The Sleepless Movie Review
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Written by Thommy Huston and directed by Daniel Farrands & Andrew Kasch
240 Minutes

No, that's not a typo, this bitch is 240 minutes long and it is exhaustive in its breakdown of the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, from Wes Craven's groundbreaking, genre-defining, and frankly, fucking awesome first film to Ronny Yu's questionable entry, Freddy vs. Jason. So the first thing I suggest is not trying to digest the whole damn thing like I did, and just do it chapter-by-chapter. There's a chapter for each film and then a small chapter for New Line Cinema that serves as a kind of eulogy for "The House That Freddy Built." The connective tissue between the chapters isn't terribly strong either, so feel free to take it episodically.

Now with all that said, this is a must-watch for fans of the franchise. Personally, I'm a huge fan of every film in the franchise except 3 (which ironically is widely regarded as one of the best if not the best.) If you've already watched the supplemental materials on the eighth disc of the original Nightmare DVD box set, you may be surprised at how much new information is brought to light and how candid many of the interviewees are. In fact, the only notable absences from the interviews are probably Johnny Depp, Patricia Arquette, and Frank Darabont; virtually everyone else is accounted for. There's a lot of new meat for old fans to digest here, some great anecdotes, and it's interesting to catch up with the people that were involved in the series.

First of all, I'm still in love with Lisa Wilcox, who played Alice in the questionable fourth and fifth films. And the cast from the second film is absolutely hilarious in their interviews, especially when everyone involved is "probed" about the homoerotic subtext of the film. There's finally a halfway decent explanation for that, too, and it's worth watching that chapter alone just to hear the perfect storm that came together to produce it. In fact, dog's honest truth, the chapter on 2 may actually be my favorite as most everyone is extremely forthright about it. If anything, I think they're too hard on the film: 2 is one of my dark horse favorite entries, and the last film in which Freddy was genuinely nasty and vicious.

Unfortunately, there are some omissions that get covered in the supplemental materials on the original box set. In fact, if you went out and bought the InfiniFilm version of the first Nightmare (as I did) and then the blu-ray (as I did), you're missing some very interesting stuff. Probably my favorite omission was the recognition of Ronee Blakley in the first film as a godawful actress and an albatross hanging around the film's neck. Likewise, while cast, crew, and producers are all fairly open about these films, they're nowhere near as willing to admit any of their mistakes as they were on the original box set's material apart from ripping on 2. In some places, there's some revisionist history going on: in the box set, Rachel Talalay admits the 3-D at the end of Freddy's Dead was a terrible idea and that the film as a whole just didn't quite work out. Here, everyone is for the most part accepting of what was definitely a low point in the franchise.

I don't think Farrands and Kasch's exhaustive film is ever cloying in its admiration of one of the cornerstone franchises of modern horror, however, and the seasoned Nightmare fan is going to be able to read between the lines and figure out just what went wrong where. There's a lack of culpability on the parts of the producers for rushing the fourth and fifth sequels into production, but the signs are there. And while the openness about infighting was refreshing and certainly new, there's a sense of cognitive dissonance when interviewees speak about each other positively or humorously and actually react between cuts, but any potentially negative avenues go generally unexplored and unreacted to. David Chaskin takes a tremendous amount of heat for the Nightmare 2 script, with Wes Craven openly calling it "inferior," but he's never given the chance to respond to it. And again, everyone talks about how rushed some of the films were but no one ever bothers to point the finger or take the blame. Bob Shaye swears up and down he promised to the fans never to make an inferior Nightmare, but look at the turnaround time between 4 and 5: less than a year!

The most amusing thing may be how the individual directors come off and how the writers come off, and you get a very clear sense of why people fall into the jobs they fall into. Each of the directors is very "my way is the best way" in their attitude, and it's extremely amusing if you've ever worked on a film and especially so if you've ever directed. That said, it's clear where the series flew off the rails, and it wasn't part 2 but part 3. I've long maintained Nightmare 3, while being the best of the "funny Freddy" films, more or less flew off the rails in ways even 2 didn't. Every other film in the franchise—every last one—is a functional treatise against misogyny, where a woman saves the day. Chuck Russell's unwillingness to proceed with the violently dark original script for 3 that Craven turned in with his writing partner Bruce Wagner in favor of a more fantastical film is exactly the jump that pushed the series into high camp, and Renny Harlin's "MTV motif" in 4 rockets it on its merry way straight to hell. It's only when Hopkins comes on board and tries to bring a gothic sensibility to 5 that things start to darken again, but at that point the series is so fargone and so overproduced that he can't save it.

Maybe what's sad is being able to see the series of decisions that resulted in the decline of the franchise and wondering about the possibilities. What if they had gone darker? What if they had gone meaner? Would Freddy still terrify us today?

The documentary is thorough and if you love these movies, you can definitely add the information to what you may already know about the series and form an even clearer picture of how they were made. But Farrands and Kasch made a film that's just a little too admiring of the franchise and not quite daring enough to ask the tougher questions. If you're willing to do the homework to get the most out of the film, and if you're a genuine fan of the franchise, this is a must view. But even at four hours this documentary is incomplete, and some of the omissions are pretty damning. This is as close to definitive as you're going to get, but it's just not enough.

- Dustin Sklavos

All written content and colored rating system copyright Dustin Sklavos 2009. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.