Freddy’s Nightmares Take Two
Yes, Captain Krueger has guided his ship back onto the troubled seas of television. This year, she has to do more than just float.
By Marc Shapiro
Published in Fangoria #90.
“I’m exhausted,” grouses Robert Englund as he sprawls on a hallway couch inside the North Hollywood studio where Freddy’s Nightmares’ second season episodes are being ground out like so much hamburger. “I’ve been in this makeup for five days now. I don’t know whether I’m coming or going.”
Our guess is definitely “going.” As he closes in on the end of a week in which he has filmed the bookending elements and the active participation of the first half-dozen episodes, Englund is tired. You can see that in his eyes. He’s also defensive and downright profane when it comes to the apparent failure of A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child to make friends and influence people. Throw in the days he still owes the Andrew Dice Clay vehicle Ford Fairlane and his soon-to-begin duties on the Phantom of the Opera sequel, and it becomes easy to see why Englund—though always accommodating—seems less than the happy camper this day. The actor just might have to be dragged kicking and screaming into a second season of Fred TV.
“Grudgingly? Hell, I do everything grudgingly until the coffee kicks in,” smirks Englund. “To be perfectly honest, the only carrot in the second season for me is that I’ll be directing two episodes. I wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t let me direct.”
Englund’s candor aside, the second season of Freddy’s Nightmares would appear to have its creative heart set on keeping Englund interested. (As you read this, you’ve already seen enough new episodes to judge for yourself.) Producers Scott Stone, Bill (Return to Horror High) Froehlich and Gil Adler, who were granted a second season when the powers that be at Warner Bros. and Lorimar decided there would be enough of an afterlife to justify further episodes, have hired a whole new gang of writers (including Froehlich, Jonathan Glassner and David Braff), brought in a mixture of new and first season directors (like Ken Wiederhorn, Bill Malone, Tom DeSimone and David Calloway), and are basically attempting to pump consistent quality into a series whose first season was conspicuous for its erratic nature.
Englund, once he stops his complaining, is willing to concede this fact. Those connected with the show are tight-lipped on most plot particulars—but, when prodded with typical Fango subtlety, those involved divulge a couple of storylines. In “Dream Come True,” a television cameraman keeps seeing Freddy in his lens. In the same promising outing, a psychologist comes to town with a secret for combating dreams that ultimately puts him in direct conflict with Freddy. In “Welcome to Springwood,” a woman moves into a new Elm Street house and finds that the movers have dropped off some frightening misdelivered items.
“The scripts are definitely better, but what really has me excited is the casting,” Englund allows. “There are not as many teens as last season. We’re getting prime character actors, people like Richard Cox, Mary Crosby, David Landers and Gloria Loring. The stories, from what little I’ve seen, are translating better to film. They’re darker in tone than last year’s shows, and there’s more sardonic humor in them, which appeals to me.”
The actor discloses that he is monkeying around, to a large extent, with Freddy’s television persona. “I don’t do any preparation to play Freddy now, and that makes playing the character more fun,” he confides. “I’m much more open to the immediacy of the moment and the accidents that happen on the set. One of the most valuable lessons I’m learning this season is to ignore the inherent formula in a show like this. Just because something is habit doesn’t make it right. I’m making Freddy a bit goofier in scenes where things indicate that he shouldn’t be played that way. I’m also playing him a lot crueler than before. What I’m finding this season is sort of a new level of playing Freddy.”
The conversation is interrupted by the appearance of a crew member, who says, “They need you on the set, Robert.”
“They need me?” questions Englund as he jumps to his feet. “I didn’t even know I was in this scene. Boy, I’m so confused.”
Englund takes his confusion out into the main soundstage where set flats, unused mock-ups and general clutter are the order of the day. He shuffles onto the set while this episode’s director, Tom (Hell Night) DeSimone, holds forth on what he calls “the Halloween episode.” On the living room set, an actor holding some heavy heat gets his final instructions from the director. Englund settles just out of camera range, facing the actor. At the director’s signal, cameras roll and the actor raises the gun toward Freddy.
“It’s closed,” cackles Krueger. “Bye-bye.”
The actor punctuates the sentence by leaping over a chair and slashing the gunnel with his gloved hand. He walks to the foyer of the set, hits a dangling ghost decoration and walks out the front door while the camera continues to focus on the swinging ghost.
“Cut!” yells the director.
Englund walks off the stage and runs headlong into the assistant director for the second unit crew shooting the infamous bookend and Freddy wisecrack segments. “Here are your pages, Robert.”
Englund takes the script and does a quick study as he is ushered onto the Hall of Nightmares set. It’s still Freddy Krueger, but episode six is now suddenly episode two.
“Yeah, things can get kind of crazy with two units working within 50 feet of each other on the same soundstage,” agrees producer Scott Stone, “when that first unit director starts yelling for quiet, and the second unit people are about to shoot a scene they’ve been prepping for an hour. But these things tend to work themselves out.”
Stone, a straight shooter with a wry sense of humor, sums up the first season of Freddy’s Nightmares as “22 episodes of just learning what we were doing.”
