On Location! A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
You asked for it, you got it. The newest installment returns Freddy Krueger to his roots.
By: Marc Shapiro
Published in Fanorgia #85.
Running the 100 yard dash in 9.5 or less was not the determining factor in Stephen Hopkins’ snagging the assignment to direct A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, but on days like this, Hopkins is probably wishing he had supplemented his filmmaking education with a couple of marathons. “Cut,” calls Hopkins as a rather routine dialogue scene involving Alice (Lisa Wilcox) in the Crave Inn comes to an end. The Australian-born director barely has time to brush his blonde locks out of his face before an assistant with a walkie-talkie says, “They’re ready for you downstairs, Stephen.” Hopkins takes off like a shot, cutting a straight line to the stairs, taking the steps two at a time to the ground floor, rounding a corner and setting the brakes on his Reeboks at a second unit scene that demands his attention. Now, second unit business doesn’t usually require the director to work up a sweat, but two things make this different: The scene involves gross-out FX, and that’s Freddy Krueger, dressed in cummerbund and headwaiter frills, leaning up against a living room mock-up.
The director converses in low tones with the second unit director about this scene, in which a compulsive anorexic named Greta (Erika Anderson) is gutted and then fed her own innards by Freddy. For this sequence, makeup man Todd Masters has designed gonzo chipmunk cheeks for the actress, who passes the time cracking jokes with crew members. Alan Monroe, visual FX supervisor on this latest trip down Freddy lane, is on his knees behind a mock wall, putting the finishing touches on a ripped-open gut appliance for the actress’ dress. In the interest of not having to redo Anderson’s makeup, the sequence is being shot last-scene-to-first with the cheeks reducing gradually.
Hopkins finishes his conversation. “The glove, please,” he commands. A burly technician walks onto the set, Freddy’s legendary mitt cradled in his hands, and approaches Robert Englund. The actor stretches is hands and fingers and slips his hand in. Nine months hasn’t made a whole lot of difference. The glove still fits. Anderson sits down in a mangled, burned highchair. The tabletop is hooked on. At Hopkins’ signal, the cameras roll. Freddy rips the table off, grabs the girl and lifts her onto his shoulder to burp her. She gags and groans. Bits of guttural matter fall from her mouth onto the floor.
Greta belches once and dies in Freddy’s motherly arms. Hopkins likes what he sees, calls a print and charges upstairs to continue his first unit duties while the crew prepares the next element of the disembowelment. “Second unit suddenly becomes first unit when Freddy’s around,” quips a crew member as Hopkins disappears. The director’s wind sprints are a common sight in the former Los Angeles noodle factory now housing A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. Like Hopkins’ mad dashes, the operative word is rush, since Nightmare 5 is slated for an August 11 release date. Three weeks of exteriors began in April. There have been nine drafts of the screenplay, but you won’t see a completed script anywhere, the reason being that pages of the final polish are messengered daily from David Schow’s typewriter straight to the set. Nobody’s moving slower than Warp, Scotty.
And nobody, if Alan Monroe is any indication, can keep quiet about the fact that The Dream Child, like its predecessor, is an FX monster. “Since nobody told me we have any secrets,” laughs Monroe, “I can tell you that Dan [Danny Hassel] is strangled by his seatbelts, there’s a motorcycle that turns into Freddy, and Greta eats herself. One kid gets turned into paper and gets slashes up. Alice [Lisa Wilcox] visits her own womb, and Freddy gets inside of Alice and then bursts out.”
Lisa Wilcox, a knockout even dressed down and pregnant (as she is in Nightmare 5), reveals, “I get Freddyized at some point in the next few weeks. I wear Freddy makeup and everything. Lest you think that only the hired hands spill the beans, a visit to Robert Englund’s trailer shows the veteran villain to be the biggest blabbermouth of all. “So you want the storyline?” clarifies Englund while makeup caddy David Miller, returning from the original Nightmare, futzes with his charge. “OK, Freddy has been rendered almost powerless from his battle with Alice in Nightmare 4. He’s able to twitch her a bit, but her willpower at this point is basically too much for him. In the meantime, Alice has gotten pregnant, and Freddy finds he can get back at Alice by taking up residence in the dreams of her unborn child. Freddy’s ultimate goal is to be reborn into the world as Alice’s baby.”
Miller clamps a headlock on Englund at this point, so we check a script to continue the chronology: Alice begins having her own dreams because of Freddy’s influence on the fetus. She experiences, among other things, the horrifying conception of Freddy at the hands of 100 maniacs and an even more disturbing birth. Freddy, in the interim, gains enough power to enter the dreams of Alice and her friends (hence the gutting of Greta and whole bunch of other squishy stuff).
