Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dream Warriors In Combat

The older I get, the clearer it becomes that I am a proud member of numerous minorities, mainly, those that defend movies generally panned by the evil majorities. But believe it or not, I’m not here today to talk about the Saw franchise. Instead, I fight the good battle with a man I respect intensely, yet differ with on a little remake known as A Nightmare On Elm Street.
Many of you know Cortez the Killer (of what is still unclear) from his spectacular blog, Planet of Terror. It gets a recommend of the highest Doll’s House caliber, Barbie pricing with Cabbage Patch Kid lovability. And yet, he despised Platinum Dune‘s April release with the kind of venom I reserve for something so offensive as the It’s Alive remake. 
Like the overly wordy writers we are, Cortez and I decided to engage in bloggal warfare, which consists of some classy and respectful dueling that brings up such biting issues as Samuel Bayer’s visual style, Rooney Mara’s art skills, the scare-ability of the vertically challenged, and Major League Baseball. Spoilers abound, as was necessary for the integrity of film criticism. I give you in full our debate. 

Cortez: OK....Round 1: FIGHT!

I'm pretty open to remakes. At first I'd grown tired but then realized that it’s going to happen regardless of how I feel. There is a natural fan base there and people are suckers for familiarity. So now that every time one comes along, I don't immediately spring to my soapbox. I try to take the film for what it is, see what it does to expound upon the original while at the same time, being its own beast. I've been surprised over the last couple of years with remakes like Last House on The Left and The Crazies. Films that are just as good if not far more superior to the original.

From the onset, the new A Nightmare on Elm St. lacks any sort of heart or genuine building of tension. Whereas the original paid mind to this all important element in horror, the new ANOES eschews all of that in favor of one too many repetitive jump scares. After about the second one, everything became utterly predictable all the way up until the completely boring and lackluster finale between Freddy, Nancy, and Joy Division emo boy.

Emily the Emily:
Are there too many jump scares? Sure, but in fairness, there are less ‘gotcha!’ moments than scenes that ended with a random character firing a gun with perfect aim at a bad guy just in time to save a hero in The Crazies!

Perhaps that was a low blow, but maybe it’s also my intro of saying the Nightmare remake is not a great film. And you know what? Neither was its source material.

Johnny Depp has since gone on to easily be one of the most interesting actors of his generation, but as Glenn, he’s just sort of...there. We remember him for an awesome death and dreadful sense of fashion. Kyle Gallner’s Quentin feels, plain and simple, like a nice guy in high school, a boy with a crush on the weird quiet girl with really poor art skills. I wasn’t sold on Rooney Mara--she was just a tad too whiny for my taste--but overall, I'd say she's equal in sympathy to Heather Lagenkamp, with bad hair that's flat as opposed to frizzy.

In regards to your comment that this film has no scare-base, I disagree. Yes, the original worked by drilling into our fear of vulnerable dreams, but this one did something different: it gave Freddy a sadistic master plan. They mystery of how he fit into these kids lives--and if he actually fit in (ew, molesting pun!) the way their parents thought--is what drives this version. As a pedophile, Freddy Krueger is a genuine monster, a wormy criminal with both a grudge and horrifying sexual appetite. The thought that Nancy will spend an extended time in his nightmare playground-via-coma is a terrifying possibility that feels genuinely wrong and scary.


The overabundance of jump scares lead me to believe that a) the director had no faith in his ability to create genuine tension and atmosphere and that b) the studio perpetuated the constant lack of faith in keeping the attention of the modern day movie goer, AKA  the ADD, need action all the time, movie going masses. I thought it was both insulting and presumptuous. Doesn't anyone know how to make an atmospherically driven film anymore? Furthermore, the dream sequences were completely bland. Say what you want about the craptastic sequels, the ANOES franchise had some of the most fun and imaginative. Bayer was a music video director before and it clearly shows. I thought I was watching a Nine Inch Nails video half the time.

I agree with you to some extent regarding the thin characterizations of the original. But you could tell from the interactions that they were all friends. The opening scene where Glen pranks his mom using the tape recorder seemed like a natural thing to do. How many times growing up did you have sleep overs and do silly things as a kid? NONE of the kids in the remake felt like they were friends despite the fact that they all grew up together. Kyle's character was even more paper thin, incapable of expressing even the most basic human of emotions. Did you at any time feel like ANY of those kids were genuinely scared or terrified? I felt like they just walked around in a haze, a brooding, self-loathing haze. And I joked about this earlier but its true. A sensitive and nice guy does not a Joy Division t-shirt make. I felt like the director walked into a Hot Topic or listened to a Fall Out Boy record and said, 'I know what I'll do. I'll make the kid put on a Joy Division t-shirt and that will make him the quiet, awkward type. Nancy will listen to her iPod in her room, make the most retarded paintings ever, and that will signal that she's an outcast and social misfit.' Completely insulting.  And how do these kids NOT remember what happened to them when they were younger? I could accept the idea of repressed memories but not at one point during the film is it even mentioned.

