“One … two… Freddy’s coming for you, three… four… better lock the door, five… six… grab your crucifix…”
Freddy might have been born in the mind of Wes Craven, but he grew and developed in the knife-wielding hands of Robert Englund. Granted, not all of these films are equal in quality, but the first was everything you could ask for in a horror/slasher film of the era. Freddy himself is by far the most colorful and animated of the slashers. His burned face, fedora, striped sweater, and knife-blade glove were all integral parts of the wise-cracking maniac.
You know the story already, so I’ll stick the main idea. Freddy was a child molester and killer before the parents of Elm Street decided to burn him to the ground in a boiler room. Good home-style justice goes wrong when Freddy reappears in the nightmares of the children of Elm Street. He has become a demon of sleep where he is able to manipulate the world into the most terrifying images possible for his victims trapped by their own slumber.
What was just as iconic as Freddy himself were the fabulous dreamscapes that were his domain. Unlike the other slashers of the time, Freddy didn’t operate in some dark place out in the real world. No lake campgrounds or quiet anytown streets here. Freddy created a domain of pure evil and Hell inside the dreams of his victims. Here there were no rules of physics. Reality was whatever the dark corners of the human mind could conjure. It was a land of endless possibilities, and Freddy was king. He could manipulate these dream wonderlands to his own brutal purposes. Some of the most memorable scenes in the franchise can be found in the sleep world of Freddy’s intended victims. Who can forget the stretching arms in the alley with those knives sparking against a metal wall? An incredibly vivid and bizarre look is what this dreamland brought to the movie and its sequels. This film doesn’t have the Hell playland kind of sets that later films would employ, but Freddy’s boiler room has a fanciful, yet stark reality that creates superb atmosphere. It’s a very sweet treat indeed to be able to finally see those images in high definition. I’d love to see the entire series get the Blu-ray treatment sooner rather than later.
There should be some talk about the cast of A Nightmare On Elm Street. Of course, it all begins with Freddy himself and the incredible Robert Englund. More than any actor of this genre, Englund created a real character that relied more on who was playing him than any of the others. In fact, various actors ended up playing the likes of Jason and Michael Myers during even the original runs. But Englund gave life to Freddy and continued with the character through all of the sequels. It makes me just a bit nervous to think about the current remake and having someone else, for the very first time, fill that fedora and sweater. John Saxon delivers as the police lieutenant whose own culpability in Freddy’s demise makes his daughter one of the killer’s intended targets. He carries just the right amount of determination tinged with that nuanced look of guilt and regret to make us understand the situation with that much more clarity. Heather Langenkamp is an unusual and effective choice as the primary representative of the victims. She’s not the typical great-body-survivor chick. She’s far more everyday girl than you ever see in these things. She manages to make it that much real for us. Finally, you just can’t talk about the cast without a mention of one of the kids that is here purely to get knocked off. This would be the very first movie for future superstar Johnny Depp. Yes, that really is a teenage Depp getting swallowed by his bed. He would later make a cameo on the 6th film as a guy on the television. I think you can say that Depp has come a long way.
I know that fans of the franchise have bought these movies in so many formats already. It was released at the forefront of the home video market, a business New Line was pioneering at the time. That means you could easily have this movie on VHS, Laserdisc, several DVD’s, and finally on Blu-ray. I won’t argue that each new release was necessarily a huge enough upgrade to warrant the extra dip into your wallet. But this might well be the definitive release. It’s very hard for me to imagine it ever looking or sounding better. Of course, Freddy was always about the imagination. So, who knows? I’d take the chance and spring for this one anyway. It’s the stuff dreams, or at least nightmares, are made of.
A Nightmare On Elm Street is presented in a matted 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 27 mbps. This is one Hell of an exotic world at times, pun intended. I’ve watched this film several times, including more than once during its theatrical run. I’ve never before had quite this kind of look at the incredible set design and special f/x on this film. Then there’s the wonderful burned face of Freddy himself. You won’t have had a better look at the details of the scarred countenance than you will by watching this high definition Blu-ray release. One of the most obvious color and detail points is the color of Nancy’s eyes. I never before realized how blue they were. Rather sweet detail. Black levels might not be exceptional, but they work when they need to work. Certainly, the film’s age and limitations are just as easy to see here. But somehow it all worked together to create some fine atmosphere here. This was a visual presentation worthy of a classic horror film.
