Judge Daryl Loomis has stayed up for days to write this review.
Our reviews of A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) (published October 31st, 2000), A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010) (Blu-ray) (published October 25th, 2010), and A Nightmare on Elm Street Collection (Blu-ray) (published March 18th, 2013) are also available.
If Nancy doesn't wake up screaming, she won't wake up at all.
One, two, Freddy's coming for you.
Facts of the Case
The kids on Elm Street are taking pills, staying up late, and refusing to sleep. They haven't gone wild; there's a stalker on the loose. He wears a dirty red and green sweater, a felt hat, and a glove he decorated himself. His name's Fred Krueger (Robert Englund, Eaten Alive) and he haunts you while you sleep. You don't want to meet him, but if you do, wake up quick, because if he catches you, he'll turn your dreams into nightmares from which you'll never awaken. Nancy (Heather Langenkamp, Just the Ten of Us) is sick of it, though, and she's ready to fight back. How do you kill a monster that exists in your head? You bring him out of the dream.
There's a ton I could write about this undisputed classic of the genre. However, in "anticipation" of the coming remake, we're here to discuss the Blu-ray release of A Nightmare on Elm Street, so I'll keep it short.
Like any horror franchise from the '80s, A Nightmare on Elm Street suffers because of its sequels. It not the movie's fault and it's not fair, but Freddy Krueger—once a terrifying boogeyman—has been reduced to a knife-wielding stand-up comedian. The reputation is totally underserved, for in the original, Fred Krueger is the perfect villain. He knows what you're afraid of and thrives off exploiting it. Most importantly: no jokes. That's paramount. The main problem with the sequels is that he has to make some stupid crack before every kill. Nothing takes me out of a horror film faster than a bad joke. In the original, he's psychotic, frightening, and deadly serious. Englund throws himself head first into the role and relishes in the delicious evil that director Wes Craven (Shocker) has created.
Englund made Freddy Krueger an icon, but it's the role of Nancy Thompson that makes A Nightmare on Elm Street so great. The performances all around are pretty soapy, but Heather Langenkamp's Nancy is one of the strongest horror heroines ever committed to film. The genre isn't often feminist-friendly, but Nancy is as tough as they come. She's completely sure of herself and, no matter how crazy it all seems, she knows the truth and doesn't care that nobody believes her. Unlike so many women in horror, she doesn't need help from her dad (John Saxon, Black Christmas) or her boyfriend (Johnny Depp, Ed Wood, in his debut film appearance); she's headstrong, gets what she wants, and succeeds entirely on her strength and will. Langenkamp's role would become more typically simpering in two sequels, but here she's perfectly effective.
The long-awaited Hi-Def release of A Nightmare on Elm Street is very strong, but isn't the perfect Blu-ray I had hoped for. The Infinifilm DVD release was pretty good, but this 1080p image is the best the film has ever looked. It's unfortunate that some inconsistencies keep it from being reference quality. A certain amount of film grain remains, giving it that '80s quality—there are a number of shots toward the beginning that look softer than the rest—but the film certainly does not look its twenty-six years. The clarity and detail are striking, boasting deep, dark shadows, brilliant colors, and bright, shining whites. Where the set dressing was muddied in previous releases, now you can see just how tacky wallpaper can be; there are some truly gaudy patterns on display. The special effects do become slightly more obvious with increased clarity, but in only one scene (flaming Freddy) does it make the effect look particularly cheap. For whatever small deficiencies may exist with the image transfer, the 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is fantastic; good separation, sharp dialog, and a deep, full score all heard clearly with great detail. The surround channels may be doubled up, but there are some very good spatial effects.
If you have either of the previous DVD releases, you have essentially every bonus feature on this Blu-ray disc, plus a few that don't appear here. There are two commentary tracks. The first, with Craven, Langenkamp, Saxon, and cinematographer Jacques Haitkin, is from the original DVD release. Craven talks about being on the set of Vampire in Brooklyn, which is not something to be proud of, but the group amiably discusses their memories of the production. The second track is new, and features a slew of cast and crew that clearly aren't anywhere near each other. More voices echo much of the same information from the first track, but an irritating narrator introduces each speaker. It may keep the names clear, but the effect is jarring. Three alternate endings prove that Craven chose the right one for the final cut. The three featurettes are from the original release. "The House that Freddy Built: The Legacy of New Line Horror" is an in-depth discussion of the influence that Nightmare had on the genre and it's role in the studio's success. "Never Sleep Again" is a standard making-of piece. "Night Terrors: The Origins of Wes Craven's Nightmare" is a quality look at the mysteries and science behind dreaming. There's also an interactive trivia track, which is pointless. Finally, a movie cash coupon for the theatrical remake is included. I still don't have much interest in the film, but hey, free ticket!
I may not be Wes Craven's biggest fan, but A Nightmare on Elm Street is by far his best film. Effectively scary, with an intelligent and well-written story, this is a legitimate genre classic and New Line has done it justice on Blu-ray.
Not guilty. Nighty-night.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
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