The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise is synonymous with horror. It’s basically American mythology at this point. Even if someone doesn’t like genre films or hasn’t seen a Nightmare on Elm Street movie, they still know who Freddy Krueger is. Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy is a four-hour-long documentary that goes behind the scenes of Nightmare on Elm Street, from Wes Craven’s first concept of the film to the merchandising behemoth it became and Krueger's eventual run in with Jason Voorhees.
This documentary isn’t just a couple of tidbits of Nightmare On Elm Street BTS info, but an in-depth look into each film in the franchise from its inception to how it’s regarded now. The cast and crew of each film isn’t afraid to spill the tea about each production and even series creator Craven has some harsh words for the films that his creation spawned.
The three most important people to the Nightmare franchise - Wes Craven, Robert Englund, and Heather Langenkamp - all play significant roles in the behind-the-scenes documentary, which covers the entire series, and while Craven and Englund consistently chime in, Langenkamp provides the narration. She takes the audience through the series and helps to contextualize the many production woes the various casts and crews endured.
Aside from Langenkamp, the documentary features interviews with almost every principal cast member, writer, and director of the franchise, with each of them giving insight into their specific project. Langenkamp is the best bet for the narrator in the documentary because she appears in four films, three as Nancy and one as herself. While it would be interesting to hear Freddy provide narration, it's nice to have a human voice to connect with.
One of the coolest things about the Nightmare franchise is the way New Line Cinema (the series' distributor) consistently brought new blood to the films. Part of the reason new writers and directors were being brought in to work on the films was due to the budgets, which were kept dirt cheap in order to ensure the maximum amount of profit. Aside from the desire to keep the budgets low, New Line knew that in order to stay ahead of the curve, it had to bring in young talent who could spice things up.
Many of the directors who worked on the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise were up-and-coming filmmakers with their first or second feature. While they didn't all go on to be massively successful, writers and directors like Frank Darabont, Renny Harlin, and Rachel Talalay are still working today, and responsible for shows and flicks like The Walking Dead, Deep Blue Sea, and The Flash. Never Sleep Again reveals the many different filmmakers who were able to get a feature under their belt thanks to this spooky franchise.
Craven explains that when he came up with the idea for A Nightmare on Elm Street, he had a few different things on his mind. In the documentary, Craven reveals he got the idea for Freddy Krueger from a homeless man that he saw outside of his bedroom window one night when he was a child. The man had on the same dirty sweater and hat as Krueger, and as strange as it seems his method of dispatching teens comes from real life as well.
According to Craven, a series of articles in the LA Times documenting a few mysterious ends to residents in the Southern California area stoked the fires of Elm Street. The articles tell the story of a Cambodian boy who escaped to America with his family and, after they were settled, the boy experienced terrible nightmares and claimed he was being targeted by something in his dreams. He did his best to stay awake for as long as possible, but he finally succumbed to sleep and passed in the middle of a nightmare.
The road to the first Nightmare film was fraught with uncertainty. There was no real blueprint for how campy horror was meant to play out, and Craven was unsure about his young cast. In the documentary Craven says he pictured Glen as more of a jock, and after Depp auditioned, he didn't see much in the young man. When Craven asked his daughter who he should cast, she said, "Dad, Johnny Depp."
Craven said that Depp looked "sickly and pale," but she countered that he was "beautiful."
Things worked out for Depp, and while he doesn't appear in the documentary, he's gone out of his way to acknowledge how important A Nightmare on Elm Street was to his career, and he even made a cameo during a dream sequence in Freddy's Dead.