I Write the Blood
A screenwriter makes his breakthrough with the gruesome escapades of Freddy’s Revenge.
By: John A. Gallagher
Published in Fangoria #50.
Freddy’s Revenge marks the screenwriting debut of 31-year-old David Chaskin. Before writing this script, Chaskin had worked for the film’s producer, New Line Cinema, for eight years and had learned the ropes of many facets of the movie business. He started out at New Line in 1978 as part-time film inspector and moved from one area to another, from acquisitions and distribution to promotion and exhibition. The experience of finally seeing one of his scripts realized on screen has now prompted him to venture out as a full-time free-lance writer. Chaskin’s years at New Line, both as Freddy’s Revenge scripter and as part of the team that released such pictures as The Evil Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, makes him a Fango voice to be heard.
FANGORIA: What was your approach in scripting the sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street?
David Chaskin: I sat down and thought about what scares me, what makes me feel creepy, and tried to wrap that around the already frightening Freddy Krueger character that Wes created in the first film.
Fang: What scares you Dave?
Chaskin: Besides interviews? I’m afraid of what I don’t know, and the sense that else is running things. I think that’s the most frightening feeling of all, and that’s really the essence of this script. This is like flying back to the ’60s, but it’s like being on a hallucinogenic with your body suddenly taking you places where you don’t want to go.
Fang: There’s also a lot of humor in this script compared to the first Nightmare.
Chaskin: Hopefully it’s amusing. I think horror should be tempered with humor. I think they work hand in hand. The idea is to catch the audience off guard with a gag and suddenly have the gag turn around on them. As he did in the first film, Freddy has some telekinetic ability, and there’s a pool party scene with somebody cooking hot dogs. Freddy’s off in another part of the house where nobody sees him, but his presence alone is causing all of these strange things to happen. There’s a stack of hot dogs that explode and burst into flames, and some humorous things start building into a terror situation.
Fang: Did you work with Wes Craven at all on the story?
Chaskin: Wes made some suggestions, some of which we used and some of which we didn’t, mainly location changes. I had the finale in a more open space, and he wanted it in a more closed, confined area. I think it was a good idea to close it in. He also suggested that we shift the focus from Jesse the male lead. In the script the focus was on Jesse for 90% of the film, then suddenly it shifted to Lisa, his girlfriend. I pretty much just added some more focus on Lisa, and now it’s like 50-50.
Fang: How was your experience working with director Jack Sholder?
Chaskin: This being my first film to go into production, I may get a false sense of security going into other films because for a writer, Jack was a model director. He’s a screenwriter himself and has respect for the script. He consulted me anytime there was going to be a major change. He’d call me or send me the changes. As a director he had final say on things but he was always open to discussion. Jack actually got involved with the script at the last polish, and a week later he was in pre-production in Los Angeles, so most of the work we did was over the phone. We made some changes when I was out in Los Angeles, but overall the film is the script.
Fang: How did you like Robert Englund?
Chaskin: He’s great, a very intelligent, well-rounded guy. It was a lot of fun to sit there and talk to him in his makeup between takes. He’d be made up as Freddy Krueger but he’d be talking about the wines of California or new movements in art in the East Village. My wife Janis and I were going up to Monterrey one weekend and he was standing there waving his claw around as he was telling us about this or that seafood place and how gorgeous it is up there and what wine to order. Freddy plays tour guide! Sara Risher, the co-producer, brought her baby Nicholas to L.A., and so that he wouldn’t cry during a take, they kept him in the makeup trailer with Freddy, I mean Robert, so that he was baby-sitting this infant in full makeup. Imagine… Freddy baby-sitting! The first thing the kid sees when he gets up is Freddy!
Fang: How did you come to get the writing assignment on the picture?
Chaskin: To paraphrase Yogi Berra, filmmaking is 90% talent and the other half is who you know. My involvement with New Line over the years on the non-production side of things gave me the contacts I needed to get this job. What happened was, in the course of one of my days at the office, one of the vice-presidents came running out of his office and said to me, “We need a sequel for A Nightmare on Elm Street. Do you think you can come up with a story?” I said I’d work on it and I came back three days later with a 15-page treatment. They liked it and had me write the script. I worked for four weeks on the first draft, another month to do the second.
Fang: You spent nearly eight years at New Line. It must have been quite a learning experience. In the time you were there the company has grown to become a full-fledged production entity.
Chaskin: It’s a real good company to work for. I liked it a lot. There used to be a residual 60’s atmosphere, kind of chaotic, lots of things going on, almost a communal feeling, but everybody’s opinion counted. I did learn an incredible amount about the business at New Line. I was a shipping director, I stuffed promotional materials into envelopes, I did theatrical collections, I did operations, which was basically setting up systems in the distribution department, I did advertising and publicity. For awhile I was the contact for all the trade magazines. I wrote press releases, I helped with acquisitions. I think all that gives me an edge over a lot of screenwriters, seeing first-hand how movies are marketed, looking for things that catch on with the public.
Fang: What were some of the campaigns you worked on at New Line?
Chaskin: We did an ad for a re-release of John Waters’ Odorama film Polyester, and I came up with something that was basically a nose coming out of the water like a shark fin and the tag line, “Polyester—just when you thought it was safe to breathe again.” I only really actively got involved on a few films. New Line’s a very open company, and when an ad campaign comes up, generally someone will walk around the office and say, “What do you think?” I did a couple of radio spots, and when Texas Chainsaw Massacre played at the New line Festival in New York, I came up with the term “The Jacuzzi of Bloodbaths”.
Fang: I remember setting up a screening of The Evil Dead for you and Sara Risher when Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert were looking for a distributor.
Chaskin: It was still called The Book of the Dead at that point. I really pushed for the company to pick up Evil Dead. I loved that film. The tag line I came up with for that film—I believe it was on the trailer—was “The Evil Dead… They got up on the wrong side of the grave.” There was one promotion for that I wish had worked out. I wanted to put a bloodmobile outside the National Theater in Times Square and give free passes to anyone who donated blood. This was in the middle of the blood crisis, before the AIDS epidemic. Everybody thought it was a swell idea, people would come in, get a needle stuck in their arm, give a pint of blood, get a free pass to the movie and a button that said “I Bled for The Evil Dead“. The publicist loved the idea, so did the New York blood bank, we had the buttons printed up, and we were all set to go. As I understand it, at the last minute the blood bank decided against it and pulled the needle out of the whole promotion. I’m pretty sure they did it successfully in Philadelphia.
Fang: What’s in store for Freddy Krueger?
Chaskin: I’d love to see a movie with Freddy versus Jason. I think Freddy would kick his ass. I mean, Jason wouldn’t even show his face. It’d be like Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster. Maybe there’ll be a series of Japanese Freddy-ripoff films, like Godzilla vs. Freddy. I’d like to do The Bride of Freddy, that’d be a good one. Robert Englund and I talked about Part Three, and we decided that it should definitely be a prequel and we’ll show Freddy’s boyhood, putting the eyes out of frogs and sticking firecrackers up cats’ asses, how he had a terrible childhood and an overbearing mother.
Fang: And a bad hangnail.
Chaskin: Maybe he bit his nails as a kid and his mother beat him.