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Once again I must apologise for the lateness of this review, but we didn't receive our review set until a couple of weeks after the release date and finding the time to fit in seven films and a bunch of extras proved difficult. As such I am going to concentrate on the quality of the discs rather than any lengthy discussion of the features themselves, although brief synopses are included.

 A Nightmare on Elm Street Blu-ray

Feature


The Elm Street films themselves are a very mixed bunch, ranging from the excellent original to the appalling sixth instalment. With the original Nightmare Wes Craven succeeded in creating a genuinely scary villain in Fred Krueger; after all, no one can escape the inevitability of falling asleep. He also succeeded in creating a strong central character, something that was sadly lacking in some of the sequels. In the original Nightmare you really care if Nancy survives, but the later films lost this element, becoming little more than effects-laden gore-fests. As mentioned above I'm not going to delve into the films in great depth, but if you're interested in reading more of my thoughts on the classic original you'll find a link to my review of the individual Blu-ray release at the bottom of the page.

After the superb start to the franchise we get Freddy's Revenge, which feels like a rush job from the start. Part two almost completely disregards all of the ‘rules’ established in the first film, and instead sees Freddy possessing the body of a teenager and walking around in the real world. It does have some redeeming moments though, such as the sight of Freddy emerging from Jessie’s body in scene reminiscent of the chest-burster from Alien. The make-up effects are also far better than the original and it's noteworthy for being the only entry in the series with a gay protagonist, even if this was allegedly unintentional. It's this element that is probably the single most interesting thing about the film, but it's still not enough to save it from being one of the weaker entries in the series.

 A Nightmare on Elm Street: Freddy's Revenge Blu-ray
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors sees things heading back in the right direction with the reintroduction of Nancy, while at the same time returning Freddy to his dream-stalker roots. It also features a stronger cast than the other sequels, with the returning John Saxon and such future stars as Larry Fishburne and Patricia Arquette making appearances. Dream Warriors also saw the return of Wes Craven in a limited writing capacity, and this shows in certain elements of the film. It just feels a lot more like the first movie, and you actually start to sympathise with and care for the teens. With great special effects and some half-decent acting, this is probably the best of the traditional sequels.

Watching it again after many years, I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. This instalment marked the real beginning of Freddy's transition from shadowy figure to wise-cracking star of the show, with the comedic elements of his character really pushed to the fore. This is evidenced by his tendency to quip as he dispatches teens in increasingly elaborate sequences, all of which move him further away from Craven's original creation. While the characters from the previous film are quickly eliminated in favour of some new fodder, the writers sensibly created another strong heroine to oppose Freddy. The film also has some of the most memorable kills in the series and some fantastic make-up effects, not to mention plenty of in-jokes (Alice works at the Crave Inn, for example). I was around fourteen when it was originally released in the UK, and heavily into the Nightmare films, and truth be told I'm willing to overlook a lot of its faults because of the fond memories I have of watching it on VHS.

 A Nightmare on Elm Street: Freddy's Revenge Blu-ray
A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child sees the series treading water with nowhere else to go. This time Freddy has returned by using the unborn child of Alice (the female lead in part four) to bring him fresh victims. In this film it's very difficult to care about the teens at all as there is very little character development, and you just get the feeling that they’re all sitting around waiting for their turn to die. It’s a very similar film to part four in many respects, with good effects and a wisecracking Freddy, but the joke is starting to wear a little thin. Director Stephen Hopkins does add a nice gothic touch to the proceedings and we do get to learn quite a bit about Mr. Krueger’s past, so it’s not a total disaster, but it’s not a film I would watch often. Unfortunately we are stuck with the butchered R-rated version of the film, which is missing a lot of the gorier effects during the inventive kills. I grew up with the uncut VHS so I found this a very choppy experience.

Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare is the film that proclaims, without a hint of irony, that ‘They saved the best for last’. They didn’t; Freddy is taken into absurd comic book territory, the script is a mess, and the acting atrocious. The ending was originally presented in headache-inducing 3D, which was clearly a pathetic attempt to rescue the flagging series and it’s a gimmick that just didn't work. In this respect it shares much with many of the 3D films released today and thankfully the Blu-ray only includes the 2D version of the film. To be honest I was actually glad when they killed Freddy at the end of the movie, because I don’t think I could have faced another instalment after this travesty. I suppose we do get a pretty good look at Freddy's past, but it's mostly contradictory stuff that doesn't tie in with the rest of the continuity and so creates more problems than it solves. Basically, it's crap.

 A Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warriors Blu-ray
After a long lay-off and just when you thought the franchise was dead and buried for good, along comes Wes Craven to turn the whole thing upside down and produce a fantastic film in the process. Not strictly a sequel, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare stands on its own as an intelligent and scary film. This time the action takes place in the real world, with virtually all of the actors playing versions of themselves. It seems that since production of the Nightmare films halted, a force of ancient evil has decided to adopt the guise of Freddy and is now trying to cross over into our reality. To do this it must go through Heather Langenkamp, who played Nancy in the original Nightmare, and as the film progresses the line between fantasy and reality becomes increasingly blurred. With new make-up effects, a new uber-glove and filled with more hatred than ever, Freddy is back to his murderous best in this post-modern horror.

