|release date||November 9 1984|
|studio||New Line Cinema|
|starring||John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, Jsu Garcia, Robert Englund|
|tagline||If Nancy Doesn't Wake Up Screaming She Won't Wake Up At All...|
|trailer 1||Trailer #1|
While I’ve always been partial to everyone’s favorite machete-wielding mongoloid, New Line’s first bad-boy has a special place in my blackened heart for his efforts. Ignoring the remake and a couple of his sophomore efforts, Freddy Krueger is (literally) the stuff nightmares are made of since 1984. While we await the franchise’s eventual resurrection, New Line has brought the Springwood Slasher’s efforts to high-definition with the Blu-Ray release of A Nightmare on Elm Street Collection. The DVD boxset released way back when was great when it was released, but it was time for an upgrade. So just how does the Blu-Ray set stack up to the original boxset?
Note to fans: This is the same Blu-Ray boxset that was a Best Buy exclusive since October 2012, so don’t freak out.
For those who have no idea who Freddy Krueger is (and/or for those who were rudely introduced to him by the 2010 remake), here’s the deal: Freddy is a child killer nicknamed the Springwood Slasher who is eventually subjected to vigilante justice by the parents of his victims and is burned to death. However, his spirit lives on through the dreams of a group of teenagers living in his old Elm Street neighbourhood. By entering their dreams and killing them in their dreams, the teens end up dying in real life, often with gruesome results. Even though he lives on in dreams, he still carries the burns that he suffered, as well as his trademark bladed glove. Simple, yet effective.
Undoubtedly, the first film is a modern-day classic. A Nightmare On Elm Street combined the unique ideas that creator Wes Craven drummed up from childhood memories and a few newspaper stories from the LA Times to create one of the greatest horror films ever made. Whether it was Craven’s imaginative story blurring the lines of fantasy and reality, Heather Langenkamp’s portrayal of protagonist Nancy Thompson, Robert Englund’s iconic Freddy Krueger, the eerie score by Charles Bernstein or the film’s gruesome special effects, A Nightmare On Elm Street was a hit, and still remains a staple in the genre.
Despite Craven’s resistance to make a sequel, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge hit theatres in 1985. Directed by Jack Sholder, this film divided fans of the original and continues to be a source of division amongst fans of the franchise. Why? For starters, Freddy now decides to use a host body to carry out his killings. No more dream killings. Instead, Freddy now possesses Jesse Walsh, whose family has moved into Nancy Thompson’s former home. Soon after settling in, Jesse begins to have nightmares in which Freddy appears, demanding that Jesse kill for him. Freddy periodically takes possession of Jesse, eventually even slicing his way out of Jesse’s body and wreaking havoc on Jesse’s friends. The other source of contention is the perceived homoerotic themes. Whether it’s Jesse’s perceived conflict with his own sexuality, lines like “There’s something inside of me.”, or Jesse finding his gym coach at an S&M bar, there’s plenty to raise a few eyebrows. That, and the fact that Jesse was played by Mark Patton, who had previously come out as gay. Regardless of all of that, I enjoyed Freddy’s Revenge. Granted, it wasn’t as great as the first film, but the chemistry and the relationship between Mark Patton’s Jesse and Kim Myers’ Lisa is very much a clincher for me.
After the problems with Freddy’s Revenge, Wes Craven returns and co-writes the screenplay for A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Chuck Russell is at the helm this time, and Freddy is once again after the last of the Elm Street children. This time, the children have all been committed to Westin Hills Asylum. All of them have been experiencing dreams in which Freddy has shown up. Things don’t make sense until Nancy, now a staff research scientist at the hospital, meets with the group and they all discover the truth. With Dream Warriors, Freddy makes the transition to the mainstream, going from the dark and scary to the one-liner spitting antagonist that eventually would become the bane of the franchise. Despite this, the film hits all the right notes. Slick special effects (thanks to a bigger budget), well-developed characters and a return by Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon from the first film had this one being a hit.
