Director: Daniel Ferrand & Andrew Kasch
Starring: Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Wes Craven, John Saxon, Robert Shaye, Alice Cooper, Mark Patton, Lisa Wilcox
Country: USA
Running Time: 239 min
Year: 2010
BBFC Certificate: 18

I guarantee most kids who were born in the 1980’s remember their first exposure to adult horror, and I’m betting most of those would be one of either the Friday The 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street series. Me? I remember it well – it was A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, watched in 1993 at a youth club. I’d seen horror movies before then, but they were of the decidedly milder variety, things like Poltergeist, Gremlins and a variety of Hammer Horror’s. Dream Warriors was something else. The characters in it were kids who seemed closer to my age, there was a darker feel to the story with graphic and memorable killings and far more bad language – and then there was Freddy Krueger…

I knew who Freddy was, of course; an icon of 1980’s horror who’d adorned posters and VHS boxes in the local video rental shops of my youth. I remember being fascinated in particular by the cover art for the fourth chapter in the Elm Street series, The Dream Master – an image of the scarred Freddy pulling at his ruined skin while a young girl’s eyes stared through a rainbow of colours pouring through a crack in a pavement. I didn’t know what any of it meant and, for quite a few years, I never really understood who Freddy really was. He was just a monster, a villain with a clawed hand and a rotten face.

That Freddy Krueger is such an iconic character that even children far too young to watch his endeavours on screen would know who he is on sight is emblematic of A Nightmare on Elm Street’s place in the pantheon of 80’s horror franchises, alongside the likes of Jason Vorhees from the aforementioned Friday The 13th series, and Michael Myers and Pinhead from Halloween and Hellraiser respectively. Taking the time to watch all 7 parts of the Nightmare saga in preparation for the review of this documentary gave me a greater appreciation of the impact of Freddy as a character, watching him grow from a near mute, cackling villain, through to a wisecracking but still evil baddie and ultimately an almost cartoonish caricature before coming full circle again, the Elm Street series in its entirety is almost the embodiment of pop culture lightning in a bottle, and Daniel Ferrand & Andrew Kasch’s 2010 documentary, released in the UK on Blu Ray for the first time thanks to 101 films, is really the perfect cap to that.

Narrated by Heather Langenkamp who plays Nancy Thompson in parts 1 & 3 of the series, as well as herself in the fantastic meta New Nightmare from 1994, Never Sleep Again is a four hour production which chronicles the making of and release of all 7 films in the Elm Street series, as well as its spin off, 2003’s Freddy Vs Jason. To say this was essential viewing for fans would be an understatement, but what surprised me was how rich and entertaining this whole package was, not only looking at the films themselves but also the cultural impact and how they helped New Line Cinema grow and break through as a major film production company in the 1980’s.

There’s a brilliant turn out from the cast and crew across the franchise (with notable absences from some of the actors who have since gone on to become bigger stars, such as Jonny Depp, Patricia Arquette and Lawrence Fishburne) and there are plenty of anecdotes and insights to be had throughout, as well as a healthy dose of honesty. The behind the scenes footage and glimpses of unused scenes from parts 3 and 4 are fascinating, as is the breakdown of the (allegedly) unintentional homoerotic undertones of part 2 with some brilliant interviews with its lead actor, Mark Patton. It really is the complete package and wonderful viewing, despite its exceptionally long runtime!

Aside from the documentaries reflections on the concepts of franchise filmmaking, commercialisation and oversaturation, the strong focus on telling the story of Bob Shaye’s New Line Cinema is one that will be familiar to viewers of the extensive bonus features on Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, ultimately leading to its merger with Warner Bros. in 2008. But for me, the star of the show was seeing Wes Craven talk not only about his first entry into the series (that he never intended to BE a series) but also about his thoughts on the follow up films and the lasting legacy; his passing in 2015 was a true loss to horror and cinema in general, but his legacy is one that will be remembered for decades to come.

Ultimately it’s fascinating that, in an era of endless franchises, the fact that A Nightmare on Elm Street only lasted around 10 years for the mainstream series (while Freddy Vs Jason is technically canon, it does feel at times like an exceptionally well produced fan film) is fascinating for the lasting pop culture impact it’s had. While there was an attempt to remake the story in 2010 (not covered in this documentary) the poor reception to that particular take which cast Jackie Earl Haley in the role of Freddy Krueger instead of the iconic and manic Robert Englund, proved just what New Line managed to achieve during that 10 year run. A Nightmare on Elm Street is as complete and finished a film series as you will ever get, and this documentary is the perfect companion.

Bonus Features

  • Commentary with directors Andrew Kasch and Daniel Farrands, writer Thommy Hutson, and cinematographer Buz Danger Wallick
  • Slashed Scenes: Extended Interviews with Cast and Crew
  • For the Love of the Glove
  • Fred Heads: The Ultimate Freddy Fans
  • Horror’s Hallowed Grounds: Return to Elm Street
  • Freddy vs. The Angry Video Game Nerd
  • Expanding the Elm Street Universe: Freddy in Comics and Novels
  • The Music of the Nightmare: Conversations with Composers and Songwriters
  • Elm Street’s Poster Boy: The Art of Matthew Joseph Peak
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street in 10 Minutes
  • First Look: Heather Langenkamp’s “I Am Nancy”
  • Teaser Trailer

While the second disc of this set contains a great array of features to accompany the main film, including some fascinating supplementary documentaries, this is still the same content from the US release in 2010, which is a real shame. Particularly in light of Craven’s death in 2015 it would have been good to see some form of retrospective look at the filmmakers career – that doesn’t take away from the set as a whole, however; this is still an essential addition to any fan’s collection!

Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy (101 Films)
4.5Overall Score
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