versions of House of Wax and Last House on the Left too, and...hell, I even gave Platinum Dunes' remake of Friday the 13th a pretty enthused write-up last year. A Nightmare on Elm St. isn't a bad movie because it's a remake; it's bad because it's...y'know, bad.

If you really are up for slogging your way through another plot summary, it goes something like this: the sleepy little town of Springwood, Ohio has been tormented by a rash of bizarre murders and suicides. A handful of high schoolers soon clue into the common thread: they're all tortured in their nightmares by a badly disfigured man...wearing a fedora and a tattered red and green sweater...and his right hand has long, gleaming razors for fingers. Whoever Freddy Krueger kills in their dreams also dies in real life. Nodding off to sleep might as well be a death sentence. Some of the survivors -- Nancy (Rooney Mara) and Quentin (Kyle Gallner) -- are doing their damndest to stay awake, but sooner or later, their bodies will inevitably buckle under the strain, and Freddy will be there waiting...

The concept of recasting a character as iconic as Freddy is kind of unsettling. I mean, the only slashers with anything close to his marquee value are Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, and both of those are masks, really, with a revolving door of stuntmen underneath 'em. Aside from the djinn in the Wishmaster movies -- and who gives a shit about Wishmaster anyway? -- Freddy is just about the only slasher icon to be consistently portrayed by the same actor. There are Super-Freddy and stunt doubles, sure, but really, no one but Robert Englund had ever taken the mantle of Freddy in any of the original Nightmare on Elm St. movies. Of course, Englund is well into his sixties now, so clearly the role had to be recast, and Jackie Earle Haley certainly seems to be an inspired choice. His brilliant performance as Rorschach in Watchmen
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revealed a darkness and intensity that seemed as if it would transition well to Freddy Krueger, and having been nominated for an Oscar for his turn in Little Children, that's about as high a pedigree as you're gonna get for an actor playing a pedophile. Promising...? Yeah. Doesn't pan out, though. Part of it's because of the re-envisioned make-up effects. The original Freddy, to be fair, bore pretty much no resemblance to an actual burn victim. This remake, meanwhile, goes for kind of a heightened authenticity. The problem is that burn victims lose their facial features...their expressiveness. Part of what made Robert Englund's performance so disturbing in the original Elm St. is the dark, demented glee in his face as he tortured and tormented his prey. None of that comes through with the mounds of makeup Jackie Earle Haley is buried underneath here. It's so restrictive that no emotions can pierce through all those layers of silicone. Haley's take on Freddy also speaks in a monotone growl, again losing the personality that was such an integral part of the character Robert Englund had fleshed out. The physicality also isn't there. Englund's right shoulder slumped slightly lower than his left, shaping a silhouette that was off-kilter and immediately unnerving. Haley's trademark is wriggling his razor-edged fingers together, and it just doesn't make anywhere near that same impact. Really, Haley never exudes any sort of menace. It's a shame because I think Haley's take on Fred Krueger in the land of the living -- before he's burned alive -- is phenomenal. He's charming in a childlike sort of way, wide-eyed, and kind of squirrelly...it's note-for-note perfect, outclassing the more overtly evil looks at Freddy alive and well that were lobbed out in the original franchise. In fact, the remake teases at doing something potentially compelling there that would've cast the entire movie in a very different light, but it ultimately doesn't amount to anything. Anyway, at the end of the day, who cares about Freddy when he's still alive and kickin'? The Freddy that counts is botched pretty badly.

Even adjusting for inflation, this remake of A Nightmare on Elm St. cost right at ten times as much as the original to produce. In the more than a quarter-century since then, the art of practical make-up effects has advanced dramatically, and then there's that whole computer graphics revolution. While I don't think there's any denying that a few of the effects in the original Elm St. really haven't aged all that well, many more still look incredible twenty-six years later. Meanwhile, the remake leans excessively on CGI that looked outdated the instant it hacked its way into theaters. Some of the visual effects work here is extraordinary, such as the way Freddy's left cheek is seared through, and his exposed tendons wriggle and move as he speaks. Many more just look low-rent and cartoonish, though. Compare these two shots of Freddy pushing his way through Nancy's bedroom wall, for instance.
[1984; click on the thumbnail to enlarge]
[2010; click on the thumbnail to enlarge]

When I was growing up, that effect was such a "...the hell did they do that?" moment. It truly looked as if some ominous figure was pushing his way through a solid wall and was moving in for the kill. I'd learn years later that it was just about the cheapest effect to pull off in the entire movie. The remake tries to "improve" on it, but instead, it's distractingly fake...so poorly modeled, textured, and lit that every frame screams "hi, I'm CGI; ask me how!" It looks like a cartoony cut-scene from a PS2 game circa 2003, not part of a $35 million remake of the movie that spawned what was until recently the highest grossing horror franchise in history.

