Nightmare’s Solo Scripter
Breaking the precedent established by the last three sequels, Freddy’s Dead had only one screenwriter on board.
By: Marc Shapiro
Published in Fanorgia #109.
How many writers does it take to dream up a Nightmare on Elm Street film? In the past it’s taken quite a few, and the results, according to Freddy’s Dead director Rachel Talalay, have not always been what the creators or audiences had hoped for. “A lot of times we’d get really great nightmare scenes and no story,” says Talalay of the scripting odysseys that marked Nightmares 3–5. “Other times we’d get a real interesting story that had no relationship to Freddy.”
Consequently, when it came time to send Krueger down for the last count in Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, the folks at New Line decided to cut the chaos factor by keeping everything in-house and having Talalay generate the story.
“I had some ideas about things I did not want to do and things I wanted to change,” asserts the director, “and New Line had done some market research to find out what people wanted to find out about Freddy and where people wanted the Nightmare series to go. Between the market research and the elements we did not want to repeat, I came up with a story everybody seemed happy with.”
But the one-scriptwriter edict was slow in taking hold. Jay Cappe had previously written a screenplay with a completely different story that was finally rejected. Once Talalay’s story idea was in place, writer Michael (Twister) Almereyda completed a draft that ultimately went unused. New Line took another in-house route when they finally tagged Michael De Luca (the company’s vice president of creative development) to write the Freddy’s Dead script. No stranger to the Nightmare universe, De Luca had put the final polish on A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 and served as a consultant and occasional scripter to Freddy’s Nightmares.
Talalay welcomed De Luca’s involvement with open arms. “I already had a strong relationship with Mike, and we both knew the Nightmare series inside out. In Mike I finally felt I had somebody who really knew the concept, and that made a big difference.”
De Luca agrees. “It was definitely easier for me to do the script. We had the story already, so that made things less complicated. It was just a matter of coming up with what Rachel wanted to see.”
Early in the pre-writing meetings between De Luca, Talalay and Freddy’s Dead producer Aron Warner, the consensus agreed that Freddy should definitely step out of Springwood and that the main protagonists should not be kids. “It’s more scary when adults encounter horror,” muses De Luca who, while an avid fan of the Nightmare films, is not above taking their shortcomings to task. “Freddy’s not really an adult menace, but having adults in the picture kind of legitimizes his presence and makes him appear that much more threatening.
“Our general attitude going in was that we did not just want to rip off the previous films in terms of the dream sequences and characters,” he adds. “We were all pretty tired of teen heroes and, in terms of the nightmares, we wanted something that was fantasy-oriented, and depended more on visual effects than makeup effects.”
Talalay and De Luca’s actual writing process went smoothly, as the film’s three main acts had already been hashed out. What remained was a stressless series of meetings between De Luca, Talalay and Warner, followed by De Luca hitting his word processor to add flesh to the bones.
“We would talk over scenes,” recalls De Luca, “and then I would go away and write those scenes up. Then I would bring them back the pages, and we would discuss them again, keeping what we liked and throwing out what did not work.”
Adds Talalay: “There were never any major bones of contention. If we had any major problem, we would bang our heads against the wall until we solved it. We were very much in sync. Mike would take stuff that I liked and make it so much better. I would be sitting there reading his pages with a big grin on my face.”
This is not to suggest, though, that the Freddy’s Dead writing course was entirely free of concessions. According to De Luca, his initial take on the story was ultimately shot down. “I’ve always been interested in the cyclical nature of violence, and how you have a character like Freddy because of something that happened to him as a child. Consequently, my original draft of Freddy’s Dead was more sympathetic to him, and basically treated him as a guy who just got a bum deal in life. But the more we discussed it, the more we realized that we did not want to be accused of trivializing the subject of childhood violence in a Freddy sequel, so we softened that element of the script.
“But we also ended up adding several things that I was quite happy with,” De Luca continues. “There’s a bit of Lovecraft in the scenes where we show how Freddy gets his powers in the first place. I liked the idea of the dream world as a seperate, dimensional thing.”
The biggest challenge in writing Freddy’s Dead, De Luca recalls, was creating dream scenes “that would match the impact of the previous films and yet not copy them. The dream sequences in Nightmare 5 were kind of lame in that they were not always specific enough to the character’s fears, like previous Nightmare films’ sequences had been. So Rachel and I made a point of coming up with with specific handicap and fear-related dreams. We went out of our way to keep the nightmares specific, because they had gotten as big as they were going to get. We wanted to keep the Final Nightmare dreams more psychologically disturbing.”
Freddy’s demise also weighed heavily on his mind as he and Talalay tried to hash out a suitable ending. “We had already seen just about everything special effects can do, so this time we tried to have the ending make sense in terms of the story,” De Luca offers. “We decided that the best way to kill Freddy out of all the previous films had been Wes Craven’s original idea, which was to drag Freddy into the real world and make him flesh and blood. In the first film, Nancy had tried it but screwed it up. This time we did it right.”