In concept, the idea of Freddy having a sick sadistic plan and being outed as a child molester was supposed to have this shocking effect. But for me, the original's straddling of this concept (it never came out and said flat out that he was one) left a whole lot to the imagination. You could accept it at face value as him being a killer or to those that would want to sickly imagine something more, the child molester aspect was certainly not a stretch. I felt like this film pounded and drove the idea home, constantly. Again, insulting and completely assuming that as a movie goer you won't 'get it' so let's really drive the idea home with a prolonged flashback sequence and a prolonged dialogue on the subject. OK, GET ON WITH IT. I get it. This trend of humanizing the monster in recent remakes only serves to dumb down the character, detracting from the genuine fear created by the simple fact that 'it' exists.

And good god the makeup was terrible. Freddy looked like a fried hamster.

Overabundance of jump scares? Eh, a few at the start to put a teenage ticketbuyers on edge. As a hardened horror fanatic, I’m rather immune to that particular gimmick, but I can appreciate that there is indeed an audience for it. 

In regards to the dream sequences, you’re right: the sequels were imaginative. The original? Not so much. Boiler room. School. Boiler room. Backyard. House. Freddy didn’t really get creative until Part 3, after his flirtation with Part 2’s gym teacher and dunk in the pool party. Wes Craven, though a director of great ideas, is hardly a visual master, and there’s not much in Part 1 to argue otherwise.

The relationships in the remake weren’t defined the same as the original, and’s not the original. I liked that Not Glen had a clear crush on the quiet weird girl, although I would’ve liked Nancy to have a stronger friendship with Not Tina. On one hand, the plot kind of demanded that these kids NOT be too close, as otherwise, they may have already discovered their prior relationship. Forced characterization, yes, and these are also the most forgetful 5-year olds ever, but it didn’t bother me quite as much. I cared about the Not Glen/Nancy relationship and was genuinely charmed by their flirting while trying to simply stay awake and alive. 

People give Kyle Gallner a hard time, probably in part due to his puffed out resemblance to Robert Pattinson. Is he Captain Sparrow in the making? Most likely not, but I cared about his character and felt that he was simply a nice kid. I don’t think the Joy Division t-shirt was forced to establish character--as a modern music special needs student, I actually don’t know who they are, but I assume they’re delightful and full of cheer--but more just a simple touch to make him look modern. What did Depp’s Glen have going on? He listened to his walkman and got eaten by a bed. Most importantly, he never seemed frightened in the least (strange, since at times, he’s only wearing a half a shirt and should thusly be more vulnerable). While I did have problems with Rooney Mara’s Nancy, I definitely bought Gallner’s fear.

The back story, to me, was what made this film work. I understand that a lot of filmgoers hate the fleshed-out villain trend of recent years, but to me, it’s one more way of expanding the series canon. Also, it’s nothing new! (See Parts 3-5 on the “Son of a 100 maniacs” thread or the flashback daddy angle in Part 6.) I consider it something akin to fan fiction, where viewers aren’t required to accept a new story as fact that defines the rest of the films. It’s simply an alternate look at an enigmatic character.

And fried hamster-face, eh? I saw more of what happens to pizza if it’s accidentally been nuked for over two minutes.

Cortez: Don't get me wrong, a well timed and executed jump scare still has a tendency to soil my knickers. I just felt like this film relied TOO heavily on the carnival haunted house schtick.

I'll give you the relative uninventiveness in the set pieces in the original. And I actually did like the alternating dream/real-world scene in the pharmacy with the new one.  But overall, the scenes felt way too polished and extremely well lit, like everything was happening out in the open. Nothing felt like it lead up to anything, no driving atmosphere. The pacing in the series, or any good horror film for that matter, is methodical and deliberate. It’s like the filmmakers had no idea how to make a suspenseful film. And as you say, there were times that they never seemed frightened in the least and that’s ultimately what really killed it for me, slim characterizations notwithstanding.

I'm going to have to agree to disagree with you on the characters. I simply don't think there was enough there to make anyone care about any of these brooding, supposedly social outsider kids. They were monotonally challenged and so one dimensional.

I understand the backstory thing. Some people love it I just don't particularly care for it. As stated, the more you humanize the monster (and the film practically beats the child rapist angle over your head like we can't figure it out for ourselves), the more you detract from the mystique and genuine fear that it invokes. And it didn't help that Jackie Earle is incredibly short and stood shoulder to shoulder with Gallner. For chrissakes, couldn't someone have sprung from some stripper heels or something to make him taller?

