The Cynical Optimist : In Defense of Elm Street


Part I: Platinum Dunes

Platinum Dunes. Here’s what you need to know:

1.) Platinum Dunes is a production company created by Michael Bay, Brad Fuller and Andrew Form.

2.) The company specializes in horror films, particularly remakes of cult-classic films such as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “The Amityville Horror” and “Friday the 13th.”

3.) People hate them – and I mean hate. We’re talking about the kind of absolute revulsion typically reserved for George Lucas. The kind of disgust that fuels message boards and blogs with comments like, “You raped my childhood!”

Part II: Insurmountable Odds

Platinum Dunes’ latest effort is a re-imagining of Wes Craven’s 1984 film, “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” From the moment of its conception, this film was predestined for hatred.

Why? Well, to begin with, there is an entire subset of film aficionados who abhor the idea of remakes. You know those people at parties that you can’t stand, the ones who interject and say things like “oh, the book was much better,” – yeah, these people are even more annoying.

I’m not saying they’re incorrect, nor am I discrediting their opinions, I’m merely stating that the exercise itself is bothersome. These assumptions, that adaptations or remakes are inferior to original works, operate on the belief that cinema is first-and-foremost an art form.

Yes, a film is an expression of creativity – the product of a collective effort of writers, directors, producers, and artists – but only a naive neophyte would believe this is the primary function of the film industry. The chief objective of the industry is to make money – it is a business after all.

In 2003, Platinum Dunes produced a remake of Tobe Hooper’s cult film, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” The remake was budgeted at $9.5 million, and grossed $107 million worldwide.

In 2005, “The Amityville Horror” grossed $108 million with a slightly larger budget of $19 million. Last year, Platinum Dunes’ remake of “Friday the 13th,” grossed $91 million on a similar budget.

In Film Remakes by Constantine Verevis, the author points out why remakes have become so popular in recent years. “In a commercial context, remakes are pre-sold to their audience because viewers are assumed to have some prior experience, or at least possess a ‘narrative image,’ of the original story.”

Bingo! People instantly recognize Jason Voorhees and his iconic hockey mask, even if they haven’t seen a “Friday the 13th” film. In the same way, people associate Leatherface with his chainsaw – or Freddy and his red-and-green striped sweater.

It works both ways. The older audience, with prior experience, will check out the remake to compare and contrast the two films. Younger audiences will see the remake and find themselves interested in checking out the original film franchise.

Personally, I fucking love Marcus Nispel’s re-imagining of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” I find it to be way more enjoyable than Tobe Hooper’s film – which is downright laughable. For everyone who insists the original film is better, the remake does not replace it -they can choose to ignore it and cling tightly to Hooper’s 1974 cult phenomenon.

It’s really a win-win for the franchise as a whole. Whether the remake is successful or well received by critics, a renewed interest in the original source material is always one of the many outcomes of remaking any work.

Part III: Cinematic Blasphemy

Director Samuel Bayer makes his feature film debut with Platinum Dunes’ re-imagining of Wes Craven’s 1984 film, ”A Nightmare On Elm Street.”

Critical reception would have you believe this film is an atrocity – or cinematic blasphemy, if you will – that it is a slap in the face to horror buffs and Krueger fans alike. I, however, fucking love Freddy Krueger – and I love this movie.

Brad Fuller and Andrew Form have got some serious balls. They’ve faced insurmountable odds and hordes of faultfinding horror hounds in an attempt to dust the cobwebs off horror icons who have long since lost their luster. You’ve got to give them credit for dragging Leatherface and Jason Voorhees out of the bowels of Hell and giving them another chance.

In that same way, Fuller and Form have resurrected Freddy Krueger, perhaps the most iconic of our modern movie monsters. Not only is he the most iconic, but also the most challenging to re-imagine.

Whereas guys like Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees are mute, mindless killers behind masks – Krueger is the personification of mischief. He is an omnipotent, charismatic monster – and up until now, we’ve only seen one take on who Krueger is.

Of course, to many dyed-in-the-wool Freddy devotees, the absence of Robert Englund is unspeakable. After all, the guy has worn the fedora and striped sweater for the past 25 years. By enlisting Academy Award-nominated actor Jackie Earle Haley, Platinum Dunes has created a whole new Freddy – a pissed off monster, rather than a Looney Tunes character.

