Are there really people in Hollywood who have sold their souls to Satan in exchange for fame, fortune, and an unlined forehead? Who knows? But there is a group of movie bigwigs who definitely find themselves in deep debt to one devilish character: nightmare haunter, child killer, and Burn Victims Quarterly subscriber Freddy Krueger. Those who should daily kiss their head-shaped ”Freddy Fright Squirter” water pistol (an actual piece of spin-off merchandise) with gratitude include Wes Craven and Johnny Depp, whose cinematic careers were, respectively, in the dumper and completely nonexistent prior to 1984’s original Nightmare on Elm Street film. The success of this tale about a supernatural maniac who slays teens in their dreams helped transform New Line from a small distribution company into a major production force. It was thanks to Craven’s film — and its numerous sequels (seven and counting) — that the studio was ultimately capable of financing not only a string of other horror franchises (Blade, Final Destination) but also more respectable fare including the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Yes, it’s hard to underestimate the importance of A Nightmare on Elm Street, and the extras on this two-disc special edition make no attempt to do so. The ”House That Freddy Built” featurette illuminates just how vital the Elm Street series was to New Line (”We didn’t have much else,” admits company chief Robert Shaye), while the documentary ”Never Sleep Again” traces the film’s gestation and eruption into the American teenage psyche. With two commentaries — one old, one new — also present among the bonus materials, there’s a fair amount of repetition. The absence of any contribution from Depp is disappointing. But you’re never that far away from an entertaining nugget of information (Robert Englund’s portrayal of Freddy was partly based on James Cagney; Peter Jackson wrote a script for the fifth sequel).
Alas, if the amount of Elm Street info here is almost frightening, the film itself is not nearly so. True, some of the effects remain nicely repulsive; Freddy himself comes across as a genuinely nasty piece of work, far removed from his later incarnation as what a film historian describes elsewhere on the DVD as ”the Henny Youngman of horror.” But the movie now seems dated and slow, with a script whose most memorable moments can be comically awful, as when Depp declaims, ”Look, we have reason to believe that there might be something very strange going on here!” At the end of ”Never Sleep Again,” costar Heather Langenkamp reveals that she still dreams of Freddy. But it’s hard to imagine this film being responsible for too many fresh nightmares.