Nightmare on Elm Street, A (US - DVD R1)
Dustin McNeill reviews the original Nightmare in Infinifilm Special Edition
Nancy Thompson's ordinarily peaceful sleep has been troubled lately by a series of ghastly nightmares about a horribly burned man with razors for fingers. As it would turn out, her friends have been suffering from the same ailment and begin to die grisly unexplainable deaths in their sleep. Ignored by the police (presumably because 'dream-demon' doesn't look to good on a coroners report right next to 'cause of death') and with few allies, Nancy is left to fend for herself against the mysterious nightmare man. Before she can figure out how to defeat him, she'll have to uncover the mystery of who he is or once was, a secret the residents of Springwood have well-kept until now. As the tagline goes " If Nancy doesn't wake up screaming, she won't wake up at all."
The best way a horror film can scare me is to unfold in a world not unlike my own. Secluded summer camps and space ships high in orbit are good fun, but I frequent neither of those places. Director Wes Craven in all his wisdom chose to situate his Nightmare in two locales that most of his target audience would know well. The first would be quiet suburban 'Any-town U.S.A.' or for the purposes of the movie, Springwood, Ohio. The second (and this is why I say most) would be the character's minds, their psyche. If a film has this element of familiarity, it's already well on its way to scaring me. If it does its job well enough, I'll turn the corners in my house tonight a little more cautiously to be sure that whatever hellish antagonist it has isn't waiting for me.
Of course, this is my umpteenth viewing of A Nightmare On Elm Street and having suffered through the sequels, the film ceases to scare me now. What it hasn't ceased to do is fantastically entertain me and take from my wallet hard-earned dough for special edition releases. I feel that even twenty odd years later, the film still packs a good scare, not surprisingly; this is an important film for horror enthusiasts.
The main attraction of Nightmare is of course Craven's incredibly well written antagonist, Freddy Krueger. Played to devilish perfection by Robert Englund, it's wonderful fun to see the character in his terrifying prime, long before it was hosting MTV and ruining the franchise. It's this original that secures Freddy’s place as one of the most horrifying villains ever to grace the big screen. Think about it: you can't outrun this slasher. You could try to hurt him, but how exactly do you hurt something that laughs in the face of pain? He's positively inescapable as your dreams are his domain and you have to sleep sometime. His look has become truly iconic, the red and green sweater, the dirty hat and razor-glove. He's nearly as recognizable as Santa Clause and thankfully just as fictional.
Craven's script for Nightmare is nothing short of ingenious, being a mixture of fantasy and horror. It's this infusion of genres that allow the line between reality and dreams to be blurred until the final disorienting (and possibly confusing) ending. It’s interesting that ordinarily 'it's only a dream’ would be a comforting thought, whereas in this film it's cause for alarm. No matter what level of consciousness you're in, the consequences are the same. Die in your sleep, die for real. The only time you're safe is when you're awake, and you can't stay awake forever. The ideology Craven presents us with is simply brilliant.
The cast aside from Englund are all just as good as the writing that went into the roles they portray. Heather Langenkamp is an excellent heroine, the smart and determined Nancy. It's rather strange to see a young Johnny Depp as her boyfriend and while he doesn't make or break the picture with his performance, he does his part well (especially for it being his first film.) As always, genre regular John Saxon is a delight as the town sheriff who wants what's best for his daughter, even if that means keeping things from her.
This part of the review could go on for much longer, but chances are you've probably seen this film already and most likely want to know if it's worth upgrading to from the previous edition. The movie hasn't changed any (knock on wood), it's still the same fright-fest it's always been, so I'll leave it at this; If Halloween established the slasher sub-genre, Nightmare re-energized it and for that, is a great horror film.
