Friday, April 30th, 2010

Horror Chick: ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ Isn't the 80s (But It’s Great!)

FREDDY'S BACKI've been getting flack for not "rating" movies. "How many stars does it get?" people ask. "Should I see it or not?" The problem with this last question is that my answer will always be "yes," since I watch horror movies no matter how bad they are. It's like asking a crackhead if you should spring for that double rock laced with motor oil. But since this is a big mainstream release and a lot of people are considering shelling out cash for tickets, here's your answer: See this movie. It's great. Now that we've gotten all that useful information out of the way, let's talk about something more fun. Like Freddy. And the 80s.

So Hollywood is banking its soul on remaking 80s movies, all while relying on 1) the undying nostalgia of Olds like me who want to see our beloved childhood digitized and plastered in CGI, and 2) the total lack of taste of teenagers. One of the keys to being an 80s movie that's remade in 2010 is the presumption that the original was, well, kind of crappy. As one article (I'd link to it, but a media insider recently sneered to me that "linking is dead," which I hadn't realized but I'm hardly the one who decides these things) put it, "It's not like they're gonna remake ‘Apocalypse Now.'" Still, for those of us who are, well, old, it's nearly impossible to watch a remake of a 26-year-old movie and not be in a state of constant comparison-particularly when the original was a staple of our childhoods.

Which is one of the reasons the new ‘Nightmare' is getting such a flaming on the Internet: Messing with a beloved 80's classic can seriously backfire on you. If your audience is already supermega-nostalgic about the original, they're gonna compare every second of your remake, frame by frame. Which is basically what I, and every other fangeek, did.

So let's do a breakdown of the two:

The key difference, of course, is Freddy. We (meaning those of us who fully remember the 80s) adored him. He was the pre-Bart Simpson, a pockmarked iconoclast with a closet full of one-liners and no discernible morals. He represented everything our parents abhorred, and so of course we deified him beyond reason. He was the symbol of everything unsafe that lurked beneath the 80s (as well as the financial savior of New Line Cinema). His level of celebrity was Bieber-esque: A friend of mine waited in line for hours at a mall to have his ‘Nightmare' poster signed by the man himself, who eventually wrote "Dear Adam: Go take a nap! Yours, Robert Englund."

But in the post-innocence era of 2010, we've gone decidedly darker. Gone are the fluffy haircuts and pink sweater vests and beefy jock boyfriends. Today's mainstream horror, and today's moviegoers, are oh-so-self-aware. Nowadays we like our vodka organic, our Tolstoy digitized, and our serial killers repositories of child-raping evil. As Abe Sauer so astutely noted here, the move in this heavier-child-molesting direction began with the casting of Jackie Earle Haley, an uber-talented actor who's hedged his career on Hollywood's fascination with pedophiles. Despite his stature-he'd come up to Robert Englund's shoulder, maybe-Haley summons enough twisted presence to successfully recreate Freddy as a seriously scary motherf**ker. Except in the process, he sells out the character. The New Freddy has abandoned charisma in favor of being a total Sadist-he went "Full Child-Torturing Murderer." Yes, he's scary, but there's no friggin' way anyone is waiting in line for this guy's autograph.

Then there are the seminal scenes that made the original so amazing-the claw-in-bathtub scene, the Tina death scene, the bodybag-dragged-down-the-school-hallway scene , and of course the scene that butchered teen girl hearts, where Johnny Depp is reduced to a tanker full of blood spurting from the ceiling.

Rather than try to top these gems, the remake wisely recreates them, nearly frame by frame. Which, in my view, is a wonderful thing-my favorite moments, polished and reset in a freshly CGI-ed setting.


But the scariest aspect of today's mainstream horror is how dark and unhappy everyone is before the killer even shows up. Gone is the fun in being young-there's not a shred of teen sex, or even a party to take the edge off. Also gone is any innocent belief in religion (those campy crucifixes above original Tina and Nancy's beds seem laughable now). These kids are no longer horny bee-bopping morons who must grow up to defeat a monster-now they're seeped in self-awareness from the get-go, plodding through their white (and I mean WHITE) suburban existences in Joy Division t-shirts and Marc Jacobs boots, popping prescription meds and blogging their woes. These teens KNOW SHIT-they have knowledge of the situation almost from the beginning. And they have mothers who look maybe 4 years older than they do ("Horror in the Age of Botox" is a column for a later date).

