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Wes Craven
Robert Englund, Johnny Depp, John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, Jsu Garcia, Charles Fleischer
Writing Credits:
Wes Craven

Sleep Kills.

A replusive, decaying figure with razor-sharp appendages (and an even sharper sense of humor!) suddenly appears in the dreams of four Los Angeles teenagers. It is the ghost of Freddy Krueger, a suspected child murderer killed long ago by the neighborhood parents. Now he's able to exact his bloody vengeance by killing the teens off, one by one, as they sleep. Finally just one girl remains. Desperately, she tries to stay awake by every means possible, but even pills and massive amounts of coffee wear off sometime - and when they do, she'll have to battle Freddy for her very life. It's her worst nightmare ... and it's coming true.

Box Office:
$1.8 million.
Opening Weekend
$1.271 million on 165 screens.
Domestic Gross
$25.504 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 7.1
English Monaural
French Monaural
German Monaural
Italian Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 92 min.
Price: $24.98
Release Date: 4/6/2010

• Audio Commentary with Director Wes Craven, Producer Robert Shaye, Co-Producer Sara Risher, Actors Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, and Ronee Blakley, Cinematographer Jacques Haitkin, Associate Producer John Burrows, Composer Charles Bernstein, Editor Rick Shaine, Co-Editor Patrick McMahon, Mechanical Special Effects Jim Doyle, Special Makeup Effects David B. Miller, and Film Historian David Del Valle
• Audio Commentary with Director Wes Craven, Actors Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon, and Director of Photography Jacques Haitkin
• “Focus Points” Featurettes
• Fact Track
• “The House That Freddy Built: The Legacy of New Line Horror” Documentary
• “Night Terrors: The Origins of Wes Craven’s Nightmares” Documentary
• Three Alternate Endings
• “Never Sleep Again: The Making of A Nightmare On Elm Street Documentary


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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A Nightmare On Elm Street [Blu-Ray] (1984)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 30, 2010)

Boy, were the 1980s a prime period for horror films! This genre enjoyed success on a level it hadn't seen in years - if ever - as megahits like Friday the 13th and Halloween spurred the whole "slasher" subgenre, and lesser lights such as Hellraiser and Child’s Play did big business as well. (And yes, I know that Halloween came out in 1978 - close enough to the 1980s for my little hypothesis!)

What became probably the most successful horror series of this period emerged in 1984, when the first Nightmare On Elm Street picture appeared. While these others series clearly did very well, I don't think any of them quite permeated popular culture to the degree of Nightmare, especially as represented by its rather horrific villain, Freddy Krueger. Just as I'll always find it amazing that “YMCA” - a song about anonymous homosexual sex - has become fare suitable for singalongs at ball games and bar mitzvahs, I think it's odd that Krueger - arguably the most vile of the villains of the era - has become so... so... well, cuddly.

That really didn't happen until Nightmare had spawned a few sequels, however, and Freddy started spewing more and more wacky catchphrases. Very little of the "fun" Freddy appears in the first film. Actually, it's fairly surprising to see what a relatively minor role Freddy plays in the picture. While he's essentially the catalyst for all the action, we don't see all that much of him, and when he is onscreen, he's much more roughhewn and less charming than he would later become.

All of which is much more appropriate to the character than the jokester he would become. After all, Freddy is a school janitor who murdered children! There seems to be nothing flamboyant or intelligent about Freddy here; he's just a psychotic loser, basically. While the later Freddy certainly was more fun - which he probably had to be to make further films watchable - I really liked seeing a more realistic depiction of the character.

Well, as realistic as it can get for a movie in which the antagonist kills people in their dreams. Far-fetched as it may be, Nightmare does provide the most intriguing plot of its genre and era. What Jaws did for the ocean, Nightmare did for sleeping. Better be careful, or that catnap could do you in! It's a clever premise that certainly affects an audience on a deeper psychological level than does a killer doll, for example, or yet another anonymous slasher.

While I found Nightmare to remain a good movie and one that provides some effective thrills and scares, I don't think that the execution quite lives up to the premise. That's partly because of the high quality of the idea, and also because of the limitations of the genre. Nightmare definitely adheres to all the horror stereotypes that writer/director Wes Craven would later mock so wonderfully in Scream.