Now comes the downward spiral. Picking up where Dream Warriors left off, the three survivors from Freddy’s last romp have been released from Westin Hills and have managed to make new friends while attending high school. Among them is Alice, who frequently daydreams. However, Kristen once again is experiencing bad dreams. Eventually, Kincaid also has a dream in which he and his dog Jason are in the same salvage yard that Freddy’s bones were buried. Jason then urinates fire on the ground where Freddy was buried, and the Springwood Slasher lives again. Freddy quickly dispatches the remaining Elm Street children, but faces a new challenge in Alice, who has the ability to inherit the talents of the former Dream Warriors. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master is style over substance in many ways. Freddy has become no longer scary, dishes out one-liners left and right, the direction by Renny Harlin is a blend of stylish and straightforward, the soundtrack is a mix of pop and rock songs, and isn’t overly gory to appeal to the masses. Still, the characters are enjoyable and once again well-developed (even if the Dream Warriors holdovers are dispatched so easily), Harlin’s direction balances both atmospheric and the flashy, and the effects are one again well-executed. Still, gone are the scares from the first three films, and despite this film being the most successful of the original franchise, is a sign of things to come.
With A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, things try to return to the dark tone of the first three films, but MTV Freddy gets in the way. Directed by Stephen Hopkins, the story has Alice and her now-boyfriend Dan from the previous film graduating high school. After a night of getting it done, Alice has a nightmare involving her wearing a nun’s outfit at an insane asylum. Dan doesn’t believe her, but soon Alice has a dream in which the nun, Amanda Krueger, gives birth and the baby turns into Freddy. Alice eventually discovers that she’s pregnant, and that Freddy is using her unborn child’s dreams to get to her friends. As mentioned before, the film tries to be a marriage of the previous film and the first three. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. While the atmosphere and pacing of this film are on the ball, the linear storyline seems to be a repeat of the previous film, but this time the only character you really care about is Alice. Everyone else is Freddy fodder. Speaking of Freddy, his one-liners have gotten lame. That, and the fact that he’s slid even more into the goofy side of things, which really doesn’t work with the times that he’s being serious. The kills are either appropriately gruesome or just plain silly. All in all, it’s an okay entry, but is miles above what’s coming next.
As an addition to the above, The Dream Child was originally cut for theatres, due to Dan’s death and Greta’s death being too much for the MPAA. These scenes unfortunately haven’t been restored for the film, and aren’t available in the extras. There are clips of the scenes on Youtube if you look, as well as in the franchise documentary (unfortunately also not included in this set), Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy.
What can be said about Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare that hasn’t already been said? Despite the film being a financial success at the box office (for some reason), the whole thing stunk, and stands as a low point for the series. Directed by Rachel Talalay (who went on to direct the stinker Ghost In The Machine and Tank Girl), the story for this one has all of the teens in Springwood being dead, save for one. An unnamed teen (Shon Greenblatt) awakens from an encounter with Freddy to find himself at a youth rescue center, headed by Maggie Burroughs (Lisa Zane). Maggie has also been experiencing bad dreams, and decides to take a trip to Springwood with John and several other patients to unlock the mystery of the dreams. The mystery ends up being a zany and not at all scary Freddy. Gone is Freddy being the scary child killer, and in his place is some unfunny goof with Play-Doh stuck on his face wearing Freddy’s glove, hat and sweater spitting out awful lines. Want to see Freddy riding a broomstick, cackling about getting souls? How about him pushing a bed of spikes a la Wile E. Coyote? Or Freddy playing a video game of him beating on one of the teens? Want more? There’s the twist in the story that makes little sense about Freddy’s origins, or the stupid 3D sequence that was available in theatres (and the original DVD boxset) that seemed more like a sad attempt at making things interesting, characters we couldn’t give a rat’s ass about, and no scares, whatsoever (unless you count cameos by Roseanne Barr and Tom Arnold). For all intents and purposes, Freddy was dead, but deserved a much better fate.