“We had some problems,” reports Stone candidly. “We found that people were not really identifying with the characters in the show. I think we did a good job of giving a lot of style and look to the show, but we often confused the audience as to where the story was going. And we’d get so wrapped up in the idea of the dreams that we’d go into one without knowing how or why it would progress the story.”
To remedy those problems, the producers claim to have tripled the size of the writing staff, concentrating on using directors with “a feel for the show,” and put the lion’s share of the creative effort into the stories.
“The second major change in the series is that we’re spending more time and money on casting,” continues Stone. “In keeping with our idea of attracting an older audience, some of the characters will be older. Admittedly, it’s a tricky tightrope to walk. We want to make sure we deliver the things the audience liked about the first season and, at the same time, broaden things enough to expand on what, to this point, has basically been a teenage audience.”
Part of this risky revamping centers around a modification in Krueger’s smart alack mode. “Freddy will be just as he was last year,” promises Stone. “The only major change will be that he will comment more on the stories. Last year, Freddy would often come in to give his great line, and it would have nothing to do with what was going on. This year he will be the puppet master, the guy who comments on the story and makes things happen.”
Integral to behind-the-scenes action on Freddy’s Nightmares is Bill Froehlich, who triples in brass as producer, writer and soon-to-be-director. Today the writing side of life occupies his thoughts.
“We’re trying to bring a lot more sophistication to the stories this year,” he reasons, “the kind of suspense you see on shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Hitchhiker. Freddy and his nightmare world are still at the core of what’s going on here, but we’re trying to take the sense of horror away from goblins and gory things and make the terror more psychologically frightening.”
In keeping with that line of thinking, Froehlich claims the all-important dreams that Freddy plunges his unwilling victims into will receive a bit of fine tuning. “For openers, we won’t have everything hinging on one neat special effect or dream,” the producer ventures. “The dreams themselves will also play differently. Some of them will have twists and turns so that you will not know you’ve actually been in a dream until the end of it. Others will let you know immediately that you are in a dream, but even those will have little surprises of their own thrown in.”
Back from doing the first and second unit tango, with his feet up in an attempt to catch his breath, Englund asserts that despite the grind, Freddy’s Nightmares seems to have learned from its rough maiden voyage. “We’ve managed to survive being trapped in last season’s formula to at least be in a position to try to expand the Freddy’s Nightmares concept,” he points out. “The stories we’ve done so far have allowed me to play around with the character and, in many cases, give Freddy a more evil turn than last year.”
With no small hint of frustration, the actor acknowledges that the flexibility program directors have shown in selecting Freddy’s Nightmares’ timeslot is playing havoc with the series’ second season gore content. “The whole point of this show was that it was for late night, when you could do, say and get away with a little bit more,” he sighs. “But it appears that we’re still faced with the problem of things getting softened or deleted in editing because some stations have chosen to run the show during the day or in early evening. I mean, we did a slit throat sequence earlier in the day that’s as gory as anything you’ll see in a feature film. Whether viewers will see it is anybody’s guess.”
Talk turns temporarily away from Freddy’s Nightmares to an update on his genre activities during the coming year. First up is the sequel to the recently released Phantom of the Opera, tentatively titled The Phantom of Manhattan. “The movie is kind of a combination of Beauty and the Beast and Death Wish,” describes the actor. “The Phantom is alive in present-day New York, living under the city. He falls in love with a blind girl. When her father is killed by street punks, the Phantom protects her from scum, skinheads and drug dealers.”
In various stages of development are two horror epics that would see Robert Englund minus any makeup. The first, tentatively titled Hot, focuses on a group of mutants created during the ’50s atomic bomb tests. The second, The Hunchback of Sunset Strip, is shaping up as a horror all-star film that may feature Englund, Vincent Price, Roddy McDowall and Donald Pleasence.
Needless to add, there’s the ever-present specter of A Nightmare on Elm Street 6 looming on the horizon.
“I haven’t seen a script or heard anything about a storyline yet,” Englund says flatly. “All I do know is that Mike De Luca over at New Line is set to produce and write it. Why don’t you go over to New Line and buy him a couple of drinks? I’m sure he can tell you something.”
The conversation returns to Freddy on the small tube—specifically, the question that every red-blooded male Fango reader is burning to have answered. “No, damn it, I don’t get the heavy metal chick as an assistant this season,” moans Englund. “And that’s too bad, because I know Freddy’s real horny, so having her around would have been the answer to that problem. Can you imagine Freddy Krueger getting ‘in the mood’? That would be the ultimate horror.”
Right now, however, the scariest thing for Englund is the current pace of his career, which seems to be pulling him in more directions than the hooks in Hellraiser. “It’s not as bad as it looks,” muses Englund. “I am getting some time with my wife at this point. And in doing this show, it’s not like I’m dealing with a brand-new character. If this were a new character, I’d probably be real squirrelly by now.”
The dressing room door swings open for another crew member with another demand: “Hey Robert, it’s time to hook those explosive squibs to you.”
Englund sighs, rolls his eyes and mutters, half to himself, “Boy, am I confused.”