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

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Over the years there have been multiple DVD and Blu-ray releases of the Nightmare on Elm Street series, each containing its own set of extra features. While Wes Craven’s undisputed classic original from 1984 has always received the lion’s share of attention, the many sequels usually get shortchanged. First issued on DVD in 2010, Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy is a four-hour documentary that carefully examines each of the seven films in the Nightmare series, with additional sections dealing with the Freddy’s Nightmare TV series and the 2003 film Freddy vs. Jason. The mammoth doc debuts on Blu-ray as a two-disc set that includes approximately three and a half hours of extra features. For any self-respecting Freddy Krueger maniac, it’s essential.

I happen to be one of those Nightmare fans who never sought out Never Sleep Again on DVD, despite having had the last three years to do so. I guess the running time seemed intimidating (I know, lame excuse). Anyone else waiting to pull the trigger should do so immediately with the new Blu-ray, as this is an exhaustive appreciation of the good and the bad from the iconic series. Predominantly comprised of talking head interviews, co-directors Daniel Farrands and Andrew Kasch tracked down and talked to just about every major and minor participant. Heather Langenkamp (iconic heroine Nancy in parts one, three, and seven) narrates and contributes extensive recollections. Freddy’s creator, Wes Craven, sat for some four hours of interview time and his honest memories concerning his signature film (and his disappointment over the varying quality of the sequels) are invaluable. We also hear plenty from the man with the razor-glove himself, Robert Englund.

Never Sleep Again Robert Englund.jpg

There are a couple notable (and, let’s be honest, predictable) omissions. Johnny Depp and Patricia Arquette launched their careers with Nightmare films (parts one and three, respectively) and both are absent here. The filmmakers assure us in the commentary track that it wasn’t for lack of trying. Folks like writer Frank Darabont (one of part three’s four credited screenwriters) and actors Laurence Fishburne, Yaphet Kotto, and Breckin Meyer don’t turn up either. But plenty others do, including all the various directors (Renny Harlin, who helmed part four, is a highlight), producer Robert Shaye, and tons of cast members (leads, supporting, and even bit parts like part one’s hall monitor, Leslie Hoffman). It’s almost pointless to list the actors who participated since, aside from those few aforementioned stars, just about everybody is accounted for. It’s fun seeing how well—or, in a few cases, not so well—they’ve all aged.

Much of the most fascinating information concerns the lesser-regarded sequels, originally treated with little regard (specifically part two, Freddy’s Revenge) until New Line realized what a goldmine they had on their hands. In fact, it’s the much-maligned second that proves most riveting, with screenwriter David Chaskin and star Mark Patton discussing the homosexual subtext laced throughout the film (yes, it was intentional, but not everyone seemed to know it). The frankly critical point of view that many of the participants take keeps Never Sleep Again so interesting. Being that this isn’t an “in-house” production (like the typical DVD or Blu-ray supplement), the documentary allows for plenty of negative reflection instead of just self-congratulatory high-fiving. The creative differences between producer Robert Shaye and Wes Craven are explored. Various cast members from part four (The Dream Master) weigh in with rather openly unflattering opinions of Tuesday Knight (who took over as Kristen Parker when Patricia Arquette didn’t return after The Dream Warriors).

Never Sleep Again Heather Langenkamp.jpg

I could go on and on, but the point is: you already know if you’re part of the audience for this. If the Nightmare series means anything to you at all, you won’t want to miss out on Never Sleep Again. The “extended interviews” on disc two run about an hour and 40 minutes, neatly organized chronologically, film-by-film, just like the main feature. Most of these tidbits are just as cool as what made the final cut. Hours of additional featurettes examine more specific areas of the Freddy phenomenon, not the least of which being the music of the series (Dokken discusses “Dream Warriors”!) and the comic book spin-offs. And though it might be best to split it up into a series of shorter viewings, the filmmakers’ commentary offers great insight into the documentary’s creation.

Never Sleep Again Wes Craven.jpg

In terms of Blu-ray specs, there’s not much to get excited about here, but no problems either. The 1080p transfer (framed at 1.78:1) is pleasing to the eye but pretty much what you’d expect from a well-produced, no-frills compendium of interviews. Buz Wallick’s cinematography is surprisingly evocative, with the interview subjects carefully lighted to evoke the shadowy feel of a scary movie. That atmosphere is done justice by Image Entertainment’s presentation. The lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix is everything it needs to be, offering crisp audio.

In short, Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy is a tremendous retrospective documentary. Even though four hours sounds like a hefty time commitment, if you’re a fan of the series it will fly right by.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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