I've seen thousands of horror movies in the last twenty-five years of my life some very good, some very bad but none of them can reach the level, in my mind anyway, of A Nightmare on Elm Street. This is the film that first introduced me to the dark, often exciting, world of horror on that fateful day where a visit to my Aunt resulted in the image of Amanda Wyss' Tina character wrapped in a body bag with all forms of creepy crawlies pooled around her feet becoming embedded in my impressionable mind both disturbing and appealing to me at the same time - it just felt so new, so forbidden to my young psyche. It's because of this I proceeded to practically bathe in the genre watching anything and everything but I always knew, that when I needed a fix of thrills, I could always return to where I started.
Having already established himself as a horror director with The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes and Deadly Blessing; Wes Craven became interested in dreams upon reading news stories of teenagers in Asia dying in their sleep. In particular, one boy who proclaimed that someone was after him, before passing away while in a nightmarish state. The resulting script, about a burnt child molester who terrorizes teenagers in their sleep, was a hard-sell at the time with only Robert Shaye and his fledgling New Line Cinema willing to take a chance - the rest, as any of you familiar with the genre know, is history as it became a massive hit, spawned several sequels and turned the visage of Freddy Krueger into a pop culture anti-hero.
As the credits roll we're treated to Charles Bernstein's effective theme music and taken to a dank boiler room where we see an ominous figure constructing something out of metal sheets and common kitchen knives - the result being a glove with sharp blades for fingers. Into this setting comes Tina (Wyss), who finds herself being stalked through the maze of pipes and steel platforms before waking up in a cold sweat. Seems she's been plagued by nightmares of a boogeyman of sorts and it turns out her group of friends, which includes police lieutenant's daughter Nancy (Heather Langenkamp), have also been victimized by the red and green sweater wearing figure with the crispy visage while they slumber.
These nightmares disturbingly make their way into the real world when, during a weekend sleepover at Tina's house, our hostess is dragged up the side of a wall and onto the roof of her bedroom while exploding in blood and screaming in agony. It's the first of many memorable, and now iconic, death scenes and is still just as powerful all these years later. The police believe it's the work of Tina's cocky boyfriend Rod (Nick Corri) but Nancy knows better. Afraid to sleep she's soon unable to fight off slumber and finds herself having to confront Freddy who slices his way through those around her in many intense (and usually extremely bloody) death set pieces while she tries to convince her parents, with the help of Freddy's fedora she snatched off his head before waking and brought back to the real world, that she's not making things up and is in danger.
This leads to a final showdown between a determined and desperate Nancy and our ever-taunting Freddy which ramps up the intensity and brings some good shocks before things close-out with a tacked-on feeling shock ending that I've always had a hard time with because it doesn't feel "right" - Craven also shot a few alternate endings (included on the DVD/ Blu-Ray) which are slight variations and just as weak.
You might not like the path they took Robert Englund's Freddy in the sequels and spin-offs but here he's a much more malicious force, much like everyone's favourite killer doll "Chucky" was in the original Child's Play. Freddy is not the comedian he'd become later on and Englund manages to scare the crap out of you just by body language and gravely voice - people seemed to forget Freddy is a child murderer. In one of her first movie roles, Langenkamp brings a great mix of vulnerability and strong-headedness to Nancy and would make a welcome return to the character in the third and seventh entries. Veteran actor John Saxon (Black Christmas) and Ronee Blakley (Nashville) were both cast for name recognition but do well in their performances as Nancy's parents - who were responsible for burning Freddy to death all those years ago. It's also worth noting that this was Johnny Depp's acting debut and he gets one of the films most enjoyable send-offs.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is the movie that Craven will forever be remembered for, and with good reason. When it arrived in theatres back in 1984 there really wasn't much out there like it. Its mix of the supernatural and slasher film was one of the first of its kind to seamlessly mix dreams with reality and it went on to become a surprise hit and is one of the more emulated horror films of the 80s. Craven has come up with an inventive story, punctuated it with shocking violence and created one of the most memorable genre villains in history. He would return to Elm Street by co-writing the third film as well as trying to reinvent the franchise with 1994's New Nightmare. (Chris Hartley, 4/4/10)
Directed By: Wes Craven.
Written By: Wes Craven.
Starring: John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss.
New Line - April 13, 2010
Picture Ratio: 1.85:1 Widescreen.
Picture Quality: New Line remastered the film for their 2006 "Infinifilm" DVD release and it looks like they've taken the same source for the blu-ray. The clarity and colour has been upped from that decent looking SD presentation to 1080p and, while it's not reference quality, it's doubtful this has ever looked as it does here. Due to the film's age, and budget, there is some unintrusive grain on the transfer but you can't complain when the bump to blu-ray gives you a chance to pick up on things you might not have noticed before (such as a figure below Tina in the opening sequence), makes the fabric of Freddy's sweater stand-out and gives the film a polish it might not have had during its original theatrical run.
Extras: While it's a tad disappointing New Line didn't create any new HD extra material for this release what's offered here (also taken from the 2-disc "Infinifilm" and presented in 480p standard definiton only) more than makes up for that. The aformentioned alternate endings are here and, honestly, aren't much better than the one they went with. We also get the trivia track from the previous disc which I proceeded to skip after fifteen minutes or so.
But then we get into the real "meat and potatoes" (if you will) of the disc that starts off with the well-done making of documentary "Never Sleep Again" (50m.) offering up a history of the film from conception to release with enjoyable interviews mixed in with alternate takes and bloopers. Next up is "The House That Freddy Built" (23m.) and it's history lesson about New Line Cinema and how Elm Street's success made them a viable production company. "Night Terrors" (16m.) is next and it's the most throwaway of the three as it gathers together various experts to look at the history, and importance, of dreaming.
Rounding out the disc are two commentary tracks one with Craven, Langenkamp, Saxon and director of photography Jacques Haitkin which makes for a quite enjoyable listen and the other a "cast & Crew" track which cobbles together various sound bites from people involved with the production of the film. Of the two, I preferred the first but they both offer up some decent information. Lastly we have the poorly titled "Ready Freddy Focus Points" which gives you a on-screen prompt during the film which lets you view various behind-the-scenes footage and alternate takes.
If you already own the "Infinfilm" version you're not getting anything new here. Granted, the picture quality is the best it's ever been and they haven't cut out any features, so if you're willing to re-buy for 1080p alone, feel free. If you own an older version, or don't own it at all (blasphemy!), this is the version you want to get.