Shadowvision: “A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET”
Welcome to Shadowvision, a regular column in which Fangoria.com revisits modern horror films in black-and-white. The purpose is to analyze these films through a new lens, seeing if the classically informed viewing experience will give a new angle to familiar images. If you’d like to watch along at home, it’s simple: go into your TV settings and desaturate the picture completely, then adjust the contrast and brightness to fit either standard or high definition.
Of all the films for Shadowvision to approach, I was particularly curious to explore A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Whereas the series dipped into much weirder territory as directors came and went, Wes Craven’s original is still the most revered and scariest of the franchise. And between the mysterious shadows and the sadistic omnipresence Freddy Krueger, one would assume that NIGHTMARE would be ripe for a monochromatic revisitation.
Of course, going into NIGHTMARE, I knew the film’s penchant for darkness would be both a boon and a burden for the film’s black-and-white visual translation. Therefore, potential viewers should raise the contrast quite high, without blowing out the whites to a distracting level. That, alongside heightening the brightness, will move the picture closer to a natural black-and-white presentation and away from a heavily obscured grey picture.
Unfortunately, even after this heavy lifting, NIGHTMARE is actually noticeably weaker here. Despite many elements seemingly right for the experience, from production design to the practical make-up effects, the tone of the film is too unique to truly feel appropriate to the new format. While some moments feel extraordinarily eerie when stripped of color, the film as a whole never recaptures the magic that it has when viewed normally.
Much of this has to do with the visual components, as every iconic shot is matched by one not conducive to black-and-white. The main issue seems to be the soft lighting, which doesn’t necessarily complement scenes of dialogue and establishing shots as well as it does for the major horror set pieces. The cinematography from Jacques Haitkin may be well enough, especially for the more intricate death sequences, but the visual necessities of the slasher genre lead to large gaps of uninspired framing.
Furthermore, Craven’s direction, while still exceptional, is better fitting to a NIGHTMARE that plays to the slasher genre dynamic over classically informed terror. Instead of playing like a black-and-white monster movie as anticipated, Craven’s subversive direction grounds the film in the ‘80s and takes advantage of the mischief within the malevolence. Craven’s visual relationship to color in NIGHTMARE is also sorely missed upon revisitation.
To NIGHTMARE’s credit, the film’s more terrifying sequences are incredibly effective in black-and-white. In terms of atmosphere, the dream sequences are much more unsettling as the constant threat of Freddy reinstates some mystique to the proceedings. Furthermore, when coupled with the synth-heavy score from Charles Bernstein, NIGHTMARE exudes an almost OUTER LIMITS vibe in black and white that adds gravitas to the supernatural moments.
Nevertheless, the performances in the film also don’t feel as evocative of Craven’s influences when viewed in this manner. John Saxon and Ronee Blakley benefit the most from the conversion, as their classically-informed performances reflect some of the acting of horror past. Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp, Jsu Garcia and Amanda Wyss feel more suited to a colorful ‘80s horror film, playing to teen slasher archetypes with dedication and resolve. And Robert Englund’s extremely animated performance as the torturous Freddy Krueger is out of place in black-and-white, with his make-up and costume appearing less intimidating when stripped of color.
Sporadically effective in black-and-white, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is still best viewed in its natural state. The important visual element, built upon a specific color scheme and era-appropriate mood, removes any classical comparison from the monochromatic experience and, while Craven and his cast do excellent jobs of bringing NIGHTMARE to life, the black-and-white version doesn’t carry the same impact.Recommended for Black and White Consumption?: No.