In fact, almost nothing that's retreaded in the sequel stacks up to the original. Even now, seeing Tina dragged up the ceiling in the original Nightmare is startlingly effective. Again, until the advent of DVD extras, I had no idea how an effect like that could've been pulled off...it really does look like some kind of unseen force has seized hold of her body. The remake one
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-ups it by violently tossing Katie Cassidy around the room, and it looks like she's being flung around on wires because...well, that's exactly what's happening. It just looks so much blander and more ordinary. There isn't remotely that same sort of splattery payoff afterwards either. There's a similar waking nightmare in a classroom sequence that's dragged down by distractingly cheap CGI, although you already saw that one in the trailers and TV spots. Also, the iconic shot of a bloody, transparent bodybag being dragged through the halls of the high school lacks the otherworldly, dreamlike quality of the original.

The characters straight across the board are pretty bland and boring, and...yeah, as mentioned earlier, that kind of includes Freddy Krueger himself too. Hardly anyone here has anything resembling a personality that takes more than two or three words to fully describe. "Sleep-deprived jock", "the blonde one", "her jealous ex", "hot-tempered love interest"...hell, Nancy herself is pretty much watered down to "artistic outsider". I really like Rooney Mara, and I think she's well-cast, but the movie just doesn't give her all that much to do. Mara is a cute-but-not-unattainable girl next door type in the same vein as Heather Langenkamp, and she brings to the part a sort of quiet vulnerability. Her disarming lisp...social detachment that's more her own doing than anyone else's...all of that hints at a better realized character than the one that's ultimately offered here. One very disappointing thing is that the remake dumbs her down. Langenkamp's Nancy had a strength, a resolve, and a resourcefulness that's largely lacking here. By the end, she had no one to rely on but herself, and the remake completely upends that dynamic. Although the two Nancys hatch similar schemes to destroy Freddy once and for all, Langenkamp's had a fully fleshed-out plan: one that nobody, least of all Freddy, would expect. The remake uses a similar launching point but tosses out everything in the middle. Step one: confront Freddy. Step three: profit! The plan's to attack a guy with razors for fingers head-on, and they literally go into it unarmed. The only out-and-out weapon they wind up wielding is a complete afterthought. I know they're tired after running on fumes for a couple days straight and all, but...c'mon.

One of the more significant additions to the remake is the idea that staying awake can be fatal as well. The concept is based in medical fact: staying awake long enough causes fits of desperation in which the body forces small bursts of sleep that last as little as one to three seconds at a time. These attacks are literally waking dreams in which fantasy and reality are
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indistinguishable from one another. Surviving these without proper rest threatens to put the patient into a coma. It's an interesting thought. The downside...? The medical term is "micronap", and dialogue like "you've been up too long; you're starting to have micronaps!" sounds so cringingly ridiculous when spoken aloud. May sound like a minor gripe, but whatever. One of my favorite things about the original Elm St. is how deftly it blends the dreamworld with reality. There are so many moments in which it's not immediately clear if someone is dreaming or awake. The remake sporadically bothers with this, but generally, the lights are slo-o-o-o-o-owly dialed down and the palette gets much cooler. They might as well just shove "countdown to Freddy!" in the letterboxing bars or something. What's the point of having a killer stalk people in their nightmares if you're not going to take advantage? The scares are less effective, less imaginative, and less bloody this time around too. I'm also disappointed that the remake loses the suburban bent...the more family-oriented feel...the sense of community...of the original. I guess the Gossip Girl demographic isn't interested in that angle so much. Freddy in the original was attacking our families...our homes...our dreams: the places where we've come to feel the most safe and secure. Here, it's just dozing off, dreary colors, a monotone burp, and a swipe of the razor glove. It feels a lot more impersonal.