Video


One thing all of the films have in common is the new 1.78:1 aspect ratio, opened up slightly from the original 1.85:1. In most instances this has resulted in a lot more information being visible in the frame when compared to the DVDs. In fact, in some cases it's startling just how much was cropped from the older discs, although curiously a few scenes have been zoomed to show slightly less picture (very obviously in part five, to obscure gore). Even so these are still probably the most 'complete' versions you will have seen. The original film features a VC-1 encode, while the sequels are all AVC.

 A Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warriors Blu-ray
I’ve already written a fairly lengthy review of the first film, so I’ll keep this brief so as not to repeat myself. Basically A Nightmare on Elm Street has never looked better on a home format than it does on Blu-ray. Detail is vastly improved, colour rendition is more natural, and there are few (if any) defects in the source – it looks great. If I have any minor criticisms they relate to the moderate contrast boosting that has been employed, which results in a few blown highlights and some black crush. It’s nothing too egregious though, so fans needn’t worry. It’s obvious that the original film was given the most care and attention when it was transferred to BD.

Moving on to the first of the sequels, Freddy's Revenge presents an appreciable upgrade over the DVD but it falls slightly below the standards set by the original film's Blu-ray offering. Detail is reasonable for the most part, with some close-ups proving surprisingly revealing, but one or two scenes look very soft and muddy. Grain is consistent throughout, only appearing noisy during some of the darker effects-heavy moments. Colours are natural and accurately reproduced, there are no contrast issues to report, and there are no obvious film artefacts. Dream Warriors is very similar in terms of detail and the lack of artefacts, but where it differs is in brightness and contrast. For some inexplicable reason they have been altered from the DVD release, resulting in drab colours and some pretty obvious black crush. Given that a lot of the film takes place in dark dream worlds it proves problematic at times.

 A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Master Blu-ray
Dream Master has much in common with the other sequels, with a relatively detailed, clean image that retains plenty of grain. Unfortunately it has also been subjected to the same sort of tinkering as part three, which means more black crush and a dull palette, but it's more severe here. It's really quite noticeable if you're familiar with the DVD, or indeed grew up watching it on VHS, and while it's not a total disaster it's a bit disappointing. Still, the positives do outweigh the negatives, so it's not all bad. Surprisingly The Dream Child is actually a bit of a step down from the previous film visually. It's very soft, although perhaps intentionally so, and detail just isn't as impressive as I'd hoped. Colours also look a little off, although again I believe this can be attributed to the film's visual style. At least the black crush isn't as bad and it's as clean and artefact-free as the rest of the series.

I have very similar comments to make about Freddy's Dead, although it's actually slightly more pleasing to the eye than the previous three films. The transfer is just as clean, but colours and contrast are better and the image is more detailed overall. The sections that were originally filmed in 3D stick out like a sore thumb, but other than that it's not bad. New Nightmare is the newest film in the collection, but it offers the least significant upgrade from the DVD. That's not to say it looks bad though, as it's just as visually pleasing as the other sequels. In fact, it's probably one of the most natural looking films in the series as it doesn't suffer from excessive black crush, has a realistic palette and retains a nice layer of grain. However, it’s the only film in the set with what looks to be a visual defect (at around 14:10) in the shape of a red line that appears horizontally across the image for a frame or two.

 A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Master Blu-ray
While it's true that none of the films look perfect, Warner has done a pretty good job of wringing high-definition goodness out of a series of low-budget horrors. They could have just slapped a bunch of outdated masters on these discs, but instead they actually took the time to spruce them up a little, which is commendable. Ignore what you might have read on some forums from people with wildly unrealistic expectations, these aren't too shabby at all.

Audio


All seven films include both remastered DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtracks (7.1 in the case of the original movie), along with their original mono, stereo or surround audio mixes in lossy Dolby Digital.

As above I won’t go into too much detail about the original as I covered a lot of ground in my separate review, so here are the most important facts. As the only film in the series with a 7.1 track you’d rightly expect it to have the most surround action. There’s plenty of discrete channel activity and plenty of atmospheric effects, from hissing steam in the boiler room, to Freddy’s raspy breath and the screeching of his claws as he drags them across metal. Fidelity is very good considering its age and origins, and it has by far the best score of the series. Unfortunately the 7.1 remix omits a number of key sounds, or otherwise buries them in the mix by inadvisably prioritising music over dialogue and effects. It’s a real shame, as apart from this the track sounds pretty great. Thankfully you can always fall back on the original Mono mix if you’re really offended by the changes.