The DTS-HD Master 7.1 is an obvious rehash of the DVD release soundtrack. It’s far stronger in the dynamic and punch department, however. Most notable improvement is in the subs. Freddy’s voice has the depth I remember from the cinema. So, if it sounds so much better, how do I know the source track is the same? There are actually missing elements in the audio presentation just as there were then. There are some slight dialog and sound effects that are quite obviously no longer there. Freddy getting his face torn off might be the most memorable. I’m confused about this situation. There was so much of an uproar back then over the problem that I don’t believe for a second the audio engineers here didn’t know of the problem. In that case I’m sure steps would most certainly have been taken to fix the trouble. The likely explanation is that the material is no longer available, at least in a high quality condition. It would have been nice to have at least heard an explanation this time around, however.
There are 2 Audio Commentary tracks to enjoy here. Both have been ported from earlier releases. The first is features Wes Craven, John Saxon, Heather Langenkamp, and cinematographer Jacques Haitkin (who was responsible for a lot of the film’s look). The group jokes around often and has a pretty good time of it all. It’s informative and quite entertaining. The second track has a long list of participants. It’s a far more serious listen, and all of these participants are not together. This is obviously the result of a splice and dice job.
Focus Points: This is a rather interesting little option you can employ while viewing the film. At various points in the movie a golden disc appears which is telling you that there is additional material you can now access. The clips include portions of the bonus material you can view separately, but there are bits that are only accessible here. That’s disappointing. I don’t usually like these kinds of extras, because it takes you out of the film. It’s fine for those that enjoy these side trips, and I’m happy the material is here. It would have been nice to be able to watch it on its own, however.
Never Sleep Again: (49:51) This is a very good documentary. It’s been included before but worth having here. Wes Craven leads the entire cast and crew on a retrospective look at pretty much every aspect of the film. You get Craven’s inspirations for every detail about Freddy; his costume, his knife gloves, even his name. There’s a lot of talk of the terrible financial dire straits the production was constantly plagued with. Finally, there’s plenty of conversation about the movie’s legacy and influence. There’s a lot of bonus footage here in the form of alternative takes on final scenes.
The House That Freddy Built: (22:47) This is a pretty much self-promotional look at how New Line was founded on the success of A Nightmare On Elm Street. Of course, it’s ironic now when you consider that the studio ended up bringing us the Lord Of The Rings trilogy and is now pretty much gone.
Night Terrors: (15:58) This thing is a pseudo-documentary on dreams. Of course, there’s a huge tie in with Freddy and the Nightmare films.
Alternate Endings: (4:56) This is the only bonus feature in high definition. There were three versions of the final scene, in addition to the one used. They are quite similar with only minor changes and are labeled Happy, Scary, and Freddy. The final one has Freddy himself actually driving the car at the end.
We could debate the effectiveness and quality of the sequels forever. Everyone has their favorites, and there were definitely some less than stellar chapters in the Nightmare On Elm Street franchise. And now a totally new version of the film is about to invade our theater screens if not our own nightmares. You’ll find it hard to get any agreement on these subsequent films. True fans of the genre would argue that the original Nightmare On Elm Street wasn’t one of the most original and entertaining films to come out of the entire genre. Here’s the thing: either you love Freddy or you hate him. Entering Freddy’s world is like one giant haunted house at your local amusement park. There’s enough going on that you can usually see new things on repeated viewings. Maybe what makes this series more effective than some of the others is the material itself. We can all try to avoid the creepy places and people in life, but we’re all prisoners of our dreams. It’s the one place where we are a captive audience. Invite Freddy, and you never know what’s going to happen. “nine… ten… never sleep again.”