STUDIO: New Line Cinema
MSRP: $26.98
• Commentary with Wes Craven, cast, crew
• "Never Sleep Again" featurette
• "The house that Freddie built" featurette
• "Night Terors" featurette
• Pop-up trivia pack
• Deleted Scenes

The Pitch

“Mister Sandman / Bring me a dream…”

The Humans

Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, Johnny Depp and Johnny Depp’s midriff.

The Nutshell

Four teens encounter a strange and common thread in all their dreams: a boogeyman with knives for fingers. They’re creeped out, sure — I once dreamed about a cat with exposed nerves screaming all night and couldn’t sleep for two days — but that’s it. Until one of the teens is brutally murdered in her sleep, as she struggles against an unseen assailant.

As their dreams seem to grow more and more real, our heroes try and summon the courage to face the nightmarish monster head on, in the fevered, mutable landscape of dreams.

Revenge of the Art Department

The Lowdown

There’s no question that A Nightmare on Elm Street is a classic of the 80s horror resurrection. Its survival, and that of its memes, is enough evidence, sort of like a filmic natural selection. Freddy Krueger is virile enough to pass along his genes! Of course, there are some weird tricks of biology when it comes to cinema, and somehow all those potent icons end up with inbred descendents.

Oh well. That’s neither here nor there. What is here is the idle question of why Nightmare became such a classic. It’s got all the genre trappings that isolate it from mainstream sensibilities (bad acting, excessive gore, thin characters,) all of which are easily forgiven by fan audiences. It’s cheap, and not particularly well-edited, and just basically chucks away all consideration of those alchemical things which combine to make a film legacy. There’s an exception for the clever ways that Craven took advantage of the film medium to manipulate reality, to fuck with the lines between dreams and the waking world.

Little Suzy never could sleep well when it was Breath Play Nite at the club.

Still, I would argue that it’s not the execution which ensured the film a spot sunk into the collective imagination. It’s the concept. Wes Craven found a perfectly empty space in the horror landscape and plugged it up right quick with an iconic character design. It helped that he also had a scenario which sticks with the audience, particularly the young ones, for long after they have left the theater. Horror movies are often designed to give you the creeps as you’re trying to go to sleep. What was that noise? I saw a shadow through the window! Nightmare took that terror one step deeper. You’re safe while you’re awake and terrified; it’s when you fall asleep that the true danger comes. I’m pretty well-prepared to call that a brilliant move.

The other half of the equation is Freddy Krueger himself. It’s not just that he represents a terror impossible to hide from, but that his physical form is so damned unique. He’s somewhat defined by his weapon, like Leatherface turned out to be. Krueger’s bladed glove strikes an instant, dissonant chord. It’s up close and personal, and its bestial. Beyond that, Krueger had the fortune to be dressed like a fairly normal, creepy old guy. You know the type that kind of hangs out in the park and watches people. He’s got his fedora, his ugly sweater, and, you think, maybe just a bit too much interest in the little girls on the swing-set.

Q: Why do bad things happen to good people?
A: Because you touch yourself at night.

Freddy has somewhat outgrown his own mythology these days. He has become one of the old gods in the quick-turnaround Hollywood pantheon, despite fumbled attempts to resurrect him. That he was once a man who molested and murdered children before the adults of the community burned him alive isn’t as much a part of him as before. Now he is sometimes feared, sometimes the fool of reference. Nevertheless, he occupies a space that had before been empty.

A Nightmare on Elm Street has him at his brutal best. He’s a nightmare, who taunts and tortures and plays like a trickster god with his victims. He’s not smart-mouthed or sassy or whatever he eventually mutated into. He reminds me quite a bit of the Corinthian in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics. A creation to fill a niche, a celebration of the darkness of humanity not because it is more worthy of celebration than other aspects, but because it exists and therefore earns the same notice. It doesn’t deserve to be swept under the rug. In fact, it won’t stand for it.

Short and simple version: This is still one of my favorite horror movies of all time. Just imagine what it could have been like were there as much inspiration in the execution as in the conception.

"Everybody notices that! I swear, I ought to just take that stupid poster down."

The Package

New Line’s Infinifilm is one of those black label brands. Y’know, like movies only better. It ain’t all for show, though. This disc was filled from a different vat than your standard re-release. The new transfer, remastered from the negatives, is beautifully detailed and rich with color. Craven allegedly chose the colors red and green for Freddy’s shirt because the brain has the hardest time processing those colors side-by-side. I’ve got no idea if that’s true, but it is a bold patch of dementedly cheery tone that’s much more vivid than I’ve seen it before, since I was crapping in diapers during the first theatrical run. Really fine work, here.

The sound is likewise well-preserved and –updated. There’s a Dolby 5.1 track with a mix that only slightly favors soundtrack over dialogue; and there’s a DTS 6.1 track which kicks ass. My fingernails were ringing in sympathy every time Freddy drug his cleavers over metal. In both the audio and the video the disc authors can’t quite compete with modern films designed for their respective technologies, but they’ve done a very fine job indeed with their source material.

"What am I wearing? Oh… the usual."

Bonuses, you say? Then bonuses you shall have!

Many of the Infinifilm releases have little interactive pop-up deals during the feature. Here, they provide trivia, as well as sometimes being selectable with the remote. The selectable ones link you to related clips. It’s well laid-out, and doesn’t ever forget your current place in the film.

As if twice through the movie could satisfy a little scamp like you! Never fear; there’s also a full-length commentary track featuring his fallen highness Wes Craven, cast members John Saxon and Heather Langenkamp, and cinematography Jacques Haitkin. It’s a good track, with worthy input from all parties, but Craven isn’t at his most articulate, nor his most forthcoming.

Featurettes? Why, yes! There’s a pretty comprehensive making-of doc called "Never Sleep Again," a fascinating look at the business decisions behind the film called "The House that Freddy Built: The Legacy of New Line Horror," and a little director profile/interview called "Night Terrors: The Origins of Wes Craven’s Nightmares." Here’s a hint: he gets them when he’s sleeping.

That’s about it for serious content. There are also a few deleted bits (labeled on the box ambiguously as "Alternate Ending(s)") and some web-based content if you’ve got a DVD-ROM drive.

All in all, a good showing, and a fine set to pick up if you don’t already own the film.

8.5 out of 10