When it comes to the horror genre, one type of film clearly ruled the 1980s: the slasher movie. Based on a template largely established by John Carpenter’s 1978 classic Halloween – with a hat tip also due to Bob Clark’s 1974 effort Black Christmas – the slasher sub-genre originally ran on the simple but often effective formula of a silent, stealthy killer stalking a group of teenagers or young adults and killing them off one by one. The climax would then feature the “final girl” engaging in a showdown with her tormentor.
That formula was upended in 1984, with the release of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. Featuring an imaginative premise that the slasher could get victims in their dreams, Elm Street introduced the world to Freddy Krueger, a talkative and extremely sadistic murderer who relished in terrifying his prey before going in for the kill. A huge hit, Elm Street spawned the biggest horror franchise of the ’80s, and one of the best-regarded in genre history. In the process, Freddy actor Robert Englund became – and remains to this day – horror royalty, with many fans still wishing that the now 69-year-old would agree to put on the make-up and striped sweater one more time.
Unfortunately, the book was seemingly permanently closed on the Englund as Freddy continuity with the release of New Line and Platinum Dunes’ 2010 A Nightmare on Elm Street remake. Starring Jackie Earle Haley (Watchmen) as a new take on Krueger, the remake was despised by critics and hated by most fans, although the Elm Street name did lead to a cool $115 million worldwide gross on a $35 million budget. Still, it’s telling that a movie that profitable has never gotten a sequel.
Actor Thomas Dekker – one of Freddy’s victims in the remake – was asked for his thoughts on why the film didn’t work out during an interview with Screen Geek, and painted a picture of a project marred by studio interference:
It’s a tricky one to talk about. I would say it was an honor to be a part of it. I think the cast as we know, we had two, now one-time Oscar nominee and another two-time Oscar nominee who’s still a very good friend of mine, Rooney Mara, and I think the issue at hand with that movie can’t really be thrown at the director because the director was basically a gun for hire to make it look good, and he did that. It looked great. But it’s basically like most good films tell a story, that film was to sell a tuxedo. It’s a sales movie. “It’s okay, we got this idea we’re going to take and we’re going to make money off it, so let’s just do that”. Even though the intentions of the artistic forces behind it were “Okay, we’re going to open up the mythology of Freddy Krueger, we’re going to make him darker and actually explore the idea of child sexual abuse” and those are all the things that interested me. Of course at the end of the day when you have to put it in 1,000 theaters or more, you have to shy away from those things and just make it a sell-able entity. So I think you can’t really start judging the leaves of a tree if the seed is f—ked.
And that’s that situation. The unfortunate part is if it had been an independent film, sort of inspired by Nightmare on Elm Street, I think it could have been something really special, but in order to afford that brand, then you have to cater to the lowest common denominator, and that’s what happens with these remakes. You’re not allowed the privilege of originality if you’re not coming up with an original idea.
Clearly, in Dekker’s opinion, 2010’s Nightmare on Elm Street remake was basically cut off at the knees creatively from the start, with all originality being sucked out of the project due to studio concerns of catering to every possible demographic group.
Those who’ve seen the film would likely find it hard to argue with Dekker’s take, as the few newly created elements of the remake’s story are largely abandoned or dismissed over the course of the film’s running time, in favor of simply doing wholesale recreations of scenes from the 1984 original.
If there’s anything the heavily-panned remakes of Psycho and The Omen suggest, it’s that audiences at large don’t like it when a remake simply copies the movie they already love, without adding anything exciting and new to the table. Oddly enough, at least according to Dekker, it would appear that New Line’s worries about catering the Elm Street remake to everyone prevented it from really pleasing just about anyone.
We’ll keep you updated on A Nightmare on Elm Street as more information becomes available.