Emily: I'll concede that Nancy doesn't necessarily seem frightened, and I think that was misdirection in trying to just make her seem really tired. It doesn't work. I stand behind Gallner, however; his sad puppy eyes do register fear and distrust far more than half-shirt Johnny Depp's did.

Onto more pressing and controversial matters...

As a woman who stretches on her toes every day to be 5'2, I take offense at the suggestion that short people can't be scary. Quite frankly, all the times I've ever met someone that made me uncomfortable (whether at work, school, or on the subway) he has usually stood under 5'7. You, good sir, have revealed your true nature as a smug heightist. Robert Carlyle will kick you in the groin and bite your ankles with ferocity you can't imagine. Be afraid. The man has Scottish leprechaun rabies. 

Cortez: I myself am vertically challenged and about 4 inches away from being considered midget material. But when's the last time a pint sized terror ruled the screen? The Leprechaun? The siamese twin claymation creation from Basket Case? The mutant spawn in the It's Alive series?

The problem is that the NOES series set a precedent. Before it devolved into camp, Freddy was menacing and yes, his stature had a lot to do with it. Not saying that he was as ominous as Shaq or Tyler Mane, but he did have a presence. Every time I saw Jackie Earle I just felt like he needed a good shove to topple over or kick to the shin to seriously incapacitate him. Any film remake has big shoes to fill, why handicap it from the get-go? Give him some goddamn platform shoes or something for christ's sake.

Overall, this film was uninspired, listless and devoid of any true tension or drama. If this little slice of 'fun' helps you get you through another terrible Mets season, then by all means, knock yourself out. Oh snap! ;)

Any closing arguments?

Emily: "But when's the last time a pint sized terror ruled the screen?"
Apparently someone isn't familiar with a little greatest horror franchise of all time known as Child's Play. Moving on:

My only closing argument is to note that you know you've lost a debate when you have to resort to punching an already short woman below the belt (stretch before bending dear) with an insult about the modern tragedy that is the New York Mets. Look, I'm sorry if my major league baseball team happens to have once hit a foul ball into the stained glass window of a very vengeful gypsy that has since been placing a mischievous curse over their professional output. We deal with it with the same strength little whiny Nancy summons in order to get over being sexually abused and hunted by a ghostly short man.

Bam. Case closed.


  1. Wes Craven, not a visual master? You should go watch "Serpent and the Rainbow" or "The People Under the Stairs" again. I think if anything, Craven is not given enough credit for how good of a film he can make when left to his own resources and not having to give in to studio demanded cuts or reshoots: "Cursed" for instance (I still wish they had gone with the original idea of having Scott Baio be the killer. Wouldn't have made the movie any better, but at least it would have been somewhat memorable.).

    Loved the debate, and I have to side with Cortez on this one, but I didn't hate it. Just didn't like it very much. And at least your not a Cubs fan like myself. You guys have a couple of world series wins in the past 102 years (Is that really how long it has been?). And you don't have to deal with the likelihood that Ryne "Freaking" Sandberg will be your next manager.

  2. Curses Jonathan, Curses!

    See, I don't think Craven is inept at visuals, but I just think his style doesn't always rise the possibilities of his ideas. Miles from ShowShow once called him the Kevin Smith of horror, which I really like. Imagine the concept of NoES in the hands of someone like Cronenberg or even my frenemy, Dario Argento. T'would be far more spectacular.

    And you know, I still haven't seen Cursed. Is it actually worth my time?

    To your last point, yes, I do understand the plight of a Cubs fan. I went to a game over the summer when I was on vacation in Chicago and what's really sad about them is that they have such a great history, stadium, and fan base and still can't make it to the series. My heart does go to you (and your FANTASTIC hot dogs).

  3. I gave Emily shit for being a Mets fan but I'm a San Diego Padres fan. Yes the Mets are inept and the Cubs woeful but at least you guys have won SOMETHING. I don't think anything is worse than being an SD fan. Well, maybe Cleveland.....

  4. No way! Cleveland has Major League, one of the best baseball movies EVER! For that alone, they get a leg up on all of us.

  5. "Cursed" is most definitely (Can't express this enough) not worth seeing; could be if they had gone with the original ending because, hell it's Scott Baio as a killer werewolf, but in its present form I would avoid like the plague.

    "NOES" directed by Argento? Very interesting. I think Cronenberg would have thrown too much body horror in there, but still could have worked. I do love me the original though, and I love the gritty independent, fairly pedestrian acting feel it has to it. It's something you could only get away with in the 80's and still come off as professional. Thank God we didn't have to suffer through the digital film/DTV era as children.

  6. How can anyone waste Scott Baio? That is sad.

    I love my original NoES, but it wears its time and price tag quite clearly. And though I mock the acting and style, it's still a thousand times better and more interesting than the first 7 Friday the 13ths.

