I honestly don't remember the last time I went to the drive-in. It's been a couple decades, at least. Funny thing is, for close to 15 years I lived in the home of drive-in movies -- New Jersey! Sad thing is, the state where the Drive-In was born now has only ONE remaining Drive-In. The good thing is, I now live right down the road from a fully operating, two screen Drive-In movie theater. Even gooder news is that this past weekend, they ran a horror double-feature. Bad news is, one of the movies was A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. The other was THE CRAZIES.
I can understand why they wanted to remake A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. The original wasn't really so great, so sure, give it a try. Try and make it work. Yeah yeah, I know -- it's a modern genre classic and all that iconic shit. But honestly, the production was laughably sloppy (for a studio release), the acting was about as wooden as Pinocchio off of his strings, and Freddy was just not funny, at all. For the remake, not much changed except for the production quality. The budget was obviously stepped up with piled-on CG FX and Michael Bay's paycheck, but the acting was (GASP!) even more dismal! This was possibly thee goomiest movie I've ever seen outside of an Art House theater. And I'm not talking gloomy as in oh, I feel so sad and effected. No, I'm talking moaning and groaning at every overwrought cliche and boomingly forcasted foreshadowing -- I mean, c'mon! We already know that the parents played let's-chase-the-pervert-to-the-wharehouse-and-burn-him-like-Frankenstein, so why all the dopey knowing glances, stuttered explanations and furrowed brows? As for the kids -- take the Debby-downers from the FINAL DESTINATION and make them more morose, and you're getting close to how mopey these kids of ELM STREET are. No, I'm not expecting levity or lightheartedness from a horror movie, but the ostentatious fog of doom and gloom is so thick it chokes off all the excitement that should accompany a slasher flick.
The worst part of this glum gore fest is Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Kreuger. Not to take anything away from Haley as an actor -- he's done brilliant work in the past -- but director Sam Bayer gave him nothing to chew on. It's as if the filmmakers made a collective decision to steer as far away from the hammy, sideshow comic schtick of Robert Englund's version of Freddy, that they ended up with the most dry, mono-toned monster in moviedome. A more seasoned director than Bayer could've figured out a way to make Freddy dastardly and sinister, without all the bad puns. But clearly, when you hire a well known music video director, you're looking more for the dazzling FX rather than performances.
Part two of the double feature was THE CRAZIES, a remake of one of George Romero's lesser known works. It's a well worn chestnut about small town folk being effected by yet another military FUBAR. This time, a military plane carrying a volatile cache of chemical weaponry goes down in the marshes of an Iowan farm community, releasing the toxins into the drinking water supply. The effect on the townspeople is bizarre and violent, turning them into crazed killers.
The remake is helmed by Breck Eisner, son of uber-boss Michael Eisner. But the Eisner offspring doesn't let the silver spoon in his mouth get in the way of his directing. Taking a page from the original director's notebook, Eisner does well at keeping the share of the focus on the townspeople and their plight. The performances are riveting, from the bit parts up to the leads -- especially from Timothy Olyphant, as the town's well-intentioned sheriff, and Joe Anderson, as Olyphant's off the cuff deputy. They're like a modern day, dry-humored version of Andy Taylor and Barney Fife -- only this Deputy Fife has more than one bullet at his diposal.
The only problem with this flick is that it lacks the visceral paranoia that filled the original movie. There was something in the air throughout the 60s and 70s that infiltrated the films. It smelled a lot like Viet Nam, the Generation Gap, the Civil Rights movement, and the underlying rebellion against The Man. The cultural climate was surely reflected in many films of the era, both out of Hollywood and from the smaller independent studios, and it gave the films some weight and social awareness. They weren't message movies, but the filmmakers were skilled at making a story work without beating the audience over the head, and by keeping the politics in the cogs of the plot, instead of as a subplot. It's a shame that Eisner didn't pick up on this tip, seeing that our own present social climate is ripe with the oder of unrest. Instead of delving into the dissimulation and hypocrisy surrounding the political arena and of our own evolving morality, Eisner and the writers kept safely to the standard fear-of-authority routine. It certainly wasn't the dismal mess that ELM STREET was, but THE CRAZIES was still a great Drive-In choice.