Wake Up to a New Nightmare
They swore that “Freddy’s Dead,” but Wes Craven and company have come up with a unique way to revive him.
By Marc Shapiro
Published in Fangoria #137.
Wes Craven has a theory about making genre pictures. “There’s always a kind of bizarre mirth that runs through the filming of a horror movie,” says the guy who made Freddy Krueger the man of our dreams. “It doesn’t matter how spooky or strange the movie is. There’s always something to laugh at.”
Given this observation, it’s no surprise that the quiet, fatherly director, on the set of his latest film Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, is finding humor in some disgusting FX vomit hitting Heather Langenkamp square in the face. Craven steps out from behind the camera and through a haze of flies that have been released to up the scene’s gross-out quotient and walks over to the actress. With the chowdery, smelly mess still dripping off her, she is clearly hoping for good news. Sorry, Heather.
“We had to reload the vomit-shooting device and do a second take,” Craven later recalls of the scene, which was so vile that normally hardy crew people turned pale and had to flee in the face of the stench. “It took 20 minutes, and all the while here was Heather sitting in the middle of the room with a cup of coffee in her hand and all these flies buzzing around her. Nobody would get close enough to even talk to her.”
Finally the puke pusher is primed, and at the director’s signal, it fires a full load of bile right into Langenkamp’s face. Craven yells “Cut and print!” and Langenkamp is so happy that she runs over to the director and throws her arms around him, drenching him in the phony puke.
“Yes,” says Craven, a devilish smile crossing his face, “it has been a real ugly shoot.”
But the physical ugliness of this latest venture into the director’s dream world is only part of the picture. The real horror, which becomes more in evidence during another shooting day on a Los Angeles soundstage, is more of the human, psychological variety. It’s also a reunion of all the team players who made the original Nightmare on Elm Street so memorable.
Robert Englund, sitting on the ground with his back to a building, swinging one hand limply back and forth for effect, is admitting to feeling his age. “I’m getting old. I’ve got arthritis,” he groans. “Some of this stuff is getting hard to do. To be perfectly honest, I think I’ve only got a couple more of these left in me.”
On the other hand, Langenkamp, looking the way we all hoped she would look 10 years after taking the big plunge on the first Nightmare, is all smiles as she walks from her trailer to the craft services line. She’s happy to be back on Elm Street, happy that her real-life husband and child are home and tucked in all safe and sound and happy that a very real security guard, assigned to calm her nerves and memories of real and imagined horrors, is hanging around somewhere nearby.
“In many ways, this has been kind of a hairy shoot,” says the candid Craven. “The cast and crew have been rather freaked and nervous. People have been having unexplained nightmares, and more than one person has expressed fear that maybe we’re dealing with something that we shouldn’t be dealing with.”
This seems a strange claim to make, considering that what they’re working on is essentially A Nightmare on Elm Street 7. Isn’t this just another round of Freddy popping out of the dream world, cracking one-liners and slaughtering some randy teenagers? Not at all, according to its star. “There’s no Springwood,” says Englund, “and there are no kids. And Freddy isn’t a motormouth.” “This is not like the previous six films,” Craven adds. “In fact, this is not a film. This is real life.”
That’s just a hint of the fresh approach that Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is bringing to the franchise, but further details prove difficult to come by. The bits and pieces of story that people in and around the production have been willing to give up find Langenkamp (playing herself, not her Nancy Thompson character) in Los Angeles in 1994. She’s being stalked by an unseen killer that may be Freddy, or perhaps is somebody else; at the same time, Wes Craven (played by Craven) is beginning a new horror film. Langenkamp turns for solace and advice to Robert Englund (as himself) and John Saxon (ditto) as a Freddy-style body count begins to pile up.
The film is being shot in what Craven describes as “documentary style,” and much of the story is based on a real-life stalking incident that Langenkamp endured following the run of her television series Just the Ten of Us. That’s the nuts and bolts; the waters get a tad muddy when one starts asking for particulars. “There are a million red herrings,” says Englund. “We’re examining whether or not Hollywood is responsible for Freddy or if he has been here all this time.”
