Of all the big long-running horror franchises, Nightmare On Elm Street is perhaps the most interesting. Created in 1984 by Wes Craven, the original film and its iconic razor gloved child murderer Freddy Krueger went on to become New Line Cinema‘s biggest cash cow – quickly turning into an unstoppably popular series of films that ran throughout the ‘80s and into the early ‘90s.
While fellow franchises like Halloween and Friday The 13th revelled in repetitive stalk and slash scenarios, the Elm Street films- while just as inconsistent in quality – made frequent attempts to keep things inventive and unique. Freddy himself also changed over the course of the seven films, transforming into an ‘80s icon, known more for his wicked sense of humour than the fact that he‘s a child killer.
Now fans can now enjoy the original seven films of the franchise, in high-definition for the first time with the release of A Nightmare on Elm Street 1-7 Blu-ray Collection . Watching all seven films again in quick succession for this review, I was surprised by how well some of them hold up, and less impressed that the ones that sucked, still very much suck. But it’s an entertaining collection for horror fans, and a welcome release this Halloween.
Here’s an individual run down of each film included in the set;
Wes Craven’s inventive horror classic not only gave cinema one of its most iconic villains, but also turned the fledgling New Line Cinema studio into a success story. Almost 30 years since its original release, its lost none of its ability to scare, shock and entertain.
A group of friends living on Elm Street find themselves suffering from similar dreams in which they are stalked by a sadistic child killer with a razor blade fingered glove. When they begin to be killed off one-by-one, the resourceful Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) realizes that she must not only stay awake to survive, but come up with a plan to kill the vicious stalker known as Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund).
The basic concept of A Nightmare On Elm Street is scary in of itself – we all suffer from nightmares and we all know what it’s like to have no control over them. Therefore the idea of a monster as sadistic as Freddy Krueger having the ability to manipulate your dreams is terrifying. Part of what makes the film work so well is how it draws on things many of us can relate to in our own dreams, such as the common feeling of being paralyzed while trying to run – as when Nancy gets stuck trying to climb some stairs.
There’s a few dated or questionable moments here and there – in particular the Home Alone style goofy ending – but A Nightmare On Elm Street is still frightening. The fact that Freddy remains one of the most iconic horror villains of all time secures its place as one of the greatest horror films ever made.
A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
Despite being considered one of the worst horror sequels of all-time, Freddy’s Revenge holds the dubious distinction of being one of the most homoerotic films ever to feature in a popular horror franchise. So while there’s a lot wrong with Freddy’s Revenge – notably bringing Freddy into the real world – the underlying subtext makes it a more interesting film than some of the later sequels.
Rather than the female leads of other Elm Streets we have Jesse (Mark Patton) – an effeminate teenage boy, who is not only haunted in his dreams by Freddy, but is manipulated by him to carry across his murderous rampage into the real-world.
There’s actually a lot to like about this much maligned sequel. Freddy isn’t a wisecracking comedian yet and is given some of the creepiest make-up of the entire series. The set-pieces – such as the school bus opening and the American Werewolf In London style transformation sequence – are genuinely scary despite the film being weak overall.
I mean how can you hate a film that features Clu Gulager as Jesse’s accident prone father who accuses his son of blowing up a budgie with a firecracker? Yet compared to Craven’s original, Freddy’s Revenge is a disappointment – but it’s far from the worst of the series.
A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
After Freddy’s Revenge, it’s hardly surprisingly that New Line decided to take more effort with the second sequel – bringing back the participation of Wes Craven and giving the film-makers a larger budget to play with. The result is a film which is considered by many fans to be the best sequel of the series, thanks in large part to the scripting work of a young Frank Darabont and the first time direction of capable helmer Chuck Russell who has since gone on to make The Mask and The Scorpion King.
Nancy from the original Elm Street returns – now a psychiatric expert specializing in dreams. When a group of teenagers are committed to a psychiatric hospital – all suffering from the same nightmares - Nancy is brought in to face Freddy once again. One of the teens, Kristen (Patricia Arquette), has the unique ability to bring people into her nightmares, while Nancy helps the teens to discover their inner powers which can be exploited to help them defeat Freddy.
It’s a ridiculous plot, yet Dream Warriors is perhaps the most purely enjoyable of all the films. The dream sequences – such as a boy being gruesomely puppeted by his own veins – are both inventive and chilling, and the idea of its characters being able to enter each others dreams gives the film the opportunity to take more adventurous risks with its nightmarish set-pieces.
