It’s unbelievably difficult to acknowledge the film class of 2010 is turning 10 this year. Movies like Inception and The Social Network certainly don’t feel ten years old, but maybe that has more to do with my own unwillingness to accept being in my mid 30s than I’m ready to admit. Two other movies celebrating their 10th anniversaries this year are the remakes of The Crazies and A Nightmare on Elm Street. I thought they are an interesting pair to compare due to one of them providing the blue print on how to successfully modernize an older film and the other being the definition of why audiences are hesitant to embrace remakes.
Before fully jumping into the remakes let’s take a quick look back at the originals that inspired them. The Crazies is the 4th feature film from Night of the Living Dead director George A. Romero and was considered a failure on almost every level. This was his third swing and miss following his groundbreaking debut and if the budget had been anything more than a quarter million dollars it might have been his last shot after denying several mainstream Hollywood projects. Luckily, he managed to get back on track and delivered his second classic Dawn of the Dead six years later.
The concept behind The Crazies was a solid one; a plane crash leaks military weapon grade virus into a small town’s water supply and leads to all Hell breaking loose. Unfortunately the “crazies” looked and acted more high than anything else, and the film fails to deliver on its promising aspects. A Nightmare on Elm Street, on the other hand, was an immediate success both critically and financially—earning almost $60 million worldwide on a less than $2 million budget—upon its release in 1984. Director Wes Craven was coming off of a few consecutive failures in Swamp Thing, Deadly Blessing and The Hills Have Eyes 2 before striking gold with his new boogeyman, Freddy Krueger. The reimagining of tried and true slasher tropes mixed in with a few genuine supernatural scares led to one of horror’s most successful franchises that spanned a total of 7 films and even included Craven coming back to tie things up with 1994’s New Nightmare.
The 2010 versions followed a similar trajectory as the originals, except this time, The Crazies was the clearly a superior film while A Nightmare on Elm Street was decimated by both critics and audiences and is still among the first titles to be named in the discussion of worst remakes ever.
Remakes tend to follow one of three formulas:
A. Shot for Shot: meaning everyone involved is trying to capture the same lightning in the same bottle as the original. Thankfully, we have started moving away from formula, considering this is one of the occasions that the “there’s no originality in Hollywood” set of people have solid ground to stand on. The further we can get from Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, the better.
B. Reimagining: meaning everyone involved is trying to capture the same lightning in a new bottle. This is the most common version of remake, and it is basically inserting new narrative and surrounding it with reshot classic moments. These come with varying levels of success, and while I always pass on the 2006 version of The Omen, I’ll gladly go down in flames arguing the superiority of the 2005 The Amityville Horror to the lackluster original.
C. In Name Only: meaning everyone involved is trying to catch new lightning in an old bottle. This allows for the filmmakers to take a previously used concept and completely personalize it. This formula allows for a higher success rate, at least in terms of quality, since the end result does not need to mimic an existing property. From John Carpenter’s The Thing all the way through the recent reincarnation of The Invisible Man, the In Name Only remake has provided audiences with some captivating entertainment.
The Crazies took the formula C approach while A Nightmare on Elm Street took the easier formula B option. This alone isn’t the reason for The Crazies being better, but it does show where the mindset behind the creative teams was. While A Nightmare on Elm Street was content throwing some fresh faces into old roles and trying to hit the same notes as the original did 26 years earlier, The Crazies took the plot catalyst and spun it in a fresh direction, capturing a modern zombie movie vibe (one does have to wonder how that device escaped master of all-things-zombie George Romero, though.)
Both remakes were well cast. A Nightmare on Elm Street featured Rooney Mara just a year before her Oscar-nominated titular performance in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger, fresh off his Oscar nomination for Little Children and scene stealing portrayal of Rorschach in Watchmen. The actors certainly weren’t the issue with that film, doing their best with the eyeroll-inducing material they were provided with. “The Crazies” went with some horror movie vets in Timothy Olyphant (Scream 2) and Radha Mitchell (Pitch Black) to take the lead along with Danielle Panabaker (Friday the 13th) and Joe Anderson (The Ruins). There was a good sense of chemistry throughout, and it helps to elevate the characters despite a brisk hour and 40 min runtime.
The real separation between these films happens in the most important area: entertainment. While A Nightmare on Elm Street had a decent visual style, nothing felt cohesive, which in retrospect isn’t very surprising considering Director Samuel Bayer directed music videos for 9 years before attempting to tackle a feature length project. There are moments where you can see the possibility for a decent movie in the framework, but the end product is a forgettable mess with little rewatchability. The Crazies had a steady hand with Breck Eisner at the helm. Sure, his film, Sahara, was a flop in terms of box office a few years earlier, but that had more to do with an uninteresting advertising campaign and bloated budget than the filmmaking. The result is a highly rewatchable thriller with some modern social commentary that is still applicable despite the wild nature of the last decade.
So, after careful consideration and an overdue re-visit to each of the films the verdict is in and while both films have their pluses this showdown was a runaway and the winner is: The Crazies.