A Nightmare on Elm Street appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. I don’t expect attractive visuals from a cheap mid-80s flick, but Nightmare looked borderline great.
Sharpness was mostly fine. At times the image came across as slightly soft, but those instances remained infrequent and minor. Instead, the film usually appeared concise and well-defined. I detected no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge haloes failed to appear. Source flaws were non-existent. Some natural grain was visible but nothing else created even minor distractions.
Though the film featured a fairly muted palette, colors looked accurate and appropriate. The tones were pretty lively and surpassed my expectations. Mid-Eighties film stock hasn’t aged well, so the level of vivacity surprised me.
The same went for blacks. Dark shots were a little inky but still deeper than anticipated, and they were usually quite solid. In addition, shadows occasionally looked a smidgen thick, but they mostly provided good detail, and they were definitely clearer than expected. Given the limitations inherent in the source material, I felt impressed by this transfer and felt it just barely fell short of “A” level consideration.
In regard to multichannel audio, the DTS-HD MA 7.1 audio of Nightmare came to life nicely. The front sound stage dominated and did so very convincingly. The remixers were able to position sounds well across the front channels and they even panned pretty well at times. Not much audio emanated from the rears, as we mainly heard ambient sounds, occasional "crash-bang" noises during the action scenes, or the movie's cheesy synthesizer score back there. The music was the most active element, as the track blasted it from all the channels. This was probably a little too heavy, as it threatened to overwhelm the other elements. Nonetheless, the audio brought the creepier segments to life pretty well and added depth to the movie.
The music was the aspect of the soundtrack that sounded best. The score packed a strong sonic punch and showed nice range and definition. The other elements varied but were still satisfying. Speech went from natural and clear to somewhat brittle but always stayed intelligible. The biggest distraction came from some poor looping; that caused occasional lip-synch concerns.
Effects seemed a little thin at times but were usually positive. They lacked much harshness or distortion and managed to create reasonably convincing material. Overall, the remix took dated elements and made them into a surprisingly nice soundtrack.
How did the picture and audio of this Blu-ray compare to the 2006 infinifilm DVD? I thought the audio was a wash. While the lossless track offered better fidelity, I thought it boosted the presence of the music too much. The score dominated the piece, and I thought the DVD’s mix was a bit better balanced. Still, they’re both pretty close, so I didn’t really prefer one over the other, as the higher quality of the DTS track compensated for its weaker balance.
Visuals offered a clearer distinction. While the DVD was quite satisfying, it couldn’t compete with this very attractive release. The Blu-ray boasted more vivid colors, tighter blacks, clearer shadows and superior definition. In other words, it improved on its predecessor in every way.
The Blu-ray replicates most of the extras from the infinifilm and adds some new ones. I’ll mark exclusives with special blue print.
We start with two separate audio commentaries. The first features director Wes Craven, actors Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon, and director of photography Jacques Haitkin. All four sit together for this running, screen-specific track. The piece looks at the origins of the story as well as various influences and inspirations for the movie. We also learn about sets and locations, camerawork and visual choices, effects, cast and performances, effects, censorship problems and cuts, and various shot specifics.
The contributions of Craven and Langenkamp dominate the piece. Haitkin also frequently chimes in, but Saxon seems to be largely MIA. Overall, this offers a decent but occasionally sluggish chat. We learn basics about the production and get a fair examination of important topics. However, it never quite catches fire, as it stays a little slow and plodding. We find an acceptable view of Nightmare but not anything terribly memorable.
For the second commentary, we find a large group of participants. It features Craven, Langenkamp, Haitkin, producer Robert Shaye, co-producer Sara Risher, actors Robert Englund, Amanda Wyss, and Ronee Blakley, associate producer John Burrows, composer Charles Bernstein, editor Rick Shaine, co-editor Patrick McMahon, mechanical special effects technician Jim Doyle, special makeup effects artist David B. Miller, and film historian David Del Valle. All were recorded separately for this edited “audio essay”.
The track starts with a look at problems raising money for Nightmare and then delves into cast, characters and performances. We get additional story and editing notes along with details about the film’s visual look, editing and score, effects and technical challenges, and other nuts and bolts. The commentary provides an introspective side as well when it examines the reasons for the film’s enduring success, genre topics and some psychological aspects of its appeal.
This commentary avoids the sluggish pitfalls of the original one and offers a terrific look at the movie’s creation. We get rich notes related to a myriad of different elements and check out matters in depth. Many fun stories pop up, such as when the IRS almost closed down the primary house locations. This is a consistently informative and enjoyable piece.
Throughout the film, we find a slew of short featurettes called Focus Points. To access these, you have to watch the flick and hit “enter” when a symbol appears onscreen. Unfortunately, I can’t find an option to watch them without sitting through the movie; that’s a disappointment, as other Warner-distributed discs provide the ability to check out the clips independently.
Other Blu-rays don’t offer as many “Focus Points” as Nightmare, though. They crop up on a near-constant basis as we go through the film. In addition to outtakes, archival footage and clips from sequels, they include comments from Craven, Wyss, Langenkamp, Doyle, Risher, Englund, Burrows, Haitkin, Miller, Blakley, Shaine, Del Valle, Shaye, Craven collaborator/Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham, Jungian psychologist Dr. Don Kilhefner, authors David J. Skal and Dr. Marjorie Miles, Gnostic Society Director of Studies Dr. Stephan A. Hoeller, Nightmare 3 director Chuck Russell, Final Destination co-screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick, New Line executives Kevin Kasha and Mark Ordesky, neuroscientist Dr. Jerry Siegel, and makeup effects assistant Mark Bryan Wilson.
