Movies Now and Then: “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “The Night of the Hunter”

Exemplify Different Eras of Horror


Published: May 5, 2010

“A Nightmare on Elm Street” (2010)

This remake of Freddy Krueger’s debut feature tries to upgrade the original without seeming too much like a homage. Unfortunately, the film’s attempt to accomplish this balance feels routine. While the original’s surprises were shown in medium shots, they are now in close-up, just like the shocks in other recent horror movies. Replicated scenes are either exaggerated (the midair murder) or undercooked (the bathtub nightmare), with the clarified, yet still ambiguous, ending being the only improvement. This film does have some interesting new moments via the phenomenon of microsleep, but the other additions only overstate things (such as Freddy’s history) that could have remained unsaid.

The lack of an authentic scare factor is partly due to the shortage of memorable protagonists. Nobody in the teenaged ensemble has a truly distinct personality, save those who swear more than the others. Two of them take the lead spots before the climax, but for the rest of the film, they and their peers exist merely as Freddy fodder, and the audience ingests their murders instead of dreading them.

Still, this film is worth watching if you are in the mood for more Freddy. The character remains alluring, even if Jackie Earle Haley does not live up to memories of Robert Englund. His deadpan voice and more realistic appearance render him less entertaining than the crazed Englund, but he is at least amusing and he has a nice evil laugh (a valuable villain trademark in my book). While the personality outshines the performer in this film, Haley could evolve into a worthy Freddy if a new franchise emerges.

If you like “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” then try…

“The Night of the Hunter” (1955)

Chances are that some will find this recommendation incongruous. In terms of plot and action, “Hunter” and “Nightmare” practically belong to different genres. Nevertheless, the stylistic elements in “Hunter” show a definite influence over many horror films of the last half-century.

“Hunter” is unmistakably a good versus evil story, pitting two children and a saintly woman against the villainous Reverend Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum). Powell, notorious in popular culture for the “LOVE” and “HATE” tattoos on his knuckles, relentlessly hounds the children for the stolen money they have hidden.

The mise-en-scène and the black-and-white cinematography create haunting images that continue to be applauded. The film’s low-key lighting utilizes chiaroscuro contrast to the fullest extent. Black has hardly looked eerier than when it frames the basement were Powell threatens the children. The shots in “Hunter” have made a considerable impression upon subsequent films (nobody can mistake the connection between the misty house exteriors in both “Hunter” and “The Exorcist”), but there is nothing antiquated about these chilly originals.

Unfortunately, the film’s visuals are not matched by its plot. The cast largely consists of melodramatic performances of rather idiotic characters (their obliviousness is accentuated by a rushed script). Mitchum does create a creepy persona, but not even he can escape a few over-the-top moments. These faults are forgivable if the film is seen through the perspective of the lead boy, who distrusts Powell and cannot see why the townspeople are buying his bunk. That viewpoint helps balance the plot and visuals, but like the new “Nightmare,” the script and acting do not equal the iconic images.