Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy DVD Review
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 05.08.2010
An exhaustive retrospective on the Elm Street franchise that gives an impressive and remarkably candid look at the world that Freddy built.
Directed by: Daniel Farrands and Andrew Kasch Written by: Thommy Hutson
Starring: Heather Langenkamp - Herself/Narrator Robert Englund - Himself Wes Craven - Himself Robert Shaye - Himself Jack Sholder - Himself Chuck Russell - Himself Renny Harlin - Himself Rachel Talaley - Herself Ronny Yu - Himself John Saxon - Himself Alice Cooper - Himself Mark Patton - Himself Monica Keena - Herself
The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise cannot be described as anything less than iconic. Throughout eight films, the franchise based around dream killer Freddy Krueger has grossed over $300 million worldwide on a total budget of less than $70 million. It facilitated the rise of a movie studio that brought movie-goers such films as Lord of the Rings, Austin Powers and Rush Hour and has millions upon millions of fans throughout the world. The name Freddy Krueger is a household one and his image is one of the most widely-recognized elements of pop culture in the world. With the latest film in the franchise, rebooted by Warner Bros. under the New Line imprint, the director and writer of last year's His Name is Jason documentary have created a retrospective look at the franchise. Entitled Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, the film as hit DVD just after the reboot's release.
The documentary, narrated by Langenkamp, takes a look at the horror franchise from its roots and conception within Wes Craven's mind through the first film's production at New Line Cinema, then a small distribution and production company headed by Robert Shaye. Interviews with cast, crew members and producers discuss the film's development and writing, on through the filming that threatened to bankrupt New Line and Shaye. The film continues on through the first film's success to the further films, touching on each with detail as well as the television series Freddy's Nightmares. Each film is examined in detail with the director, cast members and such commenting on the franchise's rise alongside New Line and the many ups and downs of the series.
The first thing to realize regarding Never Sleep Again is the length. The documentary is very nearly four hours long, a length that completely dwarfs that of His Name Was Jason, the documentary made by the same crew which covered the Friday the 13th series. A good amount of time is to each of the eight films, with the original and the second films getting the lion's share at over thirty-five apiece. The most time-shorted of the films is Freddy's Dead at only seventeen minutes, but what's key with each of these segments is that they never seem rushed or superfluous. Each of the interviews adds to the discussion and while some of them joke around a bit, they all provide their own tidbits that add up to a true wealth of knowledge. To provide an exhaustive list of the various people interviewed would take up too much time as the producers of the documentary lined up over 100 different people who have been involved with the project at some time or another; suffice it to say that all the regulars and biggest influences on the franchise are here. The only people that are noticeable by their absence are the ones who have gone on to become mainstream stars, such as Johnny Depp, Patricia Arquette and Breckin Meyer, though the rest of the cast provide enough information about them that it doesn't seem to be lacking in any holes there.
One of the other and perhaps the most fascinating thing is that the documentary doesn't shy away from the negative. Where His Name Was Jason sometimes tended to ignore the worse parts, the interviews here don't shy away from problematic parts of the series. With Freddy's Revenge, the cast and crew take an in-depth discussion into the perceived subtext of the film, and there are comments about the diminishing quality of the later entries in the franchise. It's refreshing to see a documentary that doesn't gloss over these portions and it certainly makes for a more fulfilling look at the franchise than it otherwise would have been. There are certainly some things that may seem like overly praising from time to time, such as when England calls the dog urinating on Freddy to resurrect him in Part 4 "mythic," but you can see where he's going with it; while you may not agree, you can at least understand that he's not trying to give empty praise.
Another interesting aspect of this "warts and all" approach is the stories of tension during filming that come up. Craven and Shaye had several rough moments during the filming of the first movie and the way the franchise was continued after that against Craven's wishes, and those moments are not tiptoed around at all. Things seem to be patched up for the most part at this point, but those times are still sore spots for both men and it's fascinating to listen to the pressure they were under and the creative and financial differences they had.
