The Monstrous Makeup FX of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
The showstopping Krueger FX of Kevin Yagher and Mark Shostrom: What you did and didn’t see!
By William Rabkin
Published in Fangoria #52.
If you’ve seen A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge, you’re probably not sleeping very well anymore. Not because it was terrifying—you know it wasn’t. Not because you think Freddy will get you if you dream—he doesn’t do that anymore. No, you’re probably lying awake wondering what happened at the end.
You’re not alone. “I didn’t know what the hell I was looking at,” confesses Kevin Yagher, the youthful makeup wizard who recreated Freddy for the sequel. “It looked like hamburger meat or something. I was looking at the screen and saying, ‘What is that?'” That was A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge’s climactic effect: Freddy Krueger, America’s leading kill-crazed fiend from hell, meeting his match and being melted down by the power of LOVE. Or at least, that’s what it was when they shot it. In the film, it just looks as if Freddy drops dead of a sudden coronary. “The whole scene doesn’t work,” says Yagher. “This is supposed to be the film’s big, dramatic climax, and instead, Freddy dies just like that. You’re left wondering, ‘What the heck just happened?'” Freddy’s big finale was the victim of an apparently deliberate directorial choice to play down the film’s big FX sequences in favor of mood, plot and character. Whether or not this was a sound decision dramatically, it disappointed makeup FX fans-and creators.
Freddy’s final meltdown wasn’t the only effect to suffer from director Jack Sholder’s knife. A vile tongue with a mind of its own created by Mark (The Mutilator) Shostrom and a slew of nightmarish creatures devised by Rick Lazzarini were painstakingly designed, built, and shot—then hardly to be seen in the finished product.
“They took the ‘hide the monster’ approach,” observes Yagher. “That was OK at the beginning, but it was disappointing towards the end because they kept the film so dark. It’s upsetting that after all that work, none of it shows.” The cuts were particularly upsetting in the case of Freddy’s death. It was one of the most spectacular effects the film has to offer—and probably the most intricate Yagher had done for the screen.
“The way the scene was shot, Freddy screams and the side of his face begins to slide off, followed by lots of goop,” the makeup man explains. “It was all mechanical. The head’s eyes could blink, it snarled, its eyebrows went up to show pain and down to show anger. The tongue moved, the jaw opened and shut, the eyes would fall out mechanically.” Not all by themselves, of course. “We had about seven people manipulating the head,” Yagher adds. “All of my people plus a couple of stagehands or whoever was around. I worked the jaw and head—they were separate movements. Crew members pulled cables and pumped blood. One of the producers was even pumping ooze. We had everybody working.” Togetherness paid off. The scene worked. “Everybody really liked the effect when they showed it in dailies,” continues Yagher. “Many people told me they didn’t know it was a fake head until the flesh all melted off and exposed the skull. The producers said Jack Sholder loved it.” At least, at first. “I’ve been told Jack looked at the meltdown too many times while he was editing and thought it wouldn’t work as a long thing, so he cut back and forth between Freddy and the girl,” he elaborates. “But he cut it down to nothing.”
Yagher’s makeup FX were not the only ones to suffer in the editing. “I’m really happy with the film,” says Yagher’s colleague Mark Shostrom, who created the transformation makeup. “Except that they almost completely cut out the mechanical tongue I did.” The tongue is a gift from Freddy Krueger to Jesse, the teenage boy whose body and soul he’s taking over. The lengthy, highly mobile appendage appears from Jesse’s mouth when he’s about to make love to his girl friend for the first time. If Jesse were a little more experienced, he might realize that such a long tongue could come in handy. Instead, he tries to hide it. So did the director.
“We had built this elaborate tongue that could move in sections,” Shostrom recalls. “It could move in circles, lick up and down. As it is in the film, you can hardly tell it’s movable. I don’t know why Jack cut it—he loved it when we shot it. And we shot a lot. We kept shooting until Jack was laughing too hard to keep on filming.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean the world has seen the last of Freddy’s tongue. “We might be able to market these tongues,” jokes Shostrom. “We could sell them on Hollywood Boulevard.” But Jack Sholder didn’t cut all of the Freddy’s Revenge FX sequences. The high point for gore fans will undoubtedly be the scene in which Freddy’s gives Jesse a piece of his mind by removing his scalp.
“There’s one close-up near the beginning where Freddy tears his brain open,” reminisces Yagher, who created the effect. “I wanted to use a puppet head so you could really see deep into the brain. But they wanted to use the actual actor. Because I couldn’t take part of Robert Englund’s skull away, I had to build the brain all on top of his real head. “I had my assistant Earl Ellis sculpt a brain fashioned to the side of Englund’s head and put that under the actual head appliance Robert always wears as Freddy. We made a bladder and then had six tubes running out of it. There were four people underneath Robert blowing on these tubes which went up his back and through the back of his neck appliance, so that blood would flow through all these little channels in the brain.”
At least, that’s what was supposed to happen. “It didn’t quite work,” Yagher admits. “Each one of the little brain channels was supposed to flow separately. But I think someone was playing with it before we shot and broke it. When we blew into the tubes, the vessels burst into each other, so we were all blowing into the same channel. We were all going crazy blowing away and the crew was saying, ‘Yeah, that looks great.’ Then, suddenly, we hear, ‘No, stop, wait!’ We had begun to blow up the top of the head so much that it was about to burst.”
