Review Date: November 15, 2003
Released by: New Line
Release date: 9/1/1999
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
It was 1984 and the slasher genre had creatively reached a standstill. Friday the 13th
was, at least for the time being, a concluded saga, and Halloween
had branched out unsuccessfully into new directions. All the concepts had seemingly been used up, and all the special holidays had already been used as titles. The dead dog hath been kicked one too many times. And then came A Nightmare on Elm Street
. No longer was the killer a faceless entity, it was now a character, a personality, and he was freed too from the constraints of reality. Freddy Krueger was Dr. Freud's worst nightmare, and the savior to all that was the slasher film. It has been nearly twenty years, but Freddy's blades are still as sharp as ever.
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 viewer, 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 clichés 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.
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.
DVD has been Wes Craven's savior. It is painful to try and watch his films like Last House
on VHS. Not only are they cropped to pieces, but they are coated with blur and for much of each the scenes are nearly incomprehensible. Not on this DVD though. A Nightmare on Elm Street
looks just great in this 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. A cropped 1.33:1 version is also included on the standalone release, but who cares? Like the other Elm Street films, the colors are very strong, and there hardly a single blemish to be spotted anywhere. Best of all though, the transfer is nice and sharp, and finally those high contrast boiler room scenes actually look good. This is the film that built New Line Cinema, and thankfully New Line has returned the favor with this great transfer.
Presented in either its original mono mix or a remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 track, this is some great work by New Line. The 5.1 track just sounds very strong and forceful throughout, even if the surrounds don't get much discrete usage. There is not a hiss or pop to be found, and the soundtrack here sounds extremely clean. Charles Bernstein's legendary score sounds so intense and foreboding with this new track. Not only does the film feel as if it has aged well, but the sound elements too sound as if they haven't aged a bit. This is easily the best the film has ever sounded.
In 1997 a special edition laserdisc was issued of the film, and it was loaded with deleted scenes, alternate endings, a commentary and much more. This disc comes only with the previous commentary and the theatrical trailer. The trailer is included on the standalone DVD release, and those who have the box set will have to look for it in the Encyclopedia disc. Like the film, the trailer is creepy and very atmospheric, and after watching one can definitely see why everyone flocked to see this movie.
The commentary with Wes Craven, DOP Jacques Haitkin and actors John Saxon and Heather Langenkamp is solid. They all seemed relaxed and very content with the film that they've made. There are some gaps, but everyone in the commentary provides literate and interesting recollections and interpretations of the film. They mention little-known facts like the use of oatmeal for those mucky house steps, and they joke around throughout, with some quips towards John Saxon and his never-ending portrayal of cops throughout his life. Overall, the track is a tender recollection on a groundbreaking film.
Also included on the disc is a "jump to a nightmare" menu with links to each death scene in the film. A few IMDb cut and paste jobs are apparent in the cast & crew bios. For DVD-Rom features, there is a nice trivia game, an interactive screenplay and a few links to various Elm Street sites.
The menus are new and very creative as they morph to form each different screen. Those who get the box set will be treated to deleted scenes, featurettes and the like on the Encyclopedia disc, but unfortunately for those seeking only this film, the extras are satisfying but overall quite sparse. It would have been much nicer if New Line had included all the extra material from the laserdisc on this DVD, rather than splicing it over the Encyclopedia disc.
Arguably one of the most important, and rightfully so, films of the 1980's, A Nightmare on Elm Street
is responsible for changing the face of the slasher film and horror in general. The audio and video transfers on this disc are fantastic, especially considering the near twenty year age of the film. The commentary is solid, but the extras feel underwhelming when held up to the Elite laserdisc. Still though, fans of the film will not be disappointed with the care put into this disc. Those new to the Elm Street films or horror in general must pick this disc up. It is an exceptional transfer of one of the key contemporary horror films of our time. Definitely a nightmare worth taking.
Movie - A
Image Quality - A-
Sound - A-
Supplements - B
- Running Time - 1 hour 32 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English subtitles
- English Dolby Digital 5.1
- English Mono
- Commentary with Wes Craven, Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon and the DOP.
- Cast & Crew bios
- Jump to a nightmare feature
- Interactive screenplay (DVD-ROM only)
- "Dream World" trivia game (DVD-ROM only)
- Theatrical trailer (standalone release only)