Before we get down to why we’re here, let’s take a moment to discuss remakes in general. The prevailing knee-jerk sentiment among many fans is that remakes are the work of the devil. And why not; the simple fact is, most remakes tend to be inferior, if not outright destructive to the beloved film that spawned it. Not all of them, of course. Some of them rise to the occasion and surpass the stigmas and pitfalls inherent in such endeavors to earn their own classic status. But it’s too easy to drag Carpenter’s Thing and Cronenberg’s Fly out for the hundredth time as ultimate proof that remakes can be just as good, if not better than their predecessors. It’s time we face up to the fact that those films are anomalies; statistically insignificant exceptions that prove the rule.
A much better example, I think, would be Hammer Films. Hammer co-opted an entire generation’s roster of villains and managed to create an entirely new breed of classics, just as cherished today as their Universal counterparts.
That’s basically what’s happening today; our classics have finally reached a status wherein they have become immortal, like Frankenstein and Dracula before them. And as a necessary part of the process, our horror icons have to become new again to the children of this era…who will carry their memories, and their legacy into a fresh, ripe age.
Admittedly, the failures have outnumbered the successes in this inevitable transition. Texas Chainsaw Massacre absolutely missed the point (though I insist the prequel worked…which may be why nobody liked it). Halloween was, while arguably the best of the iconic remakes, nevertheless very flawed. And Friday The 13th was just another routine trip to Crystal Lake, not particularly offensive, but it certainly brought nothing to the table either. Hellraiser and Child’s Play are waiting impatiently to be reborn, and time will tell if they too will fall short of the power of their for-bearers. Now, Freddy Krueger — who many revere as the slasher supreme — is following in his brethren’s bloody footsteps. 2010 is Kruger’s year, and a new generation of children will be led, like lambs to a slaughter, into the gore-and-tear-soaked nightmare alleys of Elm Street.
But is the bastard son of 100 maniacs going to emerge as the bastard son of 100 brainless studio execs?
If the new script is any indication, he just might. But with a little massaging, he just might not. Read on.
Written by Wesley Strick (Scorsese’s Cape Fear, definitely a step in the right direction), with a thorough once-over by Eric Heisserer, our pre-title sequence introduces us to our cast wholesale via that catch-all staple of introductory/expository teen cliches: the unchaperoned house party. The events of said party are pretty damned inconsequential, so I’ll spare you that and get right to the characters. We get Kris (an arbitrarily renamed Tina), Jesse (our far less satisfying analog for Rod Lane), Quentin (our stand-in for Glen…unlike Kris-Tina & Jess-Rod, Quent is a very different character), Dean, our party-house’s resident (and white-bread non-entity cannon-fodder), and one Nancy Thompson. Well, kinda…here Nancy is described as a quiet, anti-social goth. Just so we don’t have to focus on this further than we have to, the group is connected thusly: Kris & Jesse just broke up. Jess wants her back. Kris is moving in on Dean, who’s all too happy to oblige. Nancy & Quentin are semi-pals. In fact, Quentin is Nancy’s only semi-pal, as everyone else avoids her. Typical stuff, and believe me, it goes no further than that. Fair enough. Wes Craven’s not at the helm this time out. His usual sub-text was never in the cards.
The usual revelry occurs, and our action picks up later, after everyone has crashed.
Kris wakes to the sound of never-had-a-chance Dean getting dragged up the stairs by an unseen assailant (Dean’s been having some trouble sleepwalking of late, but sleep-dragging is definitely cause for alarm). Kris follows in time to find Dean standing on a second story ledge. He manages to get off one line — He’s back — before he’s literally slashed off the ledge by something unseen, crashing to the sun room below, where he expires in an explosion of shattered glass and splattered blood. Much to the understandable dismay of the crashed-out partyers sleeping in said sun room.
This whole sequence wasn’t bad, but it really wasn’t anything we haven’t seen before. Minus the notable exception of the sun room swan-dive, Freddy basically just rakes a kid, and he falls. Ho-hum.
My interest picked up considerably once we got to our first dream sequence. At our all-too-familiar Springwood social gathering — a slaughtered teen’s funeral — Kris witnesses a little girl in a slashed dress tossing a withered flower into the grave…only to be pulled into the grave by a rotting arm. What’s worse…Kris comes to recognize the little girl as herself.
And this sums up the script perfectly. It stumbles, and you go shit, not again…and then it pulls something out of it’s bag that makes you stand up and take notice. Just when you think they’ve fucked it up for good this time, it brings something to the table you can actually get behind. But before we get into what this new version has to offer, let’s let the die-hard fans know what they won’t be seeing.
