Full disclosure: I’m not really that big of a Freddy fan. When comparing and contrasting the most influential horror franchises of the 1980s (Friday the 13th, Alien, Halloween, Evil Dead, Child’s Play, et al), the Nightmare franchise has a tendency to rank pretty low on my list of personal faves. The fact that I’m bestowing Never Sleep Again with a perfect 5-Skull rating should serve as a testament to the talent of Daniel Farrands and Andrew Kasch, the filmmaking duo behind this brilliant Nightmare on Elm Street documentary. Even for the casual fan, this is one hell of an educational film.
I settled down to watch Never Sleep Again, my review notebook close at hand, not quite knowing what to expect. After the doc had spent an engaging 40 minutes dissecting Wes Craven’s original A Nightmare on Elm Street, I found myself genuinely enraptured, but also disappointed that a feature length running time wouldn’t be enough to properly discuss the sequels. It was at that point that I checked the time display. Holy shit, Never Sleep Again is four hours long!
Granting each Nightmare film a generous 30-40 minutes of coverage, the running time of Never Sleep Again flies by. It’s an ingeniously edited film consisting primarily of recent interview segments, some snippets of archival footage from the franchise, and a few deleted scenes. A good portion of those involved with the series simply heap praise on their co-stars, no matter which film they starred in (with Robert Englund, the biggest praise-shoveler of them all, even daring to refer to Nightmare 4’s flaming-dog-piss-resurrection scene as “mythic”), but if you take the time to read between the lines, it’s obvious that tensions still lurk beneath the surface. From director Jack Sholder (Part 2, Freddy’s Revenge) admitting that he was “never a fan of the first film,” to Wes Craven openly mocking the more ludicrous aspects of the non-Wes directed sequels, Never Sleep Again is packed with plenty of behind-the-scenes finger-pointing. But even with the differences in opinion, most at New Line seem to agree on which films most undermined the franchise.
And there’s more than mere gossip going on in Never Sleep Again. The doc also serves as a “Where Are They Now?” of even the most minor players in the Nightmare series. (Even with its extremely thorough approach to cast interviews, super-celebs like Johnny Depp and Patricia Arquette are conspicuous in their absence.) Some ex-cast-members look drug-addled, some are still unbelievably attractive, some have faces that are swollen and shiny with facial injections, and one ex-cast-member sports a fake-bloody-goth face and what appears to be a lesbian S&M slave by her side. It’s an extended cast reunion as bizarre as it is train-wreck compelling.
Frankly, there are so many “good parts” in Never Sleep Again, it would be too time-consuming to cite them all. But it’s worth mentioning that I cackled throughout two segments in particular: one covering the ill-advised syndicated television series Freddy’s Nightmares and one exploring the not-so-hidden gayness of Freddy’s Revenge. Oh man, what were they thinking?
There’s a lot to love about Never Sleep Again, and virtually nothing to hate. It’s not only an expertly crafted film about a beloved horror franchise, it‘s also a film about the legacy of New Line Cinema, and ultimately, a film about the horror genre as a whole. Frankly, you won’t find a horror documentary better than this one.