I'm not going to pretend that the remake is a total disaster. The production design is fantastic, and I love some of the effective but less obvious visual touches, such as the way the way the bookstore's shelves slightly concave out when Quentin is dreaming. One of the few attempts at oneupsmanship that works is swapping out the melting stairs at 1428 Elm St. with an upstairs hallway whose floor slowly transforms into a thick river of blood. I also appreciate the attempt at making Freddy a horrific figure again rather than the mischievous wisecracker from the later sequels. At the same time, A Nightmare on Elm St. has nothing new to say, content instead to play as a blurry FAX of the original movie. Similar scenes and setpieces are recycled but wind up being a fraction as effective as what a low-budget slasher had pulled off more than twenty-five years earlier. Freddy is neutered. The victims and their murders alike are all disappointingly bland. The remake limps to a lifeless, underwhelming climax. It's the same song as before: the production's glossier, sure, but the artistry, intelligence, and horror of the original were chucked out the driver's side window in the process. I've suffered through worse remakes, and this redux of A Nightmare on Elm St. is tolerable rather than some sort of unwatchable abortion, but still...why bother with this when the original movie's still so damned great? Rent It.


Video
If
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this remake of A Nightmare on Elm St. has anything going for it, it'd be the glossy photography and lavish production design. This is one of the only scope entries in the series, and I believe this is the first Nightmare to be shot anamorphic. There's just something about the slight distortion of a true anamorphic production that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Fine detail and clarity are both robust: not reference quality, and there is some sporadic softness, but I still found myself impressed. Black levels are deep and inky throughout as well. The palette remains cold and desaturated for much of the film, and that's obviously gotten to be kind of a genre cliché. Its colors are still rendered really well just the same, and there are moments when its hues are vivid and intense. I couldn't spot any glaring flaws: no excessive noise reduction, no compression artifacting, and no edge enhancement. Aside from some light distortion in a stack of plates early on, I really couldn't pick up on anything to complain about at all. This is a very strong presentation overall.

At 25.8 gigs, A Nightmare on Elm St. just barely creeps over into its second layer. Kinda nice to see that the movie didn't lose any features or be compressed a bit more just to cram it all onto a BD-25 disc. The film is presented on Blu-ray at its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1, and the video has been encoded with VC-1.


Audio
I don't have any complaints about this 24-bit, six-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack either. The surrounds are used frequently and effectively, and generally it's to flesh out an unnerving sense of atmosphere: torrential rain, the hiss of steam in the boiler room, drips of water, and the reverb-drenched laughter of dead children. The aggressive mix also heightens the intensity of the stalk-and-slash...screeching metal, creaking planks of wood, and gravelly cackles as Freddy slowly torments his prey. The low-end is expectedly thunderous, particularly the twenty megaton stings that punctuate Elm St.'s parade of jump scares. The film's dialogue comes through well enough too. I think my expectations might have been a bit skewed, having watched A Nightmare on Elm St. immediately after the sonic onslaught of Iron Man 2, and this write-up would probably be a bit more enthused if I hadn't just listened as the bar was raised impossibly high just a few minutes earlier. Still, this is a strong sound design with an equally robust technical presentation.

Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs (640kbps) are piled on in French, Spanish, and Portuguese. There are optional subtitle streams in English (SDH), French, Spanish, and Portuguese as well.


Extras
  • Additional Footage (8 min.; HD): This
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    Blu-ray disc features a few deleted, extended, and alternate scenes. First up is an alternate opening, and rather than kicking it all off with Kellan Lutz carving open his own throat, there's just a quick flash in a hospital of Freddy's-dead. The second snippet also runs right around a minute in length, and it's Nancy walking down a street that suddenly transforms into a ridiculous looking post-apocalyptic wasteland. Especially with the scare that closes it out, the whole thing is kinda dumb and low-rent. Finally, there's a lengthy alternate ending. In some ways, it's a drastic improvement, and in others, it's much, much worse. The good...? For one, it heavily emphasizes the pedophiliac angle, something otherwise only hinted at or suggested. It's more violent as well, and wielding a bat in her hands here, Nancy is more empowered than she is in the final cut. The biggest misstep is that Freddy looks like a normal, everyday guy in this version of the climax. Okay, a normal dude rocking a razor glove, but still... There's an attempt to make the whole thing cyclical, but Freddy's denouement lacks the finality of what the finished cut ended with, and this isn't the Freddy we want to see in the climax anyway.