Perhaps one of the greatest joys is that the interviews allow us to see where the cast and crew are now. Renny Harlin, who directed Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, talks at some length about how the franchise launched his career (for good or ill), and other cast members talk about where they went after this. It's interesting to see where others have gone. Lezlie Deane, who played Tracy in Freddy's Dead, is particularly startling in her interviews in full-on gothic make-up with a companion at her side. Many of the cast members throughout the series would not become huge names of course, so it is nice to see what they have become in that time and where they have gone.
Each film is its own chapter, along with the television show and a last chapter entitled "The House That Freddy Built" which refers to New Line and touches on its ultimate fate in being absorbed into Warner Bros. in 2008. It is obvious that the subject is still a sore one for Shaye and that time has not yet healed the wounds of him being pushed out. Considering that the studio's success was largely predicated on the Elm Street franchise, it is definitely worthwhile to see the film's history laid alongside that of the studio, and it makes for a doubly-enriching documentary as a result.
At that expansive length, one could be concerned that this documentary might actually run overlong. Thanks to directors Daniel Farrands and Andrew Kasch however, the film is very well-paced and the time flies by. To separate the chapters, the filmmakers use claymation inserts that provide brief moments between the talking heads discussions. These may be a little cheesy at first but they certainly have their charms and in the end they enhance the documentary as opposed to taking away from it.
Film Rating: 10.0
Never Sleep Again is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation and for an independently-budgeted and produced documentary, it looks fantastic. The images are always very clear, with the unavoidable exception of some archival footage such as from the television show or the films. Delineation is strong and there are no print flaws. This is quite possibly the best-looking documentary I've seen on DVD since Joy Division and considering that it is four hours packed onto one dual-layer DVD, it looks wonderful.
Video Rating: 9.0
The audio track for Never Sleep Again is a solid affair, presented in a Dolby stereo mix. Obviously with an interview documentary like this, the sound is not as important as a full-fledged theatrical release, but the sound is very sharp. There isn't a lot of usage over multiple channels but that is fine in a feature that doesn't have need of ambient sounds. The interviews are nicely leveled with composer Sean Schafer Hennessy's score and all in all this is a very solid audio experience. Subtitles are available in English only.
Audio Rating: 8.5
1428 Films has housed their definitive documentary within a standard snap case, with a beautiful piece of art by Matthew Joseph Peak (who did the posters for the first five films) as the cover and on the insert. The DVD's themselves contain a close-up of the girl on the cover and are clearly marked as to which the feature is and which the bonus disc is. The menus are simple but very easy to navigate.
Packaging Rating: 8.0
Extended Interviews: (141:50) As if the documentary itself wasn't enough, the features disc contains nearly two and a half hours of extended interviews. Much of what is discussed here is more fleshing out of the discussion of each of the films, though there are some additional bits that are different and interesting or at least amusing. These include the first-ever reunion of Kim Myers and Mark Patton from Freddy's Revenge in twenty-five years, a bit about Quentin Tarantino's reaction to the Freddy vs. Jason premiere and disappointment that "Freddy vs. Jason…place your bets" was not actually in the film. The two-icon smackdown film gets the most benefit from the extended interviews with almost twenty minutes, but all of the films get a lot more detail from here and it is very nearly an extra movie in and of itself. The most interesting one is the last, focusing on the remake. Many of the principles give their thoughts including Craven, Shaye, Englund and Langenkamp, and the opinions are rather divergent and quite candid.
First Look: Heather Langenkamp's "I Am Nancy": (6:53) This is introduced by Langenkamp and is a sneak peek at her documentary I Am Nancy. From the looks of it this is will focus more specifically on Langenkamp and how identified with the character of Nancy Thompson, and her quest to understand exactly what kind of impact her character has had on Elm Street fans. It's a very different sort of documentary than this by the looks of it but may well be worth checking out when it releases.
For the Love of the Glove: (18:14) This fairly detailed featurette focuses on Freddy's iconic glove and its many iterations throughout the franchise. It has an interview with Mike Becker, an Elm Street collector who has the "missing glove" from the first film, which vanished during production and was the result of a threat to the crew from Bob Shaye. There are interviews with several individuals about the glove throughout the series and discussion about what it represents and the details of creating and using it. They go into the composition of the glove and move onto the fans love for it, including an interview with founder of several different web sites dedicated to making and selling the gloves. It's an interesting short, to be sure; I had no idea that so many sites were just dedicated to creating the glove, and it speaks to the iconic nature of the item.