“This is a film about the people who made the film,” Craven says. “It’s deconstructivist in the sense that it tells about what goes into the making of a horror film and how what goes on in them can suddenly take on a life of its own.”
New Nightmare, which co-stars David Newsom as Heather’s husband Chase Porter and Miko (Pet Sematary) Hughes as her child Dylan, also features a solid lineup of trained FX pros. David Miller is once again handling Freddy’s pizza face, KNB is providing special makeup FX, Lou Carlucci is handling the mechanical gags and William Mesa is responsible for the optical wizardry. New Line Cinema is planning an October release.
The complexity of the film, which is being shot over a 48-day schedule on a budget no one will reveal, is proving to have an occasionally confusing effect on its cast. Prior to Englund bemoaning his advancing age, he and Langenkamp are engaged in a dialogue scene in which the actress expresses her fears of the unseen stalker to him. The pair are good friends in real life, which leads Langenkamp, after Craven’s patented three-takes-and-we’re-on-to-the-next-scene, to walk over to the director and ask, “Am I playing this right? Do I not like Robert now?”
If you’re like most die-hard Fangorians, you probably had your fingers crossed that Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare was just that. Let’s be honest—with the exception of the first and third Elm Street entries, the Nightmare series has been consistent in its inconsistency. Freddy Krueger deserved to go out with some modicum of terror credibility still left. But late in 1992, New Line had another idea.
“I received a call from New Line president Bob Shaye,” says Craven, who took the call because he and the company had recently buried the hatchet on nearly a decade’s worth of financial and creative difficulties. “He invited me to a meeting and asked me if I was interested in bringing Freddy back.”
Craven said he was and signed on the proverbial dotted line, but then began to have second thoughts. “Within the context of what had already been said and done in the previous films, I couldn’t think of a way to bring Freddy back without being illegitimate and hacking a story together which basically said that everything that had happened in the other six films wasn’t true.”
But while Craven didn’t have a concept, he did know that he wanted the Nancy character to be a part of whatever he ultimately came up with. This resulted in his having lunch with Langenkamp and being on the receiving end of a bombshell from the actress.
“I told Wes about the personal problems I had been having with an obsessed fan who was upset with the fact that my television series Just the Ten of Us had been cancelled and felt that it was my fault,” she recalls. “There had been letters and telephone calls—the kind of stuff that you would have thought would have happened to me because of the Nightmare films, but never did. You just never know what a sick mind is going to focus on.”
Craven continues his memories of that lunch. “We also got into what the effects had been on all of the people making the Nightmare pictures,” he says. “And that, coupled with the personal things she was telling me, got me thinking that the most interesting Nightmare story would be one involving the people who made the picture. There was more reality and pain in what she was telling me than in any story I could make up.”
Over the next four months, Craven wrote the first draft of New Nightmare and, typical of one of his projects, the script was a literal nightmare to write. “I started having a series of dreams and began writing them down,” he reveals. “I never really knew where the script was going. I was catching it on the wing. I would dream something, wake up and write what I had dreamed.”
The director’s view that the process was “spooky and strange” was echoed by Langenkamp during a second get-together in which Craven presented the fruits of his labor. “I could see that he was basing the script on Heather rather than Nancy, and my initial reaction was, ‘Oh my God! I don’t know about this,'” she admits.
One person who felt secure about the idea was Englund, who, having continued his association with Craven on the TV series Nightmare Cafe and various professional and social get-togethers, felt confident that “if anybody could resurrect Freddy, it would be Wes.
