Nightmare on Elm Street [2010]

Jerry Bruckheimer’s reprise of the 1980 cult classic is everything that the teen-age horror movie buff, its target audience, could possibly want. It is well-crafted, well-acted, well scripted, and the special effects are, predictably, great. Quite why he should have wanted to re-issue something that has become an industry in its own right is beyond me. Surely there are other stories of ghouls/ zombies/ vampires/ werewolves/ whatever that spend their time ripping teenagers apart amid piercing shrieks and fountains of gore that could just as happily pander to the bloodlust of adolescents? Apparently not, so we have yet another remake of a decades-old classic.

That is not to say that Bruckheimer does not do his job well. He does, believe me. More than well. The narrative is tightly written without side issues or sub plots, the acting is first class, and the characters are clearly drawn without too much unnecessary attention paid to their details. And the special effects, as I said, are brilliant.

Something is happening to a group of teenagers in a small American town. One by one they start having terrible dreams in which they are pursued by a horrifically scarred figure who wears knives on the fingers of his right hand, knives that act like steel claws. One by one they die, violently but mysteriously, as if they have been ripped apart by some terrible beast. It takes some time for the dwindling band of survivors to connect the dots, but eventually Quentin [Kyle Gallner] and Nancy [Rooney Holbrook] begin to piece together the horrible truth.

The first thing that they realise is that they and the others have all had the same dream, being pursued by the dreadful creature they soon begin to know as Freddy. They become terrified of falling asleep, knowing that the dream will return if they do. They understand now how their friends were killed, and that they, too, will die if they sleep too long. They begin to see images of a school with little children around and a playing field, a junior school, even a pre-school, that looks strangely familiar. They are all there. But how can this be when they did not meet until High School?

They seek the help of their parents, who refuse to even speak of it. They are only dreams. There was no-one called Freddy. The dreams will pass. But slowly the truth begins to emerge. They all went to a pre-school together, Nancy’s mother finally admits. Freddy Krueger [Jackie Earle Haley] was the janitor who lived in the basement and he was always with the children, playing with them and helping out in the running the school.

But there was a much darker side to the school. The children told their parents that Freddy was abusing them. The parents reacted violently, but did not call the police. To have done that would have brought everything into the open. The children would have had to relive their trauma in court, and everyone would known. Instead they decided to confront Freddy, who fled from the mob into an abandoned industrial building where he locked himself in. Cans of solvents spilled in the excitement and someone threw a kerosene lamp through the window. Freddy died, horribly, in the flames.

Or did he?

Somehow his malevolent spirit has returned, and he is determined to drag the children, now teenagers, down to a horrible death such as he suffered. And he is succeeding; only Quentin and Nancy, out of a dozen or more children of the original group, are still alive. And they dare not go to sleep or they, too, will join their friends. Another question remains in their minds; was Freddy really molesting them? Or had they been making it all up? Is this Freddy’s revenge for telling lies that got him killed?

Quentin and Nancy have to discover the truth, although they are becoming more and more desperate, falling in and out of sleep where they meet Freddy in his nightmare industrial building. Once in his macabre half-world he stalks them, finger-knives extended for slashing, even managing to open deep wounds in Nancy’s shoulder before she manages to wake up. She is rushed to hospital, where the doctor wants to give her a strong sedative so that she can sleep – which would prove fatal. Together Nancy and Quentin escape the hospital, making a decision as they go.

They have to find their old infant school and discover the truth; was Freddy really abusing them? Or was this all a lie? If so, are they themselves really to blame for all the killing? They reach the building, abandoned and derelict, which they explore tentatively. They have to know. Only in this way can they exorcise the evil spirit of Freddy. They find Freddy’s basement home where they discover old photographs that prove that they were telling the truth; Freddy had been abusing them, and Nancy, his favourite, in particular, but they had suppressed all memory of the events. Slowly recollection creeps back.

In a hidden room behind a panel in Freddy’s basement they discover the incontrovertible truth, and it is here that they must confront Freddy himself. One way or another the matter must be resolved here.

This latest incarnation of Nightmare on Elm Street is well-constructed matinee fare. Do not expect to have to think about it afterwards. It is aimed at the age-group that is depicted in the story, and as such does its job well. The original motion picture was also a good story and spawned a whole series of sequels. Quite obviously this is a new rendition for a new generation, and there are hopes for another series of sequels, as the last few frames of the film give ample scope for. It has been up-dated slightly to make it more relevant to current teenagers. Child abuse, for instance, was never mentioned in the original, yet here it is a central motif. The currently painful revelations of systemic institutional child abuse amongst, for example, the Catholic Church are topical and relevant. Nor are they as controversial as they might have been a generation ago. They can be spoken of now without raising a storm of protest.

Freddy is back, and is likely to return through more sequels. The only question is; when the new set of sequels begins, will Freddy wear a dog-collar?

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