The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
Return to Table of Contents
Return to Table of Contents December 2006 Return to Table of Contents
Casino Royale
Tomorrow Technology
DVD Playback
A Nightmare on Elm S
Books in Review
ASC Close-Up
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
1.85:1 (16x9 Enhanced)
Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 6.1
New Line Home Entertainment, $26.99

When director Wes Craven wrote a screenplay that merged the conventions of the slasher genre with the philosophical and stylistic concerns of Luis Buñuel’s films, nearly every studio in town turned it down. Only New Line, then a tiny operation in New York, was interested, and Craven had to realize his ambitions on a relatively low ($1.8 million) budget. Now, 22 years and seven sequels later, A Nightmare on Elm Street is considered a horror classic and one of the high points in Craven’s career.

The film tells the story of Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), a child molester who is burned alive by a group of vengeful parents and who then takes revenge on their kids by entering the teenagers’ dreams. Craven and cinematographer Jacques Haitkin didn’t let their low budget stand in the way of a meticulous, precise visual style, in which every element of the image has been carefully thought out. (Even the colors on Freddy’s famous sweater were chosen to create difficulty for the human cornea, per the specifications of a Scientific American article Craven read while making the film.) In some ways, the budget works to the movie’s advantage, as the financial limitations force the filmmakers to shoot the teenagers and their surroundings as they are, rather than construct artificial environments. As a result, the movie is as emblematic of its era as a John Hughes film, and the naturalistic dialogue and cinematography of the non-horror passages makes the surrealistic imagery of the nightmare sequences all the more terrifying.

Craven is a master of disorienting viewers without confusing them, and Haitkin’s cinematography aids in this approach by using light and shadow to direct (and sometimes misdirect) the eye. The images are punctuated with strong, vibrant colors that further manipulate the characters’ and the audience’s sense of what is real. This new DVD transfer presents Haitkin’s images in all their terrifying glory. The subject matter dictates many extremely dark sequences, yet each visual detail is clear and sharp in this flawless picture. The clarity extends to the sound mix, in which Charles Bernstein’s score and many unsettling sound effects (like Freddy’s finger-like knives scraping along metal) add to the tension.

The DVD includes an audio commentary by Craven, Haitkin, and actors Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon that has been borrowed from earlier laserdisc and DVD pressings. This track contains a nice balance of humorous anecdotes and technical information, including discussions of the filmmakers’ choices regarding lenses and camera movement. New to this DVD is a second commentary track featuring 15 participants, including Craven and Haitkin. The ensemble track is extremely well-produced and never feels cluttered, despite the numerous speakers. In fact, the multiple perspectives from producers, actors and crew members yield a comprehensive and riveting account of the production.

The DVD also offers interactive features that allow the viewer to access deleted footage, interviews, and a pop-up “fact track” that contains a wealth of Elm Street trivia. The disc’s best supplement is the 50-minute documentary featurette “Never Sleep Again,” which takes viewers through the project from conception to release. The documentary includes alternate takes and new interviews with Craven and Haitkin, and in addition to providing production history, it explores Nightmare in terms of Craven’s career and the dream-film genre. Further context is provided by “The House That Freddy Built,” a featurette that examines Nightmare’s role in the growth of New Line Cinema (now a subsidiary of Time Warner). A third documentary, “Night Terrors,” includes interviews with Craven and several dream specialists about the nature of nightmares.

All three featurettes are extremely entertaining and insightful, and they are accompanied by three alternate endings, a trivia game, a theatrical trailer, and a DVD-ROM feature that allows the viewer to read Craven’s screenplay while watching the movie. The many hours of extras and the sumptuous transfer make this disc a must for any horror fan.

<< previous || next >>