Krueger’s Last Stand
By Marc Shapiro
Published in Fangoria #107.
After four sequels and dozens of victims, our favorite cover boy gets his comeuppance in Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. Freddy’s Dead. No Kidding! They really mean it this time, and the cast and crew of the “The Final Nightmare” swear this will be the best yet.
It begins with a dream. A bus barrels out of a nighttime desert fog, headlights blazing. Pinned in the high beams like a frightened rabbit is a helpless Springwood teen. A loud smack echoes through the night sky as shredded flesh embeds itself in the metal bus grille. Body parts scatter across the wind-driven sands as Freddy Krueger downshifts into overdrive and highballs it into the night.
“Cut!” yells director Rachel Talalay. It’s a night of subzero temperatures on the isolated Southern California location where Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare is heading into its last days of filming. Talalay orders the crash dummy to be picked up and reassembled before huddling with a stuntman who will recreate the impact in close-up with the aid of a harness. In the meantime, the Freddy Express has come to a halt further clown the road, revealing another stuntman dolled up as a bus-driving Krueger at the wheel.
One of the perks of being the real Freddy (a.k.a. Robert Englund) is that you get to sit in a nice toasty makeup trailer while awaiting a relatively simple night of Freddy one-liner close-ups. The sequence’s stunt port ion goes off without a hitch, and wraps just as the car bearing the made-up actor glides onto the frigid outdoor set. Englund emerges, looking very unthreatening under a parka and layers of warm clothing. Talalay positions the camera as Englund peels into his trademark sweater and fedora. Slipping on his infamous glove, he leers into the camera and does a number of variations on the lines “I can’t get out, but you can” and “Not for long” before latching on to a bit of dialogue he can really sink his teeth into. “Now be a good little doggie and go fetch,” cackles Krueger, to the accompaniment of razor fingers clicking together.
If you believe producer Aron Warner, Englund had better relish every word. “This is the last movie Freddy’s going to be in,” Warner declares. “He’s going to die.” We’re to be forgiven if we don’t take the warning too seriously, after all. Freddy’s died and come back so many times you’d think he was part boomerang. But spending time on the set of Freddy’s Dead has brought to light a real sense of finality and, thankfully, deviation from the expected Elm Street path.
For openers, the full title is Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. There’s no messy A Nightmare on Elm Street with a number attached to indicate just the latest in a long line. There are two real live adults in starring roles (Yaphet Kotto and Bad Influences Lisa Zane) to go a long with a whole slew of outcast teens (Shon Greenblatt, Lezlie Deane, Ricky Dean Logan and Breckin Meyer), a terrifying 3-D journey inside Freddy’s brain and a consensus among the cast and crew that the villain’s last hurrah should be, in the words of Warner “balls-out!”
All this explosive action ensues when John (Greenblatt), the last surviving Springwood teen, escapes the town and turns up at a youth shelter where Maggie (Zane) works. She, herself has been troubled by nightmares, and when she realizes that they share a connection with John’s, Maggie takes him back to Springwood to solve the mystery. Three more kids from the shelter slow away in Maggie’s van, and when they arrive in the town-now a childless, almost surreal village of the damned-Freddy is all too happy to welcome the new victims. Less than half the group make it back to the shelter, where, with the help of psychiatrist Doc (Kotto), Maggie must confront Krueger and her past—once and for all.
“We’re taking a lot of what has come before in the previous Nightmare films a step further,” insists Warner. “We’re breaking a lot of the series conventions and taking the Nightmare concept to a place it’s never been before.” But one place the movies can never get too far away from is Freddy’s boiler room, which is the central setting of another terrifying dream sequence being s hot in a power station in the wilds of Pasadena, CA.
For a scene in which a deaf kid is the recipient of the ultimate nightmare, Englund and Logan are gingerly getting their catwalk legs many feet up on a steam-spewing, water-dripping shaft, while Talalay does a back-and-forth between directing her actors and the tricky business of camera placement. As t he scene unfolds, the deaf Carlos, minus his hearing aid and an ear that Freddy has sliced off, is staggering around in a state of silent panic while his tormentor, in the background, swings the hearing aid in a taunting manner. “Give me my hearing back!” screams Carlos. Freddy comes up behind the victim-to-be and clamps the hearing aid onto his remaining ear, which, in line with the grand scheme of this nasty dream, mutates into something quite ugly. Talalay converses with the cameraman. Things look good, but they do it again. And again. And again. And into the next day for some finishing touches. Englund arrives early for a discussion with the first-time director about the number of wisecracks Freddy delivers.
