They Are Still His Children—Part One
The tortured teens of Elm Street look back on their experiences in the original film series.
By Lee Gambin
Published in Fangoria #293.
With the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street pleasing or pissing off hardcore Freddy fans, and an upcoming documentary on the previous franchise called Never Sleep Again set to give us an in-depth look at all things Krueger-related, Fangoria invites you to take a stroll back down Springwood’s Elm Street. We’ve tracked down some of the tormented boys and girls who suffered those awful night terrors to tap their memories of that infamous street—in waking life and terrifying dreamscapes…
One of the kids to share Freddy-induced angst in 1984’s original Nightmare was Jsu Garcia (billed as Nick Corri), who played Freddy-phobic Rod “Guys cane have nightmares too!” Lane.
FANGORIA: How did you become involved with Nightmare?
JSU GARCIA: In 1984, I was just about to give up showbiz. I had just done the TV show Fame and thought I was going to be a star, but then I was unemployed for a year until I landed the role in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Wes Craven was already a well-known horror-film director, but this would really put him on the map. I wanted to be Marlon Brando, and thought, “How would Brando go about doing a horror film?” I wanted to be a good actor, and I thought I was pretty good. Thankfully, it was a hit!
But sadly, I didn’t get any work after Nightmare until I got some advice from co-star Johnny Depp. He told me to take a movie called Gotcha!; Depp helped me get the role. Back then, no one really knew who he was; he was just a really nice guy who hung around the very famous Nicolas Cage. Everybody at that point was all about Cage and Sean Penn, who had just done Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The big actors were those guys, along with Matt Dillon and Tom Cruise. Johnny Depp and I wanted to be on the same page as them. And then I went off to do Wildcats, and the rest is history.
FANG: Rod is a tough guy, but his vulnerabilities are made clear when it comes to Freddy and his nightmares. How did you tackle those emotional moments?
GARCIA: It was a matter of using a lot of pain from my own life. I was a Method actor back then. On the set, I lived in that jail cell until they were ready to shoot. So I just created this pain and delivered Wes Craven’s words. That’s probably the last time I’ll be a Method actor. Why? It’s too painful. If you don’t know how to master the skill of cutting yourself metaphorically for a performance, it can be far too painful. I don’t adopt that approach anymore.
FANG: Yours is a bloodless death; was that disappointing for you, or were you happy you didn’t have to go through the mess that your co-star Amanda Wyss (Tina) underwent? And are you a fan of gore in horror films?
GARCIA: I wanted to die after Johnny Depp so I could be in the movie longer! I just loved acting and I didn’t want to get killed off [so soon]. I am a big fan of how the horror genre has maintained its success throughout my 25 years in the industry, and some of that might have to do with the visceral effects of gore.
FANG: You worked as a producer, writer and actor on a film called Spiritual Warriors. Can you tell us about that and why it’s something you’re especially proud of?
GARCIA: Well, I’m proud of the ethics I held on that movie, which I did with my friend John-Roger. It’s no Avatar, but if I make huge amounts of money from it, I’ll definitely share it with my friends. And that is still my promise to everyone on board. It’s a film that has helped a lot of people and transcends monetary value. Right now we’re working on our next film, The Wayshower.
In A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985), Mark Patton moved into the infamous house as Jesse Walsh. He had the body, but Freddy had the brain…
FANG: How was it sharing the screen with Freddy?
MARK PATTON: I loved working with Robert Englund. I believe him to be one of the best actors of his generation. Don’t be surprised if one day someone offers him the perfect part in the right film and you see him accept an Oscar for it. It would be a treat to watch. Robert is like Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I really believe you’re going to see him move up to a whole new level. That is my hope.
FANG: Can you tell us a bit about how you got the lead in Nightmare 2?
PATTON: I actually auditioned for the original Nightmare, for the part played by Johnny Depp. Strange as it seems, I was a bigger name then, as I had recently worked with Robert Altman in his film adaption of the play Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. I did a final read with Heather [Langenkamp], and she got the part and I didn’t. I really never thought about it again until Nightmare 2. I auditioned for it and was offered the part the next day. Bob Shaye set up a screening of the first movie for me at 10 p.m. on Hollywood Boulevard. I went with no understanding of what I had just signed a contract to do.
FANG: Some critics weren’t too kind upon the sequel’s initial release, and neither were some of the original’s fans. Elements they were concerned about included having a teenage boy as a protagonist, which rarely works in a horror picture, and bringing Freddy into the real world.
PATTON: The reviews that were important to me, like the one in the New York Times, were very kind to my performance, and being an actor, that’s all I really took in at the moment. The film opened the day after Halloween, and by 10 a.m. every show in New York City was sold out, and this happened across the U.S. The reviews were mixed from fans and critics alike, but it outgrossed all the other films of the day, so on those terms, it was a winner and a key contributing factor in setting up the franchise.
