I feel sorry for horror fans who saw A Nightmare On Elm Street years after it came out, especially for those who may have seen it after viewing all those over-the-top, campy sequels. I consider myself fortunate to have seen the film at the time of release, before Fred (not Freddy) Krueger was an icon.
Seeing the movie again, I was reminded that while the Krueger character did have some taunting, humorous dialogue, it was more eerie than funny. Krueger was truly a menacing, terrifying boogeyman in the beginning. Don't get me wrong; I still love to see Robert Englund in the role and I am glad he was never recast, but in '84 all I knew him from was the TV miniseries V. These days, he comes with bags packed full of preconceived notions.
The story still holds up strongly some 22 years after its initial release: Krueger is a vengeful, recently deceased kid-killer who dream-stalks the teen children of the members of the lynch mob that burned him to death in his boiler room on Elm Street. Through some twist of fate that's never explained, it is only when his victims are sleeping that he can slip into their psyches and slay them in the real world. The spectral slasher starts with Tina (Amanda Wyss) and her boyfriend Rod (Jsu Garcia), forcing the next victims of his agenda, Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) and Glen (Johnny Depp) to somehow stay awake and outwit him.
The adult characters are peripheral, but they're portrayed by very strong actors — particularly John Saxon and Ronee Blakely as Nancy's parents — making for a solid horror movie that does not feel like a teen slasher flick.
Much credit should also go to those behind the camera — by far writer/director Wes Craven's best movie up to that date, it's an inspired story with great dialogue and helmed with obvious gusto and attention to detail. The special effects, though slightly dated by today's standards (no computer-aided imagery back then), still hold up. Most effective scenes all done 'for real' include Krueger peering through the bedroom wall above Nancy's bed, his leap through a full-length mirror, and his rub-a-dub-dub with evil intent. The music and cinematography is also absolutely spectacular. An extra kudo must go to producer Robert Shaye, who shepherded the low-budget project from inception to fruition.
A Nightmare On Elm Street has been on DVD in many incarnations throughout the years, but if you don't have it yet the Infinifilm version (being released on Sept. 26) is the one to buy. This dreamy double-disc set is so loaded with additional release material, even Krueger couldn't slice and dice his way through it all in one sitting.
The movie has been completely remastered from the original negative, so it looks and sounds better than ever. It's also got a special pop-up onscreen menu you can choose to access during the film. This will allow you to selected an option that will lead to supplemental material that relates to what you are seeing as the movie plays (an interview segment, or an alternate take).
There are two commentaries: A previously-heard one from Wes Craven, Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, and cinematographer Jacques Haitkin, plus a new one spliced together with comments from several crew and cast members, including Robert Englund. The first one flows better, but the second one offers insights from people you not have heard from before.
Other standout featurettes include The House that Freddy Built: The Legacy of New Line Horror, and Night Terrors: The Origins of Wes Craven's Nightmares. Judging from the titles, they sound like a self-promoting ad and a rehash, respectively, but they both offer fresh and interesting insights.
Alternate and extended scenes
Behind-the-scenes footage and interviews
Kill scenes from other Nightmare films
Movie with original mono track
Subtitled fact track
Two cast and crew commentaries
Never Sleep Again: The Making-of A Nightmare on Elm Street featurette
Night Terrors: The Origins of Wes Craven's Nightmares featurette
The House that Freddy Built: The Legacy of New Line Horror featurette
Theatrical trailer (original)
Three alternate endings
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson