The original Wes Craven "A Nightmare On Elm Street" quietly slipped in and out of theaters in 1984. It had an unremarkable run for theatrical release and seemed out of place among the other slasher films dominating the boxoffice. 1984 was the peak year for slashers as "Friday the 13th IV: The Final Chapter" loudly proclaimed the death of Jason Vorhees until they saw the boxoffice light up as cash rolled in.
The only thing that kills the monster is bad boxoffice.
The "Dead Teenager" or "Slasher Film" was hitting its peak and Paramount wanted to kill off its psycho killer before he got too long in the tooth and the revenue started dropping. So it seemed "A Nightmare on Elm Street" was just a little too late to join the party. It was also a little too different. Audiences had become accustomed to the blade wielding, hardware toting psychopaths of Friday the 13th, Halloween, My Bloody Valentine, Sleepaway Camp, and the countless ripoff and knock off films they spawned in both theaters and late night pay cable.
A Nightmare on Elm Street came and went with hardly a sound and should have ended up in the movie graveyard of 3AM cable. But something new was on the scene and it saved Freddy Kreuger. The video revolution brought VCR's into households since the early 1980's. VHS was in the final phase of kicking Beta's ass and the demand for film product was rabid. The window of time between a movie's theatrical run and hitting video was shortening. In the early 1980's it took a year for a film to make it to video and cable. By 1984 the window was down to a little over six months.
In the summer of 1985, before I left for college, I grabbed a copy of A Nightmare on Elm Street from the video store I worked at and got a bunch of friends together for a viewing. Girls are a necessary ingredient and with a scary movie, some booze and a house all to ourselves we had a killer evening lined up. We popped the film in around ten o'clock at night and prepared to be scared.
While I found the film genuinely creepy and pretty inventive with its effects (Tina's upside down death, Johnny Depp's exploding water bed) for a low budget film, I could not say it was the scariest movie I ever saw. I also felt something got cut from the film, as I enjoyed the growing cat and mouse relationship between Heather Lagenkamp's Nancy Thompson and Englund's Freddy. I felt there was a relationship there that got cut out-- like a hole where a tooth once was. Your tongue goes back there, expecting something to be there only to find that gap.
A still from Nightmare 3 which confirmed I was right about a
relationship with Nancy and Freddy.
The film was atmospheric as hell and sported a tight cast of no name teenagers. This was Johnny Depp's first film. Little did the girls in my living room know that one day they would be cooing about him as Captain Jack Sparrow as they watched those movies with their kids. Regardless, I liked the movie and felt it deserved better at the boxoffice. The video run was doing well and Freddy was making a name for himself on VHS. So it wall came out in the wash.
The night grew late and it was time for people to go home but one girl, Amy, was so shaken by the film, she did not want to go home alone. She came with a couple and they planned on dropping her off and continuing their night elsewhere. Amy's parent's were gone for the weekend and she was terrified to go back to the house alone. I offered to drive her home and sit with her awhile if that would make things better. She agreed and I was thrilled to drive this pretty girl back to her house.
We got to her house and I went inside and she asked me to stay after turning on every available light. Thinking I might be in store for a romantic interlude I was happy to oblige. Instead, Amy sat down at the table after making coffee and told me how scared she was by the film. When I replied I didn't think it was all that scary she shook her head and then had this verbal vomit, getting everything out that had been bothering since sitting in my living room. "It wasn't the blood and stuff. That didn't scare me." Well if that didn't, what did?
She went on to tell me how before she moved to our area in sixth grade, she spent her elementary years in New Jersey. When she was in second grade several little kids from the surrounding area went missing. She knew one of them from class. The authorities eventually found the kids in a cement factory, their bodies buried in the crushed stone silos. They had been sexually abused before being killed. The police felt they had their man in a guy who was constantly seen around there but paperwork got screwed up and the suspect walked free.
Amanda Wyss gets a visit from Freddy in the original NOES.
This is the fundamental difference between the low budget original and the slick, expensive Michael Bay remake starring Jackie Earle Haley as the new Freddy Krueger. While the original film never stated if Freddy was a pervert the new film decides that's really the only twist it can provide. In essence it is a shot for shot remake aside from the small plot twist of a possibly wrongfully accused Krueger.
The new Nightmare on Elm Street failed to ignite excitement in the franchise. Rejected by most fans of the original, even new fans failed to get as excited about it as the earlier fans did for the first series of films. While Platinum Dunes insists there will be a sequel, it's pretty safe to say few are really anxiously awaiting it. There was a similar reaction to the slick, expensive "Friday the 13th" remake only a year before. Perhaps horror fans also know when they are truly being duped.
A new generation doesn't really know better. As said in previous articles most 12-20 year olds are self absorbed in their world of texting, IM and social networking. The original film is ancient and "dated" (a term that gets overused) and lacks the CGI plastic atmosphere they have grown up with. The film is much like them, take away its glossy texture, it doesn't have a whole lot to say. It certainly does not add anything to the genre.
Remakes are kind of like parasites. They do not evolve. They hold steady for awhile and slow de-volve, taking away from their surroundings but never adding anything back except waste from the source they sucked off.
Remakes don't push anything forward. They hold back from true artistic growth and while some provide genuine entrainment or may even break some new ground, few truly advance the cause of progressive popular culture.
Scenes from the 2010 remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street
While the remake is not a terrible film, it is basically nothing. Neither great or bad. It just does what it is supposed to do: take up screen space and take money. The original had to rely on a strong script and the performances of its interesting cast. The new film relies on slick CGI and cashing in on teen drama faves who have made a recent name in horror. It's pretty people on parade in a horror flick with MTV editing and camera style.
Horror fans might be the ones to make a difference. As more hyped, slicked up product like 80's horror remakes and "Paranormal Activity" type gimmick films convince those who don't know any better that this is the new standard of horror, there could be a resistance movement slowly forming. Both this film and the Friday the 13th remake were rebuffed and it did make their studios take notice when horror fans shoved back. Paramount Pictures and New Line announced that a Friday the 13th Part 2 was on hold "for the time being" and Platinum Dunes did confirm there will be a sequel to Nightmare but did it quietly without much fanfare.
So there is some hope that a difference can be made. Instead of remakes and even franchise sequels (whose existence is only for revenue) there is a slowly growing demand for something new. How sincere that is, awaits to be seen.
So what's the point of this article? You know that history behind the film and my viewing of it at the start of this article? That right there shows the impact and the substance of the first film. What's there really to say about the remake? It's slick. It has Jackie (a damned fine character actor) and it looks good because some money was spent on it. Otherwise, what else it there to say? You like that? Go see it. But otherwise, it's a footnote.
Fans say they want something different. Maybe it's time they demand it.