Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy is a four-hour documentary film that chronicles the entire Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, as well as chronicling the rise of New Line Cinema.
Co-directed by Daniel Farrands and Andrew Kasch, it presents the kinds of in-depth yet light-hearted gems fans care about, not the paint-by-numbers stuff your average studio-produced Blu-ray extra disc typically regurgitates. It was made by genre fans who approach it from a place of love, but more importantly by filmmakers who understand that nothing is precious and nothing is off-limits. Heather Langenkamp, who played the ultimate final girl Nancy Thompson in three of the Nightmare films, serves as executive producer and narrator.
In exploring the Elm Street saga, the film presents photographs, storyboards, conceptual art, publicity materials, archival documents, and behind-the-scenes footage that have never been previously shared. it expands on Wes Craven’s motivations in creating the first Elm Street film and exhaustively explores behind-the-scenes of the original film and all of its sequels. Through interviews, the film shares how cast and crew brought their own worst nightmares to life on screen and examines the impact the series and its mythos have had on pop culture and the horror genre in general. The documentary also explores the rise and fall of Robert Shaye’s New Line Cinema and its reputation as “The House That Freddy Built.”
Q. The name of this doc became prophetic… can you guys talk a little bit about just how ambitious putting this project together actually was?
Dan Farrands: For us, “Never Sleep Again” quickly became “Never Gonna End” once we realized just how involved this show was turning out to be. Now it’s become kind of our little film family’s inside joke but back in 2010 when we were in the thick of production, it was a pretty painful ordeal — kind of like being trapped in a nightmare that you couldn’t wake up from … with Freddy Krueger, no less! Starting out, we thought we would probably end up with a standard 90 minute or 2 hour documentary; little did we know it would turn into a 4 hour behemoth with an additional 4 hours of bonus features! Ultimately, we felt that the interviews and stories had to flow organically and that we didn’t want to simply dictate a running time. We didn’t want to skimp on the good stuff and we felt that (thanks to Andrew and Benni’s seamless editing) that there were just a lot of great stories to tell and points of view to be heard. Documentary filmmaking is incredibly difficult — in many ways I find it more difficult than features — but through the process we figured out a format that worked (and works) best for our shows. It was just really gratifying when fans were so vocal about their appreciation of our no-holds-barred approach to the material. We interviewed well over 100 people spanning all of the ANOES films and it definitely was a challenge tracking down many of them — particularly Mark Patton from “Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge.” The story of how we found him could have been its own bonus feature! That being said, everyone who sat in our “hot seat” was more than game to tell their stories — the good, the bad and the ugly. That’s one of the reasons I think “NSA” works. It doesn’t shy away from the not-always-pleasant moments, meltdowns and mayhem that went into making these movies.
Andrew Kasch: We really wanted to do a Nightmare documentary, especially after the miserable experience of His Name Was Jason, and with the remake coming out, we knew it was now or never. No one in town wanted to make one, so we said “Fuck it” and ultimately did it ourselves. When we started, we only had Heather Langenkamp and that was it. So we were literally shooting whoever we could get in our tiny studio. And it was incredibly scary because at the time, we didn’t even know if we could get Robert Englund or Wes Craven. Thanks to Dan & Thommy’s resourcefulness and our crew attacking this thing tenaciously, it gradually got bigger and bigger. Over 100 interviews later, we sat back and said “What the hell have we just done??? Is anyone gonna watch this thing???” To top it all off, we only had two-to-three months to do post production on it. To put that in perspective, most 90 minute feature documentaries take YEARS to edit. So I spent the spring locked in my room where I edited nonstop and didn’t sleep or see daylight for what felt like an eternity. By the time it was over, I was insane and practically dead. I probably looked worse than the sickest junkie at a rehab facility! We worked up against and beyond our deadline and couldn’t even see straight, so when it went out for pressing, I was absolutely terrified. It was this big, furiously slapped together 4-hour behemoth of a thing. On top of it all, we were getting blasted online by everyone because they thought it was going to be like the Jason doc. So it was a major relief when it came out and the reaction was overwhelmingly positive.
Q. In having immersed yourselves in Freddy’s world unlike anyone else (I think you probably know more about the ANOES franchise than Wes Craven does!), what’s one of the most interesting or eye-opening things you discovered? I mean, for instance, were you able to pinpoint how and why a demonic child-molester character has become such a pop-culture icon?
DF: I’ll give full credit to Andrew and our writer/producer [Thommy Hutson] for being the real Freddy fanatics of the group. Their knowledge of the franchise was invaluable throughout the process and I was always amazed at the insights and creativity that came to us not only from our team but from our fellow fans. I am still amazed and awestruck by the work of Michael Granberry, who designed and animated the opening title sequence and our chapter interstitials in stop motion. It was like inviting fans from around the world to participate in our “little” horror documentary and it was very rewarding when we received so much support from the fan community. Personally, I was always a huge fan of the series, especially the original, “Part 3” and Wes’s New Nightmare. I think I was most fascinated by Robert’s take on the origins of Freddy — who he is, why this phantom was able to infiltrate the nightmares of the Elm Street kids, and why Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy really was the perfect foil for him. The ANOES films are incredibly inventive, entertaining and intelligent on many levels. Not only do they work as horror films but they can also be examined on a much more psychological and societal level which I think is part of the reason the films have stood the test of time.
