I vividly remember being a little kid and watching the opening scene to the very first “A Nightmare on Elm Street” with my older brother. He told me that if I was already beginning to freak out over Freddy Krueger making his trademark hand in a dark, dank basement, I should probably just go away because the rest of the movie was going to only make me all the more scared. I wish I could tell you I sat there and stuck it out for the whole run time. I wish I could tell you that.
I’ve changed quite a bit since that moment, and so has the entire “Nightmare” series. Whether or not we’ve both changed for the better might be open to interpretation, but there’s no denying that the name Freddy Krueger still brings back an image I probably won’t ever forget. The folks at Warner Bros. are on it, releasing the “A Nightmare on Elm Street Collection” to Blu-ray in a sharp (okay, there was my first, and only, knife pun) five disc set that won’t take up a ton of space on your shelf but will probably bring back a few decent memories of a simpler time in the horror genre.
From 1984 to 1994, seven “Nightmare” films were released. It’s annoying to state that five of these seven are pretty forgettable, save for Robert Englund coming back to each to play Kreuger with a consistent intimidation factor (more on that in a moment). This set does not include the long awaited “Freddy vs. Jason” from 2003, or the “A Nightmare on Elm Street” remake (which I still haven’t seen in protest…isn’t Hollywood only supposed to remake movies if they’re bad?) from 2010, but it seems to make up for that with a really extensive slew of special features that even a casual “Nightmare” fan would enjoy. And, as it says on the cover are, these are truly “All 7 Original ‘Nightmare’ Films!”
The man behind the “Nightmare” films is, of course, horror mastermind Wes Craven. You’d be hard pressed to put a better modern name in front of a 20th century horror flick than his, and while I can’t truthfully say that everything he’s put his stamp on has been a winner, I can argue that he’s held his own over a greater period of time than most. Slightly more contemporary than John Carpenter (see the “Halloween” films), Craven has an ability to present surprisingly deep characters for films with often brief run times (the longest film in this set is “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” at a mere 112 minutes) and take our emotions on the roller coasters they are frequently forced to navigate. Craven’s name is also directly connected to the far less impressive but probably more financially popular “Scream” series, but don’t be mistaken. These titles, along with some earlier work from the 1970s (“The Last House on the Left” and “The Hills Have Eyes”), are what this man has staked his name and reputation on.
The star in each film is Englund’s Kreuger, a child molester and murderer who couldn’t get convicted for crimes he undoubtedly committed and was burned alive in a neighborhood house by some very angry parents. In the story, this all happened prior to 1984’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” which begins with some local teens having awful nightmares with gruesome results. A rapid paced, gory and imaginative approach to a genre that needed a kick in the you know what following the ongoing prevalence various slasher flicks were developing, this title stands out as a horror classic that manages to engage its audience in a new way. For now, not only can the bad guy come after us in our everyday lives, but in our dreams (Freddy decided, after not dying, he’d get revenge on all Elm Street’s residents by going after their children in their dreams, for if they die there, they die in reality, too). Using young unknowns like Heather Langenkamp and Johnny Depp, Craven brings characters to the screen that transcend the real and the unreal, culminating with various themes intersecting against a backdrop that pits good versus evil on neutral turf.
Whether or not you like these films, you should understand that Robert Englund was more or less born to play Freddy Krueger. These films are really about Freddy more so than anyone else, and from my perspective, it isn’t a true “Nightmare” film unless he’s portraying this villain. Unlike too many evil slashers out there, Freddy runs, jumps, talks, howls, laughs, cracks a joke or two and even manages to sneak in a good kill or two along the way. He’s surprisingly likable, due in direct part to Englund’s portrayal and Craven’s writing. I remember reading in an online blog that Englund was pretty darn offended when he wasn’t offered the chance to reprise his role for a ninth time, and rightfully so. He was, is and forever shall be this evil force hell bent on wreaking modern havoc as payback.
“A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors” share a disc, but also share the fact that they’re not that great. Freddy’s back, of course, but for some bizarre reason the series goes down some random paths I’d rather not mention because they depress me and make me scratch my head wondering why something so good had to become so bad, and so quickly. Sadly, the “Nightmare” series fell victim to the desire for profit, despite Craven holding his own standards behind the scenes and not wanting to stretch this thing out any longer than one movie.
1988 and 1989 brought us “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child,” which took the series forward, then back again. Big on Freddy, but slim on supporting characters and plots that didn’t have holes wide enough a 777 could fit through them, these titles received, at best, mixed reviews and didn’t develop the series further. Sure, they deepened the Freddy factor and fascination (which I appreciate quite a bit), but by this point it was clear that the almighty dollar was what Freddy really seemed to be after.
It seems most horror series have a title that highlights the killer’s death and destruction as a marker that ends the series. “Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare” serves this purpose, and was also released in 3-D (this didn’t translate to the home viewing audience, unfortunately). But like the other sequels, it loses its direction too soon and can’t make up for it soon enough. Things did, however, get a whole lot better when Craven returned to direct “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare,” which brings back many recognizable names and faces from the first film to play none other than themselves. Craven plays with the reality/fantasy rules almost more here than he did in the first “Nightmare” movie, and it works very well, especially with an updated Freddy and Englund at the helm. “New Nightmare,” for some bizarre reason, didn’t impress at box offices, but is my second favorite in the series after the original.
