Somewhere, Wes Craven is laughing up his sleeve, and Robert Englund is grinning.
It's nice to know that you're irreplaceable.
The filmmaker and actor who made 1984's A Nightmare on Elm Street into a modern horror classic have nothing to do with the remake hitting theaters this weekend. Once they finish gloating, Craven and Englund will likely breathe sighs of relief.
The new, unimproved A Nightmare on Elm Street stars Oscar nominee Jackie Earle Haley as wisecracking gore icon Freddy Krueger, buried under a latex mask nowhere near as frightening as Englund's. Director Samuel Bayer and two screenwriters tweaked Craven's blueprint in meaningless ways. You can keep a checklist of the original's signature scenes with insignificant changes, like Freddy's wallpaper stretch over a would-be victim's bed, and his razor glove emerging between her legs in a soapy bathtub.
The only difference is a heavier reliance upon the cheapest scare tactic going today, those loud sonic stings marking Freddy's abrupt arrivals that never fail to make viewers jump. I swear they already have screams added to the mix, like a laugh track for an unfunny sitcom.
You know the story. Freddy was abusing children at an elementary school and hounded by a lynch mob of parents, who burned him alive, causing his dermatological problems. Years later, he returns as an unstoppable monster invading the dreams of his now-teenage accusers. If they sleep long enough, he turns them into teen puree.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is somnambulant enough without having to watch characters yawn and rub their eyes while trying to not doze. They don't even need deep sleep for danger, just a "micro nap" allowing dreams while awake. I think I took a few during the screening.
Haley does his best Englund impression, hissing sarcastic threats and clinking his razor fingers. Yet the movie is so much the same that each attack immediately draws comparison to Englund, whose gleeful approach to gore was more effective. I'm not sure why Haley wears a latex jawline resembling a ratty Planet of the Apes prosthetic when Englund's sinewy scars are the stuff of nightmares.
As far as the victims go, there isn't a budding Johnny Depp in the bunch. They're just casting call mannequins sitting prettier than ducks awaiting Freddy's revenge.
What's really missing from the remake is the key theme of 1980s slasher flicks, that sexual activity leads to slaughter. Freddy, Jason, all those bad guys, taught abstinence the grisly way as the AIDS epidemic drew. Nobody comes close to getting lucky in the new A Nightmare on Elm Street; they're just bodies with "USDA Dead Meat" stamped on them.
Steve Persall can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.