Fred Heads: The Ultimate Freddy Fans: (12:49) This short is focused on, as the title implies, about the hardcore fans of the franchise, and features interviews with Craven and others about the nature of the fans. It then moves to Becker going through his collection with franchise make-up man David Miller. The collection is incredible, easily crossing the line into obsession and it is both impressive and a little odd. There are interviews with other mega-fans and their collections or how the franchise has impacted their lives. It is akin to the rabid fandoms of Star Wars or Star Trek and if nothing else, it shows how passionately these films have captured people's imaginations.
Horror's Hallowed Grounds: Return to Elm Street: (23:17) This is the longest of the bonus features outside of the extended interviews and a part of the "Horror's Hallowed Grounds" series. Series host Sean Clark takes a trip through the various sets and locations of the first film. He speaks with Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, Robert Rusler and Marshall Bell about the film and shows us various locations that were used in not only the Elm Street film but other famous movies as well. This has its funny moments to be sure, including an "uncomfortable" skit where Clark and Rusler talk about the merits of Part 2 and run afoul of Bell. For people who like to see the places behind the movie, this is a wonderful piece.
Freddy vs. the Angry Video Game Nerd: (5:34) This short features James Rolfe, called the "Angry Video Game Nerd" by virtue of reviewing video games under that name, speaking about Freddy Krueger and his significance as a slasher killer with a personality. He talks about the video games before it moves into a cheesy skit about playing A Nightmare on Elm Street on the original NES. He gives a profanity-laced, largely negative review of the game. It's probably the worst featurette on the DVD but it does have a few good funny moments.
Expanding the Elm Street Universe: Freddy in Comics and Novels: (15:53) This short has interviews with several authors of the books and comic books, where the Nightmare universe has its own life outside of the films in the same way Star Wars and Buffy the Vampire Slayer has. There are summaries of some of the novels and comic stories, including a bit of focus on the Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash comic that nearly became its own movie. There is some discussion of how the expanded universe provided New Line a way to continue the franchise in other directions without dedicating time, money and resources into a host of other movies. Not all the stories sound particularly good, but they're all interesting in their own right and it provides a nice viewpoint into this expanded universe.
The Music of the Nightmare: Conversations with Composers & Songwriters: (13:14) Focusing on the scores of the film, this profiles the composers of the film including Charles Bernstein, Christopher Young, Craig Safan, Angelo Badalamenti, Dokken (who did the theme song for Dream Warriors and others. There are interviews with most of them and they talk about how they got hired and what their approaches were. For fans of scores, this is well worth looking at even if it doesn't go quite as in-depth as some musical featurettes.
Elm Street's Poster Boy: The Art of Matthew Joseph Peak: (7:24) Matthew Peak did most of the posters for the Elm Street films, doing the posters for the first five films, and this interview focuses on his experience making them. He talks about being hired and his concepts for each film and what his thought process was in making them. He makes note of certain interesting aspects and it's a nice little short on the various posters and how they fit the themes of the films.
A Nightmare on Elm Street in 10 Minutes: (10:05) This featurette has the original cast members standing in front of the door to 1428 Elm Street or other backgrounds, reciting some of their lines like was done in the closing credits of the documentary. It goes through all the films and basically is an extended version of that closing credits scene; it's actually very funny in parts.
Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy Teaser Trailer: (0:55) This is the brief teaser that debuted online promoting the DVD. It features Langenkamp narrating over some creepy imagery and finishes with the title sequence; effective, as teasers go.
Special Features Rating: 9.5
The 411: Detailed, informative and truly exhaustive, Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy provides the most extensive and fascinating look at the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise seen to date. With solid narration by Heather Langenkamp and more interviews than should be able to fit on two DVD's, this is a treasure of a set with solid technical aspects and a true wealth of special features. The interviews don't shy away from the problems of the franchise but they don't dwell on them either, allowing for an engrossing and very worthwhile story of the films laid side by side with the rise of New Line Cinema. Without equivocation or doubt, this film is truly a must-own for any Elm Street fan.