Written by: Thommy Hutson
Directed by: Daniel Farrands and Andrew Kasch
Starring: The cast and crew of the Nightmare on Elm Street series
Reviewed by: Brett G.
”Freddy has been very, very good to me.”
When Robert Englund utters the above line towards the end of Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, it echoes the sentiments of everyone involved with the franchise, including the fans. By the time you make your way through this eight hour trip down Elm Street, the appreciation and love for this franchise becomes very evident. The horror fanbase in general is a rabid one, but the franchises especially tend to attract the more hardcore crowd. Having been a Nightmare on Elm Street fan for twenty years, it’s nice to see everyone involved take a loving look back on the series that has meant so much to me personally. Featuring an assortment of the franchise’s cast, crew, and fans, Never Sleep Again is the ultimate Nightmare retrospective that shows that Freddy indeed has been good to everyone who’s ever encountered him.
The meat and potatoes of the retrospective is the documentary itself, and you’d better be prepared to set aside an entire afternoon to watch it. Clocking in at a whopping four hours, the documentary chronicles the 20 year history of the franchise, beginning with the genesis of the first film and culminating with the release of Freddy vs. Jason. Along the way, the documentary hits every film in between, and even takes a detour through Freddy’s Nightmares, the short-lived Elm Street television series. Featured in the look back is a veritable who’s who of the Nightmare series ranging from the obvious titans (Englund, Langenkamp, and Wilcox) to the more obscure (such as the kid who reads Hamlet in the original film, who also happens to be Daryl Hannah’s brother). There’s also plenty of people that were behind the camera, including every director, many of the writers, cinematographers, and effects crew. The documentary logically progresses by examining how each film came to fruition, leading to plenty of interesting anecdotes and facts for each film. There’s also plenty of nuts and bolts technical stuff that explains just how they pulled off some of the more imaginative sequences the franchise had to offer. While the length of the documentary seems rather daunting, it moves quite briskly, and manages to be quite entertaining and informative.
While much of this information will be old hat for the most seasoned of Elm Street fans, there’s still a lot to enjoy here. One thing all viewers will appreciate is the candor; there are many instances where the cast and crew don’t whitewash events. A common element among most of the films’ productions was the rushed and under-budgeted nature of the shoots, which lead to plenty of tensions behind the scenes. Despite being a mostly loving reflection, Never Sleep Again also manages to expose just how hellish shooting a Hollywood film can be at times. The segment on Dream Warriors, a film with a notoriously short production schedule, is a particularly enlightening look at how a mostly inexperienced crew managed to come together to create what many fans feel is the best film in the franchise. It’s actually a small miracle that the film turned out as well as it did, and that’s even more evident after this revealing look.
Indeed, there are very few stones left unturned here. The films themselves are sliced and diced with a precision that Freddy himself would appreciate. Cut sequences are discussed, and many of these scenes are actually incorporated into the documentary. There’s candid, behind-the-scenes footage of everything from Englund sitting in the makeup chair to ill-fated effects shots and sequences that went awry. The documentary even transports us back in time with archive footage of the glorious 80s to remind us that Freddy was once a horror king who showed up on talk shows and the 11:00 news. Nostalgia is always critical for a retrospective, and Never Sleep Again succeeds here especially by setting the scene so well and grounding the series in its context.
Perhaps the most fun part of Never Sleep Again are the various anecdotes and enthusiasm of the interviewees. New Line founder Bob Shaye is often characterized as a maverick whose passion for entertainment trickled all the way down to each crew member. Robert Englund is as graceful and intelligent as ever, offering his own unique and philosophical insights on the series. Chuck Russell still loves his barking pig gag, and OTH-favorite Renny Harlin is portrayed as a Finnish idiot savant who literally begged for his directing job and did his best to give teenage boys scantily-clad women. On that subject, Linnea Quigley and her breasts manage to make an appearance. Ken Sagoes and Clu Gulager reveal themselves to be genuinely hilarious individuals. The homosexual overtones of Freddy’s Revenge are discussed candidly for perhaps the first time. The arduous development hell of Freddy vs. Jason is an obvious talking point, and this retrospective serves as a good reminder as to why all the pre-Shannon/Swift drafts were atrocious. Hell, even Dokken shows up at one point and discusses how they became involved with Nightmare 3. It’d be impossible to relate just how much information this documentary contains--just know that it’s packed, and will feature something interesting for even the most hardcore fans of the series.
Once you’re finished with the documentary, your nightmare is only beginning, as there are another four hours of bonus features. Most interesting here are the extended interviews with cast and crew. Featuring information and anecdotes that didn’t make the final cut, these segments delve more deeply into each film. Here you'll find random tidbits like deleted scenes and even a story about Quentin Tarantino's reaction at the Hollywood premiere of Freddy vs. Jason. There’s even a segment on the recently-released remake, and it’s especially interesting to see the disparate reactions from all involved with the original. Shaye is most candid here, and pulls no punches when describing his disappointment. Along with these extended interviews, there’s also features that take a look at the music and poster art of the series, a look at how the Elm Street series has expanded to comics and novels, and a preview of the upcoming Heather Langenkamp documentary entitled I Am Nancy. One segment is dedicated to the fans of the series and even features their own submitted artwork and memorabilia collections. Another segment discusses the various gloves used in the films and the online community that has dedicated itself to creating replica gloves. Finally, there are a few humorous features, including a nice trip back to the locations of the original film, the Angry Video Game Nerd’s encounter with the NES video game, and, lastly, the Nightmare on Elm Street series is re-enacted in ten minutes by the films’ casts. Unofficially, the entire package is a nice companion piece to the extra features disc from the old New Line box set from a decade ago.
Never Sleep Again is a truly exhaustive look back at a series that obviously has meant a lot to many people. It’s a reminder of what makes A Nightmare on Elm Street so special in the first place. Renny Harlin calls it the best thing that ever happened to him, and I can say without hesitation that it’s defined a huge portion of my life. I wouldn’t be here at OTH if not for this series, and I would have missed out on meeting some of my best friends without it. Without a doubt the best segment in the whole thing comes near the end, when the subject of New Line itself is discussed. The studio will always be known as “The House that Freddy Built,” a fact that isn’t lost on those who can recall when it was an independent distributor that operated out of Bob Shaye’s car. It’s appropriate that New Line itself effectively died right around the same time the Nightmare remake was announced in early 2008. It was an end of two eras, neither of which are likely to be forgotten. The Nightmare legacy is one that will endure forever, and Never Sleep Again reinforces this. In that last segment, a very emotional Shaye thanks everyone involved with the series, including the fans. It’s a heartfelt moment that truly reveals what a labor of love the whole ride was for everyone involved, and this passion is seen throughout the documentary. Of course, Shaye's got it all backwards--the pleasure has been all ours. For Nightmare fans, this truly is the ultimate love letter, and it’s proof that the nightmare will never truly end. Buy it!
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