A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, written by Jack Barstow (a pseudonym. As many as five different writers have all had a hand in the script), reuntintes Nightmare 4 survivors Lisa Wilcox and Danny Hassel. Aiding Freddy in what’s being touted as “another five-unit show” are FX all-stars Alan Monroe, Chris Biggs, the gang from KNB, David Miller, Todd Masters, Rick Lazzarini, Mick Strawn and a host of others.
Miller returns to tidying up some scar tissue, which allows Englund, not too far removed from another makeup role in Phantom of the Opera, to explain why, less than a year after wrapping Nightmare 4, he’s back in the saddle again. “I had no choice,” sighs Englund. “When I agreed to do Nightmare 4, I had to sign a contract guaranteeing I would do Nightmare 5. Unfortunately, it seems like we never get to start fresh. There’s always this rush to get them out. We finished the last one in July; here it is April, and I’m starting again. That’s a little close.” Englund concedes that, as the Nightmare films have continued, he’s become what he labels a “slow starter.” Despite liking what he saw during a quick read on the plane ride back from Phantom, his excitement meter was in neutral. “I wasn’t real enthused about this one at first,” he frowns. “But then I met with Stephen Hopkins and saw how wonderfully he had storyboarded the film. I changed my mind. We’re about five weeks into filming now, and I really think we’ve got something. This film is the equivalent of walking down the street, looking at your feet, looking through your legs and seeing yourself follow you. It contains nods to the whole Elm Street mythology, as well as asides to the previous four films. There’s a lot of real basic, primal things going on.”
That’s all well and good, but given the gripes about Freddy wimping out in Nightmare 4, quite a few fans want to see a scarier fifth chapter. “I don’t know if this is going to be a scarier film,” shrugs the actor. “There’s a lot of William Castle-type camera tricks that are pretty outrageous, and I think the inherent theme of an unborn child being permeated by evil is pretty frightening. And there’s stuff that starts out as a joke and ends up really cruel. One scene is a more extreme and vicious version of Nightmare 4’s meatball sequence, and that’s pretty far out. But it’s really hard to say if this one is scarier.”
“I can tell you that this film is really rough on Freddy,” he smiles. “He’s much older and weaker now. In a sense, he’s haunted by his own conception. He definitely takes his limps in this one.” When the gutting of Greta continues its backward progress the next day, however, Krueger seems on top of things. At Hopkins’ cue, actress Anderson screams in agony. Freddy scoops goop out of her false stomach and feeds it to her. This is pretty grim stuff, even by Nightmare standards. At least one tech decides to pass on lunch today.
Lisa Wilcox, on the other hand, is more concerned with getting home at a decent hour this particular night. “It really makes my husband happy,” she grins. “He was a bit grumpy when we were shooting 14-hour days on location. Now that we’re on the soundstage, I get home at a reasonable hour.” Don’t get the idea Wilcox’s second excursion into dreamland is turning out to be a drudge. “This script has some great acting moments for me,” judges the actress. “I get to relate more to people than I did in Nightmare 4, and the dialogue is sharper. I also like the way this film makes some valid statements about social responsibility toward single mothers. We’re taking into consideration what a pregnant teen would really do and say. I think that’s important.”
Wilcox, notified shortly after the completion of Nightmare 4 that she would get another shot at Freddy, claims Alice has added a new wrinkle or two this time around. “The confidence Alice displayed at the end of the last film is still there, and so is the gentleness,” she feels. “But Alice is like a madwoman, stronger, more aggressive and more determined to defeat Freddy. Yes, we do battle it out again, and yes, I live again.”
Needless to say, not every day on the Nightmare set has been awash in gore and excitement. There are those boring—albeit important—second unit days, where the sequences you take for granted and never remember are shot. One such night in a Southern California park, where some crowded roadway sequences and part of Dan’s death scene were filmed, was par for the unexciting course; Englund wasn’t around, Wilcox wasn’t around, and Hopkins, dressed in a studded rock and roll outfit, was intent on scoping overhead crane shots and elements of long shots on a really corroded Freddy cycle. In fact, watching FX pro Chris Biggs fit stuntman Steve Kelso into a metal alien costume for the Dan transformation that would be completed in post production was the seeming highlight.
But diamonds in the rough are where you find them. Chatting off the back of an equipment truck with Alan Monroe about the exact visual nature of Nightmare 5 proves a serviceable gem. “What we’re doing here is more Gothic and stylized than in previous films,” reports Monroe. ” Because of all the earlier films and the TV series, much of what people see in this film will be somewhat derivative of what’s come before. We decided early on that if a gag is good and doesn’t get in the way of the story, we’re not going to worry about whether or not it’s blazingly original.”
