Review Date: Wednesday, October 04, 2006

If any two horror movies rightfully deserve a deluxe DVD treatment, it would be the seminal '80s horror classics FRIDAY THE 13th and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. And while both franchises have had deluxe box sets in the past (the ELM STREET set still rules nearly seven years later), single-disc deluxe editions have been long time coming.

While Paramount continues to crap on its FRIDAY THE 13th franchise, preferring to crank out the latest STAR TREK box set fan rip-off, New Line has offered a prestige two-disc infinifilm edition of 1984's A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.

Wes Craven wrote and directed this nifty little horror film about child murderer Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) who stalks teens in their dreams as revenge on their parents who burned him alive to stop his wicked ways in the real world.

You can't keep a morbid killer down for long, and these dream-scapes Freddy paints are creepy, unsettling and highly creative particularly for the small budget Craven had to work with.

The heroine of the piece is Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) who watches her best friends butchered in gorily creative ways (and in many ways defy the laws of physics). But she's a plucky girl and starts to deal with Freddy on his own terms figuring out a way to lure him out and capture him in the real world. There's even a baby-faced Johnny Depp in his first screen role as Nancy's boyfriend.

What Craven really masters in this film is the surreal atmosphere of dream worlds where simple every day things, suddenly turn into vivid nightmares. None of the other subsequent sequels really had this sense of dread throughout and none of them really featured Freddy as the scary dream demon he is here (though Wes Craven's own follow-up up NEW NIGHTMARE did an okay job of getting rid of practical joker Freddy witnessed in later installments).

The low budget seams certainly appear left and right watching the film again, but the pristine new digital transfer restores the film to a luster that probably wasn't even possible when the movie was originally released in 1984 (this new version was restored from the original film negative). Throw in a surround-sound mix and the A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET puts many modern-day horror films to shame.

Of course, as with most '80s horror movies, some of the corny dialogue, dated hair and lackadaisical reactions from grown-ups to the horrors happening in their own community do elicit the occasional laugh, but it's hard not to forget that NIGHTMARE was ground-breaking for its time and it literally changed the way horror movies were made throughout the '80s and early '90s.

The bonus features are plentiful. There's a great making of documentary including brand-new interviews with most of the cast and behind-the-scenes crew. There's some never before scene "alternate takes" of Englund as Krueger interspersed through this lengthy featurette plus details on how all the make-up effects and in-camera tricks were accomplished (including the Freddy glove in the bathtub with Nancy). If anything, these features demystify the imagination that went into making the movie such a classic, but it's nice to have such a comprehensive infinifilm look back at such a classic horror film.

Commentary track by Craven, Langenkamp, John Saxon and cinematographer Jacques Haitkin is also a nice added bonus and there's even two "beyond the movie" featurettes focusing on dreams, nightmares and folklore, while another one explores on how horror films built New Line Cinema.

While deleted scenes would have been welcome from this two-disc set, it's pretty obvious the low-budget nature of the film didn't leave much on the cutting room floor. At least we have three alternate endings to the movie which are essentially three variations of the ending currently in the film (details on these alternate endings are explained fully in the making of documentary). One of them allows Nancy and her friends to drive off safe and sound with mom being yanked through the door, another is happy ending where everyone lives and finally, there's a slight reedit of the current ending with Freddy driving the car at the very end. Not surprising, the current ending, is still the best leaving the mystery open for five sequels and a team up film with Jason to follow.

Here's hoping New Line plans to revisit the rest of the ELM STREET series in the future with same attention to detail and care (and maybe this will inspire Paramount to do the same with its FRIDAY THE 13th franchise). Although the quality varied from film to film in the NIGHTMARE series, it still endures as one of the most imaginative and creative horror franchises ever. And if that isn't a dagger in the heart of big, bad old Jason Voorhees, I don't know what is.

Mania Grade: B+
Maniac Grade: A+
Distributor: New Line Cinemas
Suggested Retail: $26.95
Written and Directed by: Wes Craven
Stars: John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp