Thursday, January 30, 2014

Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Freddy But Were Afraid to Ask: A Review of NEVER SLEEP AGAIN on Blu-ray

Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy (2010)

 240 min

The Movie

Freddy Krueger is arguably the most prominent horror icon in mainstream pop culture. While the names Jason Voorhees, Leatherface, and Chucky probably ring a bell with most people, I would wager that you’d be hard pressed to find anyone over the age of fifteen who doesn't know Freddy and his razor-gloved hand. This is especially true for folks who grew up during the 1980s, when Freddy Madness was at its peak.
Dolls, video games, paid-call lines, costumes, comics… The list of merchandise that has been branded with Freddy’s visage or the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET name over the last 30 years is far too long to list. Let’s face it, America (and the rest of the world) just seems to have a soft spot for the pizza-faced dream demon. The question has always been why.

The story of Freddy’s meteoric rise from horror movie villain to pop culture anti-hero is a very interesting one. In fact, it’s so interesting that in 2010 - just before the original NIGHTMARE received a face-lift in the form of a cinematic remake - filmmakers Daniel Farrands and Andrew Kasch gave us the ultimate documentary on the franchise in the form of NEVER SLEEP AGAIN: THE ELM STREET LEGACY.

Weighing in with an epic four-hour running time, NEVER SLEEP AGAIN covered every aspect of the production of all of the NIGHTMARE films up through 2003’s FREDDY VS JASON. More importantly, though, the film dissected the world’s fascination with the character of Freddy Krueger. It also chronicled Freddy’s crucial role in turning New Line Cinema from a small company, distributing film’s out of the trunk of Bob Shea’s car, to the titanic (then) independent studio that eventually took the world by storm.

To get into the specifics of that story here would require an encyclopedic piece of writing that, frankly, is beyond the scope of a simple review. However, the quick overview is that NEVER SLEEP AGAIN covers just about everything you could ever want to know about Freddy and the NIGHTMARE series. The in-depth interviews with almost all of the key players in the film’s production are frank, honest, informative, and most of all, entertaining. In fact, I can’t think of any other film of this length that has seemed to fly by so quickly. Four hours never felt so short. And that’s about the biggest compliment that a film like this can receive; when it was over, I felt like I could watch the whole thing all over again.

Whether you’re a hardcore Fred Head, or just a NIGHTMARE fan, NEVER SLEEP AGAIN is guaranteed to make you think about the franchise in a new light and will likely give you an even better appreciation of the films - even the not-so-great ones. And, yes, the subject of missteps along the way is addressed fully here and nothing is glossed over.

To say that I recommend NEVER SLEEP AGAIN is an understatement. In fact, I actually consider this to be an essential piece of any horror fan’s collection. If you don’t own it, do yourself a favor, and go pick it up today.

Rating - Movie


The Blu-Ray

My only real complaint about NEVER SLEEP AGAIN has been that its initial release was DVD-only. While it is a documentary, and it doesn’t really feature any elaborate effects or a booming score (things that usually benefit greatly from an HD transfer), it just felt kind of odd smooshing a four-hour film onto a format with such limited storage. Well, lucky for us, Image Entertainment has corrected that by giving us the recently released Blu-ray version of the film; and just in time for Freddy’s 30th birthday.

Video Quality

The picture quality is a noticeable improvement over the old DVD edition. Seeing as the feature was shot digitally, it only makes sense that it would look better in HD. With a much higher bitrate (avg was around 29 Mbps), you get a lot more fine detail in the interviewees' faces, and it really helps bring out the professional set dressing and lighting work; which are both top-notch.

There are no huge flaws, though some interviews with very very dark backgrounds still exhibit a bit of Black Crush. However, on the DVD, those scenes had blocking issues, so my guess is that it's a problem with the source material. Still, it could have something to do with cramming a monster film of this length onto a single BD.

Overall, though, for a documentary like this, I am perfectly happy with the quality. In fact, I found it to be outstanding, and I really enjoyed seeing the stop-motion transitions in HD.

Audio Quality

Again, this isn't the type of film that has a booming soundtrack, so don't expect your subwoofer to shake the house... The audio here is uncompressed, as expected, and the range is just fine. There are some little surround touches, but with a documentary, you're usually not looking for flashy audio design. The NIGHTMARE theme, of course, sounds beautiful; as do the bits of original music, which really capture the feel of the old ELM STREET film scores. Nothing mind-blowing, but again, a big improvement over the old AC3 track.

Bonus Features

This is the one you've been waiting for, right? Well, rest assured, NEVER SLEEP AGAIN has a metric ton of special features spanning both discs in the set; all of which are ported over from the previous Collector's Edition DVD.

Disc One

  • Commentary with Directors Andrew Kasch and Daniel Farrands, Writer Thommy Hutson and Cinematographer Buz Danger Wallick: This is the only special feature on the first disc. The track is far from being a technical commentary. Instead, we get the filmmakers sitting in a room and just having a great time discussing the making of the documentary. There is a LOT of info here with hardly any dead air, and there are a lot of fun anecdotes; especially about tracking down key interviewees. Definitely worth a listen.

Disc Two

  • Extended Interviews: Almost two additional hours of interview footage. It almost plays like its own mini documentary because it's all in chronological order. However, there are no transitions, additional soundtrack, etc. Definitely a nice companion piece, and I'm glad they included it.
  • First Look: Heather Langenkamp's I AM NANCY: A bit outdated, since the film came out back in 2011. Still, I'm glad they kept it for completionists' sake.
  • For the Love of the Glove: A nice feature on collectors of Freddy Gloves. The key interviewee is an obsessive fan who somehow managed to track down a ton of originals from the films. Also includes quick bits on a bunch of folks who sell handmade replicas online. Pretty fun.
  • Fred Heads: The Ultimate Freddy Fans: More obsessed fan footage; think tattoos, etc. Neat, but not as great as some of the other bits.
  • Horror's Hallowed Grounds: Return to Elm Street: If you've seen any of Sean Clark's other pieces (many are on various Scream Factory discs), then you know what to expect. This one runs close to 30 minutes and it's pretty neat seeing the original locations in present day.
  • Freddy vs. The Angry Video Game Nerd: I'll be honest, I'm not an AVGN fan, so hearing him yell about the (notorious) old NES game isn't my thing. However, I did like seeing the old game stuff again.
  • Expanding the Elm Street Universe: Freddy in Comic Books and Novels: A bunch of information on Freddy's appearances in various print fiction. About 15 minutes in length.
  • The Music of the Nightmare: Conversations with Composers and Songwriters: Surprisingly, the one area that wasn't covered in the film much (besides Dokken, or course) was the NIGHTMARE music. This feature kind-of makes up for it, with about 15 minutes of interviews with various composers from the series (and Dokken, of course).
  • Elm Street's Poster Boy: The Art of Matthew Joseph Peak: Peak did the majority of artwork for the films. His posters are still pretty badass. 8 minutes of tidbits on his process.
  • A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET in 10 Minutes: Present-day cast and crew members doing lines from the films. This is basically an alternate version of what plays over the main film's closing credits. Fun, but not really all that rewatchable.
  • Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy Teaser Trailer: Exactly what it says.

Overall Verdict On The Blu-ray

With a boatload of extra features, and an upgraded Audio/Video presentation, this one's a no-brainer. 

If you have the old DVD, and you're a huge fan of the franchise, upgrading is a must.

If you're a casual fan, and you own the old DVD, it's really your call (I'd sell my old copy and pick this up).

If you don't own the film at all, this is the way to go. Grab it now!

Rating - Blu-ray


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