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'Nightmare on Elm Street': Scary? Barely

By Tom Charity, Special to CNN
The latest "A Nightmare on Elm Street" is directed by Samuel Bayer and written by Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer.
The latest "A Nightmare on Elm Street" is directed by Samuel Bayer and written by Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer.
  • Director Samuel Bayer struggles to put own stamp on Wes Craven's 1984 original
  • Jackie Earle Haley, as Freddy, finds Robert Englund a tough act to follow
  • In wake of "Paranormal Activity," Freddy's theatrics seem pretty old hat

(CNN) -- Springwood teenagers Dean, Kris, Jesse, Nancy and Quentin are having trouble not sleeping: They're knocking back coffee, popping pills, anything to delay another date with their dream stalker (which may explain why these high school students look like college grads). When one of them does drop off, the bedsheets turn red.

Wes Craven's 1984 slumber party massacre started from scratch -- it was a low-budget item from what was then a genuine independent studio, New Line -- and became the iconic horror franchise of the decade.

With his battered fedora, a striped sweater, a razor-glove and a face like Sal's Famous, Freddy Krueger was the most personable boogie man Hollywood had come up with in a long time, so what if he was also a child abuser? A recurring nightmare who stalked teenagers as they slept, Freddy preyed on the defenseless and played fast and loose with physics: If Salvador Dali had created a slasher movie villain, he might have come up with someone like Freddy.

After eight movies, a TV series and a comic book, you might think Mr. Krueger had been done to death. It's been seven years since Freddy put Jason Vorhees in his place (in "Freddy vs Jason"). But you can't keep a good bad guy down, and at the rate Hollywood is cannibalizing its horror back catalogue, we'll be seeing remakes of the remakes any day now.

Directed by pop video director Samuel Bayer and written by Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer, the new "A Nightmare on Elm Street" is actually a lot like the old one. So much so, for a while you wonder why they didn't just re-release it. (You'll wish they had.)

Surprisingly, Bayer doesn't go the Michael Bay route and give it a high-gloss, ADD tempo, but in duplicating the most memorable bits from the original (the glove in the bath, for instance, and the face coming through the wallpaper), he fails to put his own stamp on it.

As Freddy, Jackie Earle Haley, who was Oscar nominated for playing a sex offender in "Little Children" (and who went on to play Rorschach in "Watchmen" and the battered psychopath Noyce in "Shutter Island") finds Robert Englund a tough act to follow.

Haley drops his voice an octave and comes on heavy -- this Freddy mostly keeps his quips to himself -- but he's significantly shorter than Englund, and the make-up suggests nothing so much as Ray Bolger in "The Wizard of Oz": the scarecrow who didn't even scare the crows.

iReporter gives new "Nightmare" an "A"

Branching out tentatively toward something new, the film toys with repressed memory syndrome and the intriguing suggestion that maybe Freddy was innocent; that he has every right to be angry about the lynch mob that incinerated him. I'll leave you to imagine how far the filmmakers go with that radical notion, but maybe a prequel would have been a more rewarding way to go?

The new "Nightmare" also proudly introduces a clinical-sounding term called "micro-naps," a side effect of sleep deprivation that handily justifies more shock effects even as the number of survivors is whittled down to two (gratifyingly, they're the least synthetic of the young cast members).

But is it scary? Barely. In the wake of "Paranormal Activity," Freddy's grandstanding theatrics seem pretty old hat. There is nothing about this redundant remake to give anyone sleepless nights, unless it's threat of yet more of the same old same old. Enough with the "re-imagining," Hollywood; just imagine!