Robert Englund calls it “a junior high school shop project from hell.” The man who played iconic horror villain Freddy Krueger in eight feature films isn’t talking about a poorly constructed student project like the block of wood I received an F+ for in 8th grade. Enlgund instead describes a weapon composed of razor-sharp steel and leather: Freddy Krueger’s bladed glove from A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and its seven sequels.
Crudely made in a boiler room that was Freddy’s own private hell on earth for children, the bladed glove is an iconic piece of horror cinema, and it’s just one of many topics from the Elm Street movies featured in directors Daniel Farrands and Andrew Kasch’s meticulous 2010 documentary film, Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, which was released recently as a two-disc Collector’s Edition Blu-ray.
Having worked together on His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th (2009), Farrands, Kasch, and writer Thommy Hutson shifted their focus in 2010 from the wooded confines of Camp Crystal Lake to the suburban sprawl of Elm Street. Their experience shows, as they put their documentary film skills to great use here. Combining in-depth interviews with over 100 cast and crew members from the original eight Elm Street movies and television show (for those who don’t know, Freddy did appear on cable television for two seasons) with rare photos, relevant footage, and other never-before-seen materials, Farrands, Kasch, and Hutson create a massive 240-minute visual and oral history of one of horror’s most celebrated franchises—and that’s only counting the content on the first disc!
The Elm Street series is so creepy and intriguing that it influenced me to start drinking coffee. So when I got the opportunity to watch the tell-all documentary about a film franchise that’s given me frights and delights in equal large doses, I was thrilled. Watching the film, my excitement did not abate, even as the runtime went well beyond the third hour. The horror explorer team of Farrands, Kasch, and Hutson compile the film into a tasty structure that’s easy to digest. Shot in beautiful Claymation sequences, the introductory credits depict memorable Elm Street moments. I was instantly hooked when I saw scenes like Freddy’s eerily long armed alley walk and poor Glen’s bed bloodbath recreated in the same animation that’s been used for Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Thankfully, the Claymation fun doesn’t stop with the introductory music, as it briefly appears to introduce each of the film’s many segments, giving a taste of what’s to come. This devious animation, coupled with fitting narration by Elm Street’s first heroine, Heather Langenkamp, provides a welcome framework to a daunting runtime.
For horror geeks, though, the film’s runtime is a dream come true. Imagine receiving an invitation to a party where all the guests are people who’ve worked on an Elm Street project, be it a film, the TV show, books, or comics. Everybody at this party is having a good time reminiscing about the old days. You overhear funny anecdotes, tense recollections, and thoughtful insights about days working for New Line Cinema’s Freddy-centric franchise. For the most part, nobody holds back in their discussions, and Freddy doesn’t crash the party and say, “You are all my children now,” and so you walk away that night with your internal organs still “internal” and your Elm Street IQ equal to that of a genius mathematician’s regular IQ.
The interviews are ripe with sincerity, thanks in large part to the interviewees being determined to share both good and bad experiences with the Elm Street legacy (thankfully most fall in the former category). With almost all of the discussions uncensored (barring an interview with John Carl Buechler, special makeup effects artist for A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4: The Dream Master (1988), when he couldn’t divulge two intentionally over-the-top gruesome scenes that had been rejected by the MPAA), I was able to get schooled on the ins-and-outs of Elm Street by the people who helped create it. When Bob and others talk about how the company went all-in to make Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street on a budget under $2 million, I realized for the first time how low budget and do-or-die that movie was. I now have a new layer of appreciation for the film because I understand its context on a deeper level.
That was the first of many revelations I had while watching Never Sleep Again, as writers, actors, directors, crewmembers, and studio executives shed light on topics ranging from onset romances to subtexts in the scripts. For example, the cast and crew from one of my favorite all-time films, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors (1987), discuss everything from how the boys were crushing on Patricia Arquette, to the imaginative director Chuck Russell’s inability to communicate well with the young cast, to how the rotten roasted pig at the dinner table was really a rotten, smelly pig (unfortunately for the puppeteer below it). Other commentaries cover deeper topics, such as the homoerotic subtext brought to the surface in A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985) and the abortion subject matter of A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989).
It’s amazing the wide range of topics Farrands and Kasch touch on with this documentary. I took away enough interesting tidbits to fill a blank notebook. Some, like Bob Shaye discussing how his daughters helped him pick out an outfit at a leather fetish clothing store for him to wear for his cameo at the Pleasure Chest gay bar in Freddy’s Revenge, are simply too memorable to forget. Other trivia nuggets, like screenwriter/Splatterpunk author David J. Schow saying that as many as 15 or 16 writers worked on scripts for Freddy vs. Jason (2003), or how former New Line Cinema Vice President Mark Ordesky revealed Peter Jackson co-wrote a draft for a sixth Elm Street movie that was passed over in favor of what became Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991), are shocking to the core. People pull out so many scintillating secrets and fascinating facts out of the New Line Cinema vault here, you could watch this movie a handful of times and still find yourself discovering items of interest you might have missed your first few trips around the track.
The first disc also includes an audio commentary track with Farrands, Kasch, Hutson, and cinematographer Buz Danger Wallick. The rest of the special features goodies can be found on the second disc, which contains an additional 113 minutes of content that Elm Street fans should really dig. Extended interviews with the cast and crew explore Freddy vs. Jason in much more detail, as well as look more into the tight-knit (for the most part) cast of The Dream Master.
Other highlights on the special features disc include: a wicked awesome look at the shot locations for the first Elm Street, thanks to a humorous and educational episode of Hallowed Horror Grounds; a segment titled “Freddy vs. The Angry Video Game Nerd,” that examines the Elm Street NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) game (with hilarious results); “Expanding the Elm Street Universe: Freddy in Comic Books and Novels,” a short that investigates the origins of the Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash comic book series; a nifty look into the creation of the original five Elm Street movie posters; and a segment I thought was interchangeably funny and eerie, “A Nightmare on Elm Street in 10 Minutes,” in which all the actors interviewed for the documentary recite their most famous lines from the movies, including Jsu Garcia’s timeless insult, “Up yours with a twirling lawnmower!”
The cinematography of the film mostly looks sharp in Blu-ray. Some of the stock footage understandably looks dated, but the modern day interviews are crisp to the eye. Green screen backdrops for interviews reflect the personality of the interviewee, providing a nice visual correlation. For example, Robert Englund’s interview has a boiler room background to reflect Freddy Krueger’s lair. Unfortunately, the film’s audio quality is a bit uneven. I had to turn up the volume for certain interviews and turn it down for others. It was akin to being shouted at in one scene and whispered to in another, but this was a rare problem.
Clocking in at just less than eight total hours (nearly twelve hours if you include the audio commentary), this two-disc collector’s edition Blu-ray of Never Sleep Again is an eye-opening ride through one of America’s most terrifying streets. The documentary allows you to revisit the Elm Street franchise as you remember it, but by the end, you’ll likely look at it in entirely new ways and with a renewed sense of wonder. Farrands, Kasch, and Hutson have made horror history accessible once again with this exhaustive and rewarding look back on Freddy, Craven, New Line Cinema, and all those ill-fated Elm Street teenagers. With the image of Freddy’s claws fresh in my mind once more, I might need an extra cup of coffee today. Just in case…
Movie Score: 5/5, Disc Rating: 4.5/5