To me, it’s the equivalent of Adam West’s Batman and Christian Bale’s Dark Knight. They represent two completely different takes on the same character – and you can enjoy them both equally for entirely different reasons.

Harry Knowles, of Ain’t It Cool News, really encapsulated my feelings on the remake. I would strongly encourage anyone who has been inundated with negative review after negative review to check out his thoughts. Here’s a taste:

“Englund’s Krueger had become a “Horror host” with some really nasty moments with victims. He was all about the relish and the cowardice. And I LOVE THAT about Englund’s take on the character.

But with Jackie Earle Haley… he absolutely makes Krueger a Monster again. Englund’s eyes dance, Jackie’s drill holes through the characters. He has eyes that would paralyze you. And they take delight and there’s a handful of relish to him too, but there is no doubt about it… he means to really and seriously fuck up his victims.”

Like Harry, I’ve always loved Freddy Krueger. When I was in elementary school, I must have went trick ‘r treating as Freddy Krueger at least three years straight. In high school, I volunteered to help out with Halloween carnivals and haunted houses, just for an excuse to break out the fedora and striped sweater.

I just fucking love Freddy Krueger. As a kid, I drew pictures of him – fucked up little drawings of a man in a red-and-green sweater with a claw on one hand, his skin a mix of red-orange and peach.

I owned all of the films on VHS and watched them religiously. My room was filled with Freddy memorabilia; posters, pull-string dolls, action figures, water squirters, sweaters, masks and claws – you name it, I had it… Well, almost everything. I never had those NIKE Air Kruegers that Harry covets so much.

Part IV: Meet the Man of Your Dreams

This is by far Platinum Dunes’ best film to date. That isn’t to say it’s perfect – there are plenty of flaws and elements that didn’t work. Ironically, the parts that didn’t work were often reworks of sequences from the original film.

I preferred Tina’s bloody wall crawl to Kris’s multiple body slams – and the scene where Freddy morphs out of Nancy’s bedroom wall was unnecessary and not nearly as effective as the original.

The film seemed to be confused as to whether it was a remake or a reboot. After visiting the set, I was under the impression that this Freddy would not be dealing out puns along with punishment.

Yet, I hear Haley utter the phrase, “How’s this for a wet dream?” and other such jokes that fail to deliver on creepiness and instead remind me of the cheese-fest that became the latter Elm Street sequels.

It just wasn’t consistent. One minute Krueger’s saying, “Why don’t you just fucking die?” and the next he’s making a flat pun that feels forced.

Haley’s Krueger feels like three equal parts of Rorschach, Heath Ledger’s Joker and Carl from “Sling Blade.” He’s just fucking creepy, and I love all the suggestive lines of dialogue – lines like, “You smell different” truly give you the shivers, because you know this sick motherfucker remembers what preschool-aged Nancy smells like.

The acting in this film is by far some of the best in the horror genre, and (if I’m being totally honest) the best acting the Elm Street franchise has ever seen. Katie Cassidy (Kris) steals the spotlight. Not only is she drop-dead gorgeous, but you truly sympathize with her – she’s not just some dumb slut, she’s a victim – in more ways than one.

Samuel Bayer did an excellent job with the dream sequences – especially the micro-naps. One time, while on summer break in high school, I stayed up for 4 or 5 days straight. I would make huge pitchers of cherry Kool-Aid and stay up playing video games and watching movies nonstop.

I ended up watching the entire Nightmare on Elm Street box set pretty much back-to-back, at which point I began experience my own brand of micro-naps.?? I would see Freddy’s claw wrap around the doorframe of my bedroom.

I felt like Nancy or Joey, some paranoid teenager with a coffee pot under the bed, frantically trying to stay awake to avoid an inevitable rendezvous with the boogieman.

This film reawakened those thoughts and feelings. For the first time since I was in elementary school, Freddy Krueger was actually scary again. This is a great start for a franchise that’s about to get its second chance to flourish – and that excites me immensely.

It took Englund a couple films to really find his stride, my favorite original Elm Street film being “Dream Warriors,” the third installment. I think some pretty impressive groundwork has been laid – a great mythology to expand on – and I can’t wait to see what Platinum Dunes dreams up for “Elm Street 2.”