Guest Editorial: Defending the 'Nightmare', a different take on the 'Elm Street' remake

By: Tristan Collett

Inspired by Heather Seebach’s anticipation of the Evil Dead remake being released, I thought I’d offer a controversial opinion on a relatively recent horror remake. As dubious as I was about the prospect of yet another 1980s horror remake, I found 2010’s A Nightmare on Elm Street actually improved upon the original’s script. Now, before you all reach for your flaming torches to burn my house down, I ask that you consider both films merely on the basis of their writing. 

I suppose I do try to be objective and look at the positives in these remakes, instead of having a fanboy’s knee-jerk response. For many fans of the original, the mere thought of a reboot was sacrilege. Add to this, the replacement of Robert Englund’s Fred Krueger, plus a change to the story, and it seemed that fans were sure to be disappointed. I was one of those fearful fans. 

One thing that I enjoy about the remake trend is the more serious tone that accompanies most of them. Horror’s string of ‘gritty remakes’ seems to be trying to recapture the feeling many of the originals had when they first came out, albeit for a modern audience. Fred Krueger, or ‘Freddy’ as he later came to be known, is one of the most cherished of the 1980s slashers. However, with sequels, he was reduced to a watered-down comic version of himself, obscuring the memory of his terrifying debut. The remake was an opportunity to make the genuinely frightening high-concept tale of Wes Craven’s iconic dream-demon scare us again. For me, it highlighted problems I have always had with the original. 

As scary as the 1984 film is, my problem with it is that about half-way through, it feels confused and nonsensical. This is primarily owing to plot flaws, created by ill-defined rules governing its own world’s ‘logic’. For this reason, I find the remade script superior. Yes, I actually did say that. The new script makes more sense to me, because it sticks to its rules. What I mean is, in the remake, there seems to be a better sense of Freddy’s supernatural characteristics as he affects the real world. In the original, the extent of the physical manifestations of Krueger’s attacks on the dreaming victims is vast. There don’t seem to be any discernible parameters. There are also no plot-rules as to who should be witness to these killings. I find this detrimental to the story-telling. 

I can understand Tina’s levitation and Rod being hanged by a ghostly bed sheet. Krueger is a phantom and we know about these sort of supernatural goings-on from numerous films. The injuries from invisible knives are also like a haunting, or even some sort of psychosomatic effect. I also understand the idea of Nancy being able to bring back items from the dream world by holding on to them as she wakes up. The rules are explained. More importantly, none of the adults in the film believe the neurotic, psychotic teens of Elm Street. This builds the tension that creates the drama and fear. 

Then it all goes wrong for me. How Craven expects the audience to buy Johnny Depp’s character of Glen being blended into a torrent of gravity-defying claret, in front of his mother, is just ridiculous. It may be legendary, but it is bad scriptwriting in my book.This sort of nonsense continued into the sequels, most memorably for me with one of the characters in part four being found to somehow have ended up inside his own water bed. Such a blatant display of the supernatural destroys any possibility for the police to dismiss it as anything other than something spooky. The ‘rules’ as to how Krueger can do this and still remain a ‘real world’ mystery have been broken, making the police investigation a redundant element of the story. 

The same goes for Nancy and her father watching Mrs. Thompson sinking into a ghostly, blue-glowing, smoky bed after she is burned alive. We haven’t been made aware that Krueger brings his demonic powers with him when he comes into our world. This sudden revelation leaves little hope he can be vanquished. It may be that the point was to freak us out into wondering what is a dream and what is real, but for me, it just doesn’t pay off. At this point, the film can end any way it pleases… and it does. It becomes more like The Wizard of Oz than a slasher movie. The end is just a dream. No, it’s not. Actually it is. Is it? No. It’s a mess. 

For me, the remake sets out its rules and doesn’t break them. The supernatural elements are only given power during dreams, and with less over-the-top physical displays. Krueger can still affect the victims’ physical bodies in the familiar ghostly ways but this time there is no upside-down bloody waterfall, and Krueger doesn’t bring his paranormal powers with him when he is brought into the real world. It also maintains the tension, with the adults never believing that their children could be subject to torment from some other-worldly spectre. Krueger emphasises this at one point, declaring “No one can prove I was ever here”. Even Nancy bringing a part of Freddy’s jumper back from a dream is distanced from any adult who might witness it. 

Another element of the scriptwriting I found more interesting was the bold new storyline of Krueger not being a child killer. He is actually a much less straight-forward villain. He is more disturbing for being a child molester, reflecting a more current social fear. The idea that none of his victims remember anything of their ordeals does demand a leap of faith from the viewer (all of them have repressed their infant memories) but plot-wise it works. Freddy’s reason for killing is now a bit more direct than his taking revenge on the parents who killed him. In my view, horror should be as dark as the times that make it. What may have seemed taboo subject matter in the 1980s is now a comment on the grim reality of modern society. 

I know that without the original there wouldn’t be the newer version. Wes Craven’s film was ground-breaking and raised the bar for horror films in the ’80s. Believe me, there are things that really bug me about the remake, including parts of the script’s dialogue, but that’s not what this particular article is about. I feel that if a remake has to be made, the script should be rewritten as objectively as possible, with the hope that some of the fan-audience can maybe hang up their geek hats for just a couple of hours. 

Heather: Thank you Tristan for that well-thought-out article on a controversial subject! Be sure to check out and like the Facebook page for Tristan's band Pause, an alternative rock band based in Buckinghamshire, England.

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