Freddy Krueger, returns for another Nightmare on Elm Street
By Marc Shapiro
Published in Fangoria #49.
Jack Sholder obviously isn’t in a bargaining mood as he grudgingly settles into his director’s chair on the cramped studio set of Freddy’s Revenge, the sequel to Nightmare on Elm Street.
“You’ve got five minutes,” jokes the tall, scholarly looking Sholder as the interview begins. But the director’s impatience is not strictly for laughs for, as the conversation progresses, it becomes evident that Sholder isn’t as interested in answering questions as he is in looking past the interviewer at preparations for one of Nightmare II’s grislier scenes; a bloody impaling by Fred Krueger of one of the film’s principals.
What Sholder sees is a beehive of activity amid dim lighting and false-front interiors. Special effects man Dick Albain is wandering around the set with Fred’s infamous razor-knife glove, looking for gaffer’s tape to tighten a couple of loose appendages.
Writer David Chaskin stands off to one side, hands folded across his chest and smiling—lots of smiling. And no wonder, for Chaskin, after nearly 15 years of banging his head against motion-picture doors, is making like a proud father as he witnesses the birth of his first filmed script.
Freddy’s Revenge is nearing the end of its seven-week shooting schedule in and around Los Angeles. The film, starring Clu Gulager, Hope Lange, Mark Patton and Robert Englund, is turning out to be a mystery of sorts.
Nobody’s willing to spill the beans on budget although the neighborhood of $3 million did get a nod out of Sholder. Another tough nut to crack is any specifics of the film’s special effects. You get fragments on the set of “lots of explosions and fire” and talk of a “pool party scene” that is cut maddeningly short.
But, according to the director Sholder, one thing is certain.
“People better get a lot of sleep now because they won’t be getting much when this film is released.”
That’s quite a boast considering that the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, a $2 million wonder written and directed by splatter-film master Wes Craven, set a high watermark for highly manipulative, intelligent genre filmmaking.
This tale of a child molester who returns to this world via dreams to slaughter the children of parents who murdered him struck an unexpected gold mine far beyond that of normal horror film grosses and indicated that a sequel that combined gore and subtle wit would do equally well.
Craven was the odds-on choice to do the sequel but a bad case of wanting to escape the splatter-filmmaker label resulted in Craven saying thanks but no thanks.
“It got to the point where every script I received began with the point of view of a crazed killer stalking a teenage girl,” said Craven in a recent interview. “People would leave the room at parties when they found out the kind of films I made. I’m not giving up horror films altogether. I just want to try something different.”
Sholder, whose credits include Alone in the Dark and the screenplay for the upcoming Jill Clayburgh film Where Are the Children?, stepped into the breech.
“I went into this film knowing that I had no choice but to top the original,” says Sholder, “and I think I have. It’s one of those movies that has appeal beyond the hardcore splatter-film audience. This isn’t one of those films where you introduce 10 mindless teenagers and some wacko in a hockey mask and are down to one mindless teenager by the film’s end. And we don’t slaughter teenagers because the killer doesn’t like the idea of them having sex.”
Freddy’s Revenge begins five years after the original film ends. Another family has moved into Heather Langenkamp’s house, now long since vacated, and the spirit of Krueger returns and begins to slowly take possession of the family’s teenage son.
Sholder says that the bloody and graphic scenes of violence are much in evidence but that the filmmakers have taken great pains to make this a different kind of scary movie.
“We tried to avoid the obvious ‘boo’ kind of scares; the one dimensional blood and guts thing that, by now, are totally expected by audiences and don’t have the impact of really scaring people that they once did. What we’ve done is use a lot of ‘woo’ type of scare effects; things that you know are coming but that don’t come off in quite the way you expected them to.
“As a matter of fact, we almost went too far the other way. We went almost all the way through the movie before we realized that we didn’t have enough blood and guts so we added a couple of those kinds of scenes. But people shouldn’t expect viscera on the floor and bodies being ripped open from start to finish.”
But when the five minutes are up and Sholder returns to the set, the reaction shots to the aforementioned body-ripping scene are being blocked out with obvious relish. A teenager has been manually impaled by Krueger. Now the actors playing the parents of the doomed teen bang on their son’s locked bedroom door in response to his screams. The father steps back and reacts to the spot on the door where, when filmed, the bloody knife blades of Krueger’s glove will slice through.
“Oh my god!” screams the father, pushing his wife back. “Call the police!”
Camera angles are set as the scene is rehearsed a few more times. Sholder is in control, but he did admit to some momentary fears when he received the final shooting script.
“I looked through it and it had five-and-a-half pages of special effects. I didn’t have the slightest idea how they would be done. I was worried.”
Dick Albain wasn’t.
Albain, a white haired, grandfatherly looking man in his 60’s, whose credits include most of the low-budget shockers of William Castle, Three Stooges short subjects, New York, New York and the biggest legal explosion in the city of Los Angeles for The Mechanic, took one look at the 196 special effects requirements for Freddy’s Revenge and said, “No problem.”
“It was a very busy, loaded kind of picture,” says Albain. “But it wasn’t really that rough. There was lots of long hours and we often had to run back and forth between first and second unit scenes but, basically, it was a very simple film.”
One of the pleasant surprises Albain found was director Sholder’s insistence on sticking a detailed storyboard page directly opposite every page of script that called for an effect.
“It made things a lot easier. He would tell us not to pay any attention to the script page but just to his storyboard.”
Albain says that the hush-hush party by the pool scene (which he says has such effects as flames shooting out of the ground and air compressed waves that overflow the pool by three feet) came off without a hitch. He laughingly remembers, however, that the seemingly simplest effect in the film didn’t.
