* * *
Dir. Andrew Kasch, 2010
Never Sleep Again is the 4-hour (full-disclosure, I watched it in 2 sittings; I’ve got papers to grade) documentary on the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise by director Andrew Kasch, who is something of the JJ Abrams of horror retrospective docs having also done the Friday the 13th documentary: His Name Was Jason.
This a commendably comprehensive film. It looks at all 7 films, Freddy vs. Jason, and even the short-lived Freddy’s Nightmare TV series. Pretty much everyone you’d want to hear from (with the notable exception of Patricia Arquette and Johnny Depp) show up to do an interview and these interviews get surprisingly frank and honest for a showbiz doc. Understandably, people can be tight-lipped, people like to work, and retrospectives tend to gloss over controversies, but those are showcased here and provide some of the highlights of the film: from people who still kind of hate New Line founder Robert Shaye, to a few screenwriters that got screwed over writing Freddy vs. Jason, to a story about Renny Harlin’s surprisingly casual racism. The biggest downside of the film is that it follows the same formula: each film is talked about for roughly the same time in roughly the same way, and this results is a repetitive rhythm. And obviously, some of the films are far more interesting than others, the highlight being the segment on Nightmare 2, in which the screenwriter admits it was a Gay-themed film and the cast and crew trying to figure out how they didn’t realize it at the time.
But what makes this a worthwhile documentary is that, while fans of the genre may enjoy the behind the scenes footage and rare deleted scenes, this works as a defacto tale of New Line Cinema and its rise from obscure distributor to multi-billion-dollar, Oscar-winning studio. And both New Line’s rise and the popularity of the Elm Street films, extend to larger issues in media and pop culture at the time. What makes even the lesser Elm Street films interesting is they were particularly adventurous stylistically even though they often had lackluster material. Elm Street was the MTV horror franchise, often mirroring popular music video techniques. But I was also surprised to discover how large an influence Hong Kong cinema was on some of the later films.
The length may turn casual viewers away, but this is a tremendous example of how to do a showbiz retrospective; part valentine, part expose, and thoroughly devoted to the material.