What's my beef with remakes? It's like this: I can always tell when a movie project rehashing of an earlier successful film is being overly-driven by the pursuit of excess lucre. Look at Clash of the Titans: no I haven't seen its remake yet but I've heard nothing but unbelievably bad things about it (and even worse about it, ahem, "3-D" version, but that's a rant for another time). And then there are films like Peter Jackson's adaptation of King Kong: the movies that don't put the potential for dollars in front of the product's quality on the list of priorities.
What's the difference between the two? What qualifies a remake as being "great" as opposed to being "irredeemably baaaad? It's whether the director, the writers, the entire production choose to remain faithful to the spirit of the original.
And that, I believe Samuel Bayer and his crew have done with Platinum Dunes' retelling of A Nightmare on Elm Street.
This movie hails back to the tone and vibe that Wes Craven evoked in the original movie all the way back in 1983, before Freddy Krueger developed from a demonically-empowered dream-stalkin' homicidal child molester into a character plagued with self-parody. Freddy Krueger 1983 was scary. By the time Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare came out eight years later, Freddy was even being aped on the animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And as much as I loved the concept of the Elm Street universe and its central character, it was enough to make me cringe...
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010 isn't like that. Its Freddy Krueger (played by Jackie Earle Haley, inheriting the hat and sweater from the original series' Robert Englund) is not the Freddy who cracks too many corny jokes before killing you with cockroaches or comic books or a Nintendo Power Glove. Haley's Freddy Krueger is about revenge and murder... and then he'll go for the laugh. In the same way that Heath Ledger's Joker had that "it's funny but it's also not funny" aspect of his character in The Dark Knight.
I guess that's what I appreciated most about A Nightmare on Elm Street 2.0. This movie marked the return of Freddy Krueger as a primal avatar of the natural forces of fear. Which in my mind is the best way to handle Freddy as a character.
Overall, this movie is a smart update of the original's concept. All of the classic elements are still here: Freddy's claw rising out of the bathwater, the rhyming girls playing jump-rope, the parents hiding a terrible secret... But it's also a movie that isn't afraid to change things up some. Freddy's backstory is changed significantly: in the 2010 version he's not a child murderer in his mortal life. But I still have to nod in approval to what scribes Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer have come up with. And I have to say something about the score (composed by Steve Jablonsky, which y'all who've been following this blog already for a few years know how much I love his work :-) as well. If 2010's A Nightmare on Elm Street had the familiar "Elm Street theme", I can't recall it. Jablonsky has delivered a fresh and terrific score that is totally in keeping with the atmosphere of Springwood, USA while at the same time not retreading the music of the original series. I'll probably be buying the soundtrack if it's available (and if it's not, no I won't be doing an online petition again, sorry. It's just have too much else going on at the moment :-)
I saw this movie in a packed theater last night at midnight along with friend and fellow blogger Steven Glaspie. And it's been awhile since I've seen an audience react with that much genuine terror and serious screaming at what's happening up on the screen. And we happened to overhear a number of other people saying that they enjoyed it. I doubt it'll ever hold the same place as the original series and its mythology, but I for one wouldn't mind seeing two or three more of the "new universe" of Elm Street movies. But not more than that: this movie was infinitely better than the remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween... but I don't want it to become another Saw series either.
So if you want a fun springtime popcorn flick and wanna feel good 'n scared, leave your preconceptions in the parking lot and give A Nightmare on Elm Street a shot. I think you just might be quite surprised by it as well.