Nightmare on Elm Street, A (Blu-ray)
What better way to inaugurate our new Blu-ray section of the site than to review not only a classic, but one thatís received surprisingly little press. A Nightmare on Elm Street, one of the seminal films of modern horror. Despite its notoriety it remains unreleased in America on the new format because of New Lineís sad amalgamation into Warner Brothers. For those lucky enough to be in Canada though, Alliance Atlantis, who had previously handled all localization of New Line titles north of the 45th, put out a quickie release in high definition before they lost the rights. Barebones, but in 1080p, this could be the perfect upgrade for those looking only for presentation quality. Just how sharp are Freddyís blades in hi-def?
The film begins with the pounding of brass. In this boiler room a man sharpens and pieces together five fractures of steel into a torn and ragged glove. That man, of course, is Freddy Krueger. He inserts his hand into the glove and heads after a pretty teenage girl. She runs, screaming and crying through the dark and desolate area as Freddy follows close behind. Standard stuff so far...but then she wakes up. It was all just a dream. If this is a slasher, then where is the signature opening murder sequence? Wes Craven catches his audience right from the start, and he keeps them held throughout.
The film then cuts to a bunch of friends heading to school. Included in the pack is Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp), Glen (Johnny Depp in his first role), Tina (Amanda Wyss) and Rod (Nick Corri). Tina speaks of the bad dream we just witnessed, and the rest of them follow suit in admitting that they too had a nightmares. "Everyone has a bad dream sooner or later" Nancy boasts, but little did Nancy know that Tina's bad dream would be her last. Later that night as the group bunk over at Glen's house, Tina is slain in horrific manner while she is in mid-dream. Nancy's father, Donald Thompson (John Saxon) is called in to investigate, and they all believe Rod killed her.
We, the viewers, of course know otherwise. Nancy too begins to figure out the secret, as her friends begin dying off one-by-one. Her nightmares are becoming more real and more prevalent, and the man in the green and red shirt is all she ever sees. She dopes herself up on stay-awake pills, but eventually she is going to have to face the scarred child murderer once and for all and disclose the horrible secret that binds the victims together.
This film was the eighth work of Wes Craven, and even by this stage, he had already established himself as a horror relic. He had given audiences The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes back in the 70's, and with Elm Street he shocked the world once again. If Wes Craven will ever be remembered for anything though, it will definitely be as a trendsetter. He may not be a true auteur, he may not even be a great filmmaker, but nobody can deny that he has been a visionary in the field of horror for the last thirty years.
Last House on the Left is a film responsible for ushering horror moviemaking away from pulp monsters and happy endings. The Hills Have Eyes followed with a bleak look at American life, and was a key influence to films like The Evil Dead. Even years later, Craven would bring forth a new wink-wink post-modernism in American film with his horror send-up Scream. But A Nightmare on Elm Street may perhaps be his most notable triumph.
Rather than creating his own type of genre film as he had done before, and would do again later, he instead ingeniously reworked the clichťs of a genre already set in stone. He took the conventions that his buddy Sean S. Cunningham exploited, and gave them a layer of originality. Slasher films have always been read as expressions of the subconscious, so what better to do than to make the film all about dreams, which are the most potent expression of the mind. By having the killer stalk and slash in the victims' dreams, it allows not only for intense Freudian psycho-analysis, but also for a much more expressionistic and artistic window through which to view the film.
Halloween aside, slasher films were basically the lowest common denominator of filmmaking. It was more or less a point and shoot affair. Craven had already done that with his amateur Last House, and instead infused A Nightmare on Elm Street with some amazingly fresh and refined visuals. Craven's nightmare worlds come alive with interwoven layers of fear and mystique. The first murder of Tina is arguably the benchmark of the slasher genre, and Glen's death is nearly as jaw dropping. Craven's Elm Street dream world is frightening in that it takes ordinary surroundings and laces them with unsettling characteristics, like the defiance of gravity, the hole in the bathtub, and the seemingly unending arms of Freddy Krueger.
The creative visuals certainly add a new dimension to a tapered genre, but equally responsible for the change is the horrific Freddy Krueger character. Wes Craven introduces him to the audience right off the bat, and his identity is never hidden. The mystery murder of gialli and slashers past was no longer, Freddy wore his nametag right from the get-go. He wasn't afraid of the camera, and in a way that made him scarier. Robert Englund's performance as the gloved killer in this film is one of horror's scariest.
Freddy is a killer so confident and so horrifically disgusting that it sets up an unsettling contrast. The contrast is further reinforced by the simple design of his sweater: red and green. Those two opposite colors are unsettling in a pattern together, and their coupling with the confused characteristics of Freddy Krueger make him a truly bloodcurdling killer.
There is gore and bloodshed throughout Nightmare, but it always feels original and never exploitive. It fits with the film, it seems to have a purpose, and its use is much more justifiable than in most slasher/gore extravaganzas. Precious time is spent developing the characters too, making them seem much more as people than as mere victims. Heather Langenkamp adds an honest charm similar to that of Jamie Lee Curtis, and Johnny Depp gets the kid-next-door routine down pat. Saxon plays himself, but he is so good at it that it doesn't matter.
