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Entries in Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy [2010] (1)

Monday
May172010

Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy (2010)

The Souls of the Children Give Me Strength

The cool thing about dreams is that they render the concept of time meaningless. In the course of a ten minute catnap, it’s possible to live out a decade-spanning adventure—to wake up marveling at where the time went. Some movies are like that and, though you may find it hard to believe, I just watched a four-hour documentary on A Nightmare on Elm Street that blew my mind with its brevity.

Even if you don’t give a shit about Freddy Krueger, Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy is a wonderful movie about making movies. The film chronicles the rise of Robert Shaye’s New Line Cinema from its founding in the late 60s as the second distributor of Reefer Madness, to its sale to studio giant Warner Brothers in 2008. In between, of course, was Freddy; and Never Sleep Again turns the story of a cheap, imaginative horror movie’s rise to cult classic into a treatise on the creative process and its love/hate relationship with commerce, particularly as pertains to film.

Sorry if I just made your eyes glaze over.

This is a serious movie, but it’s also a lot of fun. The producers have gathered just about every living participant in the franchise to talk about their experiences making the movies, as well as the impact the series has had on their lives. From actors and directors to screenwriters and teams of effects artists, every discipline is represented. Their stories are funny and frightening, and always fascinating—and, most importantly, they’re honest.

Going into the movie, I was worried that it would follow along the same lines as last year’s Friday the 13th documentary, His Name Was Jason. That movie was an elongated DVD extra that seemed more interested in the chapter intros—featuring makeup effects guru Tom Savini traipsing around a Camp Crystal Lake theme park like a fifth-rate Rod Serling—than with getting juicy stories out its participants. Never Sleep Again is full of dirt and disaster—from the race-inspired feud between actress Toy Newkirk and director Renny Harlin on The Dream Master to the created-on-the-fly climax of The Dream Child. Best yet, Never Sleep Again is packed with behind-the-scenes photos and on-set video, so that when, say, Amanda Wyss discusses the perils of acting in a rotating room on the first Elm Street, we’re treated to photos of her being helped off the set, the disorientation she describes in her narration very much apparent on her face.

Aside from the great never-before-seen material and “you’re-kidding-me” tidbits (did you know that Peter “Lord of the Rings” Jackson got his foot in the door by co-writing an un-used draft of Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare?), what helps distinguish Never Sleep Again is the creative way in which it’s presented. The bookends and chapter intros here are delightful Claymation vignettes showing Freddy getting up to mischief; the actors introduce themselves by reading their respective films’ character descriptions; best yet, the movie flows perfectly—I don’t mean that the documentary segues from the first film to the second to the third; the movie is edited so that the individual stories transition into each other as seamlessly as if they were all scripted.

Speaking of going off script, I was impressed by the movie’s honesty. There are just as many, if not more, stories of pitfalls, creative clashes, and personality problems than there are sunny, we’re-practically-family anecdotes. Freddy creator Wes Craven has made no secret of his disdain for the sequels over the years—except for the one he directed—but even the people behind the less-well-received entries are candid about what went wrong. At one point, Robert Englund—Freddy himself—copped to his character’s “jumping the shark” in the later installments; I’d always wondered if he was comfortable with the direction the series took after a certain point, and it was somewhat comforting to have my suspicions confirmed.

Never Sleep Again is a passion project created by people who grew up either making the series, watching the series, or both. A Nightmare on Elm Street was not the run-of-the-mill 80s slasher franchise, so it’s not surprising that this documentary is so comprehensive. Despite how some of the films turned out, there was no shortage of commitment and love behind their creation.

New Line Cinema went from a company whose founder mortgaged his house to finance an indie film about a char-broiled dream-stalker to a media powerhouse that launched the careers of such luminaries as Johnny Depp and Frank Darabont. While both the franchise and the studio stumbled on the journey, they produced a worldwide cultural phenomenon. Never Sleep Again captures that perfectly, and is clearly the dream project of everyone involved.

Note: Never Sleep Again doesn’t directly address the recent remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street. Though there is a brief section of testimonials on Robert Englund’s behalf in which the idea of another actor playing Freddy Krueger is squashed like a bug in a roach motel.