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Blu-ray Review: ‘Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy’

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“Every kid knows who Freddy is. He’s like Santa Claus or King Kong.” – Heather Langenkamp, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.

NeverSleepAgainCoverAs if director Daniel Farrands’ Crystal Lake Memories — a nearly seven-hour opus to Jason Vorhees wasn’t enough — Image Entertainment reminds us that he already tackled another horror icon three years earlier. Clocking in at nearly five-hours, Farrands and company chronicle the trials and tribulations of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise with Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy. Featuring interviews with hundreds of members of the series’ cast and crew — including: Wes Craven, Heather Langenkamp (also narrating), and Robert Englund (Freddy himself). Never Sleep Again takes us through everything you ever wanted to know about the Nightmare on Elm Street series, with Image Entertainment upgrading the documentary to Blu-ray on January 21. Unfortunately, Johnny Depp does not appear, but an inclusion of a clip from his Inside the Actors Studio minimally fills the void.

Covering all the bases, film by film, the best bits are included in the segments revolving around Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge, 5: The Dream Child, and Freddy’s Dead. The homoerotic debate has never waned surrounding the first sequel and even stars Mark Patton (Jesse Walsh), Kim Myers (Lisa Webber), Robert Rusler (Ron Grady), and Marshall Bell (Coach Schneider), continue to exploit possibly the most controversial of all the films. Patton at least apologizes for his dance sequence, but even screenwriter David Chaskin and director Jack Sholder admit they were completely naïve to the undertones during production — thankfully not apologizing — but letting the film stand up to its own debate. Another section quickly covers the TV spin-off, Freddy’s Nightmares and their battles with staying true to the series while attempting to find their own brand of fun. Although it feels like the series was short-lived, it actually ran a surprising three seasons.

The Dream Child dives into the production woes as director Stephen Hopkins talks about how the script would change day to day and how his own comic book inspirations began to take over. This film received the most cuts by the MPAA, which is not surprising considering it’s one of the more tame films as far as the kills are concerned. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of all the films, is that Peter Jackson wrote a draft of Freddy’s Dead revolving around an old geezer version of Freddy, bullied by kids until he accidentally kills one granting him his powers back. Oh, what could have been! Jackson isn’t the only now-famous screenwriter to tackle the world of Freddy. Frank Darabont (Dream Warriors) and Brian Helgeland (The Dream Master) also contributed as co-writers. Let’s also not forget that even Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger, and The Long Kiss Goodnight) directed Dream Master before he helmed Die Hard 2.

Never Sleep Again covers all of the original entries from the original A Nightmare on Elm Street through Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and Freddy vs. Jason. Since the documentary was released in 2010, the same year as the so-called “reboot” from Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes, there is no coverage of the most recent film. Considering it never lived up to even the worst entries of the original series, this is definitely for the best.

As far as the video quality goes, Never Sleep Again, is presented on a 50GB disc in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and suffers from one giant culprit: crush. The interviews are almost too dark, rendering clothing almost non-existent. Considering the documentary revolves around a horror series, I’m assuming this was intentional, but all the darkness does is make a lot of the interviews look like segments of floating heads. It’s not horrible, but it also keeps clothing, hair, and make-up on the interviewees appear softer than it should. And another anomaly that rears its head more often than not is banding and aliasing. Considering how things do look, I can only imagine how awful it would be to watch the documentary on DVD. The audio is also subpar with a 2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio that’s mixed way too low. Usually I can listen to most discs with my volume set around a level of 23-25, but here I had to crank it all the way up to 35. Once set at a reasonable volume, at least dialogue is clean and you never miss an interesting anecdote.

The only special feature on the first disc is a full-length audio commentary featuring directors Andrew Kasch and Farrands, writer Thommy Hutson, and cinematographer Buz Danger Wallick. They offer up as much insight into their own production of the documentary on top of adding even more information to the exhaustive runtime. And, as if a four-hour documentary wasn’t enough, a second disc comprises all the extras including, “Extended Interviews” which runs a whopping 100 minutes featuring full length interviews that were edited down for the documentary.

The rest of the special features are as self-explanatory as their titles. “First Look: Heather Langenkamp’s I Am Nancy” is a 6-minute Langenkamp-introduced trailer for her own documentary. “For the Love of the Glove” is an 18-minute segment of basically extended commercials for sites offering homemade Freddy gloves, including Mike Becker, proud owner of the “missing glove” from the set of the first film. “Fred Heads: The Ultimate Freddy Fans” is 12 minutes of Elm Street memorabilia collectors and creators. “Horrors Hallowed Grounds: Return to Elm Street” is a 23-minute episode of creator/host Sean Clark’s series of location tours that also includes Halloween.

“Freddy vs. the Angry Video Game Nerd” features James Rolfe recounting his web series episode where he tackles the Nintendo game. “Expanding the Elm Street Universe: Freddy in Comic Books and Novels” talks about exactly that but runs on for 15 minutes. “The Music of the Nightmare: Conversations with Composers and Songwriters” is a 13-minute look back at Charles Bernstein’s original ideas for the first film’s score, and includes Part 2’s Christopher Young, Craig Safran (Part 4), and J. Peter Robinson (New Nightmare). “Elm Street’s Poster Boy: The Art of Matthew Joseph Peak” is a quick 7-minute interview with Peak discussing his work on the posters for the first five films. “A Nightmare on Elm Street in 10 Minutes” features the interviewees repeating their original lines of dialogue edited together taking us through every installment including Freddy vs. Jason. And finally, a teaser trailer for Never Sleep Again rounds everything out.

Alongside Jason, Freddy was a regular amongst my TV rotation growing up. One of the most interesting aspects about someone watching the Elm Street saga at such a young age is that it’s questioned by Freddy creator Wes Craven himself in the seventh entry: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. Here, Craven preps himself for the self-referential tone he brought to the Scream series, by pitting the original film’s cast and crew against Freddy as he tries to escape the world of make believe to enter the real world (something most of today’s coddled youth probably don’t understand).

What kind of ramifications can Freddy antagonize in a young fertile mind? I for one, can say none whatsoever, as I am a fully functioning adult who knows the difference between movies and real life. No matter how much filmmakers want to try to mix reality and fiction, it’s up to the viewer to distinguish between the two, and I have never even thought of donning a homemade Freddy glove made up of real knives, even when wearing a Freddy mask for Halloween multiple times throughout my childhood (which I still have by the way). Never Sleep Again turns that into a moot point, however, as it takes a backseat to what the series truly stands for: entertainment.

As fun as it is to hear the cast and crew of all parts of the series, all it really made me want to do is pop in one of the actual films. But the documentary is still required viewing for any horror fan and worth the Blu-ray price, even if the video and audio aren’t of the highest quality.

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About Cinenerd

A Utah based writer, born and raised in Salt Lake City, UT for better and worse. Cinenerd has had an obsession with film his entire life, finally able to write about them since 2009, and the only thing he loves more are his wife and their two wiener dogs (Beatrix Kiddo and Pixar Animation). He is accredited with the Sundance Film Festival and a member of the Utah Film Critics Association.