Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy Review
25 years after the iconic debut of Freddy Krueger, Never Sleep Again taps into the most lucrative horror franchise of all time in its evaluation of the eight feature films made between 1984 and 2003.
For many this might well be the ultimate resource for all things Elm Street. Narrated by original star Heather Langenkamp - also producing here - the documentary from 1428 Films runs close to a staggering 4 hours, featuring all-new interviews with key cast and crew members, spanning every feature and spin-off from A Nightmare on Elm Street to Freddy vs. Jason, with input from those who turned New Line Cinema from a car-boot office into a money-spinning juggernaut. Dedicating roughly 30 minutes to each instalment in the series - which are neatly book-ended by some terrific stop-motion animated sequences - Never Sleep Again openly delves into the development of what became a major franchise, serving up candid behind-the-scenes footage and anecdotes as it digs through the often tense production periods. There is a welcome frankness and an overall acknowledgment that these pictures sometimes went beyond the call of duty in their social perceptions, which leads onto some curious dissecting of subtexts involving homosexuality, child abuse, suicide and abortion; these naturally carry plenty of weight, but it’s also apparent that they paved the way for some of the franchise’s more ridiculous moments through their often over-ambitious executions, which inevitably led onto to a couple becoming unintentionally amusing fodder for fans. Away from exploring various undertones some of the more interesting moments in the documentary involve the conflicts of interest, with Wes Craven himself discussing his early beginnings on the Nightmare project, his not-quite amicable departure from the series, and ultimately his putting past grievances behind him - along New Line founder Bob Shaye chipping in - only to return and see his creation through to a satisfyingly cathartic conclusion. Additionally there is some wonderful input from the masters who brought Craven’s visions to life; the talking through the ambitious stages of make-up and effects work being often as mind-bending as they are fascinating.
Perhaps the most poignant thing, however, is the participation of all the actors who have graced the films over a period of twenty years. Never Sleep Again is notable for the absence of Johnny Depp and Patricia Arquette, but otherwise they’re all here in full voice, and it’s interesting to see a few of these people older, wiser and in some respects haunted by their own evident insecurities or on the mend from freely-admitted past addictions. There is a sense of bitterness at times regarding attitudes toward various aspects of shooting, and it’s often disguised rather jokingly, but many seem proud to have been immortalised in dying by Freddy’s hands, and it’s intriguing nonetheless to see how the Nightmare features shaped their lives. Through these personal recollections we are left with various emotions as the cast and crew share some moments of laughter, apathy, genuine feelings of regret, but above all sincerity toward what the films managed to accomplish in terms of resonating with modern cinema audiences; and throughout all of this directors Daniel Farrands and Andrew W. Kasch maintain a delicate balance in the telling of Freddy’s sometimes rocky journey. There is a feeling that there is still plenty to be said in relation to the series, that given the good and bad each film could realistically be given 4 hours to themselves, but as far as documentaries go this is undoubtedly a solid piece of entertainment which no fan of film making in general should be without. A love letter, not only addressed to a figure who became an unlikely anti-hero, but so too a once small company that dared to dream.
CAV Distribution’s anamorphic 1.85:1 presentation compliments the feature respectably. The newly recorded interviews, shot in HD obviously fare the best, despite a slight push in colour balance, which gives way to some overly reddish hues. Otherwise detail is naturally fine, with good contrast. There is plenty of archive footage interspersed throughout; the clips from the movies look especially good, while the behind-the-scenes stuff and television footage, which were mostly shot on tape, are as to be expected.
Likewise, the English DD2.0 track isn’t particularly demanding, but it does the job well. Most importantly is that dialogue is always clear and there are no defects in the mix to be reported. Well done for including English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Disc 2 houses all of the bonus material and kicks off with an additional hour’s worth of deleted interview footage, affording approximately 10 minutes to each film in the series, as well as offering a few very vocal minutes on the remake. Due to not being included in the main feature, the majority of interview snippets are left against green screen, which isn’t a huge deal, but a big shame is that neither are there any movie clips to provide context for the interviewees’ stories. Still, it’s a decent hour despite the content being made up of little asides, through which we’re told some interesting titbits and get to catch up a little more on what the various cast members have been up to in the years since.
From here a good portion of the featurettes generally gear toward fandom. First Look: Heather Langenkamp’s ‘ I Am Nancy’ is a bit of self-promotion for Lagenkamp’s upcoming documentary, in which she goes around conventions meeting Nightmare fans and pondering why the character of Nancy hasn’t been as lovingly embraced as that of Freddy. Que awkwardness. Following on from this is For the Love of The Glove in which expert and avid collector Mike Becker takes us through the amassment of original glove props and clothing in his possession. Joining him is Special Make-up EFX artist David Miller, who’s all too happy to further authenticate the pieces. Then it’s onto a myriad of Freddy glove replica builders, where we learn that there are far too many Freddy glove replica builders in the world. Then we reach Fred Heads: The Ultimate Freddy Fans, which is essentially a collection of home-made videos from Nightmare aficionados, cut around footage of Heather Langenkamp going around conventions and wondering why Nancy isn’t as popular as Freddy. Hmmm…..
Horror’s Hallowed Grounds: Return to Elm Street is a twenty-minute episode from the U.S. television show created and hosted by Sean Clark, in which famous locations from horror cinema are re-visited. Throwing in some parodying humour and featuring several cameo appearances from actors of various installments, we’re taken on a tour through Freddy’s playground, seeing the original Elm Street house, cemetery and school. Heather Langenkamp and Amanda Wyss feature a little more predominantly in recalling certain shoots, to provide some extra bonus trivia.
The fun continues with Freddy vs. The Angry Videogame Nerd, featuring Nerd creator James D. Rolfe expressing not so much his love for A Nightmare on Elm Street the movie, but rather his annoyance at the ineptitude of the NES game tie-in. We’re presented with his original video in which Freddy comes to haunt the Nerd and forces him to play through his utterly nonsensical videogame. It’s fun, and Rolfe is certainly enthusiastic and full of nostalgic love, which is a trait that often successfully accompanies his online video series.
Expanding the Elm Street Universe: Freddy in Comic Books and Novels features interviews with various authors of spin-off novels and comics, who tap into the qualities of what makes Freddy so widely revered. The most interesting piece for me is the look at the comic-book ‘Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash‘, which at one point had fought hard to make it to film. Alas. Next we’ve The Music of The Nightmare: Conversations with Composers and Songwriters, where we meet composers Charles Bernstein, Christopher Young, Craig Safan and J. Peter Robinson, with additional input from Tuesday Knight and rock band ‘Dokken’. Each composer talks of bringing their own style to their respective movies and touching upon influences, with Christopher Young making a solid statement in that a major flaw with the series was that it ultimately had no real continuity in terms of themes.
As a poster collector - though I don’t own any from this particular series - Elm Street's Poster Boy: The Art of Matthew Joseph Peak is an interesting little look at how the artist went about designing his equally iconic work for Nightmares 1-5 and how his themes sometimes went challenged by the studio. It does pain me though to see his original paintings hung up in pieces; admitting to a rage-filled moment upon which he tore most of them apart. Finally we’ve A Nightmare on Elm Street in 10 Minutes, whereby many of the cast members from movies 1-8 do a quick read-through of some of their lines to deliver what is a very silly thing indeed.
And that’s it. Now, where’s the fucking bourbon!?!