What is the difference between a remake and a reboot?
A reboot is when a franchise erases some or all of it’s previously established continuity and tells the story afresh. We might see all or some of the characters we’ve previously met, but they might be played by a different actor and might do different things. When Andrew Garfield replaced Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man in a new series of films, this was a reboot. We got the origin of the character again and any continuity from previous films was ignored. A reboot is, effectively, a reset.
A remake is more of a copy of the original. There will be tweaks to the plot to keep audiences, familiar with the story, guessing, as the story can veer off in a slightly different direction but, ultimately, stripped down, it’s the same story retold for a new generation of movie goers.
When a new Nightmare on Elm Street was announced for 2010 I was, initially, unsure whether this was to be a remake or a reboot. It was revealed very early that Robert Englund wouldn’t be reprising his role as Freddy Krueger. He’d stated that he felt too old to portray the character as, by 2010, he was in his early sixties. Had he not felt too old would we have got a different film? A resurrected Krueger following the events of Freddy’s Dead? We’ll never know.
The actor facing the challenge of stepping into the shoes of a role so synonymous with someone else was Jackie Earle Haley. Englund was never going to be playing Freddy forever and, if a new film was going to be made, it inevitably would, one day, not feature him.
Going into this film, the only things I knew were the identity of the new Freddy and that actress Rooney Mara was playing Nancy, which told me that this was a remake, unless the name of this character was for the purposes of subverting our expectations.
Not especially excited about seeing an Elm Street without Robert Englund, I didn’t rush to see this at the cinema and settled down a few months after it’s release to watch it on DVD.
While it wouldn’t have been completely impossible to go into this film with a clear, open mind, I would be lying if I didn’t say that my expectations were not high. I went into this with a consideration that I probably wouldn’t like it that much.
In fairness, I’d seen the Friday the 13th film from 2009 and gone into that with a similar mindset but actually enjoyed that as it wasn’t really a remake and wasn’t really a reboot but had elements of both and still gave us, for most of it’s runtime, a new Friday film.
I’d enjoyed the remake of The Hills Have Eyes and didn’t hate Rob Zombies interpretation of the Halloween story (sorry!!) so I wasn’t “Anti” remake/reboot as long as I ended up entertained.
This new Elm Street doesn’t start too badly. We begin in the Springwood Diner where Nancy works and meet Kris (Katie Cassidy) who is meeting her boyfriend Dean (Kellan Lutz). She gets to see the traumatic sight of her boyfriend cutting his own throat, though we see different. Dean has fallen asleep and it is not by his own hands that he dies. We see glimpses of “you know who” doing the deed and, as the title appears on the screen, I was thinking “Okay. That was pretty nasty. I’m prepared to give this movie the benefit of the doubt” or words to that effect.
Ninety minutes later and I wished I’d not bothered.
The word that came to mind once the end credits rolled was “Pointless”.
There’s nothing especially wrong with the acting for the most part. The direction by Samuel Bayer is fine. He has predominantly directed music videos but the look of the film doesn’t come across too artsy; in fact the look of the film overall is, again, fine.
The problems, however, are numerous.
For starters we’ll pick a couple of moments from the film that copy from the original. The moment that the outline of Freddy comes through the wall for example as Nancy is sleeping looked far better done practically in the original than it did with CGI in the remake. For the moments that followed that scene I was taken further out of the fiction that you try to buy into when watching a film. When Kris, who is Tina from the first film in all but name, is killed in the same way and dragged around the room before being sliced and dropped it just doesn’t have the same impact as it did back in 1984.
I get it; I’d seen the original; of course the impact was going to be lessened. So….maybe do something different? That was an option surely.
There are other moments in this film that borrow or copy from the original and, in not one instance, is it done better or more creatively.
What about the story? Well, we know the story. Child murderer gets off unpunished due to a technicality and the parents of these kids deal out vigilante justice and burn him to death. Now he’s back and taking kids in their sleep.
The remake decided to go down a different road.