I liked the potential of what he was trying to do with the Nightmare series,” says Englund of his first look at the script. “The idea of examining the truth of the Freddy Krueger myth and what effect Hollywood has had on it seemed the perfect metaphor for a whole lot of things. I liked that Wes was setting this in a familiar world with familiar real people. I’m not going to lie to you and say I’m not being well-compensated for New Nightmare, but Wes being back made this really attractive.” The idea of a return engagement for Craven also appealed to Saxon, who was lured by the opportunity to work with the director again and signed on to get back in the Nightmare business.
In addition to the familiar faces, New Nightmare’s FX lineup also brings back memories of vintage Elm Street moments. There are fewer opticals and more mechanicals than in later sequels. A revolving room sequence, with a body dragged across the ceiling, harks back to Tina’s death in the first film. An updated tongue-phone pops up, too. Nonetheless, the new movie boasts a somewhat modified Freddy face, courtesy of Miller.
“Everybody wanted something different,” says the artist, “a new look but one that still had to look like Freddy. What I came up with was something a bit meaner-looking that has a gigantic, masculine appearance. This makeup has more of a splitting-skin look than a burn look. The red spots are still there, but not as many as before. The design is basically streamlined; everything’s been cut down. Robert’s gotten tired of putting the makeup on, and he’s even more antsy in the chair than he has been before. So I’ve done everything I can to get him in and out of the chair as quickly as possible.”
On the mechanical FX side, Carlucci says that with some notable exceptions, “To a large extent, it’s the classic Nightmare schtick. We’ve built a new Freddy glove that is more of a biomechanical-looking thing; it’s more a part of his hand than the old glove was. The blades are cleaner and have less of a homemade feel, and in some scenes, such as the sequence in which Freddy’s hand comes up out of a car seat and claws down a victim’s chest, they are retractable.
“We do quite a bit with a boiler room sequence,” he continues. “There’s lots of fire and steam coming out of water. A great deal of this stuff is being done live on the set as opposed to in post, which is very much like the way Wes’ original film was done.”
KNB, by contrast, has been relegated to the status of FX bit player, supplying radio and cable-controlled Freddy gloves and a monster Krueger puppet head, complete with stretching jaw and wagging tongue, as well as some minor autospy FX. “There isn’t a whole lot of makeup work in this one, but then there weren’t many makeup effects in the first Nightmare film either,” says the studio’s Howard Berger. “So I guess this is kind of consistent with that film.”
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare began filming midway through 1993 with a different cinematic approach in mind, according to Craven. “I felt the very nature of what we were trying to do required more of a documentary style,” he says. “So I knew going in that we’d have to be prepared to move very quickly, grab a lot of shots on the run and film in ways that would be a lot less slick.”
Which is not to say that massive set pieces have gone by the wayside. Early in the shooting, the New Nightmare crew took over an entire section of Southern California freeway for a sequence in which dreams and reality collide in a frightening game of deadly dodge-car. “Those freeway sequences were insane,” recalls Langenkamp. “I don’t think I would have done them if it hadn’t been 3 a.m. and I hadn’t been half-asleep. We were getting very close to cars that were doing more than 50 miles an hour.”
The reality of New Nightmare became so real that, at one point, Shaye and other New Line executives made appearances in a sequence detailing some of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into mounting a horror film. Even more bizarre was the day Craven directed himself in a recreation of his lunch with Langenkamp. “It worked within the context of the film, which is why we did it, but I don’t really think of myself as much of an actor,” the director chuckles.
And Englund doesn’t think of himself as a stuntman but, while Krueger kicks major butt this time out, the actor claims he took a serious beating in New Nightmare. “We had a fight sequence between myself and Heather’s stunt double and I took a hit,” he recalls. “I didn’t feel anything at the time but later, after I took the makeup off, I found I had all kinds of sugar glass in my hair that could have done some major damage. I was having a lot of trouble all through the filming with my makeup; it was really binding and began to mess with my contact lenses. A couple of times I had to pull off the freeway on the way because my vision was so blurred. I couldn’t see to drive.”