The film is presented in its original 1:85:1 widescreen aspect ratio. One of the perks of this Infinifilm edition is that it boasts remastered video and it shows. The first image of each shot is from the 2001 edition; notice how dark the image appears. This problem has been thoroughly corrected and sharpness improved for this release. Strangely, the colours lean more towards blue here, but it's not terribly distracting. I personally like the black levels of the 2001 transfer better, but it alone doesn't make for a better picture than this one. Clean of dirt and scratches, this Nightmare looks exquisite.
New Line has outfitted the set with several audio options, the only one I listened to being the Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track. Distributors should take note for this is how a horror film should sound. While the bulk of the audio in Nightmare is atmospheric (think steamy boiler rooms) and musical (Charlie Bernstein's haunting score) in nature, it still makes for a fantastic listen. Once I first heard Freddy's razor-glove scrape metal, I knew I was in for a treat. The track literally immerses you into the films environment, one of the most 'surrounding' surround sound mixes on a horror film I've heard in a while. Turn the lights down low, the volume way up and prepare to be scared witless.
I've never been on board for New Line's Infinifilm series. The whole thing just feels too gimmicky for my taste. 'Beyond The Film'—don't regular special editions do that? I don't understand why they couldn't have just stuck with their Platinum Series label. I tried to enjoy the movie 'Infinifilm' style, but it's too distracting, starting and stopping the show every four and half seconds for alternate takes and interviews. If I want special features, I'll pop in disc two.
The first commentary with Wes Craven, Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon and Jacques Haitkin is carried over from the 2001 release, so I felt no need to hear it again. I did watch the film with the new commentary featuring Wes Craven, Robert Shaye, Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, Ronee Blakley and Sara Risher, and enjoyed it. Had the participants recorded all at once, this would be a party; however, they were conducted separately and tied together by a moderator. It's informational, but ultimately feels like a ninety two minute audio essay. I was somewhat let down that it wasn't scene-specific.
‘The House That Freddy Built' featurette is an great look at the history of New Line Cinema, even if it does play like a twenty-three minute long commercial. It covers from the early distribution-only days of New Line to the recent Lord of the Rings films. The most surprising nugget of trivia this feature held for me was that Peter Jackson submitted a script for Nightmare six called 'The Dream Lover’. 'Night Terrors' is a fifteen minute featurette on the history of dreams and their different cultural interpretations. As educational as it is entertaining, this is a fantastic inclusion for the set.
The seven part documentary 'Never Sleep Again' is a fifty-ish minute retrospective look at the production. Incredibly comprehensive, it covers much of the same ground the 'Welcome to Primetime' documentary did from the franchise box set (also released in 2001). Since much of the information given here is rehash to diehard fans, the plethora of outtakes make it worth sitting through.
The alternate endings are somewhat of a bore, simply alternate versions of the actual one (which was not only a bore, but a letdown.) The disc has several DVD-ROM supplements, some of which are carried over from the previous release. Surprisingly, these will work on a Macintosh. While I appreciate this, I don't much like DVD-ROM and didn't care to check out the offerings. If you're interested there's a 'script-to-screen' feature, weblinks, and ‘more’. Lastly, the second disc includes a ridiculously easy trivia challenge and the film’s theatrical trailer.
As much as New Line's Infinifilm label bugs me, this is a stellar Special Edition. The technical presentation is an impressive improvement over the previous disc and the supplements definitely satisfy. Freddy-philes and cinema fans alike shouldn't hesitate in upgrading from the lacklustre 2001 release. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go grab my crucifix and settle down for a good nights sleep, hopefully devoid of everyone’s friendly neighbourhood dream demon.
Review by Dustin McNeill
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 26th September 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX English, DTS ES 6.1 English,
Extras: Audio Commentaries, Nightmare Fact Track, Three Alternate Endings, 'Never Sleep Again' Documentary, 'The House That Freddy Built' Featurette, 'Night Terrors' Featurette, Theatrical Trailer, DVD-ROM content
Easter Egg: No
Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Johnny Depp, John Saxon
Genre: Fantasy and Horror
Length: 92 minutes
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