HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: A Nightmare on Elm Street


Feb 20, 2001
Livonia, MI USA
Real Name
Kenneth McAlinden
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A Nightmare on Elm Street

Directed By: Wes Craven

Starring: Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, John Saxon, Ronnee Blakley, Amanda Wyss, Nick Corri, Johnny Depp

Studio: New Line/Warner Bros.

Year: 1984

Rated: R

Film Length: 91 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 16:9

Subtitles: English SDH, French, German, Italian,Italian SDH, Dutch, Chinese, Spanish, Greek

Release Date: April 13, 2010

The Film ****

In A Nightmare on Elm Street, teenager Nancy Thompson (Langenkamp) discovers that her dreams are being haunted by the same razor gloved bogeyman, Freddy Kreuger (Englund), as her friend, Tina (Wyss). When their nightmares start to become fatally real, Nancy, along with her boyfriend Glen (Depp) and Tina's boyfriend Rod (Garcia) must figure out how to fight the creature that stalks them in their sleep if they hope to survive...or ever sleep again. Two of Nancy's chief obstacles prove to be her divorced parents, an alcoholic mother (Blakley) and an overprotective police lieutenant father (Saxon). Their disbelief and efforts to encourage Nancy to have a good night's sleep unwittingly place her in harm's way of the nightmare killer whose origins date back to an ugly incident from the town's past.

The first, and still the best appearance by definitive 1980s cinematic teenager-killer Freddy Kreuger (sorry, Jason Vorhees), Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street is a model of efficient fright. The design of the film from its elaborate dream sequences, lighting, and color schemes all seems to have been lifted from the collective unconscious of the audience's post-adolescent minds. Even the basic plot relies heavily on anxieties common to most teenagers inclusive of parents whose sins are visited on their children a hundred fold, isolation due to loss of friends, ineffectiveness and a condescending lack of support from adult authority figures, and life and death situations for which institutions such as schools have not prepared the protagonists.

These horror elements are balanced somewhat by a thematic strain of female empowerment. The protagonist, Nancy, gradually accepts her responsibility to face the seemingly unstoppable killer head-on despite the futility and ineffectiveness of all those around her. Despite what you may hear on the supplements to this DVD, the feminine protagonist was hardly a new angle for horror films by 1984. In this particular case, Nancy proves to be smarter and more resourceful than the typical "last teenager standing" in predecessors such as The Texas Chainsaw massacre and Friday the Thirteenth, and this proves to be an effective choice for a horror film. Female audience members normally averse to the genre have a lead character with whom they can identify, and horror fans subconsciously perceive the vulnerability of Freddy's intended victims to be greater when he is more than a whole head taller than them.

As successful as the filmmakers are at transcending their modest budget to create apparent production value, the one area where they stumble a bit is with the quality of acting. Whether due to the relative inexperience of the cast, a tin ear on Craven's part, or simply the lack of time and resources to be able to afford multiple takes, the film is filled with uninspired readings of some pretty terrible lines of dialog. Even the more veteran actors such as John Saxon and Ronnee Blakley come across as stiff and uncomfortable. As annoying as this can be at times, it actually throws Robert Englund's career-making performance as the relentlessly malevolent Freddie Kreuger into relief, almost as if the film goes from black and white to Technicolor whenever his character emerges from the shadows.

The Video ****

The VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer approximates the film's original theatrical aspect ratio by filling the entire 16:9 frame. To my eye, it looks exactly like an early-mid 1980s film should look on Blu-ray. Grain is intact, edge ringing and artifacts around moving objects are minimal to non-existent, and blemishes are either not present on the element or have been carefully removed without disrupting the overall look of the film. Compared to more modern features, the film grain is a bit coarser and contrast is a bit higher. The latter quality results in more severe gradients in dark areas of the screen, but since this quality was used knowingly by cinematographer Jacques Haitkin to conceal and reveal elements of the image going into and coming out of shadows, the BD authors were right not to try to mess with it.