AK: Charting the super stardom of a character who is basically a pedophile serial killer was still the weirdest and most fun thing to do and to this day, I don’t think anyone can fully comprehend how it happened. Beyond the box office bucks, I think it has a lot to do with Robert Englund’s charisma. Pop culture is so bizarre. It takes on a life of its own and mutates into strange things. There’s a part in our doc that dives full force into just how overboard it went – to the point where Robert saw his face on bottles of valium in Russia. And it’s only gotten stranger since then. Today, they’re talking about a Hunger Games theme park! This is a franchise about an evil dictatorship that oppresses the people and forces their children to kill each other – and they want to turn it into the next big family tourist destination! It’s like opening a Salo themed restaurant. People do the weirdest shit when they capitalize on things and I find that endlessly fascinating.
Q. What’s one of the coolest artifacts you uncover in the doc and as fans, what’s your own personal favorite find?
AK: Every day was a geeky adventure and it felt like we were the temporary custodians of some Freddy museum. We found a treasure trove of cool shit, but my favorite find was getting to read the original Skipp & Spector draft of A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. I loved their 80’s splatterpunk novels and had been wondering for years what their version was like. And it’s pretty damn fantastic stuff. It had real characters, themes and set-pieces that perfectly extended the Dream Warriors story into interesting, dark places. Even if New Line had stuck to that first draft, it would have been a hundred times better than what they ended up making. I still would love to see that script adapted into a graphic novel kinda like they did with Frank Miller’s Robocop sequels.
DF: This is a very difficult one to answer as there were truly so many interesting discoveries that we made along the way. I think the most surprising one to me was the nearly shot-by-shot Bollywood remake of the original ANOES It literally and unapologetically ripped off Wes’s movie, and I think it may have even liberally “borrowed” Charles Bernstein’s score. I guess copyright doesn’t mean much in India but it was also interesting and sort of amusing to see how they tried (horribly) to re-create scenes such as Tina appearing in the body bag at the high school. I also loved meeting with a fan who brought his huge collection of screen-used props, costumes and Freddy gloves out to California where David Miller examined and authenticated them — he has one of the actual (and very rare) “hero” gloves used in the original film. It was also really fun looking through the scrapbooks containing hundreds of candid photos taken by cast and crew. These aren’t the things you’d find in any of the studio vaults. These were the personal memories of the people who actually made the movies allowing us access to their private keepsakes. To me you can’t get any better than that!
Q. Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp and Wes Craven have all talked about ANOES so many times. What are some of the ways you got them to think outside the box for your definitive doc, and were they pretty cooperative? Was there anyone who was hard to get?
AK: We really made it a point to tell each person being interviewed “We’re not a studio. Be honest and tell the truth.” I was paranoid about this being a puff piece so we really pushed that angle hard. Sometimes a little too hard. I remember Dan and I bombarded our Elm Street 2 interviewees so hard about the gay subtext that some would say “You know, there’s other stuff in the movie to talk about too.” And we were like “NO! You have some serious explaining to do!” Some people were very forthcoming about the difficulties and others were very green about everything. But the passage of time always helps people open up more, which is why you can be more honest when you do a retrospective.
DF: Heather was part of the project from the get-go (as both narrator and executive producer). What I loved about her interview, though, was that she really shared some great insights into the character of Nancy Thompson. She articulated this much better than I can, but Nancy was a true warrior (even down to the pajamas she wore during her final confrontation with Freddy; Heather considered this costume her “battle armor” and she even kept the pajamas all these years and showed them on camera). Wes Craven is such an intelligent man and a consummate filmmaker that it was just sheer geek delight hearing him recount the origins of his script and the character of Freddy (who was named after a childhood bully). We really wanted to delve into the psychological aspects of the films, including the sequels which of course grew increasingly hit or miss as Freddy became less of an object of fear and more of a circus sideshow act.
Of course we would have loved to have had Johnny Depp and Patricia Arquette and a number of others, but in the end they are well-represented in the documentary and it’s fascinating to hear what their co-stars remembered about them in the earliest days of their careers. As I said, everyone we interviewed really went for it in terms of being incredibly open and candid with the stories they told and we tried to inform our documentary with insightful behind the scenes moments and explanations of the memorable effects and set-pieces we really wanted to examine the films themselves and the reasons behind the ANOES series’ enduring legacy.
Q. The DVD has been out, and it’s gotten some fantastic response from existing devotees as well as wowed casual fans and won over some new ones – so what can you say about the Blu-ray?
DF: Like Freddy himself, it seems like “NSA” is going to live on (and on). The show itself hasn’t changed — but really, who doesn’t want to see outtakes of Johnny Depp swallowed up and spit out of a bed in glorious HD?
AK: Ask any filmmaker – not having your stuff available in HD is like hearing your band on a bootleg cassette tape. I personally can’t stand to look at the DVD because of all the compression on the image. Now you can see every one of our no-budget imperfections in perfect clarity! But in all seriousness, it feels great to finally have it on Blu where it always belonged.
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