“It was the first effect on the first day of shooting. A bus jumps a crevice, comes to a stop and one of its wheels jumps off and continues to roll. We rigged the wheel hub so that when the brake was applied, the wheel would roll off. The scene went perfectly until the very end, but the wheel would not drop off.
“Jack had a fit. He said ‘Oh my god. If this doesn’t work what kind of problems am I going to have with the other 195 effects?’ But that damned wheel was the only thing in the picture that didn’t work. From that point on we batted a thousand.”
Albain, whose company A&A Special Effects is currently involved in commercials for high-tech equipment, is notorious for forgetting about his work right after he completes it. But he claims that there’s enough to recommend, quality-wise, on Freddy’s Revenge to keep him thinking about it at least a month.
In the makeup room, Robert Englund gushes about the joys of being a nightmare movie psycho. “Playing Freddy is a pleasure for me. I get to scream, run around and torture nubile teenage girls. Hell, who could ask for more than that?”
Englund attempts to laugh but is cut short by the binding effects of the in-progress makeup job that is transforming him into the film’s celebrated child molester. Englund says that the daily three hours in the makeup room, being made over by wunderkind Kevin Yagher, isn’t the drag it was in the original Nightmare on Elm Street. He’s even in good enough spirits this day to laughingly explain how unpleasant some early location shooting on Freddy’s Revenge was.
“We shot the scenes in this old deserted section of an industrial city in Southern California. There was dirt and grime and soot everywhere and I was in the middle of it. It was so godawful that when I’d blow my nose, the snot would come out with a layer of soot on it.”
But those discomforts aside, Englund was more than happy to repeat the role of Krueger in this sequel and is getting a real kick at how horror-film addicts have taken the character of Krueger (and to a certain extent his character Willie in the now defunct television series V) and turned him into a celebrity.
“I’ve been doing these science-fiction conventions since the first Nightmare film,” says Englund, “and when it came time for autograph sessions there would usually be these motherly types coming around because of the Willie character. But lately there’s been an increasing number of these heavy-metal kids coming around because of Krueger and, in some cases, dressing like him.
“Some college students have even done their dissertations on the character of Krueger; describing him as the All American Child Molester. It gets crazy but it’s really a lot of fun for me to see how this character has affected people.”
Englund, a veteran actor whose television and film credits include Stay Hungry, Baretta and National Lampoon’s Class Reunion, recalls that it was his work in Class Reunion that initially brought him to the attention of Wes Craven.
“They originally wanted a big man, a sort of Glenn Strange type, for the part but when the casting director saw how physical and ready to go down to the wire I was in Class Reunion, she brought me to the attention of Wes and I got the part.
“The time has long since passed when you could get away with dressing a football player or some non-acting deformed person as a monster,” continues Englund. “The people behind the makeup have to have some acting ability because the monster is the core of these kinds of films and if he isn’t believable then the rest of the film won’t be.”
Two pictures into the Nightmare series has afforded Englund the opportunity to examine the character of Freddy Krueger. And to his way of thinking, there’s more to that character than scar tissue and murderous intent.
“Krueger’s your classic boogeyman and a Freudian king of nightmare,” says Englund. “He’s the physical incarnation of some of our deepest and most frightening fears. Freddy’s not just a one-dimensional splatter-film killer.
“In terms of acting, Krueger has been easier to play this second time around. It’s been easier for me to recall the character. Once he’s out there now, he’s basically on automatic pilot. But that doesn’t mean the character has become boring for me. These pictures are still a hoot to do.”
Englund pauses as Yagher applies one of the nine pieces of burn and scar tissue that make up Krueger’s face. Yagher, youthful in appearance but with a veteran’s list of credits that include Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, Cocoon and Friday the 13th, offers that Krueger’s makeup job on Freddy’s Revenge is pretty much standard issue for the genre but that it does offer some refinements from David Miller’s work in the original film.
“I tried to make the makeup less bulky and as thin as possible so it would move naturally with movement of Robert’s face,” explains Yagher. “I’ve also added the appearance of more bone structure to the makeup than it had before.”
“But the main improvement is that in the first film the makeup consisted of a lot of under-pieces that the top layer was attached to. The problem was that the pieces underneath would often show through the wound and pock marks on the outer layer. This time there are only nine pieces total and they all attach directly to Robert’s face.”
Englund, once again free to speak, claims that one of the big steps forward in Freddy’s Revenge is the film’s ability to have more fun.
“Most of the fun element was cut out of the first film because the people involved wanted to emphasize the absolute evil,” says Englund. “But the writer of this film [Chaskin] has instinctively picked up on the humorous side-structure that was cut out of the first film and has put into it a certain sense of intimacy and sly perversion. It is these elements that I’ve found the most attractive.”
And it is these elements and a keen sense of pure surprise that Englund says have made the Nightmare series (look for a rumored Part III to become reality by 1987) the cream off the top of the glutted splatter/gore genre.
Two hours later, Englund, in full makeup, ambles on the set, ahead of his scheduled shooting time, to give actor Mark Patton the Krueger character to play off of in a segment of the much buzzed about transformation scene in which Krueger takes over the boy’s body. Englund stands joking with technicians and set-visitors until director Sholder calls for a take.
Englund blinks and bobs his head; his way of shaking the jokes and Robert Englund out and Freddy Krueger in. The cameras roll.
From his position out of camera range, Krueger laughs a low maniacal, taunting laugh. Patton screams at him to go away, clutches at his stomach in pain and hurtles himself away from the camera and against a prop wall. Sholder yells cut.
The scene has played well and Patton’s efforts are rewarded with a round of applause from cast and crew members.
And Freddy Krueger is clapping loudest of all.