Again, I get it!! The later Elm Streets turned Freddy into a pop culture icon and, in New Nightmare, Wes Craven himself wanted to address that by giving us a darker interpretation of the character, more in line with his original vision.
The Freddy Krueger we get in the remake is, absolutely, a darker interpretation. The one liners are few. There is a genuine sense of menace in the character.
However I feel the film really missed a trick here to screw with our minds.
When the teens begin to die, we discover that they all knew each other when they were much younger but have forgotten this and their parents have tried to hide this evidence. The adults, played competently by Connie Britton (playing Nancy’s mother) and Clancy Brown (playing the father of Nancy’s soon-to-be boyfriend Quentin (Kyle Gallner)) burnt Krueger alive. Freddy worked as a gardener at the local pre-school where he also lived and had a “magic cave” where he used to take the kids and the parents came to believe he had been abusing them so exacted their retribution.
Quentin and Nancy confront their parents and suggest that there was no concrete evidence to support their vengeance and, maybe, an innocent man was killed and is now back from beyond to take revenge of his own.
If this had been the case and the story had indeed been that Freddy was innocent it would have been an interesting moral quandary for the audience to deal with. We would sympathise with Krueger while simultaneously being unable to justify his actions. It would have enabled a fresh take on the character and added a layer to the story that it could have strongly benefitted from.
Instead, sadly, the film goes on to reveal that Freddy is indeed, a child molester and while that plot point did leave a bitter taste in my mouth as it was just so unpleasant it was also an obvious plot point to ensure that we could never like this character.
With tweaks to the familiar, the film heads to it’s climax. Nancy realises that she can bring Freddy into the real world and gets Glen…sorry…Quentin to watch over her and he falls asleep because this is a remake, but survives the attack and Nancy is able to drag Freddy into reality.
Krueger gets his gloved hand cut off and his throat slashed and, finally his body burnt as the young couple escape the “magic cave”.
In one final nod to the original we get a variation to it’s ending as Connie Britton’s Gwen is dragged into the mirror by Krueger as Nancy looks on, screaming. It does look better visually than the mannequin being dragged through the little window at the end of the original as the credits roll but I could see it happening the second it was setup so it didn’t really surprise me.
Before I wrap up, I have one final issue to talk about.
Comparisons, as I said earlier, were inevitable and, though it’s easy to slight actors for not being like the characters we’ve already seen portrayed, it is going to happen, fair or not.
Jackie Earle Haley was always going to be facing an uphill struggle. They went far with the makeup and made him look like someone who had truly suffered severe burns and it’s well done. His voice is altered and has a deep, resonant quality to it almost sounding a little like Candyman (though nowhere near as creepily mellifluous as Tony Todd) but somehow, if my eyes did not deceive, it always looked like he was being dubbed by himself but not dubbed well. It just didn’t look right and was, again, a distraction.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with his performance and it might be unfair to say so but he just isn’t Robert Englund. Englund’s movements, intonations, personality; all made Freddy Krueger what he is to horror fans and there was little that Jackie Earle Haley could do to ever make me believe that he was Freddy Krueger.
Unfair I know but, to use that word again, inevitable.
It really hammers home how pointless this film was. It took things from the original and didn’t improve on them and the differences it did attempt just didn’t work for me.
As much as I love the Elm Street films it’s probably for the best that we see no more as I cannot imagine any other attempt to bring this franchise back having any more success than this one. We all clamour for our favourite slashers to keep on coming but it’s okay sometimes just to let them be and enjoy, for the most part, the stories already told.
If Michael and Jason want to carry on and keep on killing that’s fine. They’re behind a mask so are arguably easier to recast though, if their franchises are worthy of continuing, whether it be through reboot or remake, is down to you.
I’ve now reached the end of my journey through Elm Street and it’s been interesting to rewatch the films and see them in a different light (some better, some less so).
They remain my favourite horror franchise but it is now time to move on. Hopefully New Line Cinema will agree.
I’m going to go and revisit a favourite of mine from 1992 featuring a hook-handed Tony Todd, so until then…. Sleep tight.