You will get no stretchy-armed Freddy. No ‘This is God‘. You’ll not see him cackling without his face. You will witness no murdered girl appearing before Nancy like the Virgin Mary in the classroom. You’ll see no tongue phone, no 220 gallons of blood on the ceiling. You won’t finally get to see Freddy on trial (not counting of course Freddy’s Nightmares), because Freddy’s never on trial in this. You won’t see me in the theater seat, you say at this point, but hang on. I get where you’re coming from. I get that Pappa Jupiter should have been much, muuuuuuch more prominent in the new Hills. I get that no Cook, no Hitch, no Grampa, no human taxidermy and no dinner scene leave the new TCM a hollow shell. I get that the new Dawn Of The Dead, as good as it was, should have had bikers, rampant consumerism, and zombies that weren’t so virally fixated in concept. I know when a movie absolutely misses a vital point. And let me tell you…..this script, at times, comes damned close. But it slides in just under the wire, and right when it’s all but lost you, it does something cool.
By example, I direct you to Kris’s nightmare.
As stated above, we don’t get the classic, iconic alleyway horrorshow we got from Tina’s nightmare. We get something very different; but something very good. In fact, it’s one of the sequences that’s stayed with me after finishing the script, and continues to do so some days later. Hearing her beloved dog Rufus barking at the edge of her yard, Kris steps out to investigate (Tina was just as foolish, so relax). He backyard is an unfinished landscape of statues and tarps and piles of dirt, like any backyard undergoing some decorative landscaping…only strangely menacing somehow, almost reminding me of ancient ruins as I read the description. Further into her progress through the yard, she finds herself in the midst of dozens of life size porcelain figures of children. The children are arranged in all manner of unsettling poses; some covering their eyes, some half-buried, some peering out from behind trees. She hears Rufus yelp. The statues are now all pointing in the direction of the darkest, farthest corner of the fenced-in yard…where Freddy looms, larger than life, Rufus dead at his feet.
From here, we’re whisked into one of the script’s best sequences, as Kris finds herself in a nightmare preschool (a recurring location that’s very important to the story) , where Freddy is playing a game of hide and seek with the children. The implications of this alone are horrific, and the scene plays out with truly iconic menace. This dream sequence is the first in the script that truly reveals the type of tone the film could achieve if it’s willing to pull itself together and focus on the right areas.
What becomes of Kris? Well, that would be telling. But I’ll say this much…you probably won’t find Dancing on The Ceiling listed as a favorite on her ipod.
At this point, the script pulls a bit of a Psycho and switches focus to Nancy, who assumes the role of central character, taking over from Kris who we’ve been following for a good half an hour or more. And it is here that the script develops it’s core conceit: the mystery of Freddy Krueger, or more importantly, the new version of it. As hinted at in the Latino Review‘s synopsis of the script, doubt is thrown onto the allegations of Freddy’s monstrous crimes, and this becomes the new version’s main gimmick. What if Freddy was the victim unjustly put to death by the lies of children covering up for their abusive parents? When I first heard this, I called bullshit on the whole project. As clever a notion as this may be on paper, and as much as it uncomfortably echoes the horrors some innocent adults actually faced in the Satanic-panic witch hunt days of the 80s, it just does not work for the notion of Freddy. It would be like introducing the idea that Jason (who, by the way, gets cryptically referenced in a great throwaway line) was secretly a horrible little boy, whom the other kids drowned in an act of self-defense. Clever? Perhaps. But it guts the very core of the character. It would make that character not that character. At that juncture, what’s the point?
So….do they go through with it? We’ll get to that.
Nancy and Quentin, devoting themselves to the cause of stopping Freddy’s vengeful reign of slaughter, struggle desperately to keep themselves off the chopping block and bring light to the truth of what happened in Springwood 13 years earlier. This section of the script settles into echoing the original beats pretty closely, and things didn’t pick up for me again until we he hit the third act. It’s here where the writers introduce their best concept, and the one that could, if handled correctly, push the film into the arena of those rare few films that managed to beat the remake curse.
After several straight days awake, our heroes are stricken with involuntary brain-naps; a phenomenon wherein the brain automatically shuts parts of itself down to regenerate, so that it doesn’t collapse outright. When this occurs, you literally dream awake, causing the afflicted to hallucinate. Take a moment to imagine the impact this would have on characters in a Nightmare film. And it’s put to excellent use in the script, where reality flickers back and forth between the waking and nightmare realms like a broken TV trapped between channels, and Freddy could strike at any time. One moment Nancy is making her way down archetypal suburban-everywhere Elm Street, the next moment she’s on an Elm Street where the skies are darkened and full of bruise colored clouds, and rivers of blood flow through the gutter like runoff from a rain storm. It’s an arresting element that reminded me a bit of Silent Hill, and it’s just great stuff.
