By Nicholas F. Helmsley,
In a medium where original ideas are considered long since dead, the ‘remake’, almost a sub-genre all of its own, has inundated the cinema with rehashed horror releases. There are other genres that have tried their dab-hand at resurrecting titles from the past, however, no genre (at least the executives in charge, that is) has embraced the ‘remake’ as much as the Horror Genre has. Title after title, one-by-one our beloved horror classics are being updated, while at the same time watered down from their original counterparts. And that’s not a swipe at the remakes that have come to pass. Not at all. Some have been okay, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) had its moments, and The Amityville Horror (2005) added polish to a somewhat dated 70s classic; some, however, have been no worse than the original releases themselves, Piranha 3D (2010) knew exactly what it was and played up to the fact. And, there are a couple of remakes that I am actually looking forward to seeing, Fede Alvarez’s upcoming incarnation of The Evil Dead (2013) and Maniac (2013), surprisingly starring Elijah Wood, seem to look quite promising on the surface.
Many people (mainly the fans of the originals) cannot fathom why these big named Production companies are opting to remake/reimagine – whatever label they/you so choose to give it – rather than simply making a sequel. The notion that the ‘remake’ is a pointless endeavour in filmmaking driven by the sole purpose for a production company to cash in on their back catalogue of hits, is only half right. Production companies have been milking hits for every penny that they’re worth, and not just in Horror, for decades, they’re called sequels. So again, that leads us back to the question … why not just make a sequel?
The answer is kind of obvious in a way: To make a sequel work, to any franchise, they need the audience to know what the story is, because so much time has passed between now and the 70s and 80s, maybe even the 90s, sadly, a lot of the new generation audience members haven’t seen the classics that we all grew up on. A remake ensures that this new audience intakes all of the information needed to know about whatever film is being remade in the hopes that they will then seek out the back catalogue when it is conveniently rereleased. The pre-existing fans (and I am very guilty of this myself) will watch the remakes out of loyalty and intrigue. However, there are some films that shouldn’t be remade – Jaws (1975) being at the top of that list. A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) should be another, but we all know that in 2010 Platinum Dunes remade it.
I think that one of my biggest problems with the 2010 version stems from the run up to it going into production. Time after time it was promoted as a reimagining that would give a new take on the story – I think this is why I stuck with it, even when it was announced that Robert Englund would be replaced by Jackie Earle Hayley. However, it didn’t deliver that. It spent most of the film playing to the question, was Freddy a child molester? This was an element that was changed for the release of the original, making it so that Freddy was a child murderer instead – which is still a despicable crime – due to the flourish of molestation cases being brought forward in California around the time of production in ’84. Even though, and I said it myself earlier, they need to inform the new audience of the details, I felt that they had built Freddy’s story far too much and it was a detriment to the rest of the characters and how they were developed.
As a standalone film, if we forget about the original franchise for a second – pretend it doesn’t exist – A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010) does hold its own. It probably, if this was the first introduction of Freddy, wouldn’t have been as popular and spawned quite so many sequels, but it would have made an impression. Although with that said, Hayley would’ve been able to create a character opposed to being held to the restriction of what fans already expected to see. But it still remains, when you do bring the original back into the fold the remake simply pales in comparison, with its characters being the main reason for its downfall.
The character of Tina (Christina ‘Tina’ Gray) was a superb element in the original. This character was a tool to fool the audience into believing that she in fact was going to be the ‘final girl’. A tactic (the red herring) which was undeniably best utilised in Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), something which Craven has cited on many occasions that he was paying homage to. The remake attempted to recreate the same thing with the character Kris, but by the time it came to this characters untimely end I felt that we as an audience had far too much invested in her. Especially since, Nancy Holbrook didn’t seem to possess the same strength that Nancy Thompson did at this point when that transition occurred in the original.
The comparison between Tina’s death and Kris’ death, and if you watch them back to back it accentuates this, leads you to feel that one was hard to watch and the other was simply lackluster. In the original, they worked hard to get the end result that has stayed with me since the first time I watched it. Using a rotating room, it allowed for actress Amanda Wyss to be slowly dragged up the wall and across the ceiling and you were with her every beat of that scene right up until after she falls onto the bed after being sliced open. Simply put, it was crafted to elicit more of a response from the audience because of the fact that we were led to believe that she was going to be the leading lady. It had to make an impact. In the remake it seemed to almost happen in the space of a few blinks of the eye. There was nothing there other than a compressed scene that happened in the original, simply used to cheaply draw on its recognition from the fans of the original.
However, this wasn’t the only instance, another example of the remake borrowing from the original, and there are others but this one stood out the most in terms of being worthy of pointing out, was where Freddy pushes through the wall to look down on Nancy. Again, the original was better – purely for aesthetic and timing reasons. It was better because in the original it was a practical effect and physically existed within the frame. The remakes version reminded me of the film The Frighteners (1996) where Death, who we believe it to be at the time, moves within the walls throughout the Bradley home. Jacksons’ Frighteners was made way back in the late 90s, and this isn’t a knock on The Frighteners movie itself because I love that film, but the effects in Elm Steet ’10 didn’t give the impression that CGI had progressed very much at all since then. And when you consider that the Nightmare remake had a budget of thirty-five million dollars, that shouldn’t have been the case. However, this does lead me to a new argument about CGI in horror, so I won’t delve too much into that right now. I’ll save that for another blog.
