It’s easy to call out a film for being bad, whether it’s a sequel that feels unnecessary, a remake that misses the point of what made the original work or something that fails in most areas to ‘work’, there’s a lot of failures out there. The more interesting thing, to me at least, is understanding why something is bad. Why did people dislike it in the first place? What went wrong? That’s what I’m hoping to discuss today as I revisit one of the most maligned horror remakes of all time, Samuel Bayer’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. 

2010’s Elm Street was the directorial debut of Bayer, who previously made a name for himself as a music video director, being the man behind Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, The Cranberries’ Zombie and Green Day’s American Idiot, which might beg the question, why, or better yet how did he land this gig? Well, Platinum Dunes founder Michael Bay pleaded with Bayer to direct the remake, who declined twice before finally accepting. Bayer’s visual style is something that made him in demand in the music scene, but when it comes to modernising one of the most popular horror franchises of all time, there’s a lot more that goes into making that land. 

Antagonist Freddy Krueger himself would be played by Jackie Earle Haley, who was fresh off of his Oscar nominated performance in Todd Field’s Little Children and Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, two extremely demanding roles in which Haley played unlikeable characters with traits similar to Krueger’s, so it seemed like the perfect fit. The main cast would consist of the, then unknown Rooney Mara as final girl Nancy, Kyle Gallner as Quentin, Katie Cassidy as Kris, both friends of Nancy’s and Mr. Krabs himself, Clancy Brown as Alan Smith, Quentin’s father. Overall, a pretty solid cast, right? 

So what went wrong? Well, to begin, there’s a few deviations from the original films that really irked fans and critics alike. In Wes Craven’s original A Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy Krueger is presented as a child murderer, but in the remake, Craven’s unused idea of having Krueger be a child molester is something that frustrated and angered fans. Krueger’s known for his trademark one-liners and the original film’s sequels capitalised on this, thanks to the excellent Robert Englund with a charismatic, likeable antagonist. Here, Jackie’s playing a killer who also diddles kids, and that’s no fun. Sure, you could say that it’s an interesting take on the character, removing the likeable elements and portraying him as a truly evil monster, but the film even fails there. 

Instead of utilising practical effects to fully bring Krueger to life, CGI was implemented from the team behind The Dark Knight’s Two-Face to present a more “realistic” Freddy. It fails, and fans compared the new design to a burnt pizza over a realistic burn victim. Also, this goes without saying but highlighting disfigured people as evil and gross didn’t go over too well either. 

Well, Freddy’s no good, but what about the other characters? Unfortunately, they’re one-note and don’t amount to much of anything interesting. Mara and Gallner spend a good chunk of the film together, recreating the Nancy and Glen relationship in the original film, but most of the dialogue feels cookie-cutter and formulaic, with no real characteristics that make the pair interesting to watch. It mostly serves as a means to get the horror, which also pales in comparison to the original. 

While the original film had its fair share of jumpscares, Craven and company made sure that they weren’t the only form of horror on display, utilising groundbreaking effects work to scare the living daylights out of the viewers. Whether it was Freddy’s long arms in the alley or him coming out of the walls, the concepts of making every sequence feel like a genuine nightmare are part of the reason why that film stands the test of time. In the 2010 film, most of the horror is loud noise after loud noise, jumpscare after jumpscare, computer generated gore shot after computer generated gore shot and it becomes stale, repetitive and dull, something you never want out of a horror film. There’s attempts to recreate some of Craven’s original ideas, such as Freddy in the bedroom walls or his hand coming out of the bathtub, but there’s no attempts to do anything outside of “Hey, remember this from the original?” and it feels more like pandering fanservice than anything that benefits the film. 

Some of you might be asking, is there anything good about the film? While I dislike the film a great deal, there’s a few elements I do think are worth praising. First off, even if the material he’s working with is lacklustre, Haley’s performance as Krueger is committed and occasionally has some skin-crawling lines of dialogue that he almost pulls off. Also, the decision to make the dream world feel like something out of a Silent Hill game is interesting, at the very least. There’s some impressive set-design that seriously deserves a better film than what it ended up in. 