I never saw the "Infinifilm" release, but there was quite a bit of discussion both at the Home Theater Forum and other HT sites about differences in color timing between that release and the previous New Line DVD and Elite Laserdisc. Compared to the first DVD release, which was very similar in appearance to the Elite laserdisc, the color timing on this Blu-ray is a bit cooler. Looking at them side by side and setting aside obvious advantages such as increased resolution and improved compression, I tended to prefer the timing of the Blu-ray. There were certain instances on the DVD, such as when Nancy was being monitored at a sleep clinic by her mother and a doctor, where the timing makes more sense than on the earlier release. On the Blu-ray, when the lights are on, things look bright and clinical. When the lights are off, there is a slight blue cast.

The Audio ****

The DTS-HD MA 7.1 surround track appears to be a lossless rendering of the mix created for the "Inifinifilm" release. While I never heard the Infinifilm DVD, the mix differs from earlier releases of the film in terms of certain foley and "stinger" music cue effects. The included mono track is identical to the mono track from the original DVD release, and includes effects missing from the lossless surround mix such as a paper tearing sound when a victim tears at Freddie's face and synth "stingers" at certain "make you jump" moments. The lossless remix track has improved fidelity and dynamic range compared to the 192 kbps mono track, although familiarity with the original mix tilted me in favor of the mono due to the aforementioned alterations. Additional language dubs are available via DD 1.0 tracks in French, Italian, and German

The Extras ****

All of the special features appear to be carryovers from the "Infinifilm" SD DVD release. They are presented in VC-1 1080 video with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound and are grouped via separate on-screen menu headings as indicated below:
Under the heading of Feature Commentaries are the following two special features:

Filmmakers Commentary is the commentary originally recorded for the 1995 Elite laserdisc release of the film that has also appeared on both previous DVD releases of the title. It features Wes Craven, Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, and Cinematographer Jacques Haitkin. All participants sit together for the duration and do a good job of soliciting interesting anecdotes and trivia from each other.

Cast & Crew Commentary is the commentary originally assembled for the 2006 Infinifilm DVD release. It features Craven, Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Ronnee Blakley, Producer Robert Shaye, Co-producer Sara Risher, and an unidentified "host" who identifies the speakers. All participants were recorded separately and their comments are assembled so as to be roughly screen specific.  It covers a broader range of perspectives and is more relentlessly informative than the earlier commentary, but the lack of interaction between the participants makes it a bit more dry.

Under the heading of Behind the Story, are the following special features:

Focus Points are a set of context-specific interactive featurettes that appear at certain points throughout the film. They must be accessed via pressing enter on the Blu-ray remote when an on-screen prompt appears in the upper left corner of the screen. Having not seen the 2006 release, I cannot definitively confirm that these pop-up features align exactly with the similarly implemented "Infinifilm" features.  The majority of this content consists of piecemeal presentations of the featurettes described below, but there is also a lot of additional material involving alternate takes, excerpts from "Nightmare" sequels with "kill" sequences that pay homage to ones from the original, and a few other surprises. I am not a fan of this unwieldy method for accessing bonus material, and while I appreciate that so much content is included, the frequency of opportunities to access the material and the absence of a "Play All" option sometimes make it easy to miss/overlook content. Note: even though my player indicated that these focus points were encoded as VC-1 1080 high definition video, to my eye, they appear to be upconverted 16:9 standard definition video. This does not appear to be the case for any of the featurettes listed below.