The other standout FX scene is Jesse’s transformation into Freddy Krueger. “Transformations are now becoming pretty much old hat,” observes Shostrom. “The script described the transformation scene as blades coming out of Jesse’s stomach, then Freddy bursting out in a wall of flesh and blood. I wanted to take a more interesting approach.” Shostrom’s approach was a mixture of old and new: it begins with Jesse’s arm splitting open—which Tom Burman had done to Nastassja Kinski in Paul Schrader’s Cat People—then gets weird as Freddy’s face starts to push through Jesse’s stomach.
“I’m not sure how I came up with the idea of having Freddy burst out of Jesse’s stomach,” confesses Shostrom. “I rented the videocassette of the first Nightmare to learn how the movies’ filmic elements tie together, and it just came to me. I liked it because it has a nice visual tie-in with the scene in the first film where Freddy’s face comes through a wall.” Of course, devising an idea for a scene is only the beginning. Shostrom still had to figure out how to execute it. “For the insert shot of the head coming through the stomach—the one that’s in the movie—we used a stomach made of Smoothon, a material that can really stretch widely. We pushed a cast of Freddy’s face through that.” Once Freddy’s face comes through, the rest of the body follows in a separate shot. It, of course, uses a dummy of Jesse that Freddy discards like an old suit. But the third part of the transformation was never filmed.
“We had one other shot to do, where we did the old hole in the wall trick,” Shostrom adds. “We put a false chest on the actor and had him stand in front of the hole so it would look as if Englund was actually going through him.” Unfortunately, the scene was never shot. At the last minute, lensing of the transformation was reduced from three days to two. “I don’t know why our time was cut down,” complains Shostrom. “It’s not really that important. We put most of the transformation in the can. There’s no step missing in the scene.”
Not all the makeup FX in A Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 2 were reserved for the splashy set pieces. Perhaps the most important effect in the film is one seen throughout: Freddy’s makeup, as created by Kevin Yagher. “I was originally going to do the stuff that Mark did, the transformations,” Yagher recalls. “But Jack Sholder was looking through my portfolio and saw an old man makeup I had done and wanted me for the makeup.”
Sholder in fact, knew what he wanted before he even hired Yagher. “They came to me and said that they thought Freddy’s makeup from the first film was too heavy, too much going on all over the place,” Yagher explains.”They didn’t want all this stuff that Jack Sholder called ‘pizza.’ I subtled everything down a little.” Although he made changes in the first film’s makeup, Yagher felt bound to retain a certain consistency between the two Freddies. “I had to keep the same type of facial structure. If I had designed the original Freddy, I wouldn’t have done it like that, but as it was, I had to keep the look pretty much the same so people wouldn’t be shocked. All the Jasons were so drastically different, and I was really tired of that problem. I worked from the only picture I had, which was from FANGORIA. I made some minor changes: I took out some of the chubbiness in the cheeks and gave him more cheekbones.”
Although the design was basically the same, Yagher changed the skin to make Freddy—who died in a fire look more realistic. “To make the skin look more real, I did some research, got some books on burn victims,” he reveals. “They don’t bother me, but no one else can stomach them. The producers wanted Freddy’s face to look wet, so I put glistening KY jelly on it. They wanted it real shiny and kept telling me, ‘More goopl'” The makeup itself was extraordinarily complex for such a low-budget film. “There are nine separate pieces on Robert Englund’s face,” notes Yagher. “Ears, nose and upper lip, chin, cheek pieces, top of the forehead, back of the head and the neck. There’s one point where Freddy gets stabbed in the chest, so we made a shoulder piece. I made the pieces as soon as possible so Robert could work with them and move with them, and so it wouldn’t look like a whole lot of thick foam on his face.”
In addition to the new, improved face, Freddy got something any psycho killer would want: a hand complete with knives growing out of the fingertips, courtesy of Yagher. “We did a flesh hand for Freddy this time instead of just the standard glove. It’s a slip-on glove. The blades are hooked on curly pieces at the fingertips. We had to make the hand thick enough so that when it stuck in the floor or something, the blades wouldn’t fall out.” All this super makeup won’t do any good unless the actor underneath is willing to work with it.
Yagher feels he was fortunate to work with Englund, who has played Freddy in both Nightmares. “Robert Englund is great to work with. He’s a non-stop talker, but he’s really good. Some people can’t stand makeup, the glue and the smell of the glue. I hate wearing makeup,” Yagher says. “But Robert was the best person I’ve ever put makeup on. He would sit still for me when I really needed him to, and he didn’t mind me touching him up on set all the time. He broke out four days into the film because he had an allergic reaction to the remover, so we had to be very careful after that happened.”
Although he had minor complaints about the makeup, Englund was willing to wear it for ridiculously long times-and for ridiculous reasons. “In New York, we were doing a lot of promotions,” Yagher remembers. “Freddy had to appear at discos and parades and at the film’s opening. Robert went 24 hours with the makeup on. That’s a hell of a long time to have shit on your face.” Englund grew attached to Freddy and Yagher’s makeup in the process. “He explained to me that he likes to play the monster,” Kevin Yagher says with a smile. “He said: ‘It’s a kick to run around with knives on my hands and chase naked young teenage girls—what could be better than that?'”