It's become clear to me that I am in small group of people who responded relatively positively to Platinum Dunes' remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street. However, the thing I respected most about Samuel Bayer's remake of Wes Craven's classic is also the film's death blow as a potential franchise hopeful: Freddy Krueger is too scary. Craven's original intentionally brushed over branding Krueger a pedophile, knowing full well that there is a sharp distinction between 'child killer' and 'child molester'. Both are horrible, obviously, but by not showing us Krueger's crimes, Craven created a character that was a killer without necessarily being a revolting villain. I know that's a strange distinction to make given how horrible both acts are, but I find that's the only thing that explains a global willingness to accept the killer version.
With this new Freddy, however, Platinum Dunes is faced with their first actual villain; someone who got what he wanted in real life and who now gets to taste it at his leisure in the afterlife. It's the first time that the character of Krueger, not just his actions, has been legitimately disturbing and that's mainly because of what Bayer and company show us of pre-burn Freddy. You're not quite sure if he's just a soft-spoken, simpleton gardener with innocent intentions or whether that southern twang, sweet tea approach is Freddy Krueger's actual mask. That's not just creepy, that's bothersome. Those are real-world issues.
People don't want real-world issues in their horror franchises, though, regardless if they register with subtlety or with the force of a sledgehammer (I was hit by the former which made the final scenes between Freddy and Nancy difficult to watch). That's embodiment of evil territory and it's what will kill this new Nightmare on Elm Street as a franchise.
This is dangerously close to what makes Rob Zombie's Halloween films so loathsome. Zombie attempted to place Michael Myers into a white-trash culture we can all recognize in order to cultivate Myers' motivation. But when it comes to Zombie, there's no grace, no understanding of how shadowy the character should be; just a 'cringe at how F'ed up he is' approach that nobody wants to see. However, I don't think Dunes' Elm Street falls into this exact same trap. Bayer and Jackie Earle Haley actually know how to establish Freddy Krueger as a character; the trouble is that all their calculations yield a joyless, loathsome character on the other side of the equals sign.
It's strange to me, then, that Dunes has managed to avoid this problem with their Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th reboots. The former is still a simple, "that'll never happen to me" premise, while the later maintained the franchise's playful, slightly silly nature by making Jason just a weird, territorial freak in a hockey mask. Neither of those worlds are particularly super serious and that's a wonderful thing. When people think of '80s horror, they think of fun; of sex and drugs and normal co-ed decadence.
The kids in Dunes' Nightmare on Elm Street, however, are not normal. They have troubled pasts. They all live in a depressing, perpetually dark world that's mired by looming, repressed memories of molestation that are now manifesting in the one place they usually are safe; their dreams. There is nothing fun about that. Nothing fun at all. And I think the film's current 15% on Rotten Tomatoes confirms that.
Will the new generation of movie-goers feel the same way? It's no secret that horror movies of late have been notably angrier than the predecessors, so I'm wondering whether or not another angry horror movie is going to seem in any way out of the norm. I do think this NOES will stand out. Even if all the kids sneaking into R-rated movies these days haven't seen the original series, they still know Krueger. As Jackie Earle Haley pointed out in our interview, Krueger is a character that transcends any one specific film. He's associated with an enjoyable, kill-you-with-a-giggle attitude. And this new movie has zero giggles. Even the quips and one liners are more creepy and perverted (even though some are word-for-word from the originals) thanks to the overall tone of the film.
So the question is, is it time to retire these horror icons? Can they exist in a world where horror movies are gravitating toward being more malicious and less rewarding to their audiences? When it comes to Jason, I think he can. I think Platinum Dunes' new vision for him is closest to the '80s mentality of sex and death and rock and roll (which is why it's a bummer that Part 2 may never see the light of day). Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger, though? I don't think people want to see films that are mean to them. The filmmakers need to keep that meanness to the characters on the big screen and so far they're failing to do just that. I - and this is coming from someone who actually appreciates, though doesn't necessarily enjoy, the new Elm Street - would rather see them fade back into nostalgia before their new iterations, Jason aside, are prevalent enough to crossbreed with memories of the originals.