Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy

I never meant to sit through all of Never Sleep Again, the four-hour documentary on Netflix about Freddy Kruger movies. I just wanted something to watch while I ate an ice cream cone and took a break from Watch Dogs. Yeah, I loved Freddy movies when I was a kid (one of the first things I ever wrote was Freddy fan fiction… about Freddy’s estranged brother Eddy… and Evil Dead’s Ash appeared in it… seriously), but at the age of 31, I probably haven’t seen a Freddy movie in ten years.

Considering how long ago those movies were, it’s amazing how it all came back. I remembered each and every character from the films and loved to see what the actors looked like today. There’s a healthy portion of pre-MPAA-censored footage, deleted scenes, and a look into an unproduced script co-written by Peter Jackson in which Freddy himself is the victim. Robert Shaye and Wes Craven both are perfectly candid about what they liked and didn’t like in the series.

Narrated by Heather Langenkamp, who’s from my hometown, Never Sleep Again is a surprisingly entertaining behind-the-scenes look at the iconic films. Born from Kickstarter, I expected low-quality fan service here, but it brings the goods. Outside of Errol Morris docs, my favorite nonfiction films are American Movie and King of Kong. Frankly, I like quality productions about subject matter that, at the end of the day, isn’t all that important. There’s a lot of brain candy on the net these days, but very little of it is as well-researched and funded. This brain candy doesn’t make you feel like you’re only passing the time.

I may have written about it on this very blog, but the most perplexing (and unintentionally hilarious) Elm Street scene for me is the parakeet scene in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. See, a parakeet explodes in midair and the main character’s father (Clu Gulager, also from Oklahoma) first suspects a gas leak before blaming it on a cherry bomb.

I have always wondered just what the hell was going on in the production team’s heads when they were shooting that scene. How does something so silly get written, much less filmed? I can’t even imagine the little girl on the set didn’t point out to the director how utterly stupid it all was. Well, Never Sleep Again does shed some light on the scene, but not much. It basically boils down to A) the production was rushed and B) everyone who worked on it had a different idea of what kind of film they were making.
The time devoted to Elm Street 2, by the way, is the absolute high point of the documentary in terms of hilarity. I saw it twice when I was a kid. Either I don’t remember picking up on the homosexual undertones or I was too young to notice in the first place. Cracked named it the most unintentionally gay horror movie of all time. The actor who portrayed the main character says their Risky Business homage is often looped in gay bars across the country. At any rate, I long maintained it was my least favorite in the franchise, but now I’m not so sure. Now I’m beginning to think “the Top Gun of horror films” may be one of the most interesting.
My favorite had always been the third one. They brought Nancy back and included adult characters who weren’t just demonized stereotypes who seemingly hated their children. The arm-tendon marionette scene is burned into my memory. To this day, I still remember the cross-handle faucet that grabbed back every time I see such a plumbing fixture. The documentary claims the following scene is the fan-favorite Freddy kill:
And how did they get Dick Cavett to do a cameo in their movie? Easily. They simply told him Freddy would kill any celebrity of Cavett’s choice and, naturally, he chose the “stupid” Zsa Zsa Gabor. That’s exactly the kind of production detail Never Sleep Again has a ton of, and it makes it a very watchable film.
The best part is how every one of the interview subjects look back on their experiences with fondness. For some Freddy was their only brush with Hollywood. Others have had success elsewhere, but not quite as big. Robert Englund, who one might suspect resents Freddy, says, “Freddy has been very kind to me” towards the end of the doc. You get the sense that everyone who worked on the series had an absolute blast and that translates to us, the audience. I’ve been given new appreciation for the films.

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