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Published: Friday, 4/30/2010

Movie review: A Nightmare on Elm Street *1/2

ASSOCIATED PRESS

One, two, Freddy's coming for you ... again?

No seriously, Freddy's back again? How is that possible? He's a psycho killer and all, but still, he's been through a lot since the original A Nightmare on Elm Street back in 1984. After all those sequels, you'd think arthritis would have set into those knived fingers of his.

The sixth Elm Street movie allegedly was the Final Nightmare, and still more films followed. Now, we have a reinvention of the first movie with Jackie Earle Haley filling in for the venerable Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger.

Wes Craven's core nugget of a concept remains intact in A Nightmare on Elm Street: that if you die in your dreams, you die in real life. It was truly inventive and disturbing then — the idea that falling asleep could be deadly — and it allowed for an exploration of the frightening power of the subconscious. With his jaunty fedora and torn sweater, his hideous, scorched skin, and his arsenal of one-liners, Freddy could be anywhere at any time. There was no way to stop him. At some point, you've gotta fall asleep.

By now, though, the novelty has long since worn off, and cheap, generic scares are all that are left. The first feature from commercial and music-video director Samuel Bayer has a more artful look than you might expect from a horror remake; he also directed Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit video, and his Elm Street has a similar steamy sheen. Some of his dream imagery can be striking too: a young woman walking barefoot through the snow in her bedroom, or a carpeted hallway that turns into a river of bloody sludge.

But there's not much in the way of genuine suspense. If one of Bayer's characters is experiencing a quiet moment alone — in a car, in bed, in front of the bathroom mirror — you know we're only seconds away from a loud, screechy shock cut. It's obvious, and it's repetitive.

As for the story, the script from Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer pretty closely follows the original. A group of teenagers played by actors in their mid-20s (Rooney Mara, Kyle Gallner, Katie Cassidy, Thomas Dekker, and Kellan Lutz) find themselves haunted by the same menacing man: Freddy Krueger, who chases and slashes at them in his dreams. Why this happens to them now, simultaneously, seems arbitrary but, whatever.

They're all connected to him through their childhood but they can't figure out how (Krueger's pedophilia is spelled out more explicitly in this one, which seems like a needless and gratuitous attempt to shock us). And one by one, he takes them out, despite their best efforts to stay awake.

Haley seems wasted in the role, though. This is someone who can really act, who can be deeply creepy, as evidenced by his Oscar-nominated work in Little Children. Here, he seems smothered by the special-effects makeup, the distorted voice, the cheesy puns: "You really shouldn't fall asleep in class."

Not that any of this matters, though. The last shot clearly sets up another Nightmare. Who says Hollywood has run out of original ideas?



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