FANG: Nightmare 2 is kind of an allegorical exploration into burgeoning homosexuality and the angst that comes with his true feelings—brought out by Freddy, in a sense—and is then “saved” by Lisa (Kim Myers). What are your views on the film’s homoeroticism?
PATTON: As most people know, Nightmare 2 is often known as “the homoerotic Nightmare.” For the past 25 years, it seems as though there has been constant speculation as to whether Jesse is gay. There was even lots of talk about me personally, and my own sexuality: “Is Mark Patton gay?” And even: “Did the movie make Mark gay?” and “Why did he quit right when things started to get good in Los Angeles? Was it something to do with his sexuality?” I would like you to hear my version of this by seeing Never Sleep Again. The documentary is wonderful, and I think you’ll enjoy seeing and hearing me explain my perception and reaction to playing what ultimately should have been a role for a girl.
FANG: Has the feedback on Nightmare 2 been positive for you?
PATTON: Sadly, I had a lot of people say horrible things about me regarding that film. Most of it happens these days. It’s easy to call someone a faggot on the Internet when you’re using a fake name. On the other hand, I have had the privilege of chatting with many people who were kind or said thank you. People who related to Jesse Walsh and who love him, which is really sweet and sometimes heartbreakingly beautiful. I love talking to the fans; if you want to say hello at a convention, please do.
FANG: You starred in the Jimmy Dean play and film as the sensitive effete Joe, who becomes Joanne. How did that come about, and what are your feelings about that role, as it is quite a painful characterization? Also, your co-stars between the two versions included Cher, Kathy Bates, Sandy Dennis and Karen Black; what was it like working with those legends?
PATTON: That was an amazing experience for me from beginning to end. The cast and crew were wonderful. I also met every famous person in the world that year: David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Greta Garbo, Robin Williams; everyone came to pay homage to Robert Altman’s Broadway debut. I was treated as their peer and with great respect. Interestingly enough, for my benefit, they flew in James Dean’s high-school drama teacher so she could talk with me about James Dean and how he was as a young man. Every celebrity, male and female, who had slept with or wanted to sleep with James Dean told me about it. That was really strange; you would not believe the descriptions! We went on to film the play and it opened the New York Film Festival, then went to Cannes. Again, not great reviews, though the acting won many awards. And not unlike Nightmare 2, Jimmy Dean has a huge fan base, very loyal and involved with the movie on a special level.
FANG: You’re finally doing the horror convention circuit. How do you feel about meeting your and Nightmare’s fans, as you’ve generally stayed quite private and away from the Hollywood scene?
PATTON: I own an art gallery in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico with my partner Hector. I’m very involved in community life there; I have work programs and micro loans built into my business model. We spot people with talent and lend a hand—a grant or a loan. I also work with the PEACE project. Hector and I live a stone’s throw from the beach and work. I paint all day while I talk to people in the store. At night we have dinner, drink wine and walk our dog on the beach. Not a bad life. So why am I doing horror conventions? Because I appreciate all my fans!
Later in the franchise, Freddy found a formidable foe in Alice, a girl with a special talent, played by Lisa Wilcox in both 1988’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master and 1989’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child.
FANG: Can you talk about the creation of Alice? What did you as an actress bring to her, and how did you go about empowering this strong but sensitive, sharp and sincere young girl?
LISA WILCOX: I brought my growing-up experience to this role. I was Alice once upon a time in grade school, junior high and the beginning of high school. I read books like crazy and felt most comfortable by myself. I was really shy and had a huge imagination. My world was just fine by me. But then some life changes happened, and I had to “wake up.” I had strengths such as intelligence, likability, physical prowess and looks, but was never asked to explore those until I got older. When we had a photo/film session before shooting began, it was decided that my virgin blonde hair should be rinsed daily to reddish brown; my costume reflected a gal who didn’t care what other people thought, etc.
It took quite a while for me to get the audition for the role of Alice. Annette Benson, the casting director for the Nightmare films, told me they auditioned over 600 actresses for the role. My 8×10 had been cast aside early on. But at the end of the day, they went back through their castaways and I got my shot to audition. I’m forever grateful.
FANG: Nightmare 4 ultimately brings Alice to the foreground after the Psycho-style kill-off-the-leading-lady trick is played with the death of Kristen, played by Tuesday Knight. Did you have any idea before you got the role that you would be the major protagonist?
WILCOX: I recall getting a script breakdown to read for the audition, and the way it was written was how it was filmed. I was very excited to read it and see the beautifully written role of Alice and the take on Alice in Wonderland…or Alice in Freddyland!
FANG: The Elm Street teens are all closely distinguished by certain strengths that Freddy exploits or destroys, and when they succumb to Freddy’s wrath. Alice has the ability to adopt all those abilities and use them as a collective force to combat him. Was there much discussion about that with the creative team during the film’s development, or was it clearly mapped out by the writers?