I think Nightmare can be somewhat hard to watch these days simply because of the historical perspective. After six sequels and the intense way that Freddy permeated our culture, it's virtually impossible for me to watch the film with any sort of fresh viewpoint, especially since the horror genre got so bloated and tired as the 1980s became the 1990s. That kind of film was pretty passé before Scream put some life into it.

Still, despite my semi-blasé outlook, Nightmare manages to hold up pretty well. I admittedly felt a little bored early on, but once the action really got going, it drew me in and kept me interested. I found the film's climax to be surprisingly effective and exciting.

None of this occurs because of the quality of the acting. Across the board, I thought the performances were weak, as nothing here transcends the film's low budget origins. I always thought that Heather Langenkamp was a cutie, but her acting leaves something to be desired. Actually, she gets a little better as the film continues - she pulls off the action sequences that dominate the movie's ending pretty nicely - but she usually seems fairly wooden and artificial. Johnny Depp certainly has built a great career for himself, but none of that’s apparent from his debut here. He's an attractive presence who offers nothing. And so it goes, down the line.

As for Freddy himself, Robert Englund provides perfectly good work, but as I mentioned earlier, Krueger isn't quite the presence you might expect him to be based on his fame and popularity. Englund doesn't have to do much more in the role than hack and slash and deliver the occasional menacing line. While I prefer this more vicious Freddy as a villain, the later Krueger was more entertaining and probably more enjoyable to play. Still, at least Englund provides better acting than any of his castmates.

Despite the poor performances, Nightmare remains one of the true classics of the horror genre, and it maintains a surprisingly high number of exciting and scary sequences. This is a seminal film that continues to entertain and scare.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus A-

A Nightmare on Elm Street appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. I don’t expect attractive visuals from a cheap mid-80s flick, but Nightmare looked borderline great.

Sharpness was mostly fine. At times the image came across as slightly soft, but those instances remained infrequent and minor. Instead, the film usually appeared concise and well-defined. I detected no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge haloes failed to appear. Source flaws were non-existent. Some natural grain was visible but nothing else created even minor distractions.

Though the film featured a fairly muted palette, colors looked accurate and appropriate. The tones were pretty lively and surpassed my expectations. Mid-Eighties film stock hasn’t aged well, so the level of vivacity surprised me.

The same went for blacks. Dark shots were a little inky but still deeper than anticipated, and they were usually quite solid. In addition, shadows occasionally looked a smidgen thick, but they mostly provided good detail, and they were definitely clearer than expected. Given the limitations inherent in the source material, I felt impressed by this transfer and felt it just barely fell short of “A” level consideration.

In regard to multichannel audio, the DTS-HD MA 7.1 audio of Nightmare came to life nicely. The front sound stage dominated and did so very convincingly. The remixers were able to position sounds well across the front channels and they even panned pretty well at times. Not much audio emanated from the rears, as we mainly heard ambient sounds, occasional "crash-bang" noises during the action scenes, or the movie's cheesy synthesizer score back there. The music was the most active element, as the track blasted it from all the channels. This was probably a little too heavy, as it threatened to overwhelm the other elements. Nonetheless, the audio brought the creepier segments to life pretty well and added depth to the movie.

The music was the aspect of the soundtrack that sounded best. The score packed a strong sonic punch and showed nice range and definition. The other elements varied but were still satisfying. Speech went from natural and clear to somewhat brittle but always stayed intelligible. The biggest distraction came from some poor looping; that caused occasional lip-synch concerns.

Effects seemed a little thin at times but were usually positive. They lacked much harshness or distortion and managed to create reasonably convincing material. Overall, the remix took dated elements and made them into a surprisingly nice soundtrack.

How did the picture and audio of this Blu-ray compare to the 2006 infinifilm DVD? I thought the audio was a wash. While the lossless track offered better fidelity, I thought it boosted the presence of the music too much. The score dominated the piece, and I thought the DVD’s mix was a bit better balanced. Still, they’re both pretty close, so I didn’t really prefer one over the other, as the higher quality of the DTS track compensated for its weaker balance.

Visuals offered a clearer distinction. While the DVD was quite satisfying, it couldn’t compete with this very attractive release. The Blu-ray boasted more vivid colors, tighter blacks, clearer shadows and superior definition. In other words, it improved on its predecessor in every way.

