In the new A Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy Krueger is no longer the Groucho Marx of slasher killers that he had become over the years. Gone are the one-liners before and after goofy killings.
There's an awful casting choice in the latest horror remake from Platinum Dunes (the production company that also did reboots of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th), but it's not Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy. Haley proves to be a decent-enough replacement for Robert Englund, who was essentially fired from the series. (Englund's last cinematic appearance as Freddy was in 2003's Freddy vs. Jason.) Haley is kind of creepy even before he puts on the burn makeup.
It's the casting of Nancy (the role played by Heather Langenkamp in Wes Craven's original) that ultimately kills the movie. Rooney Mara lacks anything even resembling charisma as Nancy, which was a pivotal role in Craven's film.
Nancy is supposed to be a main character in the remake as well, but she barely registers. That's because Mara gives her no true sense of identity, rendering her scenes so dull that it's almost like they didn't even happen.
I'm having a hard time remembering anything significant that Mara did in this movie. Nancy sketches weird drawings; she mopes; she waits on tables; she mopes; she listens to The Cure 'cause she's so "emo"; she mopes; she runs away from Freddy; then she mopes again.
Mind you, Langenkamp was no Jessica Lange. Her Nancy always looked happy when she was supposed to look scared, and vice versa. But at least she had a pulse, whereas Mara seems genuinely uninterested in the craft of acting. The energy gets sucked out of the movie whenever she's on screen.
Despite the film's flaws, there are aspects that contribute nicely to Freddy's lore. We get to see Krueger in flashbacks before fire rendered his face crispy. Haley is good in these flashbacks, showing us the human side of Freddy (and giving his skin a chance to breathe sans makeup).
There's also a dark and disgusting twist that makes Freddy even more of an evil, vile force. As in Craven's original, this movie puts more focus on the scares and less on the camp that came in the numerous, often-awful sequels.
I want to make an appeal on behalf of Haley. He's starting to get typecast as a creep and a monster, and while it's making him some money, the guy is so much more. Witness the depth of his '70s performances as Moocher in Breaking Away and, yes, as Kelly Leak in The Bad News Bears. He's only gotten better in the last 30 years, and he's capable of holding down a part that is not so monstrous. Producers: Give him a starring role in something where he isn't killing people or leering at children.
Back to Nightmare: Samuel Bayer, making his directorial feature debut, handles the nightmare scenes competently. Especially good are the sequences involving Kris (Katie Cassidy), one of Freddy's first victims. (I liked it when she thrashed around in mid-air before being dispatched.) Some of the iconic moments from the original Nightmare (Freddy's glove rising from the bathwater; Freddy's face pushing through a wall) are nicely re-created in this film.
The movie had a big opening weekend, and there's already Internet chatter about a 3-D follow-up. I'd be interested in seeing Haley take another slash at the role. You may recall that Langenkamp turned down a chance to reprise Nancy in the first sequel. However, she would reappear in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and Wes Craven's New Nightmare.
I'm hoping Mara pulls a Langenkamp, but takes things a step further—and never appears in another Nightmare film again.