WILCOX: The written script was clearly mapped out. The role of Alice and her eventual courage to adapt and absorb her friends’ strengths was integral to the story. My feeling is that we have all been like Alice. We feel safe in a small world of our own and choose not to embrace other possibilities. We admire others for their strengths, but are afraid to find out that we may have strengths too, because we fear failure or because we’re shy dealing with emotional baggage from the past. So many things can impede our growth and living life to its fullest.
FANG: The fifth Nightmare has such an awesome style and aesthetic. What are your fondest memories of that shoot?
WILCOX: Oh, how neat to hear that! I loved the ambiance of shooting at the abandoned veteran’s hospital by UCLA. The scary long hallways, the creepy birthing room! I enjoyed the scenes with Kelly Jo Minter and Dan’s parents most. Robert Englund was always a pleasure. Director Stephen Hopkins did a phenomenal job visualizing the sets. He also created fantastic storyboards. He’s a true artist.
FANG: The idea that Freddy gets to Alice through her unborn baby’s dreams is a genius plot device. What were your first thoughts about the script?
WILCOX: It was a brave screenplay. It was rather dark and dealt with teen realities head on – issues such as drunk driving, teen pregnancy, abortion, single motherhood, parents being hard on their children to perform and excel for scholarships in athletics or show biz, parents not listening to their kids’ own dreams and passions, etc. Growing up is a monster accomplishment! In the Nightmare films, the monster takes the form of Freddy Krueger, and in part five I saw it as a metaphor that he could reach an unborn child’s dreams, as we are all born into monstrous situations. How to survive them is the question.
FANGO: You recently appeared in a series of webisodes called Fear Clinic with your old pal Robert Englund and fellow horror stars Danielle Harris and Kane Hodder. How was that experience?
WILCOX: It was so fabulous to work with those colleagues. It was like magic. Easy, respectful, so much fun. We just performed like a family. Apparently, there have been a few million hits/views of Fear Clinic. Thanks to all who checked it out! We’re waiting for the go-ahead to do more.
FANGO: Alice is one of the very few to survive the Nightmare series. Do you think there may be a return for Alice in an upcoming Elm Street outing?
WILCOX: Gosh, that would be excellent. I’d like to think so! Someday, somewhere, over the rainbow?!
Alice wasn’t the only one having bad dreams in the fourth installment; among those who didn’t survive it was Brooke Theiss as Debbie, the health enthusiast with a fear of bugs.
FANG: You have one of the franchise’s most memorable and truly original death sequences, which involves you transforming into a human cockroach and being squished by Freddy. What was that like?
BROOKE THEISS: Working with Screaming Mad George, the makeup effects artist, was interesting, to say the least. I love all things with one exception…cockroaches. Ewwww. So it wasn’t hard for me to act like I was grossed out. I started out in George’s studio getting full upper-body casts taken while George himself was actually catching cockroaches in Roach Motels so he could study them. He would bring in these overflowing Motels just to freak me out. So gross!!
On set, I spent about three hours in the makeup chair. They were applying the mounds of flesh hanging from my upper torso and then meticulously airbrushing all the skin. After that, I would slip on the cockroach arms that I would actually control just by moving my own arms. They were on hinges and very heavy. It was pretty cool and very physical at the same time. In the Roach Motel, I was actually inside a cockroach body with my camouflaged arms sticking out in front, so I could simulate the trapped roach trying to escape. We filmed that for hours in the middle of the night out in Velencia, California. It was some of the most demanding work I have ever done. Looking back, I have very fond memories of the whole effects experience.
FANG: With the previous Nightmares already established hits and part of horror-cinema history, were you a fan of them, and what was your initial reaction when you got the news you were going to be an Elm Street kid?
THEISS: I’m a huge fan of horror films and I love getting scared, so of course my best friends and I ran as fast as we could to see the first Nightmare. We spent most of the movie sitting in each other’s laps! It was the scariest movie I had ever seen, and I loved it! Then, I just happened to get cast alongside Heather Langenkamp on a TV show called Just the Ten of Us. I was tickled pink when I found out that she was the girl from Nightmare. Also, JoAnn Willette, who played my younger sister on the show, had been in Nightmare 2 as one of the girls on the bus in the beginning. So when I was cast as one of the Elm Street kids, it was thrilling. I started a running joke that the whole cast of Just the Ten of Us would at some point be cast as Elm Street residents. Needless to say, anything Freddy-related was quite popular on our set.
FANG: Horror is one of the only genres where women are almost always the protagonists. As a young actress breaking into the industry, was this something that appealed to you?
THEISS: I have to be perfectly honest—like you said, I was a young actor. So I was just happy to book a job, and a cool project at that. The fact that I would be playing a strong female character never crossed my mind. However, today that would be very appealing to me. I had so much fun shooting Nightmare 4 and would love to do another horror film, any time, any place.
…continue on to Part Two.