Judge Gordon Sullivan's last Elm Street box set was a collection of street signs.
Our review of Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, published May 21st, 2010, is also available.
The definitive account of modern cinema's eternal bogeyman.
The Nightmare on Elm Street Collection from 1999 was one of the first great box sets of the DVD era. With all of the extant Nightmare films in one place, with plenty of extras, one could overlook the cardboard cases and the sometimes-obnoxious navigation methods. It was, at the time, the definitive portrait of the franchise (until Freddy vs. Jason a few years later), and I can't think of a horror franchise that's gotten better treatment since (though the Friday the 13th Blu-ray set comes close). Now, though, no release related to the original A Nightmare on Elm Street could hope to be definitive without including a copy of Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy. Though fans may not want to upgrade, there's no doubt this is the definitive oral history of the franchise and its creation.
Facts of the Case
Starting before the first A Nightmare on Elm Street film with the history of New Line Cinema and Wes Craven, Never Sleep Again takes a chronological approach to the franchise, interviewing (with a few exceptions noted below) everyone who impacted the making of the famous Freddy films. In between the talking head interviews we get clips from the films, archival images, and even some video from the sets. Together, we get a solid warts-and-all history of Freddy Krueger.
In 2013 I assigned some writing about a slasher film, and several of my students compared their films to the Nightmare franchise. Sadly, most of them thought the villain of the series was Freddie Cougar, and I was a little disheartened that Freddy had fallen so far out of the mainstream. Watching Never Sleep Again restored my faith in the importance of the franchise. It's a near-perfect overview of the series, and is worth watching for any fans of the films.
The first thing that the film gets right is its length. This is a four-hour film, basically, and the time is split pretty evenly between all seven films in the original franchise, as well as a bit of time devoted to merchandising and the Freddy's Nightmares TV series. Each entry gets roughly a half-hour, which is enough time to go into a decent amount of depth without losing momentum. Each of the sections has a similar structure as well, so we hear about the writing process, the casting process, the production, and then the impact of the film financially. Each film also gets its own special section where a unique aspect is discussed. For instance, the film addresses the homosexual undertones of the first sequel, or the participation of Dokken in Dream Warriors.
The second thing the film gets right is the set of interviewees. The vast majority of significant players is included, from Wes Craven himself, to Bob Shaye (head of New Line), to almost all of the stars, including the all-important Robert Englund. Special effects guys are included in the list as well, and all have something interesting to say about their participation. More importantly, they're willing to be critical of something aspects of the film, their production, as well as their fellow interviewees. Though this is hardly a case of character assassination, people do express disappointments about budgets, production decisions, and various other things. It keeps the film balanced and engaging.
If those four hours aren't enough for you, you get a whole host of extras to help sate your need for all things Nightmare. Things kick off with a commentary by directors Andrew Kasch and Daniel Farrands, writer Thommy Hutson, and cinematographer Buz Danger Wallick. The quartet are surprisingly engages throughout the running time, sharing info about the genesis of the project, how they wrangled the participants, and the problems they encountered along the way. Then, on the second disc, we get another 100 minutes of interviews, which play out like a mini version of the full film, organized by each entry in the franchise. Then, we get a host of featurettes that cover everything from Freddy's iconic glove to the composers of the franchise's music. It's a great way to see details that didn't quite fit into the interview format of the feature, and hardcore fans will probably find more new info in these featurettes. The film's trailer is also included.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Upgrading from the standard DVD might be a bit of a disappointment. The 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer is fine, but not spectacular. The big problem is one of compression, as all four hours of video and two audio tracks are included on the first disc. There's a bit of artefacting in some shots, though it's not terrible. Skin colors can be a bit all over the place, though that's probably more about the lighting conditions on set. Black levels tend to drop off a bit, going from bright lights to complete darkness very quickly. That means people's heads can sometimes appear to be swimming in black. It's a totally watchable transfer, and if this is your first time out with the documentary then this will look good. However, those who already own the DVD probably won't want to upgrade just for the video. Audio is a bit better, with all the interviews and production footage perfectly clear in this DTS-HD 2.0 stereo mix. This isn't intended to be a showy mix, but the important stuff is all there.
Sadly, Johnny Depp wasn't interviewed (though he appears briefly in an excerpt from Inside the Actor's Studio), and neither Ronnie Blakely nor Patricia Arquette is onboard either. The latter is especially disappointing, since no one can really provide a definitive answer as to why she didn't return for The Dream Master. Ultimately I think the absence of a few figures is understandably and doesn't ding the film at all, but those hoping for a complete collection of interviews might be slightly disappointed.
Never Sleep Again is also in a weird place. As a four-hour documentary about a film franchise, it's not aimed at the casual viewer. Still, the casual viewers is the one who stands to gain the most from the film. As someone who watched all the extras on that old Nightmare box set, I didn't really learn anything from Never Sleep Again. I don't think that's a problem, since I enjoyed the journey even though I knew the destination. However, those hoping for new revelations or fresh gossip won't find a whole lot here.
Never Sleep Again is a surprisingly watchable four-hour documentary on one of the biggest franchises in horror history. It's worth watching from anyone interested in the franchise, horror films, pop culture, or film history. Though the upgrade in the audio and video isn't enough to justify an immediate purchase, for new fans this is a definitive portrait of an amazing pop-culture phenomenon.
You may never sleep again, but this one's not guilty.
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