    Frustratingly, there are at least two additional sequences that were filmed and are nowhere to be found on this Blu-ray disc. First is the party sequence that made its way into the initial trailers, and the picture-in-picture commentary notes that it ran around seven minutes and includes a new kill. Not in the movie. Not in this reel of deleted scenes. There's also a sequence set in a cathedral in which Freddy unzips his way out of another character's head. There's behind-the-scenes footage of that scene in the picture-in-picture commentary as well, and I could've sworn some polished, fully-filmed excerpts from it have been included as well, but that too is missing in action. Maybe some things are being squirreled away for a re-release down the line...?

  • Freddy Krueger Reborn (14 min.; HD): A Nightmare on Elm St.'s one and only traditional featurette is pretty much fourteen minutes of "...and this is our spin on it". The whole thing opens by complaining about the lack of mythology in the original Elm St.s and how Freddy has no motivation for hunting down the children of Springwood, which...seems kinda incorrect to me, but whatever. There's plenty of talk about casting, revising the look of Freddy, and explaining precisely why he wears a razor glove and this particular sweater.

  • Maniacal Movie Mode: A Nightmare on Elm St. sports a pretty solid picture-in-picture feature. There's none of the usual long, silent shots of the current scene as it was originally being filmed this time. No, it's all interviews and quick peeks at behind-the-scenes footage, along with a little conceptual art and some effects tests. Much of the cast and crew are featured here, and among the highlights are Jackie Earle Haley noting who he did and didn't model his take on Freddy after, Method acor Kellan Lutz shooting the opening sequence without having slept for a couple of days, explaining why the opening and closing scenes of the movie were so drastically revised, the hardware used to transition between dreams and reality, and one-upping Tina's bedroom death scene in the original Nightmare. These clips delve into costume design, makeup effects, and even into the cinematography. There's some really great material in here, although it's hit-or-miss about being screen-specific
    [click on the thumbnail to enlarge]
    coupled with a lot of gaps, so I think I'd just as soon have had these as individual featurettes instead.

  • Focus Points (20 min.; HD): Seven times during Maniacal Movie Mode, a message will pop up asking if you want to branch off to a Focus Point, briefly leaving the movie to expand on whatever's being discussed at the time. This footage runs around twenty minutes in total, and with as much dead air as there is in the picture-in-picture commentary, I'd bet they could've just incorporated the Focus Points into that track without losing anything. Oh well. If you don't want to press Enter a few times while doing the whole picture-in-picture thing, you can view these seven microfeaturettes here. One focuses on the design, fabrication, and application of the Freddy make-up. There are also individual clips devoted to Freddy's hat, sweater, and glove, including the many different designs considered, the construction of the glove, and a surprise reveal about who made the red and green sweater this time around. You also get to hear a little more about micronaps, although there's nothing really said there that isn't already in the movie. Another clip shows the effects crew shooting plates of practical fire, and there's a note about how sparingly A Nightmare on Elm St. uses CGI which kinda reeks of bullshit. Finally, "The Victims" spends a few minutes with the cast as they each chat about their characters. The clips for the hat, sweater, and glove are worth a look, but the rest are pretty inessential.

The second disc in the set is a combo DVD/digital copy, and the copy'll play in iTunes or Windows Media-powered devices. A Nightmare on Elm St. is BD Live-enabled, but as I write this, the online bells-and-whistles are just promotional stuff for other Warner releases...nothing that's even a little bit related to Nightmare itself. Oh, but this Blu-ray disc does come packaged in a slipcover with some lenticular animation, and I guess that's kinda cool.


The Final Word
When I first caught this remake of A Nightmare on Elm St. theatrically, my kneejerk reaction was that it was okay: that it didn't hold a candle to the original but wasn't nearly as terrible as so many people were making it out to be. Giving it a second pass, this Elm St. redux seems almost aggressively mediocre. It's slowly plods along, the characters and kills are a hell of a lot blander than I remembered, and the effects lack the ambition and imagination that make the original Nightmare so infectious. The remake isn't unwatchable. It's not the sort of soul-crushing embarrassment that...oh, I dunno, The Hitcher or April Fool's Day were. Still, why settle for a borderline-tolerable remake when the original Nightmare on Elm St. continues to hold up so exceptionally well?

Then again, if this one's successful enough to spawn a remake of Nightmare on Elm St. 2, only this time we get a CGI exploding parakeet and a look at what modern visual effects can do with bare-assed towel snapping, then I guess it's all worth it. Till then...? Rent It.
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