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(2010) (Jackie Earle Hailey, Rooney Mara) (R)

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Horror: Various teenagers try not to fall asleep lest they be attacked by a disfigured ghoul who can kill them in their nightmares with his steel-clawed hand.
When Dean Russell (KELLAN LUTZ) seemingly commits suicide in a diner after many sleepless nights, his teenage friends begin to wonder if something strange is happening to all of them. After all, the likes of diner waitress Nancy Holbrook (ROONEY MARA), Quentin Smith (KYLE GALLNER) who has a thing for her, his friend Jesse Braun (THOMAS DEKKER) and his ex-girlfriend Kris Fowles (KATIE CASSIDY) have all been having quite similar nightmares.

They feature a badly disfigured man, Freddy Krueger (JACKIE EARLE HALEY), who's equipped with a steel-clawed hand and apparently wants to torment all of them. Worse yet, if he kills them in their sleep, they end up dead back in the real world. As he begins to pick them off one by one, the survivors not only try to figure out who he is and why he's after them, but also fight to remain awake lest he find and kill them in their sleep.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
Don't you just hate those dreams where you're falling and right before you hit whatever hard surface is quickly approaching you jolt awake in your bed? It's almost as if your body bounced off that in the dream and then returned to reality in midair above your bed, even if you never actually experienced the impact in the dream For many, it's an unsettling experience, especially considering the old notion that if you do feel the impact in your dream, that's where you'll die.

Of course, no one knows if that's actually true, but the nightmare I've been having recently is where Hollywood has lost its knack and/or will for creating original movies and instead is grave-robbing its catacombs of previous releases. Far more troubling is that I seem to be having the nightmare more often nowadays. The really scary part, however, is that I'm not asleep when they're occurring, and that I'm not alone in sharing that experience.

The latest such daymare concerns the remake of "A Nightmare on Elm Street," the seminal horror film from 1984. While it spawned a series of sequels that ran the original concept into the ground, especially as the jokes and such diffused the scares as they climbed through the Roman numeral installments, the original was a decent little flick.

Granted, it's been more than a quarter of a century since I saw it (now that's the truly scary part), but what the film had going for it was the built-in ability to overcome viewer skepticism of character behavior in most horror films. You know, where the person shouldn't go into the dark room by themselves or conversely stay behind in solo mode, etc. all of which inevitably would take the audience out of the experience (a point that got so bad it was eventually parodied in the "Scary Movie" series).

The beauty of the original film's premise -- where writer/director Wes Craven had a group of teens tormented and killed by a disfigured ghoul in their nightmares, thus forcing them to try to remain awake lest he get them in their dreams - was that since dreams and nightmares never seem to make absolute sense and nearly always bend reality, the notion of stupid and/or unbelievable character motivation and behavior was thrown out the window. And never knowing if we were seeing those characters in waking life or said nightmares constantly kept us off balance, all of which resulted in an entertaining (for those into such pics) offering.

Beyond featuring Johnny Depp in his feature film debut, the movie was also notable for Robert Englund's portrayal of the otherworldly boogeyman. With his burned face capped off with a hat, and wearing an old rugby shirt and signature steel-clawed hand, Freddy Krueger went down in the annals of horror-dom as one of the signature characters, far more interesting and scary (and eventually quite the demented comedian in later installments) than his counterparts (Michael Myers, Jason Vorhees, etc.) of his day.

Thus, you may ask, why remake the film? Considering the plethora of old pics (horror and otherwise) being remade, rebooted and/or re-imagined by younger filmmakers nowadays, it's essentially a moot question as it's obviously only about making money and banking that some level of name and/or brand recognition will help in such regards.

For those who've seen the original flick, the only real interest would be in what Jackie Earle Haley ("Watchmen," "Breaking Away") could do to better or just play off Englund's signature onscreen persona, how the story might be updated to contemporary times, and if advances in visual effects might enhance the nightmares and related material.

In order, Haley (who was far scarier in a thematically similar role in "Little Children") can't do much considering the limitations of the part, even as he returns the character to more serious horror grounds. Other than the characters using computers (one of which goes into "sleep mode" -- about the only creative touch offered by director Samuel Bayer and screenwriters Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer), the Internet and handheld devices, little is enhanced by moving the story forward 26 years. Similarly, the special effects don't stand out from what we've now seen of recent in countless other horror pics.

For those unfamiliar with the source material, I suppose some of this could be scary, but the filmmakers rely far too much on the usual array of jump scenes rather than true suspense and dread. I also think they let the cat out of the bag far too early (as in the first scene) regarding what's happening to the teens (none of which are interesting or elicit our worries for them) and their interaction with the nightmare interloper.

Had we instead seen a bunch of troubled and sleep-deprived kids seemingly committing suicide (rather than also seeing Freddy doing the deed to them in their sleeping state), that would have raised the ante in terms of engaging the viewer and making him or her wonder what's going on, rather than simply watch without much involvement.

It's just another sign of laziness in terms of those doling out these remakes, where little imagination is put into the effort. Instead, it's all just a cash machine, a nightmare for both viewers wanting something original and studios down the line once audiences prove they're tired of being fed the same sort of drivel.

"A Nightmare on Elm Street" fails to do much of anything new or interesting with the original material and thus nearly put yours truly to sleep. While that obviously should have had me worried -- in terms of not wanting Freddy to visit me in my dreams -- it would have been a welcome respite where I could have dreamed of a world where Hollywood let old films rest in peace. This one rates as a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed April 28, 2010 / Posted April 30, 2010

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