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What did you do, mother?
DVD ReviewThough there's certainly no lack of love for the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, it's easy to forget, for all the many sequels and Freddy merchandise, just how good the original film is. There are certainly other decent films in the series (part three being right up there, in my estimation), but the Wes Craven-directed original is rather stunningly clever and thoughtful, with none of the silliness that crept into the series later on. Freddy isn't the zany ringmaster here that he would become later, but instead a truly demented creation. We never forget that he's a child molester and murderer who comes after characters that we're given the chance to care about.
Heather Langenkamp's Nancy is a rarity in horror films, and moreso in 1984. Women characters are often used to portray vulnerability, slightly or very dumb and screaming their heads off rather than grabbing a baseball bat, but Nancy is quite different. Vulnerable, certainly, but no more so than the male characters, and ultimately stronger-willed and more clever than any of them. Even tough-guy John Saxon as her police-captain dad looks hapless in comparison. She proves to be a match for Freddy, and you believe immediately that she's capable. Nancy manages to take him down a peg or two as she fights not just to stay alive, but also to unburden herself (and an entire '80s, Reagan-era generation?) of her parents crimes, large and small.
Into the white middle-class suburban world of Elm Street, in Springwood, Illinois bursts Freddy, ready to blow the lid off of the secrets that are just under the surface. What looks like an idyllic life for Nancy (including a very young Johnny Depp) isn't: an alcoholic mom, distant dad, and Freddy waiting in the shadows to ensure that the sins of the parents are vested in their children. Freddy is a boogeyman, shadowy and with very little dialogue (in sharp contrast to later films). He's actually quite scary, and made so even more as he represents our natural ambivalence toward sleep and dreams. Anyone who has had chronic nightmares, or even insomnia knows that bedtime isn't always restful, and can be a subject of dread as much as relief. There's a beyond-the-looking-glass lack of control to sleep and dreaming that can be exhilerating, but can just as easily be terrifying. The Elm Street kids can't avoid sleep for long, but they can't abide (or, in this case, survive) their nightmares either. It's the same no-win we've all experienced at one time or another. The premise of a man from out of our past who enters the nightime world where we are at our weakest and most defenseless was pretty brilliant in 1984, and it's still effective over two decades later in spite of the repetition and continual watering down that occurred in the intervening years. Nightmare is a bona fide classic, with one of the all-time great movie monsters stalking and being stalked in return by one of the all-time great horror-movie heroines.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: This isn't a perfect transfer, by any means. There's quite a bit of artifacting noticeable in the many dark scenes, and the contrast isn't perfect. The film was made on a pretty low budget initially, so it's hard to know what image problems date back to the initial elements. Nevertheless, compared to the original DVD release and all other releases that I've seen, the difference is night and day. This transfer is sharper, brighter, and all around less muddy. I've lost count of the number of times I've seen this movie, but I've never seen it looking better than it looks here.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: There are three tracks here, including the original theatrical mono track. That's a nice inclusion, but the Dolby 5.1 EX or 6.1 DTS-ES tracks are the way to go. Every synthesizer riff, scream, and scraping of knives is clear and appropriately audible. The rear channels are utilized effectively, the dialogue is always clear and on the whole all of the stereo elements are balanced nicely. Again, quite an improvement over the original DVD release.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 25 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, Snakes on a Plane, Final Destination 3, Running Scared
3 Alternate Endings
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Director Wes Craven, Stars Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon, and Cinematographer Jaques Haitkin (New); Wes Craven, Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon (Archival)
Packaging: Amaray with slipcase
Extras Review: There's quite a bit here, though there's quite a bit of redundancy. This is an "Infinifilm" release, which basically means that New Line offers a few different ways to watch the movie, incorporating the special features into the film itself on Disc 1, as well as making all of it available separately on Disc 2.
On the first disc there is a new commentary track with director Wes Craven, stars Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon, cinematographer Jaques Haitkin and several others. It's a track that's literally stitched together, with members of the cast and crew introduced by a narrator as their comments and recollections are edited together to create a narrative. I usually prefer this type of track to the more typical off-the-cuff style, and it works well here. The original archival commentary is included as a nice bonus, but it's rather dry as Wes Craven and Heather Langenkamp reminisce, occasionally struggling to come up with things to say.
The rest of the extras on the first disc are incorporated into the main feature, if you choose to view them that way. There's a rather sparse Fact Track that plays at the bottom of the screen. You can also activate a series of prompts that show up at several points during the film. These prompts, if selected, will branch off into production or documentary footage related to that scene. It's actually a kind of fun way to watch the movie, especially if you've already seen Nightmare a few times.
On Disc 2 we get a series of documentaries, much of the content of which is available on Disc 1 during the movie itself. Starting with The House That Freddy Built: The Legacy of New Line Horror: it's a history of the New Line company, from a two-person distribution outfit through Nightmare to Lord of the Rings. At only about 23 minutes, it's not particularly thorough, and focuses naturally on the Freddy films, but it's a nice tribute to the formative impact that Freddy had on the company that went on to become a major player in the industry.
Next is Night Terrors: The Origins of Wes Craven's Nightmares. This one is about dreams and the history of dreaming with historians, a neuroscientist, and several other experts, along with Craven himself. It's a big topic for 16 minutes, but a clever inclusion just because of the subject matter.
Three alternate endings are included. They're all pretty similar to the feature ending, but offer slightly diiferent flavors.
Never Sleep Again: The Making of A Nightmare on Elm Street runs 50 minutes and covers various aspects of the production, financing, and initial release with production footage and reminiscences from Wes Craven, Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, and others. Well done, but covers some of the same ground as other feature here.
Finally, there's Freddy's Coming for You Trivia Challenge and the original theartical trailer on the DVD-ROM there's a nifty script-to-screen module, several weblinks, and a different Freddy trivia game.
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsNightmare doesn't look perfect here, but it's certainly never looked better. That fact alone is reason enough to check out this set, but there are a decent number of interesting extras to sweeten the deal. This is a genuine horror classic, setting up a long-running franchise while standing apart from and above anything that came after. Certainly compared to the original release, this two-disc set gives Freddy and Nancy the treatment they deserve.
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