The Blu-ray replicates most of the extras from the infinifilm and adds some new ones. I’ll mark exclusives with special blue print.

We start with two separate audio commentaries. The first features director Wes Craven, actors Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon, and director of photography Jacques Haitkin. All four sit together for this running, screen-specific track. The piece looks at the origins of the story as well as various influences and inspirations for the movie. We also learn about sets and locations, camerawork and visual choices, effects, cast and performances, effects, censorship problems and cuts, and various shot specifics.

The contributions of Craven and Langenkamp dominate the piece. Haitkin also frequently chimes in, but Saxon seems to be largely MIA. Overall, this offers a decent but occasionally sluggish chat. We learn basics about the production and get a fair examination of important topics. However, it never quite catches fire, as it stays a little slow and plodding. We find an acceptable view of Nightmare but not anything terribly memorable.

For the second commentary, we find a large group of participants. It features Craven, Langenkamp, Haitkin, producer Robert Shaye, co-producer Sara Risher, actors Robert Englund, Amanda Wyss, and Ronee Blakley, associate producer John Burrows, composer Charles Bernstein, editor Rick Shaine, co-editor Patrick McMahon, mechanical special effects technician Jim Doyle, special makeup effects artist David B. Miller, and film historian David Del Valle. All were recorded separately for this edited “audio essay”.

The track starts with a look at problems raising money for Nightmare and then delves into cast, characters and performances. We get additional story and editing notes along with details about the film’s visual look, editing and score, effects and technical challenges, and other nuts and bolts. The commentary provides an introspective side as well when it examines the reasons for the film’s enduring success, genre topics and some psychological aspects of its appeal.

This commentary avoids the sluggish pitfalls of the original one and offers a terrific look at the movie’s creation. We get rich notes related to a myriad of different elements and check out matters in depth. Many fun stories pop up, such as when the IRS almost closed down the primary house locations. This is a consistently informative and enjoyable piece.

Throughout the film, we find a slew of short featurettes called Focus Points. To access these, you have to watch the flick and hit “enter” when a symbol appears onscreen. Unfortunately, I can’t find an option to watch them without sitting through the movie; that’s a disappointment, as other Warner-distributed discs provide the ability to check out the clips independently.

Other Blu-rays don’t offer as many “Focus Points” as Nightmare, though. They crop up on a near-constant basis as we go through the film. In addition to outtakes, archival footage and clips from sequels, they include comments from Craven, Wyss, Langenkamp, Doyle, Risher, Englund, Burrows, Haitkin, Miller, Blakley, Shaine, Del Valle, Shaye, Craven collaborator/Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham, Jungian psychologist Dr. Don Kilhefner, authors David J. Skal and Dr. Marjorie Miles, Gnostic Society Director of Studies Dr. Stephan A. Hoeller, Nightmare 3 director Chuck Russell, Final Destination co-screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick, New Line executives Kevin Kasha and Mark Ordesky, neuroscientist Dr. Jerry Siegel, and makeup effects assistant Mark Bryan Wilson.

The participants discuss how Craven got into films and his early years, origins/development of Nightmare, cast, characters and performances, stunts, makeup, props and effects, sequels, and various aspects of the film’s production and release. Ultimately, we get 76 of these segments for a total of 94 minutes, 55 seconds of footage.

A lot of good information and material appears during the “Focus Points”, but two problems occur. First, the format is a user-unfriendly hassle. So many “Points” appear that the viewer must constantly be ready to hit “enter”. An automatic option would’ve been much easier to digest; this format gets tedious quickly.

In addition, the vast majority of the material appears in the disc’s other supplements. We don’t find the sequel footage elsewhere, and a few other unique tidbits occur, but there’s not a lot of stuff you won’t see in the additional featurettes.

Which makes them a much more efficient way to gain the information. No sane person could check out all 76 “Focus Points” and actually enjoy the movie; they interrupt the story way too often. This means you have to sit through the movie to get to them, and that’s a drag, especially since so much of the material can be found elsewhere. I don’t actively dislike the “Points”, but they’re not a very effective way to convey the material.

An alternate viewing option comes via the Fact Track. This text commentary uses the subtitle area as it provides small factoids that appeared throughout the flick. It covers subjects such as aspects of the production, facts about the actors and others involved, and notes about issues related to the flick. For example, we learn about subjects such as sleep disorders and nightmares.

