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A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  John Saxon, Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp, Ronne Blakely, Robert Englund
Director:  Wes Craven
Audio:  DTS HD 7.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  New Line Cinema
Features:  See Review

Length:  92 Minutes
Release Date:  April 13, 2010

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

Film ***1/2

I can still remember when Wes Cravenís 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.  Heís 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, Cravenís 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 playÖsinking, 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 canít be hurt, nor likely can he be stopped.

I always remember the filmís 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 hateÖthe ones who hear a terrifying sound in the middle of the night and go out by themselves to investigate.  I think itís 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 couldnít wake up in the middle of the night and tell yourself it was only a bad dream.

Video ****

It keeps getting better and better...with every subsequent release of A Nightmare on Elm Street from New Line, the harder it is to remember having a really dull mono-sound VHS issue back in the 80s.  Blu-ray has given this classic more life than ever before.  You do see a bit of grain and texture here and there, but only because of the original film stock (this was a low-budgeted picture, after all), but for the most part, the colors and detail shine through with a brand new clarity that had me smiling from beginning to end.

Audio ****

Likewise, each new release improves on the audio, and now we've gone all the way from a single channel mix with limited dynamic range to a fullly realized, strong and creepy DTS HD 7.1 mix, which is imaginative and enveloping.  Horror movies live and die by their sound, and this is one of the best mono-to-digital-surround advances I've yet heard.

Features ****

There are two terrific commentary tracks:  one by Wes Craven, Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon and the filmís DP Jacques Haitkin, and a second 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. 

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 simply enjoy pop-up facts as you watch. 

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.  Itís 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 New Line has staked an all new claim in the realm of high definition home video with this lovingly presented Blu-ray release that will have die-hard fans like me feeling like they're seeing the film for the first time!

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