Our big climax takes place in the abandoned preschool that kept reappearing in the nightmare realm, where Nancy and Quentin are searching for the key to banish Freddy once and for all. It is here where our mystery is solved, and we find…that there was never a mystery at all. Now, I warn you, this is a major spoiler, but I know there are some among you who won’t be able to sit through the film without knowing until the very end whether or not the very essence of the Freddy character has been devastated. So from here on out, proceed at your own risk….
Alright. When we finally arrive at this point in the story, Nancy and Quentin are convinced that Freddy was an innocent, the childlike ground’s keeper of the local preschool who all the kids loved, and who would make the perfect scapegoat for the cover-up of a ring of parental mass abuse. They’ve tracked the evidence of Freddy’s innocence — the files and audio tapes that were collected after signs of abuse became apparent — only to find that Freddy was every bit the monster that he was made out to be, that his abuse was so severe that the children blocked out his memory altogether. Freddy’s not wiping them out because they lied…he’s wiping them out because they told. At first, I was immediately relieved. They didn’t reverse Freddy’s evil for the sake of a “clever” punchline. But something struck me. The revelation of Freddy’s pedophilic sadism is that it reveals there’s nothing to reveal…Freddy’s the guy you always thought he was. What exactly was the point of that red herring, mystery aspect of the story,if it didn’t take us anywhere at all? And something else bothered me as well. If they were finally willing to bring Freddy’s child molesting to the forefront (even going so far as to subtly reveal, via one of the files proving Krueger’s guilt, that he had at one point raped little Nancy with a garden tool), the entire element of Freddy having been a murderer is completely absent. There is absolutely no 21 children from the neighborhood slaughtered, no ice cream truck, no freed on a technicality (Nancy’s dad isn’t even in the script as a guilt-addled police officer of any sort)….Freddy is simply portrayed as a sickening, sadistic pedophile. Again, why they would turn up one element they had only ever fearfully hinted at, and completely drop another they always had is baffling to me. He couldn’t be a pervert and a killer, like we always assumed he was? Another thing is that the removal of that element completely renders the glove — probably the single most iconic visual element of the entire franchise — a complete anachronism. Instead of a holdover from his serial killer days, here he just has it, for no apparent reason. You don’t even get to see him make it. He’s just got it lying around, apparently. Sigh, hell, I guess it’s better than him just finding it in a barn.
So ultimately, does the new story work? Yes and no. Even though some will complain about certain things like Nancy being a goth, or Freddy still having a soft spot for one-liners, I have to honestly disagree. Nancy’s goth status doesn’t affect the overall story whatsoever, other than making her a bit of an outcast instead of a member of the glee club. And Freddy’s one-liners are actually kept at a bare minimum. In fact, I can’t even really think of more than a couple. Freddy, as a character, comes off as much more the 1984-era model than we’ve seen him since probably NOES part 2. And the scenes of him pre-burn playing with the school children are damned unsettling, and serve as stark contrast to the monster he becomes. And really….once again, without Craven writing, the characters just aren’t going to be as well-written or appealing. So it’s almost a moot complaint. The thing that bothered me more than anything about this script was how many of the original’s classic moments were utterly nowhere to be found. No one’s asking for a Gus Van Sant shot-by-shot recreation of the original, but most of the original’s truly historic moments are right out. And even though the new stuff that works really works, and might go down as benchmarks in their own right, there’s just no need to get rid of all the stuff that we loved from the first one. There are a few quotes — “I’m your boyfriend now” makes a comeback, bubble baths remain unsafe, and I actually like Jess-Rod’s jail cell encounter better — but in my opinion, not nearly enough.
The bottom line is this: the movie is filming as we speak. If this script is current, it is very likely that this is precisely the movie we’re going to get, and we can’t do a damned thing to change it. But….there’s enough good stuff in this script to keep me wondering. If the director can tease what’s good about it into a predominant tone, I actually believe we could be in for something that’s worth our time. but there’s enough stuff in the script that doesn’t work or misses the point that if the director’s not up to the task, he’ll absolutely make the movie we all fear he’s going to make. The director in question, Samuel Bayer, could go either way. His claim to fame is the video for Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, a video that’s as pointless as it is revered (sorry, gang…it’s just a bunch of kids rocking. Let’s face it). However, he also directed some of Marilyn Manson’s best videos. And whether or not you think Manson’s a tool, his videos contain some of the most nightmarish and disturbing imagery ever peddled on after-school TV. And the casting of Jackie Earl Haley as Freddy Krueger is being argued by no one as a good call if we absolutely must live without Robert Englund.
The script is flawed. Very flawed. But there’s a chance that if Bayer taps into his dark side, we may just have a Nightmare worth having.