The material seems moderately interesting at best, and a further problem comes from the sporadic presentation of the information. The factoids don’t pop up very frequently. I doubt many people will want to try to attend to the film itself and read the fact track at the same time, as it could become very distracting, especially since the infinifilm features offer a frequent element of visual confusion. On the other hand, if you check out the movie just to examine the subtitles, you’ll feel irritated by the infrequent use of the feature. This fails to become a terribly worthwhile subtitle commentary.

Up next is a documentary called The House That Freddy Built: The Legacy of New Line Horror. The 22-minute and 47-second show features movie clips, archival elements, and interviews. We hear from Shaye, Englund, Del Valle, Bernstein, Risher, Craven, Langenkamp, Haitkin, Cunningham, Russell, Reddick, Ordesky, Kasha and Wilson.

As implied by the title, “House” looks at how Nightmare helped establish New Line as a successful studio. We learn about New Line’s origins and low-budget roots. We get into their first projects and how Nightmare improved their prospects before we hear about sequels and subsequent New Line projects.

Half Nightmare retrospective, half New Line overview, “House” is entertaining but less than detailed. It really rips through its subjects and rarely dallies long enough to give us true depth. We don’t get significant information about the Nightmare series, and we also fail to find much of a feel for how New Line evolved over the decades. This is an enjoyable show but it’s way too short to deliver the goods.

Next comes the 15-minute and 55-second Night Terrors: The Origins of Wes Craven’s Nightmares. It features Craven, Kilhefner, Skal, Miles, Hoeller and Siegel. “Origins” looks at concepts related to dreams and nightmares. We learn about historical perceptions and the views of different societies as well as attempts to interpret dreams and what they represent. The show also looks at how the elements that affected Craven in the creation of Nightmare and symbolic/interpretive aspects of the film.

No 15-minute show can really dig into such a rich subject with real meaning, but “Origins” does pretty well for itself. The program goes into a mix of interesting topics related to dreams and comes with enough introspection to intrigue us. This is a solid little piece.

Three Alternate Endings last a total of four minutes, 56 seconds. These include “Scary Ending”, “Happy Ending” and “Freddy Ending”. “Scary” and “Freddy” are only a little different than the existing conclusion. As you can guess based on the title, “Happy” comes with a changed tone. None are radical departures but they’re interesting to see.

A documentary called Never Sleep Again: The Making of A Nightmare On Elm Street lasts 49 minutes and 52 seconds. It presets comments from Craven, Langenkamp, Englund, Cunningham, Risher, Shaye, Del Valle, Burrows, Wyss, Doyle, Blakley, Haitken, Miller, Shaine, McMahon, Bernstein and Wilson. The show starts with a look at Craven’s origins in film and how he became interested in horror flicks. From there we get into the roots of the Nightmare story and other flicks with dream themes. Next we hear about raising financing for the film, casting, characters and performances, and the tight budget and shooting schedule. Production topics include cinematography, sets and locations, Freddy’s makeup and finger-knives, various effects, stunts, a few shooting specifics, the movie’s ending, editing and censorship, music, and the film’s release.

Inevitably, “Again” repeats a fair amount of information heard elsewhere. With two commentaries, it’d be impossible for the documentary to avoid repetition. Nonetheless, “Again” offers a fine recap of the production. It digs into the appropriate subjects with gusto and boasts plenty of archival bits that fill out the set. This turns into a fun and informative piece.

Does the Blu-ray lose anything from the infinifilm DVD? Yup. It drops the film’s trailer and a trivia challenge. I don’t miss the latter, but the absence of the former disappoints. I’m also surprised the disc lacks a preview for the 2010 Nightmare remake; since this release exists partially to promote that flick, I expected to find a promo here, but none appears.

A Nightmare On Elm Street isn't a perfect film, and it's probably not the best horror film ever made. However, it offers possibly the most clever and intriguing theme of any movie in its genre, and despite many flaws, it remains an exciting and provocative little picture. The Blu-ray presents very good picture and audio along with a mix of solid extras. Fans won’t get much new in terms of supplements, but they’ll feel very pleased with the disc’s visual upgrade.

To rate this film visit the -infinifilm- review of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main