Aforementioned, Nancy in the remake wasn’t as strong as the Nancy we all know from the original. This is something that cannot solely be put down to the actress. Rooney Mara made what she was given, in terms of that characters story, work. Weirdly though, I garnered the impression that the character was somewhat spilt into two, and manifested itself into a male counterpart in the form of Quentin Smith (Kyle Gallner). I think that this was a huge detriment to the progression of Nancy, and almost made Gallner’s character irrelevant, because we ended up with two not so dissimilar, bland characters. These two characters seemed like tools more than anything else, going around solving what seemed like an extremely warped Hardy Boys mystery. The two unfolded clues which fed Freddy’s character and the need to create doubt in our minds as to whether he actually committed these heinous crimes that he received vigilante justice for. The most annoying thing about the remake is that you can see that all the elements are there to make a film that would appease the vast majority of us, but the balance is just off.
Finally, at the remakes end, we’ve gotten past its shortcomings only to receive a very lazily rehashed version of the Freddy Vs. Jason (2003) ending; slightly altered, but not by a marginal amount. I’ll allow you to assess for yourself:
- In Freddy Vs. Jason, Freddy looms over Lori and Will brandishing Jason’s machete, when from behind Jason ganks Freddy with his own glove which is still attached to his severed arm. Freddy drops the machete, Lori picks it up and delivers the line, “Welcome to my world, Bitch.” Then proceeds to chop off Freddy’s head.
- In the Elm Street remake, Freddy looms over Quentin, his claw at the ready to deliver a deadly blow, when Nancy cuts off his hand. Freddy turns to the line, “It hurts doesn’t it? That’s because you’re in my world now, Bitch.” Then Nancy slices open Freddy’s neck.
The endings, from my perspective at least, are far too similar to simply pass this off as mere coincidence for them being pretty much the same. However, it was definitely the final nail in this films coffin, and a clear indicator to just how little thought went into putting the story together. Maybe it was a homage, but it just seemed like a giant cop-out.
Freddy Krueger, as portrayed by Jackie Earle Hayley, just wasn’t frightening. I find Hayley’s voice intriguing, but it just didn’t sit right being Krueger’s. There is no doubt that Hayley gave a superb performance, but the remake amplified the notion that Freddy is more than just a character that can be reincarnated by just anybody. New Line already briefly encountered this when Bobby Shaye green-lit the sequel to the original and started production without Englund – something that was quickly rectified. When you talk about Freddy you have to mention Robert Englund, because he didn’t just become the character he made the character. But, back to Hayley … I think the biggest let down was the look of Freddy. While they opted for a more realistic burn victim take, which they achieved, they lost something. Freddy is a character that stalks and kills you in his world, the dream world. Realism doesn’t really enter into that. In the original incarnation, there has always been something very sinister about the facial features the different special effects artists gave Freddy. However, with the remake, Freddy’s appearance almost initiated sympathy because it was so realistic. There is no separation, and I think that’s why the original incarnation(s) work so well, because they add to the notion that Freddy is a thing of Nightmares and not reality.
If anyone had a glimmer of hope of replacing Englund, then it would of indeed been Hayley, who twenty-six years previous auditioned for the original, only it was his companion for that day that would secure a role in the film, Johnny Depp. Even after the fact that the remake is what it is, it is still miles ahead of what it would’ve been had the rumours of Billy Bob Thornton came to fruition to take over and manned the weighted pressure by filling the finger knifed glove. The first nail in the coffin for the remake was the decision to axe Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger. We all know that Wes Craven conceived the character itself on the page, from a number of resources, but it was Englund that breathed life into that character. Through his movements, the slightest mannerisms right down to his stance, to the way he delivered his lines, were the tools that Robert used to mould the clay that Wes had provided him with in the form of a script. Robert made this ‘Dream Warrior’ seem real and allowed the character to transcend the screen and invade the pop culture of the 80s. From here the release allowed the fans to provide the necessary heat that would fire and cement both Robert Englund and Freddy Krueger into the annuls of horror history. I think that it’s safe to say, that out of all of those pinnacle 80s horror icons, Freddy is probably in the lead when it comes to being of the same ilk as the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolfman etc. And at the same time, Robert Englund is probably the closet our generation – although we have probably entered a new generation now – has ever came to having a Boris Karloff or a Bela Legosi.
Ultimately, if you’ve seen the original and have been a long-time fan of the originals, then a remake of any kind is never going to live up to your expectations due to the pedestal we put them on, no matter what that film may be. Remakes are for the new generation, and in a way, we should be supportive of them because they are introducing a whole new generation to the classics we loved for our own individual reasons. It’s sad that it has to be this way, but the reality is that there are no longer a couple of local video stores in every town, where you can hire the back catalogue judging your choices from the imaginative art work on the cover – usually a Graham Humphreys work of astounding artwork. Out of sight, out of mind is very apt in this instance.
However, I still stand by the notion that there are some films that shouldn’t be remade. A Nightmare On Elm Street used to be one of them until it suffered the fate of so many others before it. New Line “The house that Freddy built” owes a great deal to this picture as does Wes to Robert Shaye and New line who took a chance when no one else would. The original Elm Street was made on a measly $1.8 million and its low-budget added a unique grit to the film. The film had to be crafted because they had no choice other than for this to be a success, so they had to make it so. The legacy A Nightmare On Elm Street carries up to this day is a testament to all of their hard work, and should be an inspiration to budding filmmakers.
And so, I leave you with a comment from the end of Scream 4 (2011). Something that I truly believe to be Wes Craven himself speaking out to his fans, “Don’t fuck with the original.”