The participants discuss how Craven got into films and his early years, origins/development of Nightmare, cast, characters and performances, stunts, makeup, props and effects, sequels, and various aspects of the film’s production and release. Ultimately, we get 76 of these segments for a total of 94 minutes, 55 seconds of footage.
A lot of good information and material appears during the “Focus Points”, but two problems occur. First, the format is a user-unfriendly hassle. So many “Points” appear that the viewer must constantly be ready to hit “enter”. An automatic option would’ve been much easier to digest; this format gets tedious quickly.
In addition, the vast majority of the material appears in the disc’s other supplements. We don’t find the sequel footage elsewhere, and a few other unique tidbits occur, but there’s not a lot of stuff you won’t see in the additional featurettes.
Which makes them a much more efficient way to gain the information. No sane person could check out all 76 “Focus Points” and actually enjoy the movie; they interrupt the story way too often. This means you have to sit through the movie to get to them, and that’s a drag, especially since so much of the material can be found elsewhere. I don’t actively dislike the “Points”, but they’re not a very effective way to convey the material.
An alternate viewing option comes via the Fact Track. This text commentary uses the subtitle area as it provides small factoids that appeared throughout the flick. It covers subjects such as aspects of the production, facts about the actors and others involved, and notes about issues related to the flick. For example, we learn about subjects such as sleep disorders and nightmares.
The material seems moderately interesting at best, and a further problem comes from the sporadic presentation of the information. The factoids don’t pop up very frequently. I doubt many people will want to try to attend to the film itself and read the fact track at the same time, as it could become very distracting, especially since the infinifilm features offer a frequent element of visual confusion. On the other hand, if you check out the movie just to examine the subtitles, you’ll feel irritated by the infrequent use of the feature. This fails to become a terribly worthwhile subtitle commentary.
Up next is a documentary called The House That Freddy Built: The Legacy of New Line Horror. The 22-minute and 47-second show features movie clips, archival elements, and interviews. We hear from Shaye, Englund, Del Valle, Bernstein, Risher, Craven, Langenkamp, Haitkin, Cunningham, Russell, Reddick, Ordesky, Kasha and Wilson.
As implied by the title, “House” looks at how Nightmare helped establish New Line as a successful studio. We learn about New Line’s origins and low-budget roots. We get into their first projects and how Nightmare improved their prospects before we hear about sequels and subsequent New Line projects.
Half Nightmare retrospective, half New Line overview, “House” is entertaining but less than detailed. It really rips through its subjects and rarely dallies long enough to give us true depth. We don’t get significant information about the Nightmare series, and we also fail to find much of a feel for how New Line evolved over the decades. This is an enjoyable show but it’s way too short to deliver the goods.
Next comes the 15-minute and 55-second Night Terrors: The Origins of Wes Craven’s Nightmares. It features Craven, Kilhefner, Skal, Miles, Hoeller and Siegel. “Origins” looks at concepts related to dreams and nightmares. We learn about historical perceptions and the views of different societies as well as attempts to interpret dreams and what they represent. The show also looks at how the elements that affected Craven in the creation of Nightmare and symbolic/interpretive aspects of the film.
No 15-minute show can really dig into such a rich subject with real meaning, but “Origins” does pretty well for itself. The program goes into a mix of interesting topics related to dreams and comes with enough introspection to intrigue us. This is a solid little piece.
Three Alternate Endings last a total of four minutes, 56 seconds. These include “Scary Ending”, “Happy Ending” and “Freddy Ending”. “Scary” and “Freddy” are only a little different than the existing conclusion. As you can guess based on the title, “Happy” comes with a changed tone. None are radical departures but they’re interesting to see.
A documentary called Never Sleep Again: The Making of A Nightmare On Elm Street lasts 49 minutes and 52 seconds. It presets comments from Craven, Langenkamp, Englund, Cunningham, Risher, Shaye, Del Valle, Burrows, Wyss, Doyle, Blakley, Haitken, Miller, Shaine, McMahon, Bernstein and Wilson. The show starts with a look at Craven’s origins in film and how he became interested in horror flicks. From there we get into the roots of the Nightmare story and other flicks with dream themes. Next we hear about raising financing for the film, casting, characters and performances, and the tight budget and shooting schedule. Production topics include cinematography, sets and locations, Freddy’s makeup and finger-knives, various effects, stunts, a few shooting specifics, the movie’s ending, editing and censorship, music, and the film’s release.
Inevitably, “Again” repeats a fair amount of information heard elsewhere. With two commentaries, it’d be impossible for the documentary to avoid repetition. Nonetheless, “Again” offers a fine recap of the production. It digs into the appropriate subjects with gusto and boasts plenty of archival bits that fill out the set. This turns into a fun and informative piece.
Does the Blu-ray lose anything from the infinifilm DVD? Yup. It drops the film’s trailer and a trivia challenge. I don’t miss the latter, but the absence of the former disappoints. I’m also surprised the disc lacks a preview for the 2010 Nightmare remake; since this release exists partially to promote that flick, I expected to find a promo here, but none appears.
A Nightmare On Elm Street isn't a perfect film, and it's probably not the best horror film ever made. However, it offers possibly the most clever and intriguing theme of any movie in its genre, and despite many flaws, it remains an exciting and provocative little picture. The Blu-ray presents very good picture and audio along with a mix of solid extras. Fans won’t get much new in terms of supplements, but they’ll feel very pleased with the disc’s visual upgrade.
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