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04/30/2010

A 'Nightmare' on a film screen

The scariest word associated with the new "Nightmare on Elm Street" is not fright, sleep, blood or even die.

The word that sends chills up my spine is "reinvention."

Wes Craven's 1984 original wasn't perfect, but it combined two monumental elements of cinematic fright night -- slasher gore and the notion of killer nightmares -- with grisly comic one-liners.

Samuel Bayer's do-over with the unfortunate Jackie Earle Haley under the melted-skin makeup as gleeful nightmare rider Freddy does absolutely nothing to advance the horror staple.  If anything, the new "A Nightmare on Elm Street" could condemn the franchise neighborhood itself.

Once again, a Springwood teenager named Nancy (Rooney Mara of "Youth in Revolt" in for Heather Langenkamp of the original) and a gaggle of her classmates are having disturbing nightmares.

A horribly melted-skin guy with knives for a hand, a red and green sweater and a battered fedora (Robert Englund in past installments) taunts and haunts them in their sleep.  They try to stay awake.  As they discover one by one, however, Freddy Krueger's serious about wielding revenge for an event that occurred years earlier, when the teens were Badham Preschool students in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Veteran screenwriter Wesley Strick ("Final Analysis" in 1992) and first-timer Eric Heisserer combine efforts for this flat, flimsy revision.  The biggest victim here is not the young actors who are, for the most part, stalked and slashed into bloody oblivion by the vengeful Freddy, but the actor under the scarred makeup.

By reinventing the Freddy Krueger back-story, first-time director Samuel Bayer (Need I say it?  A music video and TV commercial helmer) and the writers allow Haley, their leading man-slayer, to suffer the most.

Haley, the former 1970s child star ("The Bad News Bears," "Breaking Away") and San Antonio, TX resident, re-emerged as an actor to be reckoned with and drew his first Oscar nomination as Ronnie, the sex offender, in "Little Children" of 2006.

This is a step back (way back) for the gifted Haley (also behind a mask in "Watchmen").  That's primarily because this restructured plot borrows heavily from one of Haley's recent past performances to move this plot forward through the blood-and-gore sludge.

Despite Haley's effort, Freddy's "comic" lines are as stale as this entire lifeless, humorless failed "reinvention."

Note to new filmmakers looking to make a name for themselves:  If you must "reinvent," take a lousy old film and make it sparkle.

Even in the horror genre, gutting a classic for a quick buck just doesn't cut it anymore. 

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