Three years after the slap in the face that was Freddy’s Dead, Wes Craven decided to put Freddy to bed in proper fashion, writing and directing Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. The story takes place in real life, where Wes has begun work on a new Nightmare On Elm Street film. Actress Heather Langenkamp (herself) is on the set watching her husband, effects artist Chase Porter (David Newsom), at work on the film. Also present is her son Dylan (Miko Hughes), whom she tries to shield from seeing the blood and gore going on. She’s also on edge, from a string of earthquakes hitting the Los Angeles area, as well as a telephone stalker who won’t leave her alone. Dylan himself seems to be not himself, frightened by the monsters under the bed and acting strangely. Soon, people close to her begin to die. Heather confides in Robert Englund (himself) in an effort to figure out just what’s happening. She soon comes to learn that an evil force is awake, and wants her son. Before Wes worked his magic turning horror tropes on their heads in Scream, he explored the “movie within a movie” idea with New Nightmare. While unfortunately a victim of the 90s horror crash, New Nightmare was genuinely ahead of its time. Employing a more psychological tactic and nods to the original film, Wes makes this film the true conclusion for the franchise. Doing away with the fantasy visuals in favour of something more grounded and more realistic akin to what people might feel in a particular position (that is, a famous movie actress dealing with fans and potential stalkers while also protecting her family). Everyone is spot-on with the acting, Heather Langenkamp being the stand-out once again. As for Robert Englund as Freddy, he is once again scary. Very scary. He’s animalistic and very much something to be afraid of. Couple that with his new design (love the claws!) and some brutal kills, the film deserved a better fate than what it got in 1994.
At the end of the 702 minutes, you get the sense of why the franchise was a hit with people. It had its highs and lows, while also showcasing talent in front of and behind the camera, cementing its mark on pop culture cinema and film history. While the more recent “reimagining” left something to be desired, there’s no question how much of an impact the franchise has had on horror fans.
Video/Audio: Transfer-wise, the quality of each film varies. While all look great on Blu-Ray, none of them can be considered reference quality. Each 1.78:1 1080p transfer shows their age, showing some softness here and there, but still look quite good when compared to their DVD predecessors. Colours vary between the installments, as well as black levels, but aren’t horrible. Detail ranges from very good to just average. All in all, it’s good to see all of the films in HD, despite inconsistencies.
As for audio, each film save for the first comes equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless track. A Nightmare On Elm Street, on the other hand, gets a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track. Again, there’s a lack of consistency between the films, with some having really good audio (ANOES) while others (Freddy’s Revenge) aren’t quite as strong in terms of clarity. Still, there’s enough of a sonic assault and quality here from each of these films that fans won’t be disappointed.
Extras: The good news is that New Line has ported over many of the extras found from the original DVD boxset, as well as omitting the interesting-yet-tiring menu game where you had to solve puzzle in order to unlock more extras. The bad news is, well, there’s still a ‘could be more’ feeling to it all.
First up, Disc 1 features the original A Nightmare On Elm Street, and is an exact copy of the Blu-Ray that was released a few years ago. Featuring two audio commentaries, the exhaustive Never Sleep Again documentary, The House That Freddy Built documentary, the Night Terrors doc that looks at the possibility of people dying while they sleep, three Alternate Endings, and the Fast Track and Focus Points options.
Disc 2 features Freddy’s Revenge and Dream Warriors, along with their supplements. For Freddy’s Revenge, we get the Heroes and Villains piece which is a quick look at the story and the film’s place in the franchise, Psycho Sexual Circus (the filmmakers talk about the aforementioned homoerotic and sexual undertones within the film), The Male Witch (a look at the special effects used in the film), Freddy on 8th Street (covers the publicity stunt done by Jeffrey Wells prior to the release of the film) and Robert Englundthe film’s theatrical trailer. For Dream Warriors, there’s Behind the Story, which covers things like developing the story, special effects, cast experiences, etc. Also included is Dokken’s video for ‘Dream Warriors’ and the film’s theatrical trailer.
Disc 3 has Dream Master and The Dream Child, as well as their respective extras. Dream Master has Krueger, Freddy Krueger, which looks at the production with cast & crew interviews, Hopeless Chest focuses on special effects (including the pizza), Let’s Makeup has Howard Berger talking about Freddy’s makeup, The Finnish Line focuses on director Renny Harlin’s reaction to his movie, and finally the theatrical trailer. For The Dream Child, there’s another Behind the Story featurette that looks at the various aspects of the production, music videos from The Fat Boys performing “Are You Ready for Freddy?” and followed by Whodini performing “Anyway I Gotta Swing It”. The film’s theatrical trailer rounds out the disc.
