A Nightmare on Elm Street appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite the flick’s age and origins, it boasted a solid transfer.
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, though a little edge enhancement occurred. 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 rarely excelled, but they 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. Shadows tended to be a bit opaque, though not to a distracting degree. As with everything else, this side of things was better defined than I thought it’d be. Because of the material’s inherent flaws, I didn’t feel comfortable with a grade above a “B+”, but I felt this was a very good representation of the source footage.
In regard to multichannel audio, Nightmare boasted both Dolby Digital EX 5.1 and DTS ES 6.1 versions. The DVD also featured the original monaural mix, but I chose to examine the two multichannel editions. Both sounded a lot alike. The DTS track may have been slightly broader, but not by much.
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 three 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. 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 decent 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.
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 remixes took dated elements and made them into a surprisingly nice soundtrack.
How did the picture and audio of this “infinifilm” Nightmare compare to the original DVD? I thought both offered mild to moderate improvements. The new image looked a bit sharper than the old one, though the prior release held up pretty well; the differences were minor. The new audio was a more noticeable change, as the 2006 mixes offered cleaner sound. The scope of the production remained a lot alike, though, as both discs used pretty similar soundfields. The 2006 Nightmare presented visual and auditory improvements over its predecessor, but don’t expect big leaps.
This new “infinifilm” release packs a slew of extras. We get a mix of new and old components that start with two separate audio commentaries. The first also appeared on the prior DVD and 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 commentary is dominated by the contributions of Craven and Langenkamp. 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.
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.
Another alternate program is available with the infinifilm presentation. If you activate this, prompts will frequently appear to allow you to access additional information about the film. With prior infinifilm DVDs, I believe all the material also appeared elsewhere so you could get all the disc’s extras without going through the format.
That doesn’t happen with Nightmare. Much of the footage also pops up in DVD Two’s documentaries, but the infinifilm presentation includes many alternate and unused shots not found elsewhere. I’m glad we get to see this material, but I’d prefer an easier interface. A few of the interview snippets are also exclusive to the infinifilm sequence. It’d be nice to get all of this material in a more accessible way.
DVD One opens with some promos. We find ads for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, Snakes on a Plane, Final Destination 3, and Running Scared. These also appear in the disc’s Sneak Peeks area.
As we shift to DVD Two, we start with 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, makeup effects assistant Mark Bryan Wilson, Nightmare 3 director Chuck Russell, New Line executives Kevin Kasha and Mark Ordesky, Final Destination co-screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick, and Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham.
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, Jungian psychologist Dr. Don Kilhefner, film historian David J. Skal, author Dr. Marjorie Miles, Gnostic Society Director of Studies Dr. Stephan A. Hoeller and neuroscientist Dr. Jerry 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 two minutes, 43 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.
In addition to the film’s trailer, we find “Freddy’s Coming for You”, a Trivia Challenge. It asks five questions and doesn’t give you an interesting reward for successful completion. At least it comes with repeat value, as it changes the questions each time you play. I didn’t think any of the 10 I answered were difficult, though.
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 DVD presents very good picture and audio along with a mix of solid extras. This acts as a strong examination of Nightmare and becomes the best rendition of it on the market.