“The sequence we’re doing today has four jokes in it,” Englund later comments as he goes through the daily ritual of having Freddy makeup plastered all over his face. “I told Rachel that was too many, and that three was the most I should be doing. That’s the kind of input I have. Rachel and I go back a long way on these films, and there are no major bones of contention. She’s a director who just wants to see her actors do their job, and for my money, that’s the best director any actor can have. Rachel and I have a sort of shorthand. She’s not afraid to tell me. ‘Robert, spit it out. We’re losing the light.”
Englund insists that Freddy is fatally vanquished at the conclusion of Freddy’s Dead, and is high on the mystery aspect of this ultimate installment and its bleak ’90s urban future that has been sucked dry by Freddy. “As a matter of fact, this is horror in a way it hasn’t been done before in a Nightmare film,” he insists. “What audiences will get in this one is more of the psychology of horror. The worst thing I do in the scene we’re s hooting today is drop pins. What results from that will be a classic Nightmare sequence. I’m also high on the fact that we’re breaking the boundaries and getting Freddy out of Springwood.”
The actor, to be seen shortly in the new Wes Craven television series Nightmare Café, predicts that Freddy’s Dead will showcase a more brutal vision of the character. “There’s a real sense of Freddy being everywhere in this film and permeating everything with his evil,” Englund judges. “The humor is there, but not to the degree that it’s been in previous films. And a lot of that has to do with Rachel’s approach to filming, we’re using a lot of reality-based, interesting locations, so even though this is a fantasy film, it is definitely mired in reality. That will put the real scares back into this film.”
The actor has thought long and hard about the time when Freddy Krueger would die and stay dead. “To be perfectly honest, I felt it was time after we did 3. After 4 I was really energized and felt we should do another one. After 5 I though t maybe now was the time. Right now I definitely feel ready to put Freddy to rest. But when he dies, I don’t think that day will be special.”
Meanwhile, young actor Logan, seen previously and very briefly in Predator 2, is having a few laughs at the expense of his upcoming demise. “Freddy slices off my ear. I get this mutant vagina clamped on to my other one and my head explodes. By Nightmare on Elm Street standards, I’d say this is a great part!” The young thespian lapses into guffaws when describing his untimely end and how it stacks up against Freddy kills in previous Nightmare romps. “‘My death is going to be one of the better ones,” he chuckles. “That’s what I hear from other people. Or rather, that’s what I don’t hear.”
The actor returns to the high catwalk where, sans Freddy, he stumbles and tumbles on his high perch for close-up purposes. Logan’s throwing himself into this role (literally), and at one point looks like he’s about to pitch over the railing and make like Humpty Dumpty all over the movie grips below. But he steadies himself, and life in Krueger hell goes on.
“Get the blood ready,” John Buechler tells an assistant during a break in Freddy mayhem. Yes, this is the same John Buechler who is anti-slasher and anti-gore. But he’s not going back on his word to provide Freddy’s Dead a blood-spattered sendoff. Handling all the makeup FX (except for Freddy himself; that’s David Miller’s gig), Buechler and his MMI team are working in lieu of the multiple-FX house collaborations of past Nightmare films. His attitude of “not making a buckets of blood, blueprint for murder movie” and the approach of the Final Nightmare people are in sync. “My take on the film was to create exotic and very real nightmare visions that would reflect the far darker nature and the total insanity of this movie,” he maintains. “In terms of how we’re handling things. it’s technically state-of-the-art stuff. But in a creative sense, we’ve turned things up a notch.”
Buechler describes the technique of Carlos’ deadly encounter as “more of an optical illusion. For his missing ear, we designed a prosthetic makeup that would flatten out and build up over his real ear. It’s an appliance that covers half his face, but it will only appear that an ear is missing. For the exploding head sequence, we built a series of heads with bladders underneath them and filled them with air until they exploded.”
In addition, Buechler is contributing to the complex 3-D “Freddy-vision” climax. “Freddy’s demise is a multilayered process that’s not just makeup,” he describes. “It’s part makeup, part pyrotechnics, part mechanical and part computer-generated. It’s a composite of many elements working together, not just our stuff.” According to the artist, additional FX are being added to the film on an almost daily basis. In all, he feels quite honored to be the makeup artist chosen to put the final screws to Freddy. “As a fan of the series, it’s a great opportunity to contribute something to this movie that people haven’t seen before,” the jovial Buechler notes. “Nightmare on Elm Street movies have always been the hallmark of great special effects. And while it’s sad to see Freddy go, it’s nice to see people going all out to end the Nightmare films in the best possible way.”