So, let’s get back to the initial question of this entire article, what went wrong? For me, personally, I think it’s hard to pin that question down to one specific thing. One might argue that it was doomed from the get-go, thanks to Platinum Dunes’ hands being on the project, with their prior horror remakes such as Friday the 13th, The Hitcher and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre failing to please fans or critics. Maybe it was the first time director who didn’t seem interested in making the project in the first place. You could point to the over-reliance on computer generated effects, jumpscares and “modernising” something that’s stood the test of time. You could even mention the lacklustre screenplay and lack of compelling characters. It’s a gigantic mess, with few truly good elements behind it. 

Does that mean it’s completely worthless as a film? I don’t think so. It works well as a lesson on how not to remake something. It taught Platinum Dunes that even if you can make a pretty penny off of an iconic franchise or horror film, your luck will run out eventually, as this would be their last attempt at remaking any films, with their next horror projects being original features like The Purge and A Quiet Place. If you ask most people if they knew Michael Bay was attached to those, I think they’d be pretty surprised given his early 2000s/2010s output with Platinum Dunes. 

The film also highlighted how, despite fears that practical effects ‘age’ films and modern computer wizardry can create things people in the 1980s wouldn’t have believed, that doesn’t inherently mean those effects would a) work in a project like this or b) make it better. Thankfully, the past decade has brought us many horror films, originals and remakes alike with outstanding practical effects work, showing that the demand is still there. 

I truly don’t believe that every person involved in this remake only wanted to profit off of an existing property, and there’s genuine effort presented in the final film, even if it’s hard to see. The aforementioned set-design is solid, with some creative lighting in the dream world and atmospheric vibes present. Jackie Earle Haley isn’t awful in the role, but he’s stuck working with a screenplay that makes him vile, unlikeable and uninteresting to watch. Gallner and Mara are doing their best too, although their one-note characters aren’t given anything interesting to do in the film’s 95 minute runtime. 

If there’s anything to be taken from A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010, it’s that loud jumpscares and expensive CGI can’t save something that doesn’t have the juice needed to pull off an Elm Street film. I’m not saying that every film in the original series is good, there’s quite a few bad ones! But for all of their flaws, they’re at the very least helmed by interesting figures in the horror scene, whether it’s Craven, Jack Sholder, Chuck Russell, Renny Harlin or Ronny Yu, each filmmaker brought their own original spin to the world of Krueger. While Bayer has a few neat ideas, the film mostly feels phoned in on his end and without that passion, that need or desire to offer something new or interesting to the franchise, you’re left with something that nobody’s happy with. Lead actress Rooney Mara’s went on record stating that the film almost made her quit acting, Samuel Bayer’s never directed another feature and as previously mentioned, Platinum Dunes has never attempted to remake another horror film since 2010. Maybe this was a good learning exercise for all involved as since then, Mara’s been nominated for two Academy Awards, Bayer has directed many music videos that are loved by fans of the artists and star Kyle Gallner has made a name for himself as one of the few ‘scream kings’ or ‘final guys’ in horror. Check out his work in Smile, The Passenger and Mother, May I? Seriously, he’s great! 

To end this first entry into What Went Wrong, I’d love to highlight some great projects that the stars in this went on to star in, because one disappointing film doesn’t mean that everybody involved sucks. Quite the opposite, as the film’s packed with talent worth discovering. First, Kyle Gallner. He’s the main reason I revisited this in the first place, given his recent run of excellent films, both in the horror genre and others. For those interested in horror, Parker Finn’s Smile, in which he plays Joel, an ex-boyfriend of protagonist Rose’s and rocks in every scene he’s in, is a must watch. If you’re looking for something more comedic, Dinner in America is an absolute must, with his charismatic performance as Simon being one of my favourites of the decade so far. Rooney Mara’s performance as Ona in Women Talking is one of the best of 2022 and a must watch for those interested in something a little more demanding than her role in Elm Street, as well as her role in The Social Network, which came out the same year! Earle Haley’s voice performance in horror video game The Evil Within is worth checking out too, as he plays the game’s primary antagonist Ruvik in the English language version and does a pretty great job. 

I’d love to hear what you thought of this film, did you find it as dreadful as the reviews or are you one of the remake’s defenders? Let me know in the comments, as I’m curious to hear. Thanks for reading! 

Where to watch A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

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