Still, as I said before, the end product is great. Just as the original did 26 years ago, the remake delivers everything you want in a "Hey let's go see a horror movie tonight." The world may be a scarier place now, but we can still rely on filmmakers to show us a good time. Even if it is CGI.

Melissa Lafsky gives this 18 out of 23 somethings.

18 Comments / Post A Comment

HiredGoons (#603)

The appeal of horror movies to teenagers can be found in the nexus of 'getting the adrenaline pumping' and 'contemplation of one's mortality' which equals 'making out / fucking.'

Can also be applied to adults.

BadUncle (#153)

I'll see it on cable. But shelling out for it? when it's not in 3-mothafuckin'-D?? Fie. Well, mostly because Maitland McDonagh wrote that "if the movie were as good as [Jackie Earle Haley's performance], it would be a formidable challenge to the conventional wisdom that remakes, reboots and reimaginings are the last refuge of the creatively bankrupt. But it's not."

Some of us non-media insiders have no objection to linking.

NicFit (#616)

Hierarchy of punishable by death offenses in classic horror movies:

1. Giving a blowjob
2. Sneaking off to smoke pot
3. Being black
4. Using an outhouse
5. Being different/nerdy

Also, the most attractive white male and female will not do any of the above and , thus, be the last two left.

Again, I really have to recommend the Netflixable "Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon" which has a hilarious bit where an aspiring slasher-movie killer proudly ticks off the virtues (still a virgin, troubled family history, etc.) of the teenager he's setting up to be his Last Girl.

Suzi (#3,593)

Please tell me you watched 30Rock last night. Jack gets an inheritance, and Liz Lemon says "If it involves spending the night in a haunted house you'd better hope there's a lot of black men and slutty teenagers that show up, or you're dead!"

So, yes, agree.

Miles Klee (#3,657)

new version is suffering from that rampant awful teal-and-orange color scheme problem, i see

Matt (#26)


HiredGoons (#603)

Almost as offensive as comedy films' obsession with having their posters with white backgrounds and LARGE red typeface.

HiredGoons (#603)


Bittersweet (#765)

There are always links

(You're welcome.)

forrealz (#1,530)

Oh, man. Twenty-six years ago.

Horror Chick (#1,677)

Yes. We Old.

Abe Sauer (#148)

NOES will always have a pants-shitting place in my very old heart. 26! years ago this film capped off a night of a bunch of friends watching this FANTASTIC thing a friend's dad got: BETA video machine. The night started with Jolt and popcorn and Karate Kid, then Ghostbusters and pizza and then, after midnight, NOES. what a year.

metoometoo (#230)

I am extremely squeamish and have such a low tolerance for gore and violence that I can't even bring myself to click play on any of the embedded videos in these posts, never mind actually watching an entire horror movie. I do not enjoy feeling frightened or sad, which is why I only watch comedies.

And yet, these reviews are some of my favorite things to read on The Awl, just because they are so interesting and well written. "18 out of 23 somethings"! Wonderful.

Having not yet seen the remake I would like to chime in…

I'm surprised that you feel that the original teenagers weren't already unhappy themselves. Tina's mother is presented as an uncaring and largely absent tramp, her boyfriend is immediately condemned as her killer based on his past behavior and Nancy's parents are a train wreck of post-divorce hostility. The real Nightmare on Elm Street–that I believe Craven is slyly pointing out–is the repressed anger, boredom and emotional perversion of the waking characters and the failure of their all-American surroundings to provide any kind of buffer zone.

Remove Freddy from the original and pretend it's about a girl subject to a sudden onset of insomnia and panic attacks based on her fucked-up family and it's still a frightening and grim piece of work. The fact that Nancy is a solid and entirely believable person (as opposed to a blond bit of 80's fluff) is as much a key the the movie's success as anything Englund did.

I would also argue that Freddy in the first film is not funny. He laughs and gibbers and capers with glee, but the enjoyment is all his: the closest thing to a one-liner of the type the sequels became tiresomely famous for is his response to Tina's muttered "Oh God" at first seeing him with the exposing of the metal glove and saying "Tina…this…is God." I submit that that's not actually a one-liner. It's a shockingly ugly idea and one miles ahead of any of the slobbering associated with slasher films before or after.

And yes, I think too much about these things.

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