Talalay and De Luca bemoan the fact that budget considerations and time limitations resulted in some nasty little Freddy bits being deleted from the final script. “Originally, the film opened with a sequence where Freddy is riding a skeleton horse, chasing John, on a treadmill-like sidewalk that goes nowhere,” Talalay reveals. “We had Freddy wearing a leather jacket and a hat and, at one point, we would shoot him from the back and he would look like Indiana Jones. Unfortunately, it would have required a lot of stop-motion, and we just couldn’t afford it.”
In addition, the director recalls that the climactic 3-D wrap-up had some of its best action moments written out because, “the 3-D process was so cumbersome and time-consuming.”
De Luca elaborates on the bumpy Freddyvision ride: “When we originally wrote the 3-D sequence, we did not know what the technology was capable of. The original concept was of an amusement park rollercoaster ride through Freddy’s brain, with a lot more things popping out at you. But, because of the process’ limitations, we had to cut down the amount of 3-D to what we thought were the most spectacular parts.”
Talalay puts the capper on the 3-D reminiscences by noting, “When we screened the 3-D sequence the first time, everybody agreed that we needed more, and I ended up shooting additional elements for that sequence.”
De Luca recalls another last-minute change to his Freddy’s Dead script—the deletion of his conclusion. “The script originally ended with a sequence in which the dream demons surface in another small town and appear to be attempting to recruit another Freddy,” he details. “That scene was supposed to express the idea that domestic violence only begets more violence. But what it ended up doing was giving the impression that we weren’t truly ending the series. So it was taken out.”
An NYU film school graduate, De Luca started at New Line as an intern before eventually working his way up to his current position. Despite his involvement in a number of cinematic series, he admits to not being a big fan of film follow-ups. “Horror sequels are the worst,” he asserts. “By the time I get to part 4 of anything, I want to groan. The only reason I’m not groaning about a sixth Nightmare is that we agreed, from the beginning, to call it something else and try to make it separate from the previous sequels.”
De Luca undoubtedly wishes the same attitude had prevailed when it came to making Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, whose production ordeals were chronicled in depth in Fango #88 and #89. He offers his two cents’ worth about what went wrong with the movie penned by noted splatterpunk David Schow.
“I hated Chainsaw III,” he frowns. “It was done on a really low budget, the director [Jeff Burr] had a very tough schedule and New Line insisted on not having it be an X-rated or unrated film. But you can’t make a Chainsaw right without it getting an X.
“We also had the problem of a great script that read better than it would ultimately shoot,” De Luca comments. “David has a kind of rhythm to his dialogue; it’s funny in a dark sort of way. And it got to the point where even some of the actors were refusing to read his lines because they were so profane. At the time, New Line was definitely too strait-laced for what David was doing, so the script kept getting changed. What that did was take away his edge and style, and what we were left with was a formula remake of the original.”
De Luca is well aware of how Schow took his literary chainsaw to New Line in the Fango articles, but he claims no one at the company took it personally. “Nobody cared,” he shrugs. “Writers’ and producers’ gripes are part of the business. The only thing that matters is the product.”
The scripter’s foray into TV’s Freddy’s Nightmares came about as the result of everybody pitching in to help during a writer’s boycott. “The strike had just ended, and everybody was busting their butts and trying to get the show on the air,” he remembers. “The scripts were there, but they were sloppy. I just stepped in to clean them up.”
With his Creative Development hat firmly in place, De Luca chronicles a list of New Line terrors in various stages of development and/or production. Critters 3 and 4, scripted by Schow, take the flesh-eating furballs into an apartment building and outer space. The films [directed by Kristine Peterson and Rupert Harvey respectively] are completed and the powers that be are presently determining whether they will meet a theatrical or direct-to-video fate.
“We also have the Robert McCammon novel Mine [’60s terrorist steals ’90s infant and mother gives chase] in development as a film, and we’re hoping to interest Sissy Spacek in the role of Mary Terror.” De Luca further details, “We’re also looking at The Mask [from Dark Horse Comics] as a possible franchise character. The story is about this guy who finds a strange mask, puts it on and becomes this irreverent super-charged lunatic who would like to be a superhero, but is having too much fun getting revenge on people who have messed him over. It’s kind of like a Tex Avery cartoon character running around in the real world. And we’re developing the psychological suspense thriller Mercy from David Lindsey’s novel.
“Oh, and Freddy is definitely dead, so don’t even ask about Nightmare on Elm Street 7,” he chuckles.
Deceased or not, what De Luca feels is the weak link in all the Nightmare movies is—are you ready for this?—Freddy Krueger himself.
“Freddy is actually the most boring thing about these movies. What I’ve always liked is the disturbing notion that your dreams can kill you and that reality is not what it seems to be.”