Dream Warriors is maybe guilty of kick starting Freddy’s transformation into wise-cracking joker, but this sequel features Freddy at his very best – giving us a good balance of funny and scary. He’s still fearsome, and the quips are excellent – “Welcome to Prime Time Bitch!”
A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 4: The Dream Master (1988)
It’s telling that for the first time in the series, Robert Englund receives top billing as Freddy in The Dream Master – the most financially successful film of the series. Made at the peak of Freddy fandom and infused with MTV aesthetics and a distinctly ‘80s soundtrack – The Dream Master is lots of fun if ultimately shallow.
Following on from Dream Warriors, The Dream Master sees Freddy return from the grave thanks to a dog’s flaming piss – don’t ask – and hunting down the surviving Elm Street kids. As before, Alice has the power to pull her friends into her dreams, leading to a whole new bunch of teens facing Krueger.
There’s so much wrong with Dream Master, and it’s not nearly as good as Dream Warriors, but several stand-out moments make it an enjoyable entry in the series. Take the Freddy pizza for example – with the screaming heads of his victims as meatballs – which is one of the funniest and oddly unsettling moments of the entire series.
Pure cheesy fun.
A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 5: The Dream Child (1989)
The Dream Child is an odd beast – seemingly trying to inject a Gothic darkness and moodiness to the series while continuing to push Freddy‘s outlandish humour forward. This combination doesn’t work, especially when combined with a bizarre plotline involving Freddy trying to enter the dreams of an unborn child in order to be born into the real-world.
The problem with the Dream Child isn’t just the plot though – the series itself was becoming tired by this point, with Freddy no longer frightening and the characters becoming more uninteresting as the films began to drag on. If The Dream Child has anything going for it, it’s the dream sequences – which continue to become more excessive and grotesque with each and every entry.
Most memorable is a scene in which a victim has himself painfully transformed into the bodywork of a Freddy motorbike, while speeding down a highway. It’s bizarre, grotesque and actually pretty damn creepy – managing to become the only true stand-out moment from the entire movie which lingers in the mind for long afterwards.
So despite the fun that’s to be occasionally had in its bizarre dream sequences, there’s little to recommend in The Dream Child. It marks the point at which the series was really losing its way, making it an entry that’s strictly for Freddy devotees only.
Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)
The series hit an all time low in this so called ‘final’ part – full of trite references and pop culture cameos making it more like an episode of Family Guy than the horror series to which it belongs. Freddy has made his complete transformation from evil child killer to wise cracking goofball and there are even cameos from Tom Arnold and Rosanne Barr – what the hell.
Considering the fact that the highlight of this film is supposed to be Freddy’s epic demise, the death of Krueger – originally presented in 3-D – is incredibly underwhelming. The cheesy effects used during this whole sequence simply make the whole thing even more unbearable to sit through.
There’s some fun to be had in Englund’s campiest performance and the sheer ridiculousness of its dream sequences – including Freddy flying on a broomstick ala Wizard of Oz and a reference to the infamous Nintendo Power Glove – but this is without a doubt, the very worst of the series.
Wes Cravens New Nightmare (1994)
My personal favourite of the series (an opinion shared by Freddy himself, Robert Englund) New Nightmare and Wes Craven achieved what seemed impossible – making Freddy scary again. With New Line turning to the series creator to bring the character back from the dead, Craven took the franchise into an ingenious but somewhat controversial direction.
New Nightmare sees the cast and crew of Nightmare Of Elm Street playing themselves on the verge of the 10th anniversary of the film. With Freddy himself weighing down on the lives of his creators on a daily basis, the fictional character becomes powerful enough to break into the real world, with Freddy now stalking the makers of the film
The fact that New Line allowed Craven to do something so cerebral and unique with the series is still surprising, but it paid off – New Nightmare is one of the best Nightmare films. I’ve met several people who dislike the series but were impressed by New Nightmare, with its clever structure and concept. As well as delving into the success and popularity of the series itself, New Nightmare asks interesting questions about the effect horror movies can have on not only their creators but also children who are exposed to them.
The reinvention of Freddy – sporting a brand new look with obvious allusions to Nosferatu – caused some fans to balk, but it’s a necessary act. After the goofiness of The Dream Child and Freddy’s Dead, Craven had no choice but to make his Freddy something different in order to make the character frightening again – and it works. It’s also seen by many as an early example of the meta humour which would define Craven’s more popular Scream films, but New Nightmare is smarter, scarier and arguably better.
