Nightmare on Elm Street

Dude, Where’s My Originality?

The Swedish "Let the Right One In" was released in 2008- so why is there already a Hollywood remake?

Remakes. I have serious issues with remakes, particularly in the film industry. And I’m not the only one, the internet is full of people with gripes about it. But now is my turn.

My thoughts on this were prompted by a friendly little discussion over at the TTA Press Forums, about Let Me In, the US remake of Swedish film Let the Right One In. Now, I haven’t seen either film (yet), but I have to wonder at the remaking of a film only two years after it’s initial release. Given the gestation period of films, this must have been conceived around the time that the Swedish film was released.

So why do films get remade? I think Pete Tennant hit the nail right on the head, saying that it does fundamentally come down to money. The American studios realise that if they remake it, they can make a whole pile of money off the back of it. And that’s the primary force behind remakes. If it’s been proved to work once, it’ll work again right?

The same philosophy has been behind a number of originality-based problems in the film industry. Unleashing Rob Zombie on the Halloween franchise, the lacklustre and unnecessary Nightmare on Elm Street remake, the seemingly endless parade of Saw sequels. Even The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (another Swedish film) is being remade in an American image for release next year.

The studios are aware that if they trot out something with a recognisable brand, then people will flock to it based on that alone. Maybe the fact that they invariably turn out somewhere between mediocre and utter crap is unrelated, or maybe it’s a symptom of them not thinking they need to work as hard.

The fact is that original films are harder work. They have to be made better (probably), they have to be advertised harder, and there’s none of the “sheep” guarantee that people will turn out to see it. But they are an injection of vitality to the industry, which sustain it creatively. And they can be done successfully.

My two favourite films so far this year are probably Inception and Kick Ass. You might argue with me as to the value of those two films, but I personally loved them. And they were original films. Well, Kick Ass was an adaptation of a graphic novel, but I’ll allow it. They weren’t remakes of foreign films, or even of old genre classics. They were new stories, based on nothing else than some writer’s imagination. So huzzah.

Of course, there are other arguments for remaking films. There’s the subtitles argument. I myself have no problem with subtitled. Dubbing is always an awful idea, because it somehow always manages to destroy the film. But I like subtitles. Some people, however, don’t. I don’t get it, but whatever. That might be a reason for remaking a film, but I have to say that on its own it’s a pretty poor one. In my experience a film takes something (whether a lot, or just a general sense) from the culture in which it is made, and which it is set. That’s part of the reason that Americanisation has become so pervasive (not a criticism, surprisingly), because Hollywood films are revered the world over. But as soon as you try and transplant a film from one culture to another, you start running into weird problems.

I’m not so much against retreading old ground. J.J. Abrams Star Trek was pretty damn good. I’m a massive fan of Ronald D. Moore’s reimagining of Battlestar Galactica. The remake of V sucked because it was awful, not because it was a remake. What’s important though, I think, is not to forget respect and originality. Respecting the original work, and putting your own original take on it, will go a long way to make it look like less of a money-grabber, and less of an insult to the original.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) – A Review

This was a remake, of the classic 80s horror film. I’m not generally a fan of remakes. The overwhelming question that I find myself asking whenever watching one, is “Why?” I, honest to God, do not understand why people make them. It’s all be done before, and it invites inevitable comparisons with the original. And I can’t think of any remake that has outmatched the original (if you can, please do let me know via commenting). And given the rush of remakes at the moment, it seems that there’s some sort of originality drought going on, which is just perplexing. With the horror film remakes that have surged recently, particularly the Rob Zombie ones [which a) I initially thought this was one of, and b) were awful and unnecessary], it seems a particularly relevant issue in relation to this.

And so I entered this film with some preconceptions. Fortunately (or unfortunately, I suppose, depending on who you are) I saw this film at a preview screening immediately followed by the original, allowing for an easy comparison. The chief difference that I noticed, was that this new film takes itself terribly seriously. It replaces the self-mocking amusement value of the original, going instead for the seriously frightening atmosphere. And to be honest, I think it was probably a mistake.

Don’t get me wrong, it was jumpy in places, and I did like the ending (actually a good reinterpretation of the end of the original). But the problem it faced was that it was too predictable, and that’s a real downfall for a horror film trying to be scary. It’s not entirely Nightmare‘s fault, but rather something inherent to remakes. With an original film this popular, most people (particularly those who would be drawn by the title) have already seen the original, and know what happens. So unless it kicks the original plot into touch (which this doesn’t; instead clinging to with the same desperate insistence of a Scottish Nationalist to the idea that independence is a good idea), then it’s going to be handicapped on that level.

But moving away from remake bashing, for a moment, I’d like to take a moment to consider this film in its own right. And to be honest, it doesn’t do too well there. It’s main draw is a fantastic performance from Jackie Earle Haley, as the unmanicured villain. He was very good, and actually made one of the more comedic classic horror villains somewhat scary. Then again, that’s probably not a surprise to anyone who saw him in Watchmen.

Another of the acting points I want to comment on, is a young man by the name of Kyle Gallner. Now, I should point out that myself and Ashleigh are divided on this, but I didn’t like him. He was good in Haunting in Connecticut, as a cancer patient haunted by ghosts. He looked mournful, tragic, and genuinely ill. The trouble is that he looks the same even when playing other characters. He constantly looked sickly and like he was about to burst into tears, and the sheer pathos of his facial expression was a distraction for the entire duration of the film. Utterly pathetic might have flown in his first major film, but he’s been doing it for three films now, and it’s really getting old.

So in conclusion, what do I think? I didn’t like it. 80s horror films of the type of Nightmare on Elm Street were tongue in cheek, and it seems to detract when it takes itself too seriously. Aside from a carbon copy of the bath-hand scene, it didn’t use comedy at all, and suffered from typical problems of predictability. If you’re a fan of the original, you might want to give it a go for contrast’s sake, and if you’re the kind of moron who thinks “HORROR!” and laps it up regardless of quality, you’ve probably ignored everything I’ve just said. My advice, to be completely honest, is to buy the DVD of the original instead.