 A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child Blu-ray
With the sequels there's less to say. Freddy's Revenge's mono origins are plain to hear, with very little in the way of discrete effects and narrow dynamic range. The occasional stereo effect can be heard when cars drive across the front of the soundstage, and the rears are employed to bring greater presence to the score, but that's about it. At least the dialogue is clear, if a little hollow-sounding. Oh, there is a little bit of bass right at the end, but that's your lot. Dream Warriors treads a very similar line to the previous instalment, although fidelity is slightly better and the track is livelier overall. There's definitely more surround activity (a flock of birds taking off made me look behind the sofa) and everything sounds a little crisper. There are no issues with dialogue, but once again bass isn't hugely powerful. It's not a particularly memorable track, but it gets the job done.

Part four sees a marked improvement in audio quality, with superior fidelity and much more aggressive use of the surround channels for atmospherics and spot effects (there's a cool bit where we transition through a hole in Freddy's chest, accompanied by his heartbeat). It's not just the set pieces that benefit from this expanded sound-stage, but also the film's music, which is a decent mix of late eighties pop and rock from acts like the Divinyls and Dramarama. A lot of the score also appears to be recycled from the first two films, which actually gives it a boost in the continuity department. There's some weighty bass to be heard when thunder claps or things explode in the dream word and dialogue is always intelligible. On balance it's a reasonably effective track given the limitations of the source. Like the video, The Dream Child's audio is a bit of a step down from the previous instalment, sounding thinner overall. The surround utilisation isn't as impressive, bass is anaemic and the score is one of the weakest in the series. Still, this has always been the case and you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

 Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare Blu-ray
After the dip in quality from part four to part five, you’ll be glad to hear that Freddy’s Dead takes things up a notch with a more dynamic track. There are some great touches during the opening scenes set on the airplane, especially when part of it is ripped away and our hapless hero finds himself plummeting towards the ground. This is the first film to offer what I would call a ‘modern’ sounding mix, with stronger atmospherics and some genuinely impressive discrete effects. It also features some surprisingly powerful bass, especially when compared to most of the other instalments, along with strong dialogue. However, when it comes to the sequels New Nightmare probably takes the audio crown. The surround utilisation at the beginning of the film is among the best in the entire series, as the Earthquake causes things to crash to the ground in the Langenkamp household. The use of the discrete channels is also more effective than what’s come before, with voices that effortlessly transition from the side or rear of the soundstage to the front. Atmospherics are also good - with creaking floorboards and the sound of the wind - and bass is easily the most potent of the sequels.

One the whole I was quite pleased with the films' audio. It's a bit disappointing that the original film's 7.1 track has a few obvious omissions, but other than that it's a good remix. The sequels' 5.1 remixes breath new life into them, belying their low-budget origins. I was also impressed by Warner's decision to include the films' original audio mixes (admitted only in a lossy format), which is something more distributors should do.

 Wes Craven's New Nightmare Blu-ray

Extras


The only new bonus material to be found in this collection is a documentary entitled 'Fear Himself: The Life and Crimes of Freddy Krueger' (29:48 SD) and a couple of episodes of the Freddy’s Nightmares TV series. It’s not a bad documentary, but it doesn’t really do much to set itself apart from any of the documentaries about the series that I’ve seen over the years. To be honest, once you’ve seen Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, most official documentaries are pretty weak by comparison. Most people who’ve seen Freddy’s Nightmares will probably tell you to steer well clear, and I’m going to do the same. It’s not a great show, with very little of the man himself and some pretty terrible ideas for episodes. The ones included in this set aren’t even two of the better ones.

I was initially unsure exactly what extras were going to be in this set, as the press release wasn’t very clear, but I’m happy to report that much of the material from the original DVD releases of the films - such as the audio commentaries, a fairly large collection of interesting featurettes, music videos, and more - has also been included. In total there's over five hours of material to work your way through, much of which is actually very interesting and informative stuff.  The vintage DVD features from back in 1999 (wow, was it really that long ago?) are just as great today as they were back then, putting the bonus material found on many contemporary releases to shame.

 Wes Craven's New Nightmare Blu-ray

Overall


Love him or hate him, there can be no denying Freddy Krueger's cultural impact. He's one of the most - if not the most - enduring horror icons of the last thirty years, and the original A Nightmare on Elm Street still stands as perhaps my favourite horror movie. Sure the later sequels fell pray to the law of diminishing returns (at least artistically), but what horror franchise escapes that fate? This Blu-ray collection is a fantastic tribute to the razor-clawed dream demon, presenting the best looking and sounding versions of the films ever to grace a home format. There are one or two issues, such as the black crush, but by and large Warner has been very respectful of the material. The bountiful extras are really just the icing on the cake, although the quality of the new material isn't on a par with the recycled stuff. Even so it's a very entertaining package and a real bargain for fans of the franchise (it works out at around £5 per film). This release gets a big thumbs up from me!

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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