When Warner released Nightmare on Elm Street on Blu-ray last year, the image quality was a pleasant surprise. After suffering from a number of poor transfers over the years since its release, the Blu-ray was the best the film had ever looked by a significant margin.
While not quite as impressive as the first Nightmare, the rest of the transfers for movies 2-7 are of a similar high quality. There’s a pleasing level of natural grain which doesn’t become too distracting on any of the films, while colours and detail are generally strong. It’s arguable that some of the films look better than others, but overall the films are unlikely to look better than presented here.
Many fans have expressed anger over the fact that the 7 films have been squeezed onto four disks, but considering the size of each Blu-ray disc and the relatively short lengths of the films, there’s nothing to suggest any sacrificing of visual quality.
These are solid transfers, which are a significant upgrade to the murky quality fans will be familiar with on previous home releases.
Unsurprisingly, the first film gets the most significant bonus content, with the Blu-ray being a carbon copy of the earlier release of Wes Cravens original. It’s a fantastic package, with two commentaries, multiple documentaries, deleted scenes and even the option to watch the film with branching featurettes.
The sequels don’t fare nearly as well, but Warner deserve kudos for bringing a few bits and pieces across from the 1999 U.S boxset, which have never been seen in the U.K. Each film gets a handful of brief featurettes relating to each of the sequels – such as a discussion on Part 2′s homoerotic undertones and Renny Harlin talking about how he ended up with the job of directing Part 4. There’s also some brilliantly cringe-worthy music video’s including ’80s rockers Dokken with Dream Warriors and The Fat Boys with Are You Ready For Freddy.
It’s a shame Warner didn’t pull together new commentaries for the set, or even snag the rights to include the superb documentary Never Sleep Again, but they’ve at least given U.K fans some new stuff on this release.
The centerpiece attraction is the fifth DVD disk which accompanies the four Blu-rays, featuring a number of standard definition features as follows.
Fear Himself – The Life And Times Of Freddy Krueger
With the exhaustive Never Sleep Again ranking as one of the best making-of documentaries ever made, I wasn’t expecting this new feature to offer much of any interest. Surprisingly, this is a well made and enjoyable documentary which features new interviews with both those involved with the films and critics like Kim Newman and Alan Jones.
It’s great to see director Frank Darabont (absent from Never Sleep Again) talking about his script work on Dream Warriors and critic Alan Jones praising the gratuitousness of the later entries, but if anything, you end up wishing that this was longer than its 30 minute run time – it’s that good.
Freddy’s Nightmares – Episode 2 & 3
This is a fun addition to the set for sheer novelty value, two episodes of the Freddy’s Nightmares TV series which aired in 1988. Strangely though, the first episode – which focuses on how Freddy came to be – is oddly absent. Also the video quality on these is appalling, but their inclusion is still a pleasant surprise.
You probably don’t need me to tell you that these are awful – but they’re a great relic of Freddy’s fame in the ‘80s, and fans unfamiliar with the series will have fun with these. It’s a shame Warner didn’t throw in a few featurettes on the endless array of bad Freddy merchandise, or include some tracks from the cheesetastic Freddy’s Greatest Hits LP.
Conclusions & Welcome to Prime Time – Featurettes Galleries
As with the Blu-ray disks, these galleries comprise of small documentaries from the Nightmare Encyclopedia that was featured in the U.S DVD box-set released in 1999. There’s some good stuff here, but most of these are far too short to provide any real interest. Likewise, there’s little context for their inclusion, you constantly feel like your viewing bits and pieces which should form a more cohesive whole.
Easter Egg – MTV Freddy Special
Another fun addition to the set, this hidden Easter egg showcases some brief footage from a special aired on MTV in 1985 – hosted by Robert Englund as Freddy. While it’s a shame we don’t get the whole show – perhaps unavoidable due to licensing issues – this is a good curio and even features some out-takes.
While the films vary wildly in quality, the Nightmare on Elm Street series is lots of fun, and the sequels are more enjoyable than many other horror franchises of the time. With decent picture quality and a fair selection of extras the set comes recommended – but devoted fans hoping for the Nightmare equivalent of something as exhaustive as the Alien Anthology might be left wanting more.
The Nightmare On Elm Street Collection is out today from Warner Home Video on Blu-ray and DVD.
To swipe yourself a copy, enter our competition by clicking here.
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