I recently reviewed both the original A Nightmare on Elm Street on Blu-ray, as well as the so-so 2010 reboot, so I’ve made my feelings about the franchise pretty clear. While I love Craven’s first film, I’ve almost no use for the sequels, so at first blush, a retrospective encompassing the entire series isn’t something that screams “must see!” to me. However, when it’s something that’s put together with such care, attention to detail, and pure polish as Never Sleep Again – The Elm Street Legacy, I’m willing to set aside my (in)differences with the lesser entries in the series.
Directed by Daniel Farrends and Andrew Kasch, Never Sleep Again is an exhaustive, 240 minute look at the Elm Street films in all of their gory glory. Unlike previous retrospectives of this nature, where the first film is given the lion’s share of the attention, Farrends and Kasch’s film goes over each film with a fine tooth comb, breaking them down through dozens of interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and photographs, unedited scenes, stories from the set, and a refreshingly neutral perspective. It’s too often that we see films such as this pandering to its subject as though it were a promotional tool. Rather than gloss over the weaker links of the franchise, Never Sleep Again dedicates equal time to them, offering both negative and positive viewpoints that result in some of the documentary’s most fascinating bits of deconstruction.
Take, for example, the segment focusing on my least favorite entry in the franchise, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, in which the film’s latent homoeroticism is thoroughly examined with some truly insightful commentary by the film’s writer, David Chaskin, lead actor (the openly gay Mark Patton), and the hilarious Clu Gulager, as well as director, Jack Sholder (who swears he had no idea how homoerotic the film was until it was completed). Chaskin readily admits that the homoerotic subtext was intentional, but he never expected it to play as obviously as it did, while New Line President, Robert Shaye, seems absolutely surprised by the whole thing. It’s really funny and enlightening stuff, but, of course, Farrands and Kasch don’t dedicate the entire segment to this; we also learn quite a bit about the tensions that arose between Craven and Shaye after money disputes over the original film, as well as Craven’s general distaste for this sequel in particular.
Another reviled entry in the series, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, gets a thorough picking over, with much of the cast and crew (especially Rachel Talalay) offering mea culpas for what is widely considered the franchises’ most hackneyed offering. After watching this segment, however, I’ve decided to revisit the film as it’s now clear to me that Talalay’s intent, here, was to offer something along the lines of an old Warner Bros. cartoon cum John Waters (with whom Talalay was a frequent collaborator). It’s revealed that much of the crew were Waters regulars, and that, at one time, the oversized transsexual legend, Divine, was to make a cameo. Knowing this won’t make Freddy’s Dead a better “Elm Street” film by any means, but now that I have a better understanding of Talalay’s intentions and inspirations, I’d like to see the film again on its own terms.
Actually, I’d have to say that, after watching Never Sleep Again, I’m looking forward to revisiting all of the films in this series, especially The Dream Master and The Dream Child, as the enthusiasm that went into making these films is presented here in such a manner that it’s contagious. Even the troubled productions are reminisced about with such fondness and sense of camaraderie that I almost feel guilty for not enjoying them! Seeing these cast members and filmmakers and effects artists all wax nostalgic about their experiences on Elm Street made me nostalgic, as well, and I found myself pining for the days when slasher films and b-grade horror movies ruled the multiplex.
Never Sleep Again is chockfull of great memories, great stories, and great fun for not only Elm Street fans, but fans of 80’s horror in general. It’s a blast to revisit the franchise with all of the familiar faces on hand (literally every cast member and contributor you could hope to see save for Johnny Depp and Patricia Arquette…hell, even Dokken makes an appearance!), and it’s all enhanced by some nifty visual embellishments that incorporate claymation title cards and fun animated bits (including a fantastic credits sequence). It’s a staggeringly comprehensive 240 minutes of sheer fan bliss, and is quite simply the best horror documentary I’ve ever seen.
Not content with giving us a mere four hour documentary, the filmmakers have amassed just as much extra content for a second disc of supplemental material that includes two hours of extended interview footage, various fan-centric featurettes, and some short goodies focusing on Elm Street paraphernalia and ephemera. That’s a total of eight hours worth of entertainment for those keeping score at home, making this not only an essential purchase for Elm Street aficionados, but genre fans as well. As if I even need to say it, Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy gets my highest possible recommendation.