The person in charge of Mr. Krueger’s demise, Rachel Talalay, has been around every Nightmare movie except 5, and thus has a very good idea of how these films usually work. Happily, in some areas, things are turning out differently on Freddy’s Dead. “In the past, we’d be lucky if we got the script three weeks before shooting began.” she recalls. “Then we’d have to rush through filming and rush through post production to make the release date. I had [Michael De Luca’s) script much earlier with this film and, even though we had to rush to start filming, we won’t have a rushed post production period.”
Talalay praises the Nightmare franchise as a great concept from its inception. “You can’t get any better than a guy who’s your greatest fear and who can kill you in your sleep,” she affirms. But the novice director, who devised the original story for Freddy’s Dead, insisted that some changes were necessary, regardless of whether or not the series would end or continue. “We had basically used up all the Springwood kids,” she concedes. “We had gone to all of their funerals, seen them all cry and heard the Freddy backstory for the umpteenth time. I felt from an effects point of view that the audience had pretty much seen it all, and that a more adult script that concentrated on characters was the logical next step.”
“We’ve taken many of the effects to an almost Road Runner cartoon level, and we’re staying away from blood,” Talalay continues. “This is a much darker film. In fact, it’s so dark that we’ve sometimes had trouble lightening things up to the point where we could get a little humor in. We’ve really done something fresh with this film, and l find it hard to consider it a sequel.” With this last installment, Talalay believes she has brought everything that is truly Freddy full circle. “We’re using the best elements of the previous five films, and we’re revealing much more about him. This film is an honest attempt to have a final closure, rather than simply have him die.”
By now, the director has pretty much gotten used to the filmmaking routine. According to Talalay, the dream sequences have “settled in,” and she can now address the elements “that will make the characters more real.” But the newness of directing still occasionally manifests itself. “Every once in a while they’ll say, ‘Roll sound, hit the slate,’ and there will be this awkward moment of silence,” Talalay confesses. “Suddenly I’ll remember that it’s me who has to say action.” She has no trouble shouting it on another day, filming on a town fair location. The scene in question involves the latest Nightmare teens’ encounter with a crazed Springwood husband and wife, who attempt to collect a few youngsters to replace those taken long ago by a certain dream killer. The childless couple? Roseanne Barr and real-life hubby Tom Arnold.
At Talalay’s command, Barr and Arnold trudge through the dirt and sawdust, whereupon they discover the youths hanging out. The woman gets weird. “What lovely children,” she gloats. “Would you like to come home with me? It’s been so long since we had children in the house. But this time it will be different. This time I’ll hide you so he won’t find you.” The husband grabs her and begins to drag her off as she cries, “I want my children back!” “No!” yells the husband. “You know they bring him!”
As is usually the case with most cameos, this one is dragging on indefinitely. During a break to reposition the cameras, Barr bemoans the fact. “One little cameo,” she grouses. “You’d think they could get it in five minutes. But no, it’s taking all day.” Barr and Arnold explain that they jumped at the idea of doing the bit part “just so we could do something goofy and different.” Seriousness aside, the duo launches into comic responses that go something like this: Barr: “The only time we get involved in anything this gory is when we’re in our bedroom.” Arnold: “We tried to develop a relationship for this scene similar to Rock Hudson and Doris Day in Pillow Talk.” Barr: “We wanted Freddy to kill us, but we weren’t big enough stars.”
“These are the movies we pay to see,” says Arnold. “Nightmare films and Godzilla movies. You know, the ones with the good special effects.” Barr offers that being in a Freddy movie has whetted her appetite to possibly star in a horror flick of her own. “I’d love to play an ax murderer or a serial killer. Somebody on the edge who’s real scary.” “I’d love to see you play one of those roles too,” roars Arnold. “Then you’d be playing yourself.”
Englund, without makeup and with wife and dog in tow, arrives on the set to do some television interviews and to pose with Arnold and Barr for rolls of publicity photos. He patiently answers the questions that Fango readers have been hip to for ages and flexes the trademark glove for the camera. Then, with his media obligations completed, he talks candidly about his future away from Elm Street. Travel is uppermost in his mind; so is landing a job “on a television series where I can have my own parking place and only have to work four or five hours a day.” He also addresses the one thing about portraying Freddy Krueger that he’s extremely sorry to leave behind. “I basically own the character, so I’m going to miss playing him,” Englund sighs. “When I’m in that makeup, I feel like I can say anything to anybody. When I’m Freddy, I can swear at babies and get away with it. Once Nightmare is over, if I swear at babies I’ll probably end up being arrested.”