  7. I have not seen the remake, but I agree with Emily that the original is not a great film. The last time I watched it, lots of scenes played like a bad sitcom.

    And yeah Craven is not a visual master at all. In some movies he works with halfway decent cinematographers. When he doesn't we get things like Swamp Thing or The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 or any of his tv hack-work.

  8. Goodness, I sometimes forget that Craven's Hills Have Eyes 2 even exists. He really should have gone to prison for that one.

  9. Hey the Padres have a movie too! I think. But it's no Major League, not by a long shot. It's the TV-movie from the 80s with Gary Coleman. So there you go, I just tied in your sports argument with a pint-sized person (rest his soul). Wait I am getting off track. I hated the remake too but am curious to see all of the deleted scenes that were supposed to make this one "so much better". But other than that, JC supports some of the exact reasons I hated the film: The first appearance of mini Robert Pattison and his Joy Division shirt had me lol'ing in the theater and Mara looked like she was bored out of her mind. When the co-star (Cassidy) outdoes the lead in the acting department in a film, that's a serious problem. Once the Tina angle was gone, so was any trace of suspense because Mara was brutal when she was the main focus. But as a somewhat vertically-challenged dude, I resent JC's (as Ali G would say) racial-ist comments. ; On the positive side, short or not, Haley did his own thing with Krueger and was good, but he was in a losing battle: replacing Englund as Freddy.

    And Emily, the Mets just fired the two biggest problems with the organization, so it's addition by subtraction. And they will get better now, just hopefully not better than my team.

    This was the funniest argument I have had the pleasure of reading, so thanks for documenting and posting it for all to read.

    I still despise the remake though. =)

  10. You are forgetting two very important things:

    Shocker as the perfect example of pure camp.

    And the Phillies are on the up and up.


    I yawned at the pedophile maintext in the remake because it's so 1999, SVU-rising and in lockstep with what others have said, worked much better in a speculative manner.

    I appreciate the visualization of the original moreso because of its timeframe but considering CGI is clearly the lazy man's lame attempt at special effects, at least in the original they put some sweat into making certain effects work.

    I'm just rambling about the same sentiments I made back in April.

    We need not go into this again.

  11. Geoff: This Padres movie you speak sounds golden. You have now given me a mission. As far as the Mets' recent decisions go, I agree that Minaya has been the glaring issue for the last three years (Luis Castillo, Oliver Perez, ahhhh the list continues) though Manuel wasn't quite as bad, but really didn't have the skills to do much with the wrong team. My fingers are crossed so hard for next season that I'm developing carpel tunnel syndrome.

    Oh, and I actually fear watching the deleted scenes as I heard rumors that they may lead to Freddy actually being innocent of the original molestations. I don't like that one bit, though I did like when they toyed with the characters (and audience) into making us think maybe he was. But that's also a storyline I would not be happy with, so hm.

    Ashlee: I always give props to the Phillies, much to the chagrin of my coworkers who insist I'm supposed to now be cheering for the Yankees. Not a chance, though I'd also be happy to see the Reds carry out their great season.

    And considering I still watch SVU, perhaps that explains my approval of that plotline!

  12. Holy crap Geof! How could I forget about that movie! The Kid from Left Field.

    And you can get used VHS copies through Amazon:

  13. Goodness gracious! That film must be seen, especially since it seems to costar some actor named Don Draper! Also, the director only has one other directing credit for the amazingly inappropriately titled TV film, "Daddy, I Don't Like It Like This." Super!

  14. Ha, funny! I have to side with Emily on this one. I do agree that there were one too many jump scares in the first few minutes, but once the movie gets going, it gets going! I enjoyed it in spite of its flaws!

    I liked seeing Freddy being scared "I didnt do it! I didnt do it!" That scene was great, of course, its also reminiscent of the character he played in Little Children where he had very similar scenes.

  15. Yay! I won't die totally alone!

    Little Children was totally on my mind during NoES. JEH is a fantastic actor but also, for better or worse, an extremely believable child molester on screen. Hey, work with your strengths I guess!

  16. Had to wait until I saw the remake to comment on this but let me tell you, now that I have: The remake is dogshit.

    Not scary, brings nothing new, and could I care less about the characters in it? No.

    And the CGI? Come on, how easy was the Freddy coming through the wall in the original, but it was so cool...and now we get it in CGI, which looks SO bad...

    Crap crap crap. And I'm certainly not one of those people who shits on remakes just to shit on them. (I like the TCM remake, and was mildly amused by the F13 remake)

  17. Gah Kangas, gah! I HATED the F13 remake, a film that had no idea what it wanted to be. At least NoES came at the story from a specific place. THough I do agree about the atrocious CGI. The FReddy-through-the-wall scene made the videogame death of Part 6 look good.