It’s debatable whether or not all the “Nightmare” films, especially those made in the late 1980s, have any real staying power. I mean, c’mon, how often have you been asked what your favorite horror film is, only to answer it’s a “Nightmare” sequel? Additionally, these are not polished films in any sense of the word. There are gaping plot holes, characters who seem bored to be there and some less than inspired approaches to detail that stick out like sore thumbs in each offering. If the fear element is significant enough, all else becomes unimportant. Does this mean that the “Nightmare” series isn’t all that scary? Maybe, but you can’t debate that it makes you think about where the boundary lies between what we know as reality and what we think we know as fantasy. There are moments in each title where the filmmakers go down a road that dead ends, and there are others, especially on the first film and “New Nightmare,” that are innovative to the point where you almost feel caught off-guard. These are horror movies after all, right? And don’t they just make the same movie over and over and over again? Sometimes, an old dog can learn new tricks.
As a series, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is what I call a bookend franchise, mainly because the first and last titles are mighty darn good while everything in between is really only able to stand on its own due to their support. I probably couldn’t tell you which film between “Freddy’s Revenge” and “Freddy’s Dead” I was looking at if you didn’t let me see the opening titles. I can state, however, that without Craven and Englund to keep things somewhat connected, this set probably wouldn’t have been released. It strikes me as a tribute to the ideas and impacts the “Nightmare” films generated, and also as a chance to plop in virtually every single outside special feature connected to any “Nightmare” title.
This is a neat series to own, mind you. While newer horror fans might have fallen in love with “torture porn” and an insane emphasis on insanity, my generation grew up with Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers to carry our water. Watching the “Nightmare” films again in HD took me back to a different time for a genre that might consider looking backward in order to continue to move forward in the twenty-first century.
Despite some clear work done on coloration and grain for each title, the video quality here is still more inconsistent than I’d hoped for. I have little doubt that each film looks better here than ever before, but it’s still somewhat frustrating to see consistency go up and down just like the quality of the films and their plots. Each title, presented with a 1080p High Definition 1.85:1 video transfer, is bright when relying on natural light and eerily dark otherwise, but transition scenes exhibit more grain than I’d hoped for, and the climaxes, most of which are edited closer together than all the rest of the shots, don’t cut between scenes as seamlessly as they could. The transfer isn’t terrible, mind you, but save for the first and last titles, additional work could be done. “Freddy’s Dead” looks different in 3-D on Blu-ray, which of course you can’t take advantage of, but it’s obvious the filmmakers were targeting a gimmick when you watch this version.
Not at issue is the sound, which is wonderfully crisp and clean sounding in each title. Remember that these are horror films, so things jump out and music comes with them. The audio is thorough, deep and piercing with each film. The tracks vary a bit, depending on which one you’re watching: the first film is an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, while the rest are English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1s. Dolby Digital 2.0s are offered for titles from “The Dream Master” to “New Nightmare,” with 1.0s available for the original through “Dream Warriors.” A French audio track is offered for the original, also. English and Spanish subtitles are provided for each movie, with French text available for the first film through the fifth. Freddy’s evil laugh comes through with all its glory, eventually becoming as unmistakable as his razor fingers scraping sheet metal. These effects and others are in no way hard to detect, nor is the dialogue between characters who are struggling to defeat the man in the outdated Christmas sweater. The audio does not leave anything to chance, and it shows.
I’m quite impressed, to be honest. A fifth disc that possesses over three hours of special features is accompanied with the four that possess the films themselves. For some silly reason, disc five is a standard definition DVD, which loses a point in my book but still impresses because it is packed with pure Freddy delights, including feature galleries and two episodes from the “Freddy’s Nightmare” television series.
Each film also has its own special features…
“A Nightmare on Elm Street” – alternate takes, video highlight reels, two audio commentaries, three alternate endings, three featurettes and an interactive trivia track.
“Freddy’s Revenge” – four featurettes, theatrical trailer.
“Dream Warriors” – seven featurettes, music video, theatrical trailer.
“The Dream Master” – four featurettes, theatrical trailer.
“The Dream Child” – five featurettes, two music videos, theatrical trailer.
“The Final Nightmare” – four featurettes, theatrical trailer.
“New Nightmare” – audio commentary, five featurettes, theatrical trailer.
Even if you only “sort of” like these titles, there’s bound to be a low hanging fruit here for you to pick, eat and enjoy.
A Final Word:
Because the first film and “New Nightmare” are excellent in similar, yet unique, manners, the set as a whole can stand tall. I didn’t much care for those titles in the middle, but it’s pleasant to know that, as a whole, the “Nightmare on Elm Street” films are still relevant enough to get even the slightest recognition from a more modern generation. Craven is the real franchise star, of course, and Englund’s commitment to him and Krueger is something almost not seen anymore in modern filmmaking. All the titles are rated R for the usual things you’d expect, but to be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m glad Warner Bros. decided to package all these titles as one, and perhaps it’s a sign there’s yet another sequel in the works. Either way, when you see children skipping rope and counting by twos, you’d best stay awake a bit longer that night.