Wes Craven Week: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984 & 2010)

Nightmare on Elm Street is that iconic horror movie that continues to bring the screams years later. Freddy Kruegar at the time was a well-known household name and much like Jason Vorhees and Michael Myers became a staple for Halloween movie monsters. Probably the most inventive of the bunch, Craven had created the one that kills you in your dreams and truly being the embodiment of a nightmare.

The film follows a group of children on Elm Street who are plagued by dreams involving Kruegar. The story goes on and shows how Kruegar is connected to these children and why he hunts them down. The interest behind the story of Kruegar and the children is how great the transitions are. When in the dream world, it mirrors the real world at points and uses the character’s understanding of the terrain to string you along. Freddy’s manipulation often comes from visual horror and creating a tense atmosphere before he finally strikes, often playing tricks with the kids before unleashing the fear. This is what makes Kruegar such an amazing horror villain, it is all about the psychological torture and timing of the attacks.

The story has solid pacing and moves briskly between each killing, and makes each killing count with its psychological horror. There is no attempts at taking you out of the atmosphere much like the Last House on the Left’s attempt at comedy. It always keeps the apparent situation at the forefront of your mind and only until the end do you see how dire the situation becomes. The ending sequence though is a culmination of what this film succeeds in doing, creating a subtle build up to a strong female transformation and making it not as obvious with its dialogue.

A lot of misgivings I have with the film is little nitpicks or inconsistencies with some of the actions. That is it though, I have just small misgivings. There is nothing that is a major fault with this film, except for maybe a weird walk by Freddy and his victims at points have some bad acting here and there. Well…there is the bland characterization of some characters as they are just stated with nothing much to go off of beside a few lines here and there. Nothing truly detracts from how great a horror film this is.

How does one praise this movie more? The cinematography was great and clearly the events that take place are compelling enough to force me to watch the film twice in order to find my nitpicks. This is how horror movies should be, reliant on terrifying atmosphere and tone rather than shock horror. It manages to keep you in its claws all the way until the very end. Wes Craven delivers potentially one of the best movie monsters of all time, coupled with compelling sets and grabbing yet clever dream sequences.

Then comes the inevitable remake of the series, in what many consider the era of bad horror remakes, the 2010 Samuel Bayer version. Bayer did not have Wes Craven even near this project, and I have a few choice words about it. It is one of the worst horror remakes I have seen and on the lower end of the horror spectrum. Where I was praising the original, this version decides to make almost a laughingstock out of it.

Now Bayer does have good intentions and obviously not a bad eye for set design as Freddy’s boiler room looks pretty eerie. The lighting and some dream sequences are interesting at points, but then it just goes sour from there. The original had a lot of smooth transition sequences to trick the viewer, yet this one would rather step away from that and completely use CGI to reconstruct some areas. The mismatched events and the order makes this at times seem like it is trying to remake the story but that is just superficial. It just changes the sequence of events while changing some aspects, for the worse, here and there.

The main crime of this remake is simple, shock horror. Where the original shined in creating a tense atmosphere to scare the viewer, this one relies on jump scares and having Freddy act more like a pedophile. Now the reason Freddy was scary, is that he got right to the point of trying to terrify them. This “new” Freddy really plays on the whole pedophile routine, licking their faces. They delve more into Freddy’s backstory where it never needed it just to add on padding. In the original it is short and sweet and to the point, but here we can long sequences dedicated to showing Freddy’s life.

I felt bored with this film, and laughed a bit if I am going to be completely honest. They turned Freddy into a dark caricature in an attempt to make him more terrifying. Freddy was already terrifying as it was, sure in recent years that has gone away, but this is not how you make him more terrifying. Craven’s 1984 film had subtlety and tense atmosphere creating a psychologically bone-chilling horror, while Bayer’s 2010 film turned it into cheap scares with shock horror. I will let you be the judge of which is better, but for me the 2010 film never had what it takes to make me scared or enjoy it. Craven was the master, and Freddy his genius creation and that is how it will always be to me.


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