Night-Meh on Elm Street

Lord, what have they done to poor Freddy Krueger? A reboot of this particular franchise had roughly unlimited potential. No more would they need to rely on self-referential humor and sight gags. It could finally be a gritty and disturbing jaunt into the human psyche, or at least a slasher leagues more engaging than Saw and its ilk. The choice of Jackie Earle Haley couldn’t have been more perfect for the role. Film and special effect techniques have never been more advanced! With permission to redefine the character as necessary, what else could they have possibly needed? They had every advantage possible!

But alas. What we got instead was a melted pedophile that killed too quickly, shocking instead of psychologically tormenting the audience. This Freddy is a boring shell of his former self, and regardless of the appropriately foreboding atmosphere, he wasn’t in any way, frightening. How is that possible? Clearly teenagers are dying, there’s blood galore, and some of the transitions between dreams and reality are actually well handled, so is it blasphemy to claim none of it is genuinely engaging?

Unfortunately yes. I’ve been a connoisseur of Freddy movies since their inception–I probably saw the first one on HBO when I was nine, and loved the short TV series that ran for a while–and even I agree Nightmare basically went off the rails into self-parody around The Dream Master. By then, Freddy was nothing but a laughable bogeyman, and lovable scamp though he may have been, the series won in charm what it lost in fright potential. We won’t even discuss Freddy vs. Jason as cannon, because that was clearly pure fan-service created explicitly for the purposes of ridicule.

What we have here is a completely different animal. Imagine someone snatched the brooding teen angst of Twilight, mixed in a heaping portion of Hostel, and then remembered a poster they saw a few years ago, of a dude wearing a striped sweater, a fedora, and hand-razors. There are apparently fifteen people in the entire town, and all of them are idiots. We’re not talking typical “Don’t go up the stairs, you moron!” brand of idiot, but the “Who remembers being five?” kind.

Yes. The plot hinges on every single one of the teenagers completely forgetting everything past their sixth birthday. Not one of them recalls a single detail of being molested, or even mistreated in Freddy’s little hovel under the preschool. Then we have to consider Freddy’s motivation to kill the children. In the original, he just enjoyed that kind of thing; it was the one bright spot in his day, eviscerating a few teens for jollies. Now, apparently after over a decade just hanging around in hell, Freddy is . . . not sexually abusing, but killing his favorite children because their parents burned him alive? And a pedophile attracted to preschool age kids has no problem moving up to teenagers? And where did his hand razors come from? Were they some kind of awesome gardening implement he devised to undoubtedly perfect the immense grounds of a tiny day-school?

They tried to “fix” Freddy by giving him a reason to enjoy killing kids, and just made everything more confusing. After a few movies and the TV series, it was commonly accepted Freddy was just psychotic and mentally deranged. Born from the repeated rape of a nun, he simply enjoyed various methods of slaughtering children and teens of all ages, and after being released on a technicality, the parents took matters into their own hands. Sure, any town with that kind of history would be impossible to obscure, but at least Freddy made sense, even if the situation itself strained credulity.

Now, everything is broken. Freddy has one good line in the whole movie, “Why are you screaming? I haven’t even cut you yet.” Everything else is him jumping around a corner, or looming ominously, or bitching about being dead, when he clearly enjoys the prospect of unlimited power in the dream world. We get it Freddy, you’re getting revenge for the kids who turned you in. But why the ten year wait? Why even bother tormenting them if they’ll all be dead in a three day period? Their parents don’t even know you’re the one doing it, so your dastardly plan of avenging your death is pointless. Our old Freddy liked being dead, cherished it with reckless abandon as an opportunity to terminate vast swaths of teenagers, flaunting his escape from the confines of reality. The parents didn’t save their children from that Freddy, they set him free not just to harvest the bodies, but the souls of his victims.

It’s this aspect that’s missing from the character that makes him fall so flat. His heart just isn’t in it, and he’s just going through the motions because that’s what everyone expects. They’ve reduced Freddy’s motivation to one of revenge, the cheapest and most logical of all. Freddy isn’t supposed to be reasonable, or identifiable; he’s a psychotic killer with a mean-streak a mile wide. They could have chosen to make him more angry, more ruthless, or even more creative, and instead weighed him down with pointless exposition and half-assed gore.

They missed the perfect opportunity to bring Freddy back to his roots, or make him something more disturbing and evil than before. Now he just kills teenagers in their sleep–boring. I kept an open mind for this, and wanted to love it, but that just wasn’t in the cards this time. Even Freddy vs. Jason is better than this bore-fest, and that’s just sad.