Freddy’s New Nightmare

Freddy Krueger’s makeup has been redesigned. Nancy Thompson is now a Goth artist with a troubled past. The director has a background in music videos.

Welcome to Nightmare on Elm Street 2010, produced by Platinum Dunes, the Michael Bay-led company whose reboots of thrillers from the past have been a mixed bag: Texas Chainsaw Massacre (pretty good), Amityville Horror (wretched) and Friday the 13th (abominable).

How will this “reimagining” compare to the 1984 film? I saw it in its original theatrical release, and I was creeped out. Sure, it has some iffy acting, rubbery special effects and a story that falls apart like a house of cards if overscrutinized, yet it still maintains an agreeably chilly atmosphere until the “surprise” ending, where both the characters and the filmmakers seem to be saying, “How do we get out of this?”

But the original introduced Johnny Depp, who’s had a terrific career accepting roles that strike his fancy. There are a lot of stinkers (Secret Window, The Astronaut’s Wife, The Ninth Gate), but when he hits, he hits big—and he’s always a welcome visitor here at Weird Movie Village.

Now, the Nightmare franchise is no stranger to “laughable.”None of the sequels achieved the clammy atmosphere of the original. The 1985 follow-up was a bizarre concoction in which Freddy incites—oh my God—homosexual panic!

1991’s Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare had our flash-fried antagonist in full smartass mode and featured some of the ugliest, most eye-crossing 3D ever shot.Gee…rocks floating in fire in anaglyph 3D? Sounds great!1994’s New Nightmare had the really strange conceit that the Freddy character was going after the actors and filmmakers from the original movie. Now that’s what I call revenge! And 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason is so absurd you can almost feel sorry for it.

The team behind the remake insist that it is”intended to bring Freddy to a new generation of moviegoers,” but my problem with that concept, as I mentioned in a previous post, is that the original Elm Street wasan early release on home video and has always been easy to find on tape, cable or DVD.Who’s this so-called “new generation”? Kindergartners?

It’s a good start that they’ve gone back to a darker, more sinister characterization of Freddy without all the wisecracking he did in the sequels.And evidently more time is spent on Freddy’s backstory, leading up to his death at the hands of the townspeople. What would be most effective would be a convincing explanation of Freddy’s transformation into a ghost that can kill.But with characters that include the aforementioned “Goth girl with a troubled past,” “well-liked high school jock” and “member of the swim team,” I worry that it’s going to be the same dreary set-up we’ve seen in countless horror films. And, of course, everyone will be Tweeting and IMing their nightmares to each other.

Wes Craven, the creator of the original, was reportedly unhappy that he wasn’t brought in to consult on the remake, but the filmmakers insist that it’s a “reimagining” with a completely different tone, and they weren’t going to cherry-pick the best elements of the franchise.

Clevver TV has the trailer and some stills here, along with some comments that are happily similar to mine:

The reason remakes like The Hills Have Eyes (2006) and Dawn of the Dead (2004) worked so well is because there was room to maneuver. The originals Hills had an easy premise to update (stranded family tortured by mutants) and Dawn jettisoned the social satire of the 1978 original in favor of an end-of-the-world scenario with fast-moving zombies and a panicked group of survivors turning against each other.

But Nightmare is different. It’s got an iconic character and a well-established story. Even the trailers for the new film indicate the inclusion of familiar scenes: Nancy in the bathtub with the claws rising up out of the water; the girlfriend rising into the air and slashed by unseen knives; and bedroom walls melting into rubber as Freddy emerges from his world into the real world to stalk his prey. There’s just not that much to change—and I’m not sure enhanced special effects are going to cut it. We’ll find out on April 30th.

Of more interest to me is the documentary Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, coming out on DVD May 4th. Narrated by the original Nancy herself, Heather Langenkamp, it features interviews with cast and crew members of Nightmare and its sequels, behind-the-scenes footage.

The film (I quote the PR): “promises to be the definitive look at the making of the iconic horror series and the enduring legacy of its wise-cracking, razor-gloved villain: the indefatigable ‘bastard son of a hundred maniacs’ known as Freddy Krueger.”

It’s made by the same team that did last year’s His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th. I love these kinds of documentaries. The best ones have some real surprises, and they’re often more entertaining than going back and watching the original films.