Biggs, who tailgates his description of the costume and involvement in the motorcycle sequence by saying, “I was the only one crazy enough to accept this assignment,” jokingly describes what working on a Nightmare film is all about. “Let me put it to you this way: I thought the last one was insane, but this time we’re really living the lifestyle of vampires. They’re saying we should be finished with this sequence by 2:00 a.m. Hell, I’d settle for that. But if you check back at dawn, I bet we’ll still be here.”
Back on the soundstage, director Hopkins has finally succumbed to the rigors of dashing between first and second unit setups. He takes five at a kitchen table in a typical Elm Street home set. Hopkins landed the coveted Dream Child gig primarily on the strength of his debut feature A Dangerous Game. He plans on making the fifth Nightmare the charm. “What I’m attempting is to move this movie away from the element of straightforward humor that was so much a part of number 4,” he explains. “The last movie was a very smart, MTV type of film. For me, it was almost like Freddy had become too exposed. I felt that in Nightmare 5, he should step back into the shadows and be the darker creature he was in the very first film. Don’t get me wrong, there are some very funny, high camp moments in this movie, but you’ll find less of them than in previous films.” Hopkins knows first-hand the pressures inherent in Nightmare filmmaking. “These films are all very last-minute, with very extreme deadlines built into them,” he winces. “But because they are sequels, there is the advantage of pretty much knowing what works and what doesn’t.” Predictably high on the list of current Nightmare requirements is less gore. “I know,” laments Hopkins, “and I’m compensating for that by concentrating more on horror and suspense. The dreams this time are more the result of parental pressures than the fears and phobias of previous films. That in itself adds a new element of suspense. Let’s face it, at this point people are waiting for Freddy to arrive, so his appearance isn’t going to scare them. But I guarantee you will see things that will.”
Robert Englund is doing what Robert Englund does best, i.e. talking. His entertaining yet another journalist gives David Miller a chance to do some gabbing himself and, in the process, clear up the longstanding rumor of ill will between himself and New Line after Miller relinquished his Freddy makeup duties to Kevin Yagher after the first Nightmare film. “There was no bad blood,” says Miller, lounging in the noonday sun. “I did the first Nightmare real cheap and felt I should get a bigger budget for the second film. They wouldn’t come up with the money, and Kevin came in with a better bid. No harm, no foul. It’s as simple as that.” Yagher was originally expected to oversee Kruegerization on Nightmare 5, but Miller, who successfully bid on and captured the “Freddy baby” sequence, was called in to handle Freddy chores when Yagher couldn’t fit Nightmare 5 into his schedule. “I said sure, I’d do it, as long as I could redesign the makeup back to where it was with the first film,” recounts Miller. New Line gave a nervous OK and was rewarded with a Freddy makeup consisting of only three pieces, which cut the application time in half. “We’ve also aged Freddy quite a bit with this makeup,” Miller declares. “The eyes are a bit more sunken, and the nose more melted and droopy. He’s more jowly, and we’ve even given him what passes for a double chin. What happens to Freddy in this film, in terms of aging, is what’s going to happen to all of us.”
What appears to be happening to Robert Englund, as evidenced by his restlessness during our pre-Greta gabfest, is the yin and yang of doing a constant Freddy shuffle. “I’ve really had it with this makeup,” grouses Englund. “I’d sure like to give my skin a rest.” Still, the actor obviously knows the realities of the Nightmare game. “Nightmare 5 could put a logical finish on the series, but I know a sixth one is already in the planning stages,” he sighs. “I’ve got no real problems with doing another one, but I don’t want to have to jump back into it a week after this one ends. I’m starting to enjoy my free time more as I’ve gotten older, and while I like to work, I find that I don’t have enough time to do other things and consider other roles. It’s not even a question of getting more money anymore, it’s just a question of having time to catch my breath.”
Day rapidly becomes night in the old noodle factory, and the gutting of Greta marches toward its backward conclusion. Anderson, still in the highchair, is down to the bare minimum of big cheek makeup. Englund, looking a bit haggard even through latex scar tissue, nevertheless still gets high marks for joviality. Hopkins signals the first stage of the feeding frenzy to begin. Anderson moans, groans and screams as Freddy gleefully cuts up a doll, filets it and begins to force feed her. Nearby, two technicians joke quietly about the actress’ predicament. As the last rays of sunshine go down on A Nightmare on Elm Street 5, simple truth remains the best epitaph: You are what you eat.