For Disc 4, we’ve got Freddy’s Dead and New Nightmare. For Freddy’s Dead, we get a talk with Rachel Talalay and her directorial debut in Rachel’s Dream, 3D Demise focuses on the discussion of shooting the movie with 3-D effects in mind (which oddly seems relevant even today), 86′D has producer Robert Shaye being honest with his overall satisfaction with the franchise, Hellraiser has Clive Barker (of Hellraiser fame) giving his opinion on the Nightmare series, and finally the film’s theatrical trailer. For New Nightmare, New Line carries over the Audio Commentary with Wes Craven from the DVD, as well as the mini featurettes Becoming a Filmmaker, An Insane Troupe, Two Worlds, The Problem with Sequels, Filmmaker and finally the film’s trailer.
For the fifth disc, we’re presented with all-new extras, starting with Fear Himself: The Life and Crimes of Freddy Krueger. This featurette focuses on Freddy, his popularity, Robert Englund as a horror icon, as well as analysis of the franchise. Following that are two episodes of the short-lived Freddy’s Nightmares TV show. The two episodes in question are It’s a Miserable Life and Killer Instinct, which were the second and third episodes, respectively. Welcome to Prime Time is just under an hour of interviews with various cast and crew, which are essentially deleted sections from previous documentaries that were cut. Topics vary from Robert Englund’s influences for Freddy, Craven’s difficulties in getting studios to take on his project, designing Freddy’s glove, the series’ commercial success and more. The last extra is Conclusions, which is an examination of the series’ sadomasochistic elements, its style, the new digital effects landscape, the importance of story and novelty in horror and more.
Now while all those extras are extensive and interesting, there’s still a few pieces that were left out. The biggest piece missing is the Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy documentary, which covers the entire series and offers up more cast interviews and production footage. Yes, it’s available separately, but since Universal was able to nab The Shark Is Still Working for the recently-released Jaws Blu-Ray, why couldn’t New Line do the same for A Nightmare On Elm Street? Also, there’s the aforementioned deleted scenes from The Dream Child, as well as series of extended scenes from Freddy’s Dead, which aren’t exactly interesting, but still would’ve been nice to have. Overall, this is probably as good of a package for a horror franchise like this as you’re going to get.
By the mid-1980s, the slasher craze was losing momentum, a flood of HALLOWEEN imitators and FRIDAY THE 13TH sequels having taken cinematic bloodletting about as far as it could go, and beaten the formulaic plots into the ground. As often happens when a popular horror trend is dying, a film comes along that revitalizes the genre by taking viewers somewhere they’ve either never been before or haven’t visited in a long time. After years of monstrous but basically human nut cases in masks stalking teenage girls, Wes Craven’s surreal and supernatural A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET was just such a film.
Inspired by a news article about people dying in their sleep, Craven crafted a clever tale of a slasher-style killer who actually murders his victims in their dreams, meaning that eventually every kid would have to face this monster. To meet Jason Voorhees, you had to go to Crystal Lake. Michael Myers could come after you in your home, but he was still a physical being and could be fought and even presumably destroyed (though no one’s succeeded yet!). Freddy Krueger, on the other hand, cannot be avoided. We all have to sleep sometime, and we all dream. And in the lawless, mystical world of our dreams, Krueger is omnipotent and indestructible. The premise alone is terrifying, probably the most brilliant narrative innovation in the history of horror folklore since the advent of the vampire.
Craven executes the unique concept with great skill, thrusting the viewer right into the bizarre world of the dreamscape the instant the film begins. After a creepy credit montage of the unseen madman crafting his trademark bladed glove, we encounter a young woman named Tina (Amanda Wyss) treading fearfully through an illogical world that combines the mundane (a trash-lined alley) with strange, metaphoric imagery (such as a bleating lamb), stalked every step of the way by the mysterious antagonist. When the charred creature attacks, she awakens to find that the knives extending from his fingertips have actually sliced through the fabric of her nightgown. Just like that, the audience knows that no one in the film is safe at any time, awake or asleep.
Beginning with Tom Savini’s groundbreaking work on DAWN OF THE DEAD, make-up effects in horror cinema in the late 70s and early 80s were used primarily to make dismemberment and evisceration as believably graphic and disgusting as possible. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, by contrast, uses state-of-the-art make-up wizardry to cleverly enhance the story rather than simply gross the audience out. There is certainly an abundance of shocking, stomach-churning gore (as in the “wall-crawling” death of Tina in the early going and the geyser of blood that once was a young Johnny Depp’s Glen), but there are also numerous memorable effects involving Freddy himself, bits which emphasize both his unearthly nature and his twisted sense of humor. From his repugnant burnt visage to his impossibly long arms to the telephone receiver which becomes his chin and flickering tongue, Krueger is a horrifying, demonic apparition masterfully realized by effects supervisor David B. Miller. When he lops off the tips of his own fingers or slices open his own abdomen, unleashing a flood of green ooze, it is clear that Freddy is thoroughly enjoying terrorizing his victims. Since actor Robert Englund is not an overly tall or imposing figure in his own right, the importance of the amazing make-up work in this film in making Krueger a suitably fearsome villain cannot be overstated.
