Is Samuel Bayer’s A Nightmare on Elm Street Really That Bad?

When this reimagining of A Nightmare on Elm Street was released ten years ago, it received less than favorable reviews. Some horror fans didn’t bother to watch it. Understandably, most people had no interest in seeing anyone other than Robert Englund play Freddy Krueger. They were afraid Jackie Earle Haley would tarnish the image of their beloved horror icon. But, were their fears justified? The answer is yes, and no.

A New Krueger

Jackie Earle Haley plays a darker Freddy Krueger.

Haley’s depiction of our favorite sweater-wearing maniac features a deep, booming voice, which sounds an awful lot like his portrayal of Rorschach in Watchmen. You’ll want to turn the bass down if you’re watching this on a decent stereo system. He is the definition of creepy, and his words will chill you to the bone in a way that Freddy never has. He’s tougher and meaner than the Krueger of old. It’s this anger and realism that elevates the character to a disturbing, new level. In one scene, he hangs his victims by their feet like cattle in a butcher shop. When he tosses Kris around her bedroom and slices her chest open, it feels like you’ve witnessed a Mortal Kombat fatality. As far as the look, his makeup isn’t as pleasing to the eye, but I suppose a burn victim isn’t supposed to look cool.

Kellan Lutz plays Dean, Freddy’s first victim.

Starting things off inside a diner on a rainy night, it isn’t long before we see our first kill. Dean (Kellan Lutz) is forced by you-know-who to slit his throat in front of his terrified girlfriend, Kris. Slasher fans will wish this death was a little gorier and more creative, but it was smart on Freddy’s part to not raise too much suspicion just yet. It’s also an effective way to make Dean’s friends wonder if he was simply crazy or off of his meds.

Lies and Deceit

When questioned why she doesn’t remember appearing in Dean’s childhood picture, Kris’ mother feeds her the bullshit line, “Who can remember being five years old?” Actually, most of us can, unless of course, we experienced great trauma at the hands of a murderer with a charred face and blades for fingers. This glaring red flag gives you a suspicious, uneasy feeling about the adults. More than the original, this story focuses on their dishonesty. You start to think maybe Fred isn’t so bad after all, and it’s the parents who are evil. It’s possible Krueger has every right to be angry. “How do you know he was guilty?” asks Quentin. That is the big question. They do a great job of making the truth uncertain.

Fred’s Cruel Intentions

When Nancy (Rooney Mara) and Quentin venture into Freddy’s room in the basement of the school, it’s an intense moment. Up to that point, you still wonder if he’s innocent. When Quentin finds disturbing pictures of Nancy, it seals the deal on what a bastard Fred actually was. It’s an interesting choice by Bayer to not show us the pictures. It leaves it up to our own twisted imaginations. Quentin explains, “He’s not after us because we lied. He’s after us because we told the truth,” to which Nancy adds, “He brought us here so we would remember what he did to us.” This is the part that’s really messed up. The only problem is that it’s a little too late. Because of the odd pace, I had no emotional attachment to the kids. I had no sympathy for them because I never saw them lose their innocence. This scene could have packed a really powerful punch much earlier in the film.

Shuddersome Scenes

Nancy (Rooney Mara) is trapped inside an unsettling nightmare with Freddy Krueger.

Krueger’s creepiness is on full display in the last act. We are treated to such menacing lines as “Why are you screaming? I haven’t even cut you yet,” and, “Your mouth says no, but your body says yes” (made extra unpleasant by the fact that he says this over top of a helpless Nancy in bed). The writers continuously allude to the idea that she was raped. At one point, Krueger asks, “How’s this for a wet dream?” while Nancy fights to not drown in a hallway full of blood. It’s a great image and one that makes you wish Fred manipulated the environment more. An interesting aspect of his powers was always that he could basically do anything while inside the dreamworld.  

A Memory or Just a Dream?

The familiar theme music gives you a nice nostalgic feel. However, for the most part, the remainder of this remake does not. Often there is more blood, just for brutality’s sake. Some scenes are recreated with the effects slightly enhanced, such as Freddy emerging through the wall of Nancy’s bedroom. And we get the classic shot (twice) of Fred scraping his fingers on the boiler room wall.

Jackie Earle Haley leaves his mark on the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.

There are other nods to the original film. Nancy burns her arm with the car’s cigarette lighter to stay awake, in the same spot the first Nancy burned herself with a hot pipe. Krueger is seen using a garden cultivator at the school, just like the one Rod used to scare his friends with in the first film. And in the last scene, Freddy comes crashing through a living room mirror, exactly as he did all those years ago in Nancy’s bedroom. These are fun to spot as a fan, but they don’t exactly add value to the story.

Is This Nightmare Worth Revisiting?

This version isn’t bad, it just isn’t up to the A Nightmare onElm Street standard. It would stand out more if it were the first tale in the franchise. Overall, this has a way darker feel. It’s not as campy as the original, which featured some corny acting. Wes Craven’s film feels like a Halloween movie, while this one does not. Bayer attempted to cut the cheesiness from his remake, and he succeeded. If you’re in the mood to see Freddy with less humor and theatrics, this is the way to go. Haley is slow, methodical, and downright vicious. In that regard, it’s unique for a Freddy film, but not for the horror genre itself.

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