By Luis M. Rosales & Angel Luis Sucasas
Published in Fangoria #291.
One, two, Freddy’s coming for you… Yes, again—because the Platinum Dunes team who resurrected Leatherface and Jason are bringing the king of nightmares back to Elm Street. This time, he’s got a brand new face—that of Watchmen’s Rorschach, Jackie Earle Haley, whose Freddy Krueger will be grimier, darker and deadlier. At least, that’s the promise of Brad Fuller and Andrew Form, producers of the A Nightmare on Elm Street remake (opening April 30 from New Line), which updates the beloved Freddy film series and takes it in a more grounded, no-joke direction.
“We didn’t want to create a sequel,” Fuller says on the movie’s Chicago set. “We wanted a complete reboot of the franchise. Because of that, we made radical choices during the conception of the new film. Not casting Robert Englund was one of them.”
Another radical decision, and quite a crucial one, was to eschew the humorous tone of the later Nightmare sequels in favor of a more fully horrific, totally plausible veneer. Music-video veteran Samuel Bayer was the director chosen for the job, and notes one key cinematic inspiration for his first feature. “I really, really love The Dark Knight,” he says during a break in shooting. “In fact, I watched it with all my cast and crew, trying to share with them the mood and look I was seeking for this Nightmare on Elm Street.”
One of his key associates on the new Nightmare production is production designer Patrick (The Omen) Lumb, who took up the glove to help Bayer realize his vision. “The main goal was to ground the visual approach in reality, rather than in the common, hyperbolic style of the horror genre,” says Lumb, showing off examples of the movie’s concept art. One of them depicts Freddy, wearing his classic fedora and red/green-striped sweater, lurking in a dark cave illuminated by gleaming golden candles. “I believe we achieved that realism in every set we created. Taking that route, we were able to put the more nighmarish elements into the scenes [in such a way] that the audience feels it’s absolutely real. Doing that, the emotional impact is so much greater.”
Everyone knows, however, that this new Nightmare’s success or failure depends on one man. Haley must fill the shoes of the beloved Englund in a role so iconic, putting a new burned face below that ragged fedora seems difficult to accept. However, Bayer has full confidence in his star. “The way Jackie plays Freddy is astounding,” he says. “It’s such subtle work, so deeply intense in every gesture. I can only compare him with Heath Ledger’s Joker—and that’s saying something.”
Indeed it is. And what does Haley himself think of being the new face of the mythic murderer? “It’s such an honor to play a character so important to the fans and horror in general,” he says. “And when you think about it, you know… only one actor has played this role before. And played it marvelously. So, pressure? You bet! But I also believe that our take is very different. We went for a fully serious approach and cut the jokes to zero. Of course, we’ve got a streak of dark humor in this—but it’s very dark.”
While not a genre aficionado by any means, Haley nonetheless fondly recalls his initial viewing of Wes Craven’s original Nightmare on Elm Street way back in 1984. “I remember seeing the trailer, and became thrilled about it,” he says. “So I went to the premiere. I’ve never been a horror geek, but I found it interesting to study its evolution, from the days of Frankenstein to the dark complexity of Freddy. The thing that struck me about the classic movie was the multiple facets of the character. Freddy is more than a no-brain stabber of attractive teenagers. Lurking in the dark, there’s a [black] soul in him.”
Still, there is a crew of good-looking youths in the 2010 Nightmare, including Rooney Mara (in the Nancy role created by Heather Langenkamp), The Haunting in Connecticut’s Kyle Gallner (as a de facto substitute for the first film’s Johnny Depp), Katie Cassidy (in her third genre redux after When a Stranger Calls and Black Christmas), Thomas (From Within) Dekker and the Twilight films’ Kellan Lutz. The script was written by Wesley (Cape Fear) Strick and Eric Heisserer, and Bayer stresses again that their efforts aren’t intended to be taken lightly.
“I didn’t want bad, laughable dialogue,” the director says. “I didn’t want ridiculous situations. I wanted a tense movie. I want the audience at the edge of the void. I want to scare you, as if Freddy was the shark from Jaws, lurking below the water, anxious to rip the flesh from your frigging bones! That’s the kind of horror I want for my movie. That is my main goal.”