Englund does a fine job breathing life into the monster, striking a perfect balance between macabre wit and unrepentant evil. He is helped along considerably by a remarkably solid cast, led by Heather Langenkamp, genre legend John Saxon and future pirate Depp. Langenkamp’s Nancy is to 80s scream queens what Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode was to 70s horror heroines – smart, resourceful, vulnerable, tough, and, above all, completely real. Depp shows flashes of the talent and charm that would make him a superstar in the 21st century, while Jsu Garcia (PREDATOR 2, CANDYMAN: DAY OF THE DEAD) and Wyss (BETTER OFF DEAD, BLACK MAGIC WOMAN) are excellent as Nancy’s ill-fated friends. This group of teenagers is inarguably the best, most sympathetic cast of characters in a fright flick since HALLOWEEN, and probably the last such group that managed to be as believable as they were attractive in the period between the 70s drive-in and DAWSON’S CREEK eras. Saxon was born to play cops in scary movies, and he’s typically great here. Ronee Blakley is a bit uneven as Nancy’s alcoholic mother, though the scene where she reveals the truth about Krueger is one of the best in the film.
Skeletons in the closet (the figurative kind, not the literal variety) are a common element in teen terror tales. Young people instinctively detest being lied to by adults (ask anti-smoking activists, who have learned that emphasizing tobacco company cover-ups does more to turn kids off cigarettes than warnings of health risks), and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET derives a lot of its power from the fact that its parents just might know something about what is killing their children but refuse to say. Unlike other films that use this device, however, the script does not vilify the adults or turn them into oppressive caricatures. The adults of Elm Street genuinely care about their children, and believe they have done what is necessary to protect them. This isn’t a case of out-of-touch, uptight, overly conservative middle-agers not trusting or having any faith in their kids; it’s an instance where loving mothers and fathers are raising young people in a town with a history so terrible and so evil that no kid should ever have to be exposed to it. Craven and cast work very hard to make the grown-ups in the film every bit as credible and three-dimensional as their offspring, and their efforts give the movie an emotional depth uncommon to the genre.
A plethora of unforgettable images assault the viewer in NIGHTMARE, all enhanced by a great score by Charles Bernstein and Craven’s masterful direction. The composer’s haunting, ethereal main theme is skillfully blended with the kind of sharp, synthesized beats common to film scores of the time, an odd combination that works perfectly in such a surreal visual adventure. In addition to the gory deaths and make-up tricks mentioned above, we also see a walking corpse in a body bag leaving blood trails in a school hallway, Freddy threatening to burst through a wall onto a victim by stretching it like latex, a gloved hand reaching up from the soapy water between Nancy’s spread legs as she takes a bath, and dozens more now-iconic scenes. Craven deliberately allows the transition from reality to dream and back again to be almost undetectable throughout (For example, watch Blakley’s body language as she steps into the hall and invites Nancy into the cellar and note how closely it mirrors that of Krueger’s entrances. Is Nancy dreaming or awake?), keeping the audience guessing the whole way. The powerful imagery, excellent music and expert psychological manipulation all add up to an incredibly intense and evocative experience, even after multiple viewings.
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET changed horror. After a half decade of “real world” screen shockers, Freddy Krueger ushered in a new age of supernatural celluloid monsters and helped shift the emphasis from gross-out gore for gore’s sake to creativity and imagination. Because audiences responded so enthusiastically to a creature that defied natural laws, studios began to build new series around all manner of fantastic terrors, from living dolls to pinheaded demons to evil leprechauns, with no concept too outlandish to get a shot. Though his own franchise would endure some highs and lows as the character became a cultural icon, the dream killer’s first outing remains a chilling, disturbing and groundbreaking effort that holds a rightful place in the pantheon of all-time great fear films. It is, indeed, a horror fan’s dream come true.