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New Line Home Cinema presents
"Don't fall asleep. Whatever you do don't fall asleep!"
DVD ReviewAs a testament to the groundbreaking territory into which Nightmare On Elm Street pushed, this film alone made me rethink my opinion of the horror genre. Since my dad was my age, and until 1984, with few exceptions (Night of the Living Dead,Psycho), the horror genre was the ugly sister you had to bring along on the date. Nightmare changed the horror landscape by taking horror inside. The thin line portrayed between reality and dreamscape put the audience ill at ease, unsure whether the character is in a waking or dreaming state. In Freddy's world the usual "emotional horror film crutches" are not available to lean on (daylight, awakening from a dream, etc.) As director Wes Craven says, "that sort of turning things around so you can't tell when you're in a dream or when you're in reality is very, very frightening." Indeed.
I found it both interesting and a bit scary in itself that Wes Craven based his concept on a series of true stories he read in the L.A. Times. Apparently there was a group of teenagers whose parents had immigrated to the United States from Southeast Asia, who, one by one, would have severe nightmares and then suddenly and inexplicably die in their sleep. Part of what struck Craven was that the children had attempted to get their parents to understand the fear these dreams induced, but that the parents in every case could not be convinced. "Get some sleep and you'll feel fine," was the typical response to this unbelievable problem, and in each case the child died. Nancy's character (Heather Langenkemp) was loosely based on one of the children who stayed awake for nearly a week, by spitting out the doctor prescribed sleeping pills his parents gave him. His parents awakened to his screams one evening, and discovered him dead in his sleep. How creepy is all that?
Still, through no fault of its own, Nightmare does seem a bit dated, but still proves nearly as eerie, if not scary, after 15 years as it ever did. And as funny. Now, the acting isn't academy award material, and is at times just short of campy, but you can't find fault in Robert Englund's flawless rendering of the world's most feared slasher/stalker, Freddy Krueger. But Freddy was much more. What made Freddy different was his humor and his dark human emotions; here was not the simple, lifeless, humanly devoid thing walking with its hands straight out and bumping into walls. Freddy was smarter than everyone, including the screenwriters, who despite their best efforts still have yet to kill him after seven attempts! After Psycho people wouldn't take showers; after Nightmare who could sleep?
What is really scary is that every major studio turned Craven's script down, claiming it wasn't scary. Nothing like turning down a six sequel franchise. Ouch. It was producer Robert Shaye that saw the potential, and after the three years Craven knocked on doors without success, he and Craven not only made this movie, but New Line into a viable studio.
What made Nightmare stand out was its ingenuity. Despite a shoestring budget of 1.8 million dollars, the effects, the musical score, and the camerawork were produced efficiently, if not ingeniously. All three of these elements were groundbreaking or en vogue at the time. For instance, Composer X Bernstein's self-made musical score is eerie and induces the hackles on the back of one's neck to stand up, but at times, unfortunately, shows its age in a eighties synthesized fashion. (My fiancé called it porno music, making me wonder what movies she's been renting behind my back?!) Director of Photography, Stanley Dudelson, had to film in many strange places and ways, and under the oddest of circumstances. Craven recalls on the commentary track that the two were harnessed upside down for a half-hour waiting for a shot in Johnny Depp's room to be set up! Dudelson also explains the many intricate techniques that were employed to create some of the more incredible, and some of the more mundane shots throughout the film, including a sequence that combined as many as six camera techniques employing several people to run one single continuous shot. But it is the inventiveness of special effects coordinator, Jim Doyle, that truly made Nightmare what it was. From the face in the wall created by replacing the plaster wall with one made of spandex, to Freddy's elongated arms held by guys with fishing poles, to the two story bathtub with the eight foot tank, to the underwater bathtub shot created the day after the rap party (a little premature?) by covering the pool with black plastic, to the revolving room, to the device that made me shiver with recognition—the oatmeal staircase, that dream sequence I think every one has where you are running but not going anywhere.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: New Line presents in an anamorphic 1.85:1 original theatrical aspect ratio. This is a nearly flawless transfer, with only minor accounts of aliasing, and occasional moments of pixelation (ch4 / 8m:20s; ch5 / 13m:30s). The colors are deep and richly rendered, and I'm sure far better than the VHS screener the commentary group is "oohing" and "ahing" over. I've read others found the black to be lacking, but I could not fid any flaw here on my 45" rear projection Mitsubishi. This is a wonderful and clean transfer rendered by the good folks at New Line and Wamo.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: New Line, always conscious of their consumer base, provides diehards the original mono soundtrack, and the rest of us a pretty nice Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Most of the action takes place on the front stage, with a fair amount of ambience added to the surround speakers The dialogue is generally well placed and intelligible. In my opinion, you haven't experienced Freddy if you haven't heard his laughter surrounding you from all sides. Spooky.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu
Scene Access with 0 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by with writer/director Wes Craven, director of photography Stanley Dudelson, actor John Saxon, and actress Heather Langenkamp
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsA Nightmare on Elm Street is a classic campfire tale, that should be reprised every Halloween in attempt to scare your friends and loved ones as we like to do each year. While, due to its subject and nature, this film is definitely not for the squeamish and children, I think that the quality of this DVD and its few nice extras will give repeat viewers renewed pleasure, while scaring the bejesus out of a whole new generation of Freddy Krueger fans. Reach under the bed, you better start that pot of coffee.
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