Reviewed by MattFini
Starring Wes Craven, Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, and about one hundred more
Directed by Dan Farrands and Andrew Kasch
Distributed by CAV Distributing Corp
Hard to believe it’s been three decades since 1980 and that rampant Freddy mania was over twenty years ago. In the late 80s New Line Cinema was happy to meet the ravenous fan demand with a long string of sequels to Wes Craven’s 1984 watershed classic while imbuing Mr. Krueger with a simultaneously cheapo anthology show. Meanwhile, the world’s favorite child killer had manifested himself in a wide array of merchandise, ranging from children’s pajamas to plush dolls and even Nike sneakers! Freddy Krueger truly did conquer the world back then, and I wouldn’t have believed it had I not lived through it myself.
And while the 1980s suffered no shortage of popular screen psychopaths, it was Freddy who broke into the mainstream to become a recognizable cultural phenomenon. It is perhaps fitting, then, that he becomes the subject of the most expansive franchise documentary ever produced. Freddy may not have been my favorite cinematic madman, but there’s no denying that Never Sleep Again – The Elm Street Legacy tackles the material with the breadth and enthusiasm appropriate for the only boogeyman with seemingly universal appeal – and rightfully so.
Until now, the biggest problem with documentaries of this ilk is that participant screen time has been sorely limited. Last year’s His Name Was Jason, for example, went through the trouble of finding many lesser-known participants in that series only to reduce their contributions to that of a glorified sound bite. The creative team behind Never Sleep Again are acutely aware of these frustrations, however, and sidestep the folly by diving head-first into the Elm Street franchise. They refuse to simply explore these films in marginal detail, choosing instead to revel in every last gory facet.
It was the right move, and because of it Never Sleep Again pays off in spades. Clocking in with an impressive four-hour runtime, the most shocking aspect is how easily it can be consumed in one sitting. Assembling a documentary of this depth couldn’t have been an easy task, but the segments unfold in a manner that is informative, honest, hilarious and always entertaining. Pieces on the weaker installments of the series happen to be more enjoyable than those movies themselves (Freddy vs. Jason, for example) – mainly because the filmmakers have obtained a surprising amount of candidness from their interviewees, resulting in reflections that are consistently fascinating.
Unsurprisingly, Wes Craven’s original film is given the most amount of screen time, resulting in a forty-five-minute retrospective of the 1984 classic. Considering that the origins of A Nightmare on Elm Street have been documented through previous DVD extras and past retrospectives, it’s amazing that directors Dan Farrands and Andrew Kasch were able to assemble a segment rife with information that wasn’t common knowledge — most interestingly that David Warner (The Omen) was tapped to play Freddy at one time. What a different flick it would’ve been…
It’s honest, too. Fans (and detractors) will be delighted by the Freddy’s Revenge chapter, in which Craven weighs in on what a terrible idea he felt a sequel was, and Bob Shaye admits it started out as nothing more than a desperate cash grab. Of course the cast and crew of Part 2 are on hand to deliver the most in-depth and enjoyable dissection of the film’s rampant homosexual themes, and it doesn’t disappoint. But there’s dirt dished on nearly every installment: Tensions flared with Chuck Russell while shooting Nightmare 3, the well-documented mess of Nightmare 4’s production is explored in further detail, while nobody is under any illusion that Freddy’s Dead was anything but a misfire.
What’s great, though, is that while the lesser films are evaluated with honesty, they’re never disrespected. Each one of these films has its fans, and that credo is never abandoned for an effortless joke, no matter how easy it may be to take a few cheap shots at The Dream Child (a sequel I’ve come to love, for the record). It illustrates the amount of respect that the filmmakers have approached the material with, proving that there was no better team to tackle this. This Nightmare documentary was made by fans, for fans. And it shows every step of the way.
One of the best things is how gung ho everyone is to reminisce about Freddy. It’s true that there are some glaring omissions along the way concerning some cast members, but it wasn’t for the lack of trying. And the majority of actors, writers, directors and make-up maestros are on hand to reflect on their experiences, almost all of whom do so with so much infectious affinity that I wish I loved every Elm Street movie equally. Hearing what Renny Harlin was aiming for, for example, while making The Dream Master made me want to re-evaluate Part 4 in a different light.
While watching NSA, one gets the impression that everyone (including New Line CEO Bob Shaye) tried to make a good Freddy movie each time out. Shaye’s reputation is that of a shrewd businessman, but it’s also clear that the fans were always in mind when making each sequel, even if he was diligently chasing the almighty dollar at the same time. Over the course of the movie, we come to see how much Freddy has come to mean to guys like Shaye, Craven and Robert Englund, but also to the actors and creators of each movie who seem delighted to be part of an enduring legacy. The sentiment gives NSA an emotional weight that is not often found in films such as this, and that makes it stand out among its peers.
And once you’ve reached the other side of the documentary, there’s still an expansive trove of special features to feast your eyes upon. You get two additional hours of interviews that are spaced out by movie, and there’s plenty of great information to be mined from these deleted bits. Then there’s a fifteen-minute featurette on Elm Street’s expanded universe in novels and comic books. Since I actually owned a few of the older Nightmare comics as a kid, it was a blast to watch this piece, which also delves into how these authors came up with different approaches to Freddy.
But my favorite bit is the extensive look at the absolutely GORGEOUS poster art from the series. As a huge geek for original artwork, I couldn’t have been happier with this inclusion, and it’s wonderful to see these masterpieces get their due. By that token, there’s a look at the scores and music of each film (with more Dokken, hell yeah!) that is so good that my only complaint is that it wasn’t longer. We also get the Angry Video Game Nerd’s review of the Nightmare NES game. I’m a fan of the Nerd so I was more than happy to see this well produced little video included in the package.
For the Love of the Glove is a look at the most fanatical “Fredheads” out there, and a sneak peak at Heather Langenkamp’s own documentary, I Am Nancy, looks like it could very well be a worthy companion piece to NSA. Finally, we have Nightmare on Elm Street in 10 Minutes, which is a cute little bit of the actors reciting some of their popular lines from the movie. Not a terribly important little feature, but it’s fun to see. There’s also an Easter Egg of Charles Fleischer ranting, raving and rapping like a lunatic. Well worth digging for, if only to reaffirm you own sanity!
In the end, Never Sleep Again – The Elm Street Legacy isn’t just a tribute to an enduring and innovative series of horror films, it’s also a beautiful gift to the fans. Not just another documentary, it’s now the definitive one by which all other movie documentaries will be judged. The original Nightmare franchise has, unfortunately, given way to a horrendous remake that might herald the start of a new series, but that’s not mentioned anywhere here (except for where it is rightfully slammed by Craven and Shaye on Disc Two). Instead, this documentary feels a lot like the ultimate conclusion to the original series. It’s a real testament to the crew behind this sucker, some of which are Dread Central staff, and as a fan my hat goes off to them for giving the bastard son of a hundred maniacs the proper sendoff he was originally cheated out of. This was a long time coming but well worth the wait.
5 out of 5
5 out of 5