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In the days before he earned Hollywood's respect for directing box office champion SCREAM, Wes Craven created another film that launched one of cinema's most prolific horror franchises. Now considered a classic in its own right, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET ($25) proved to be one of the most innovative horror films of its day. With A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET writer/director Wes Craven took the tired "psycho stalking teens" sub-genre and gave it a new twist by adding elements of the supernatural. Instead of having just another run-of-the-mill maniac on the loose, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET introduced a nightmarish apparition named Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), who has severely burned features and slays his victims with a razor taloned glove. Sure, Freddy Krueger has unique look and style, however what makes him different from all the other horror movie psychos is the fact that he exists only on the dream plane and when he kills his teenage victims in their nightmares, they die in real life as well.

The plot of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is fairly simple: four teenagers share a similar nightmare about being stalked through a boiler room by a disfigured madman in a dirty green and red sweater, who sports razor-like claws. Unfortunately, when the teens begin to die at the hands of their nightmare killer, they find that no one in the waking world is able to save them. While the premise is interesting on its own, it is Wes Craven's decision to blur the distinction between the film's real and nightmare worlds that makes A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET so effective. Because it is difficult to tell where reality ends and the dream world begins, the viewer is left somewhat disoriented- never knowing when or where the nightmare killer will strike next.

In A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET Heather Langenkamp portrays Nancy Thompson, the most resourceful member of the foursome who is able to piece together the identity of the killer, as well as a possible way to stop him. John Saxon is perfect cast as Nancy's father police Lieutenant Thompson, the ineffectual authority figure completely unwilling to believe the truth, even though it comes from the lips of his own daughter. Ronee Blakley gives a wonderfully spaced out performance as Nancy's alcoholic mother Marge. In the series first outing, Freddy Krueger is something of a secondary character. However, Robert Englund makes Freddy more menacing here than he would be in subsequent outings when his character would punctuate each teen death with a wisecrack. The cast of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET also features an impossibly young Johnny Depp in his film debut, as well as Amanda Wyss, Nick Corri, Charles Fleischer, Joseph Whipp, Joe Unger, Mimi Craven, Jack Shea, Ed Call, and. Sandy Lipton. Fans of KINGPIN and THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY may get a kick out of seeing actress Lin Shaye wearing her own face in the role of Nancy's teacher.

New Line Home Video has done a tremendous job transcribing A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET to DVD. While the dual layered disc offers both full frame and wide screen presentations, it is the 16:9 enhanced version that blows away all previous video incarnations of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (the Elite Laserdisc runs a close second). A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is a very dark film, which is rendered very faithfully on DVD. The image is fairly rich looking and provides excellent shadow detail. Blacks are reference quality and the image's contrast is almost flawless. Colors are more vivid than I ever remember seeing them and they are reproduced without a hint of chroma noise or distortion. Digital compression artifacts are rarely evident on this incredibly dark movie, which is quite an accomplishment.

For this release New Line Home Video has created a new Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack that proves that any movie can be greatly enhanced by a modern sound mix. The new mix completely envelops the viewer in the movie's nightmare world by creating a cohesive sound field that makes the most of the original sound elements. Sound effects aren't localized, as they would be on a new soundtrack, however they are effectively deployed to make the track highly atmospheric. Additionally, Charles Bernstein's creepy musical score is well integrated into the mix and certain to drive the viewer over the edge with its overwhelming presence. The new mix also features excellent bass reproduction and fairly clean sounding dialogue, which is a big improvement over the original monaural sound mix. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET also includes the original monaural soundtrack, which sounds flat, uninteresting and muffled when compared with the new mix. Subtitles are provided in English on the DVD.

The interactive menus are suitably creepy, containing full motion video, animation and sound. All of the standard scene selection and setup features are available through the menu system. Additionally, the DVD's supplemental features are accessible through the interactive menus. The DVD's primary supplement is a running audio commentary (that was originally produced for the Elite Entertainment Laserdisc) featuring director Wes Craven, cinematographer Jacques Haitkin, and performers Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon. Fans of the movie will find the track quite enjoyable for the wealth of information and the good-natured comradery displayed by the participants. A theatrical trailer is the only other supplement that is accessible through a standard DVD player. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET also features a number of DVD-ROM supplements that are provided in the "PC Friendly" environment. These supplements include the film's screenplay, which can be read while the movie plays, plus a trivia game and web links.

New Line Home Video has produced the best looking and sounding home edition of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET that has ever come to market. No horror fan will want to be without this disc or perhaps the entire box set that contains all seven movies in the series. Highly recommended.




DVD reviews are Copyright 1999 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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