Film Friday: ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ and ‘Gunless’

by W. Andrew Powell

Katie Cassidy in a scene from A Nightmare On Elm Street

Katie Cassidy in a scene from A Nightmare On Elm Street

Opening this week in theatres; Freddy Kreuger slashes his way back onto screen with the reboot of A Nightmare on Elm Street; Paul Gross stars in the Canadian comedy, Gunless; and Brendan Fraser is attacked by nature in the eco-comedy, Furry Vengeance.

A Nightmare on Elm Street
Starring: Jackie Earle Haley, Kyle Gallner, Katie Cassidy, Rooney Mara, Thomas Dekker, Kellan Lutz, Clancy Brown, Connie Britton
Director: Samuel Bayer

If you’re in the business of making movies, horror remakes are a no brainer, especially if you’re talking about a character like Freddy Krueger. The franchise comes with an established concept, a built-in audience who might return to theatres, and best of all, a story that you can toy with instead of having to come up with something original.

And there’s no doubt about it, a remake can be a great thing, as numerous films have proven, including 2004’s Dawn of the Dead, The Fly from 1986, or the Americanized version of The Ring.

For every great remake though, there are dozens upon dozens of disasters, and that definitely includes the brand new A Nightmare on Elm Street by music video director turned film director, Samuel Bayer.

Opening in a dingy cafe in everywhere-ville, U.S.A., we’re briefly introduced to Dean, played by Kellan Lutz, a handsome young man with a haunted look, who is promptly offed before we really get a chance to figure out who he was, or why we’d care that he was just killed in front of his friend Kris, played by Katie Cassidy. But, the story marches onward and during the funeral for her friend, Kris discovers something odd; an old picture of herself with a young Dean, taken well before she thought she ever knew him.

This random detail leads her to poke around to find the truth about her childhood, and how she is connected to a number of her friends who are all starting to dream about a creepy man with a burned face wearing a fedora, and wielding a glove with knives for fingers. A dream that feels so real, they’re all starting to become afraid of falling asleep.

Dispatching the characters at a predictable pace, A Nightmare on Elm Street thankfully moves quickly. Through the eye-rolling dialogue, and the re-purposed scenes from the original classic horror film, Bayer doesn’t pause frequently, and perhaps that’s half the problem.

Gone is the original film’s blood-soaked sense of humour, and even our own sense that we don’t want these kids to die by Freddy’s grizzly means. At the same time, the original dragged you along and made you look forward to finding out what sick and twisted way Freddy was going to appear to the teenagers next. This remake doesn’t have the personality to make you wonder anything – you just end up sitting there waiting for Freddy to pop up again and do something you’ve seen horror monsters and slasher killers do for the last thirty years.

While Bayer does handle the mood adequately, the screenplay by Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer leaves no room for any sense of humour, which feels like a missed opportunity in my book, and the script is written with almost no style of its own.

The product of Strick and Heisserer’s work, with Bayer’s direction, is a limp horror film with no scares, few chills, and a barren sense that everyone involved behind the scenes didn’t understand real horror. The only time the film made anyone jump nervously at the screening I attended was when Freddy leaped on camera suddenly, cued by the tell-tale moments in the score – an old trick that frankly works on some level, but feels like a very cheap effort.

For their parts, the cast is acceptable, and Jackie Earle Haley does make a good Freddy. He really has very few scenes where he’s truly acting and not just taking swipes at people, but when he is there, he’s unmistakably creepy, much like we saw him last in the Watchmen movie. Haley’s part just exudes the wrong kind of creep-factor though. Rather than the man you fear is always waiting behind the next dark corner, he’s just the uncomfortable perv that you hope is locked up in prison for the rest of his life.

There is no question for me that A Nightmare on Elm Street could have been mind-blowingly great. The story is a classic, and at its core it plays on all our greatest fears. This remake doesn’t play on any of those fears though, it just cuts through some pretty teenagers with a faint level of ingenuity, which was merely borrowed from the original, but not reinvented in any way.

Also opening this weekend in theatres…

Starring: Paul Gross, Sienna Guillory, Dustin Milligan, Tyler Mane, Callum Keith Rennie, Graham Greene
Director: William Phillips

Paul Gross plays American gunslinger the Montana Kid in the Canadian western, Gunless, a fish-out-of-water comedy set in a small frontier town known as Barclay’s Brush.

The Kid, as he’s known, finds himself trapped in the town as Ben Cutler, a bounty hunter played by Callum Keith Rennie, hunts him down.

While the Kid tries to figure out the lay of the land, he has a hard time with the Canadian frontier where guns can hardly be found and most of the town’s population are just not what the American is used to.

Poking fun at American and Canadian stereotypes in a Wild West setting, Gunless is more of a straight-up comedy than anything else, and it’s getting acceptable reviews, for the most part.

Jason Anderson of Eye Weekly wrote, “Aiming for a northern spin on comedy westerns such as Cat Ballou and Support Your Local Sheriff, [director William] Phillips milks the contrast between these two kinds of old west: wild and mild. He and his cast strike gold a few times but not often enough.”

Furry Vengeance
Starring: Brendan Fraser, Brooke Shields, Ken Jeong, Patrice Oneal
Director: Roger Kumble

Getting some of the worst reviews in recent memory, Brendan Fraser’s new family comedy could be one of the biggest flops of the year.

Shaped around a big environmental message, the film stars Fraser as Dan, a developer leading the work on a housing project that will mean the destruction of local woodland. This spurs the animals, and apparently Mother Nature herself, into action to show Dan the mistake he’s making.

As Bill Goodykoontz wrote for the Arizona Republic, “[Furry Vengeance is] a stupid, mean-spirited little movie that ranks down there with the worst in recent memory. Distant memory, too.”

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