Never Sleep Again: The Making of "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (49:54) Is an excellent documentary that covers a broad range of topics starting with the early life and career of Director Wes Craven, the initial gestation of the idea for A Nightmare on Elm Street, and following through to its production and release. It is divided up into sections with the following on-screen titles that unfortunately do not correspond to chapter stops: "Dreams Behind the Nightmare", "The Nightmare Becomes a Reality", "Unveiling a Nightmare", "The Nightmare Magicians", "Concluding a Nightmare", and "A Nightmare is Unleashed". All of this content appears to be redundant with the "Focus Point" excerpts, but the documentary featurette is editorially fairly smooth. One notable exception is the sequence where special effects are discussed, which are sequenced one after the other in a fairly "choppy" fashion. On-camera comments are provided by Craven, Producer/Director Sean S. Cunningham, Film Historian David Del Valle, Producer/New Line Cinema Founder Robert Shaye, Production Manager John Burrows, Co-Producer Sara Risher, Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, Special Effects Artist Jim Doyle, Ronnee Blakley, Robert Englund, Cinematographer Jacques Haitkin, Special Make-up Effects Artist David B. Miller, Editor Rick Shaine, Makeup Effects Assistant Mark Bryan Wilson, and Composer Charles Bernstein.

The House that Freddy Built (22:47) Subtitled "The Legacy of New Line Horror" traces the history of New Line Cinema's horror movies which provided the financial foundation for the studio to grow from an independent distributor dabbling in production while on the verge of bankruptcy to a significant Hollywood player capable of mounting elaborate productions such as The Lord of the Rings series. On camera comments are offered by Bernstein, Risher, Craven, Shaye, screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick, Cunningham, Langenkamp, Englund, Wilson, Haitkin, Director Chuck Russell, New Line Executive Mark Ordesky, Del Valle, and New Line Executive Kevin Kasha. The parts of this documentary dealing with A Nightmare on Elm Street and its sequels were used in the "Focus Points", but unless I missed it (all too possible), some of the content concerning other New Line franchises is unique to this featurette.

Night Terrors (15:58) Subtitled "The Origins of Wes Craven's Nightmares", is a brief featurette that looks at the significance of dreams and nightmares throughout history and across a variety of cultures with occasional discussions on how this information was taken into account in the conception of A Nightmare on Elm Street. On-camera comments are provided by Jungian Psychologist Dr. Don Kilhefner, Film Scholar/Author David J. Skal, Author Doctor Marjorie Miles, Gnostic Society Director of Studies Dr. Stephan A. Hoeller, Craven, and Neuroscientist Dr. Jerry Siegel.   Most or all of this material also appears in the "Focus Point" interactive featurettes. 

Fact Track is a text-based trivia track that appears through plain white subtitles that pop up throughout the film's running time. Information ranges from the relevant to the esoteric, although the relevant material is frequently redundant with the audio commentaries and featurettes. Occasionally the luxury of a well-researched text track helps to clarify points left vague in the commentaries. There is a well known line from the film where Nancy looks in a mirror and laments the she looks like she is 20 years old. On the 1995 audio commentary track Langenkamp can't remember whether she was eighteen or nineteen when filming the movie, while the trivia track settles the issue by pointing out that she turned twenty while the film was in production.

Under the Heading of Alternate Endings are the following options:

Play All (4:56) shows the three alternate endings back to back. Discussing the ending to the film is obviously a spoiler hazard, so I will err on the side of vagueness in describing them below:
  • Scary Ending (1:39) is the closest to the theatrical ending except for the absence of a gag involving the top of a convertible car
  • Happy Ending (1:31) is the less sequel-friendly ending originally envisioned by Craven
  • Freddy Ending (1:46) is the ending that Producer Bob Shaye wanted with Freddy "driving away"


The disc is packaged in a standard Blu-ray case. Inserts include a "Hollywood Movie Money" certificate good for up to US$7.50 towards the purchase of a ticket to the 2010 remake of "A Nightmare on Elm Street" between April 30 and May 23, 2010. A single sided sheet with the standard "disc manufactured to highest quality standards/make sure your firmware is up to date" disclaimer is also included.

Summary ****

Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street was the first and best entry in the horror film series that introduced fan favorite bogeyman Freddie Kreuger. It arrives on Blu-ray with an excellent film-like video presentation and a nice sounding lossless surround remix that seems to be missing a half-dozen or so sound effects or synth "stingers" from the original track. Fortunately, the original mono audio track is also included. It comes complete with a nice variety of extras, mostly carried over from the 2006 "Infinifilm" DVD release.



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