Get ready for Freddy. Recurring Nightmares is a 10-week look at the entirety of the Nightmare on Elm Street series that started on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, and concludes today — Halloween 2022. (Yeah, only nine movies, but also one TV series; the rhyme does go, “Nine, ten, never sleep again,” after all.) It ran parallel to other series we’re running in late summer / early autumn, including another round of No Sleep October essays. Every week featured an essay about a piece of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise in chronological order, written by Midwest Film Journal contributors and staff writers. Some had seen the whole franchise. Some were novices and neophytes, jumping into the movies without watching the rest of them to offer unvarnished thoughts … or, as Freddy would say, “How sweet. Fresh meat.”
Even the most fierce and frightful recurring nightmares must yield to the sobering demands of waking life. In that spirit, perhaps it’s sensible to end the Recurring Nightmares series on a depressing, dutiful note. After all, someone had to watch the monumentally misbegotten 2010 remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street (in this case for the first, and decidedly last, time).
Among the four franchise-horror corpses exhumed by producer Michael Bay and his Platinum Dunes company, Freddy Krueger’s was the most wantonly defiled. (In fact, Platinum Dunes offered only one reliable resurrection, 2009’s installment of Friday the 13th. They left others to plunder Michael Myers’ mausoleum.) Then again, re-envisioning a character whose iconic status is largely inextricable from his initial era is a suicide mission. Stay too pure to what Wes Craven created 26 years earlier and what’s the point? Toss in too many complications and you stray from simple strengths. It’s less a question of whether a remake would work but who would fall on the grenade to save their compatriots. Given the outcome, the best guess is director Samuel Bayer — one of Bay’s ad-and-music-video contemporaries who long resisted a jump to film until Bay pleaded with him to helm this project … and hasn’t directed another film since.
The remake leans into loosened restrictions on R-rated violence (that’s also far less viscerally effective), lazy mnemonic callbacks to memorable lines from other installments, what must be a record for cold-sweat startle-wake scenes, and tagging back in Craven’s more lurid original back-story for Freddy Krueger as a child molester. The Pied Piper metaphor is literalized for audiences paying sporadic attention. Of course, there is half-baked CGI as befits the modern method; Freddy stretching out through Nancy’s wallpaper looks like a pest popping up from congealed, cold porridge. Oh, and someone besides Freddy calls someone a bitch; that would be Kellan Lutz, who has the sense to take a role in which he’s dead before the opening credits.
There was certainly little thought given to a terrifying new vision of Freddy himself, as played by Jackie Earle Haley hot off 2009’s Watchmen and his Oscar-nominated turn in Little Children. Freddy’s Mason Verger-like burn job is such an anonymized appearance that it could have just as easily been a combined effort of stunt and ADR professionals. (That casting process also must have been “Hey, Jackie got nominated for playing a child molester a few years ago. Let’s have him play our child molester!”) The only detail to savor about Haley’s Freddy is the impatient wiggling of the fingers on his knife-glove as he’s ready to strike a death blow. It also pushes down Freddy’s flair for the flamboyant while filleting people, clumsily misappropriating the “wet dream” gag from A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master for a different bodily fluid. Even the original never felt this dour, Freddy thumbing his scorched nose at parents who torched him for vigilante justice as a prelude to the bloodthirstiness of neocon culture.
It’s hard to know how much blame to pile on co-writers Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer, both with better work in their pasts and futures. Years later, Heisserer specifically called out the cherry-picking of dialogue from deeper in the script simply so someone had something to say in earlier scenes. But at some point, someone chose to ruin Freddy’s one-time laugh line of “I’m your boyfriend now, Nancy” with the rotten subtext of a rapist saying that to his victim. Where previous films incorporated the pervasive moral rot of Boomers, the complexities of queer culture of the 1980s or empathetic explorations of teen pregnancy in the waning Reagan era, this Nightmare on Elm Street tramples and trivializes the trauma of sexual-assault survivors. For the sake of suspense, it actually suggests (for at least a reel) that colluding 5-year-olds conspired to railroad Freddy on false charges of abuse and that their parents overreacted by torching an innocent man to death (a sequence that now boasts the budget to include a big-fireball explosion for effect). But no, Freddy did sexually assault the kids, including Nancy (Rooney Mara, barely present), whose mother wants her daughter to forget the events … but also keeps a class picture to be found.
If only by $1 million over the buoyant battle royale of 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason, the 2010 A Nightmare on Elm Street is the franchise’s highest-grossing installment worldwide. It brought in $117 million on a $35 million budget. Throw in, say, $15 million for marketing and that’s still a $67 million profit. Does it seem gauche to close out this series about an unforgettable slasher with so much talk of earnings and profit rather than the sustained terror he spawned (and on Halloween itself no less)? Well, the former is why Platinum Dunes made this. It brought in enough money to cover the note on a couple more. And yet they shuttered their shingle for several years until The Purge came around because this film’s backlash was so bad. Money doesn’t always speak louder than the movie. Back in the day, Freddy Krueger once carved out a bountiful, bloody space for himself. But if you think (one, two) Freddy’s comin’ for you anytime soon, well … keep dreaming.