Enough with the Remakes Already

Yesterday as I was leaving the theater, having just watched the remake of “Last House on the Left,” I saw a poster for a film called “House,” and I was relieved to see that it wasn’t a remake of the 1986 film with William Katt and George Wendt but actually a new story. In these days of remake-a-mania, it came as something of a surprise. Is it at last an indication that we’re starting to move on? Horror remakes as a rule have a pretty low batting average of success or of bringing something new to the table. Remember the TV remakes of “Salem’s Lot,” “Carrie” and “The Shining”? Yecchh. Each of the original films grows in stature with every passing year and remain just as enjoyable as when they were first released, but the remakes are just execrable.

An important thing to remember is that many of the originals serve as valuable time capsules for the sociopolitical environments that existed when they were released and inspired their creation. This is an element that cannot be updated or looked back on with fond nostalgia. Romero’s original “Night of the Living Dead,” for example, was a raw, uncompromising attack on the Vietnam war, racism and an ineffective government. Tom Savini’s 1990 remake wisely skirted these issues and concentrated on presenting a nihilistic depiction of civilization being consumed by itself.

The original “Last House on the Left” was made when America was being truly torn apart by the political and cultural environment. In 1972, when the film was released, the country was still bogged down in the war in Vietnam and the Summer of Love had soured into a bitter, jaded, drug-induced nightmare. The “free spirits” depicted here were morally bankrupt drifters out for far more extreme kicks than wearing flowers in their hair.

The nightmare begins when their world merges with that of the two young female protagonists who are out for an evening of fun in the city. What follows is an uncompromising descent into torture, rape, murder and revenge. Certainly, the film is rough in spots and has some inappropriate scenes of comic relief, but it succeeds mightily in its intent — to show the destruction of youth and innocence. A key scene arrives when the killers, having gotten their “kicks,” come to the realization that they can’t take back what they’ve done, just as the audience is experiencing the same dreadful sensation. It’s a film you can’t wash off after you’ve seen it.

The remake, in contrast, takes essentially the same story, but it has nothing on its mind but setting up sadistic setpieces. It’s merely a stalk and kill operation, completely predictable throughout its entire 109 minutes (which is far longer than the original). It’s adequately made, but it’s just not necessary.

The worst remake so far this year ( a depressing thought) is “Friday the 13th.” Granted, the original is by no means an untouchable masterpiece, but it was good cheesy fun to watch at the drive-in. The remake, on the other hand, runs on at an interminable length and is technically a re-do of one of the sequels, since the adult Jason doesn’t appear in the series until “Part II.” At least the original had Betsy Palmer’s hilarious scenery-chewing performance as Mrs. Voorhees, a very young Kevin Bacon getting a spear through the throat and hilarious 1980s clothing and hairstyles. The remake limply offers up the usual cast of equal opportunity douchebags and kittenish bimbos consuming mass quantities of drugs and alcohol until it’s time for them to be bumped off.

Instead of a malformed, murderous spectre, Jason has been transformed into a somewhat intelligent, resourceful (but mortal) backwoods survivalist/murderer. It makes his motivation for killing even more unclear. And speaking of killings, the film doesn’t even get that right. In these days of “torture porn” and movies so graphically violent it’s amazing they get “R” ratings (i.e., the lousy, overpraised “Hostel” series), the filmmakers are amazingly conservative when it comes to bloodletting. Director Marcus Nispel is no stranger to remakes — he helmed the new “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” a few years back, and it wasn’t too bad, but this one sinks straight to the bottom of Camp Crystal Lake.

Zack Snyder’s 2004 “Dawn of the Dead” was a worthwhile remake, but it was really a “revisualization” of the original. Again, unable to pick up on the blistering satire of 1970s consumerism that drove the first film, it concentrated instead on intense action and violence — and succeeded very well. “My Bloody Valentine 3D” was such a hoot to watch in the RealD process I can’t compare it to the original, but I suspect in 2D it would be fairly routine. I didn’t bother with the 3D remake of “Night of the Living Dead” because it gave me the stinker vibe right out of the gate.

What is allegedly coming down the pipeline is truly worrisome. “Suspiria“? “Rosemary’s Baby”? Again, the original “Baby” is such a perfect time capsule of 1960s Manhattan any kind of remake is ridiculous. Hey, guys — remember “The Omen” remake? Gus Van Sant’s ungodly “Psycho”? And how could you possibly remake “Suspiria“? Argento can’t even do it. Last year’s highly anticipated conclusion to the “Three Mothers” trilogy, “Mother of Tears,” was absurd in the extreme.