Even today, after all the sequels and all the parodies, this film still emits an unparalleled level of freshness. After all the attempts at carbon copying, this still remains a unique and titillating viewing experience. Last House on the Left is a great film, but it has dated over the years. A Nightmare on Elm Street however, manages to transcend the time in which it was made to become a timeless classic. The ultimate test of a film is to see how it holds up over the years, and Craven's film is as everlasting as the steel of Freddy's blades. A masterpiece.
Now youíre playing with power! A Nightmare on Elm Street looks absolutely gorgeous with all that extra bandwidth. Presented in MPEG-4 AVC 1080p, this is the transfer we were all hoping for. Elm Street always had an ambitious color palette and professional style, much more than the rest of Cravenís canon, and itís all those colors that really show off the qualities of the new format. Take a look at Nancyís eyes throughout, they just glow this deep organic blue, a quality virtually unnoticeable even on DVD. The clashing reds and greens on Freddyís sweater, the blue bedtime hues and the orange boiler room glow all just ooze richness. The picture is also much sharper, too. All of Langenkampís freckles make themselves visible and everything from subtle focus pulls to set design in Nancyís bedroom also give new texture to an old film. No edge enhancement, no artifacting, just pure visual bliss.
Aside from the notable improvements in clarity, detail and resolution, the Blu-ray also has a fairly substantial cosmetic alteration. The night scenes have been color-timed to incorporate a more bluish hue. This is evident for most of the dream sequences, notably the finale. The added color compared to the DVD really helps enhance the dream-like mood and more than just glitter it makes the night sequences seem that much more realistic. Skin tones are also altered slightly, but in this singular instance the DVD wins out with a redder and more natural tonality. The sealer, though, for the Blu-ray is the contrast. Take a look at that shot of Freddy. In the DVD heís lost to shadow, but with this new transfer you can see an immense increase in detail. Itís phenomenal. The DVDs for the film have always been stellar, but this new HD transfer really takes a classic to a whole new level. It really is the stuff of dreams.
Purists, take note: thereís no mono mix included here. Whatís included is that same boisterous 5.1 mix that made up New Lineís previous releases of the film on DVD. In its day it was one of the best 5.1 remixes of a mono mix, during the time of The Beyond and Halloween 4, when companies really cared about the full six speaker setup. It still holds up today, and is selectable in either Dolby True-HD or Dolby Digital. Many complain about the space between peaks and ambient sounds, but this is the kind of layered audio track that really feels minted from reality. Charles Bernsteinís score is totally atmospheric, and the menagerie of unsettling sound effects that comprise the boiler room and the kidsí dreams in general really play out well in these surround tracks. The extra bandwidth of Blu-ray makes them come alive all the more.
Nadda. Not even a trailer. You pop the disc in, Freddyís shadow shows up next to text telling you the movie is about to begin automatically, and thatís it. The pop-up list is alright, complete with beeping sound effects, but none of it feels really thematic. At this stage in DVDís life it is all about the feature film quality anyway, since most catalogue titles are sadly neglecting the supplemental capabilities of this new format. Considering Alliance just wanted to get the film out before they lost the rights though, you canít really dog them the way the bigger companies deserve for their withholding of standard definition supplements. The disc is region coded in the Region A format, which makes it playable natively in all of North America.
A Nightmare on Elm Street truly is a landmark, tearing through the seems of the slasher canon to reveal its essence: the subconscious. With all its dreamy plotting, inventive deaths and iconic villain, it certainly stands out now as one of the pinnacle films in all of horror. And you know what? Itís still fucking scary! For fans of the film, and that should be all of you, this new Blu-ray is the perfect upgrade to a perfect film. The images are so tack sharp and vivid that itís as if you can be pulled into one of Freddyís dreams at any given moment. The sound is ever sharper and still brooding with atmosphere. There are no supplements, and Iím sure there will be plenty when Warner finally gets around to handling New Line titles. That could take awhile though, so if you want fresh meat for your new player, this Canadian exclusive should have you rolling up the walls. Welcome to high definition, Mr. Krueger. Hope to be seeing more of you soon.
*Because of the quality of the HD format, the clarity, resolution and color depth are inherently a major leap over DVD. Since any Blu-ray will naturally have better characteristics than DVDs, the rating is therefore only in comparison with other Blu-ray titles, rather than home video in general. So while a Blu-ray film may only get a C, it will likely be much better than a DVD with an A.
I'll consider upgrading to Bluray once they start putting extras on the discs. That's a big reason I'm sticking with dvd for now, Bluray seems to lack in the extras department for most releases.
Great review, rhett!
Yeah, see how bloody fucking gorgeous the blu-ray looks over the DVD? My GOD. SO HAPPY I picked this baby up. SUCH a noticeable diffrerence. I can't get over how bad the Infinifilm edition looks though. Wow.
OOh, is that a new rating graphic?
Great review, rhett. Screencaps look great. Nice way to ring in October on the site.
I love this transfer. It's really a sight to behold.
But I really dislike the fact that the movie is Region coded.
And if u luuk on the scan of the backside they have a typo stating that it is a Region 1 title and not Region A.
Is it my imagination or do you have the screen caps tagged wrong? The left side which you list as blu looks like shit compared to the right.
Never mind. I clicked on the photos and saw greater detail in the left. The contrast seems a bit too bright in them though.
The contrast seems too bright because the DVD was too dark lol.
Yeah, lol indeed. ::rolls eyes::
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