The last time we saw Freddy Krueger, it wasn't pretty. That film, 2003's Freddy vs. Jason, was a half-baked attempt to extend the expiration dates of two of Hollywood's biggest, bloodiest baddies of the 1980s. Unfortunately, it was also god-awful. So you might be wondering whether it's too soon to resurrect a certain disfigured dude in a red-and-green-striped sweater. Well, we'll know the answer on April 30, when A Nightmare on Elm Street hits theaters (this time without Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th franchise). ''It's time to wipe the slate clean,'' says Samuel Bayer, director of the new Nightmare. ''Freddy started out as a pretty frightening character, but in the end he became slapstick. I mean, you can only tell so many jokes as you're killing someone. We wanted to make him really scary and nasty again.''
The biggest surprise for fans of the series may be the absence of Robert Englund, the 62-year-old actor who wore the fedora and razor-fingered glove in all eight previous installments. In his place is Jackie Earle Haley, best known for his haunting, Oscar-nominated turn in Little Children and for playing the equally creepy Rorschach in Watchmen. ''This is really scary for me because Robert owns Freddy,'' says Haley, 48. ''It's daunting to step into those shoes, but also really exciting because it's such an iconic character.''
Bayer promises that his Nightmare update will stick close to Wes Craven's 1984 original, with up-and-comers Rooney Mara and Kyle Gallner stepping in for Heather Langenkamp and Johnny Depp as teens being stalked while they sleep. ''We wanted to make this realistic...or, as realistic as a film about a guy who kills you in your dreams can be. We also wanted to show the origin of how Fred Krueger became Freddy Krueger.''
For his part, Haley says he watched the silent horror classic Nosferatu and read up on serial killers to get into the mutilated murderer's mindset. But it was only when he sat in the makeup chair a process that took four hours every day that he realized, ''This is a campfire tale and Freddy's the bogeyman!'' That's also when it hit him that no matter how good he is as Freddy, the knives will be out. ''Of course I'm worried about that,'' says the actor. ''But they were going to have to get someone to play Freddy. And since they were going to, why not me?''