What worries me most about remake-a-mania is that the new generation of horror lovers won’t even be aware that the originals exist and will accept the remakes as the only versions available. They’re missing out on some valuable cultural history — and some fun scares, too!

The men of weird movies (and a couple of couples)

Here’s the follow-up to the Women of Weird Cinema. These photos were obtained at the Hollywood Collectors’ Show, the Fangoria Weekend of Horrors, the Video Software Dealers of American conference and a short-lived show called Monsters At Play (I think it only happened once…in L.A., at least, but it was a memorably fun time over the 4th of July weekend at a hotel near LAX.

STEVE REEVES. The icon. And although this isn’t inscribed, I assure you he signed it for me in person at the Beverly Garland. And it was only about a year before he passed. He didn’t talk much, but it was still an unforgettable moment. Besides, what could I say? “I love the way the Mystery Science Theatre guys slaughter your movies?”

GUNNAR HANSEN. Leatherface himself. Another of those people who’ve marketed his legend and actually made a name for himself in horror films since then. According to IMDB, his latest is “Escape from the Living Dead.” Nice guy, and dig the way he signed my photo!

RUSS STREINER. Another big one. “Johnny” was extremely friendly and conversant. When I told him that I’d seen NOLD at a drive-in when I was eight years old, he apologized for scarring me for life. I assured him that nothing could be further from the truth! NOLD messed me up in all the right ways..

DANA WYNTER AND KEVIN McCARTHY. A classy couple. Last I saw Mr. McCarthy he was getting some exercise in my Sherman Oaks neighborhood. I was having a run and he was on a walker. I thought, “How sad,” but obviously it was only a temporary setback as he’s listed in the credits of two 2009 films. At age 95! Ms. Wynter hasn’t done anything onscreen since the 90s but divides her time between California and Ireland.

DELORES TAYLOR AND TOM LAUGHLIN. A couple of sweethearts. They were at the VSDA conference in 1999 promoting all the “Billy Jack” films on video and couldn’t have been nicer. “Billy Jack” was a key “outsider” film for this preteen kid in 1971, having seen it at the Rialto Theatre in Walkerton, Indiana, and it was great to be greeted by them in such a manner.

RICHARD KIEL. I have to be honest. Frankly, I have fonder memories of the 7’2″ Mr. Kiel as Dr. Kolos in “Human Duplicators” (the name with which he inscribed the photo to me) and the title character in “Eeegah” than his appearances in the 007 films. What I remember most is this huge man walking back to his room at the Beverly Garland Hotel, hanging onto the walls for support. He’s beaten the odds…he’s 70 and giants don’t usually live that long (see Ted Cassidy). He even has a 2008 film credit!

JOHN AGAR. Okay, let’s get the “husband of Shirley Temple” part over with. He emerged from the military to enter a more treacherous career…acting in motion pictures! He was in many of the Universal sci-fi classics of the 50s, including “Creature from the Black Lagoon, “Tarantula” and “The Mole People.” This autograph was obtained at the Beverly Garland about two years before he died. We talked about how painful the contact lenses he wore for “Brain from Planet Arous” were. I mean, look at ’em! Huge, huge pupils and foil for the “sparkle” effect? No CGI there!

BRUCE CAMPBELL. If you haven’t ready his books you’ve missed out on a treat. He’s funny, self-effacing and ironic. Forever known as Ash to some and Brisco County to others, Campbell is one of the ultimate cult heroes. And he continues to deliver on his reputation with films like “They Call Me Bruce.”

KEN FOREE. Another cult legend and very friendly. I told him about how the shoulder-biting scene in “Dawn of the Dead” blew my mind, and he said he was on a panel with the actor who did the biting years later and he still gave him the creeps!

HARRY NOVAK. If you didn’t see adult films at the drive-in theater in the 70s (how’s that for specific?) you may not know who this is, but Novak is an old-time exploiteer with a library of titles like “The Pigkeeper’s Daughter,” “Axe” and “The Sinful Dwarf.” I wanted a video copy of “Dwarf” so he invited me to his distribution offices in Hollywood to pick it up. What stories he could tell!

FORREST J. ACKERMAN. I saw him at conferences several times over the years, but never made it to the Ackermansion to see his memorabilia, which makes me kick myself. Last time I saw him was at ComicCon in San Diego last July. He was in a wheelchair, was very frail and looked like he didn’t know where he was. I explained to my friend who this “Famous Monsters” legend and punster was and predicted that this would probably be his last conference appearance. It was.