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A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  John Saxon, Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp, Robert Englund
Director:  Wes Craven
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, DTS ES, Dolby Mono
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  New Line Cinema
Features:  See Review

Length:  92 Minutes
Release Date:  September 26, 2006

"Whatever you do...DON'T FALL ASLEEP!"

Film ***1/2

I can still remember when Wes Craven’s classic A Nightmare on Elm Street came to the big screen.  It was like a shot of pure adrenaline into the heart of the horror film genre.  Horror never really goes away, but it had lay mostly dormant for quite some time, thanks largely to a crop of cheap and campy slasher flicks, with lots of gore, poor acting, and no budgets. 

Craven, by his own words, likes to try and bring something new and fresh to the genre when he makes a film.  He’s done that many times, with classics like The Hills Have Eyes and the more recent Scream movies.  But with this picture, he really stumbled onto something unique, and the audiences responded with great favor, making the Nightmare franchise one of the most lucrative ever.

So how did he do it?  Well, for the most part, horror films could be divided into one of two categories:  slasher and supernatural.  By creating the character of Freddy Krueger, Craven combined the best of both worlds.  Here was a serial killer who could invade and terrorize kids in their dreams.  And, as the old legend goes, if you die in your dreams, you die for real.

By allowing the horror to take place in the world of dreams, Craven’s film knows no limitations and no boundaries.  Anything can, and does happen, and the more surreal he happens to make it, the better the results.  All of the classic nightmare factors come into play…sinking, drowning, not being able to run away, and a relentless villain, who, by cutting off a couple of his own fingers and slashing himself, lets his victims know he can’t be hurt, nor likely can he be stopped.

I always remember the film’s first death as one of the great scream moments of horror.  As a sleeping girl wrestles with an invisible opponent while her boyfriend looks on helplessly, we see the slash marks appear, and the blood pour forth.  Then the struggling screaming girl hits the floor, goes up one wall, and finally on the ceiling, creating an unbelievably messy bloodbath in the room, until her mangled body falls to the ground lifeless.  It was loud, intense, and managed to sustain a single scare for an amazing length of time.  And that was just the beginning.

So what made Freddy Krueger such a beloved figure amongst horror fans?  Well, one explanation has to be the presence of actor Robert Englund for the duration of the franchise.  Unlike the Halloween or Friday the 13th films, the same actor always played Krueger.  There was a great consistency of character with Freddy, including the bad jokes and quips he always spouted before dispensing with a victim.  I also think Freddy was popular because he got rid of the annoying stupid teenagers that we all hate…the ones who hear a terrifying sound in the middle of the night and go out by themselves to investigate.  I think it’s safe to say that many times over the course of the movies, audiences actually rooted for Freddy.

So Nightmare staked its claim convincingly as a horror film landmark, and remains as popular and frightening today as it ever was.  Like many franchises, it went on for far too long, and seemed to reach a point where it looked like a parody of its own self, but nothing could detract from the terrifying experience of the movie that started it all.  And thanks to Wes Craven, this time, you couldn’t wake up in the middle of the night and tell yourself it was only a bad dream.

Video ****

A Nightmare on Elm Street has always seemed problematic to me video-wise, even way back when it was first released on tape.  I don't know what the folks at New Line did with this new transfer, but wow...it looks incredible!  I don't think it looked THIS good on its first theatrical run!  Colors, tones and details are brighter and crisper than ever before.  Even the many night scenes come across with sharper clarity and integrity than you've ever seen.  This is now officially one of the best DVD transfers for an 80s film that you'll ever see!

Audio ****

Again, WOW.  These extended audio mixes do the trick, particularly the DTS one.  From the opening moments, when the title first appears on screen, WATCH OUT.  This is an incredible mix; dynamic, lively, and making full use of the surround channels and subwoofers.  Sounds are constantly coming at you from behind, making you look over your shoulder.  I've seen this movie a hundred times, friends, and this new audio mix made it like seeing it for the first time.  It really is THAT good.

Features ****

Infinifilm means features, and this double disc set doesn't disappoint.  There’s the original terrific commentary track by Wes Craven, Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon and the film’s DP Jacques Haitkin, plus an all new second one that also includes Robert Englund, Ronee Blakley, Amanda Wyss, New Line head Robert Shaye and others.  There are also the three infamous alternate endings, previously only available in the box set if you could solve the cool and intricate interactive game. 

There are three featurettes; "Never Sleep Again" chronicles the making of a classic scare film, and "The House That Freddy Built" discusses how the movie helped launch a studio into the majors.  "Night Terrors" talks about Wes Craven and his own nightmares.  You can play an interactive trivia game to stay one step ahead of Freddy, or watch the original trailer. 

And of course, the Infinifilm setting allows you to watch the movie with one-click access to behind the scenes extras, interviews, alternate takes, looks at other films in the series and more, or if you choose, a trivia track that gives you juicy tidbits while you watch.  Plus the menu screens are really cool.  A truly frightening extras package!

Summary:

A Nightmare on Elm Street was the right film at the right time to rejuvenate the horror genre and send fans flocking to the box office and running screaming up the aisles.  It’s an imaginative piece of work, with a great premise, a legendary villain, and some terrific visual effects.  It was also the movie that put a little studio called New Line Cinema into the league of major players.  And today, as one of the best DVD studios in operation, they’ve return the favor with this quality Infinifilm presentation on disc.  This is one of the year's best!

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