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A Nightmare on Elm Street

Nancy (Rooney Mara: Youth in Revolt) and a group of high school friends are dazed by menacing nightmares. All have dreamt of Freddy (Jackie Earle Haley: Shutter Island), a burn-scarred psychopath wielding a glove with knifed fingers. Sleep’s terror turns real when friends are violently killed. So Nancy and Quentin (Kyle Gallner: Jennifer’s Body) struggle to fight off sleep, evade Freddy and reveal the truth their parents are hiding in an effort to survive the nightmare.

The movie, of course, is a remake of Wes Craven’s 1984 original. While not especially frightening, the first Nightmare put an original spin on slasher flicks with its signature villain’s blurring of waking and dreaming perception. Camp scares, cheap effects and a certain tongue-in-cheek vibe defined the movie, which never pretended to be more than a Halloween funhouse ride.

Music video director Samuel Bayer’s take, on the other hand, is a few shades more self-serious. He dials the camp way back, burnishes the effects and refines the tale in a try for bigger scares.

Story works, to a point. Rather than reshooting the old script, the filmmakers opted for an update, a remix that loyally follows the original while shuffling a few whos and wheres to better match new attempts at story development. Development is pretty decent for a horror film, offering up surprising context and back-story. The remix keeps some surprise intact in the remake.

On the downside, smirking strangeness and glib lines are pretty much trashed. Fresh invention isn’t enough to keep the film surprising for anyone who’s seen the original. And the most significant new invention is also the least worthy: Filmmakers tinker unkindly with the friends’ Freddy connection. In a distasteful and unnecessary twist that comes off as a botched stab of psychological horror, a new childhood angle is introduced to explain Freddy Krueger’s offenses.

Scares do give a shock. Basic jump scares are still effective, and the polished visual effects often lend a stronger punch to the hunt. But frights are tame overall.

Acting certainly bests the original, but character is still lacking. It’s just a bunch of brooding teens running from a madman. Freddy, especially, doesn’t cut the muster. He’s less vicious camp and more malicious creepo. Plus, it doesn’t help that a new actor is trying on a role defined by Robert Englund.

This movie was hamstrung at first concept. It’s not easy, or wise, to remake a classic. Fans of the original can skip this with a clear conscience, though if you’re craving a slasher jolt you could do worse.