But the challenges, as the New Nightmare production progressed, turned out to be more emotional than physical. During a particularly hectic day in Freddy Hell, a built-up set featuring water, fire and grotesque gargoyle creations, one of the FX crew allowed FANGORIA onto the set to watch a segment of the film’s thrilling finale being shot. Craven, normally accommodating to the core, took exception to this foreign body and ordered the reporter 86’d before the scene was filmed.
Englund, for his part, had a bit of a rude awakening when his notion of how Freddy should be played ran afoul of this different kind of Nightmare. “Initially, I went in thinking it would be easy to just sort of dance Freddy on this one,” he notes. “I figured I could get away with being the motormouth that Freddy was in the previous films. But Wes’ script didn’t allow for the expected Freddy stuff, so I found myself having to do an about-face in terms of playing him in a more pronounced, evil way.”
An earthquake during shooting didn’t help matters, and neither did a flu outbreak. But Craven concedes that the unorthodox manner in which New Nightmare evolved was the culprit in the major strain that haunted the cast and crew throughout production.
“The relationship with the cast was tough, and a lot of the strain came from the fashion in which I was writing the script,” he says. “We did not begin making this film with a set-in-stone shooting script. I was writing pages daily based on dreams I had the night before. So there was a lot of fear, on a constant basis, that I was going to come in the next day and make changes based on what I had dreamed the previous night. There was always tension on the set. You could see it in everybody’s eyes every day when I’d come in. ‘Oh my God, what did he dream last night? What did he come up with now?’
“It was a particularly terrifying ordeal for Heather in that the story was very much based on her own life and, every day, she would be playing out one of these trials that she had already gone through,” he continues. “For Heather this was all very personal, and she wasn’t really sure she wanted to deal with a lot of it again. So there was quite a bit of strain on her.”
Langenkamp, however, claims the big emotional decisions came into play not so much with reliving an unpleasant past but in tackling the notion of playing herself. “It was hard enough before, living with the fact that my name would always be associated with the character I played in the Nightmare films,” she says. “Now I’m having to handle the fact that my real name, Heather Langenkamp, will always be up there on the screen as well. In a way, it’s like I’ve sacrificed my name for these films. It’s scary for me, and I’m still trying to deal with that.”
On its last day of shooting before Christmas break, the New Nightmare set is a mixture of Yuletide cheer and that aforementioned tension. Smiles are present but, occasionally, forced. The thought of facing the public and, in particular, a hardcore Nightmare audience who was feeling secure that Freddy’s Dead finally saw Krueger put away for good, is uppermost on everyone’s mind. Co-producer Marianne Maddalena responds to charges that The Final Nightmare was a cheat with, “Those were movies, this is real life.” Craven, who has essentially been a spectator to his creation’s progress since his aborted scripting attempts on Nightmare 3, offers, “Fans will like what we’ve done here.”
Englund, ever the realist, is uncomfortable with what he perceives as a certain degree of backlash against bringing Freddy back again. “It’s tough, it’s really tough,” he admits. “You’re the first person who has brought this up, but it has been in the back of my mind and I guess, since I’m going to be going on all these talk shows in the coming months, I’d better get used to dealing with it. After all, I was the one who told everybody that the sixth would be the last one. I’m the one everybody is going to think lied to them. I’m not looking forward to this. All I can say is this is not being made because Freddy’s Dead was a big hit. It’s being made because it’s a different kind of Nightmare, and Wes is back to make it special.”
Englund retires to his makeup room to don the Freddy face. On a nearby soundstage, the front end of a scene, in which Langenkamp is being questioned by an interviewer on one of those generic morning TV talk shows, is being filmed. The interviewer plies the actress with some easy questions about handling the notoriety of the Nightmare films. They get progressively tougher when the queries turn to her child and whether she would feel comfortable leaving the boy with Robert Englund. Langenkamp’s television-friendly smile fades. She fidgets uncomfortably.
“Well, Heather, we’ve got a surprise for you,” says the host. “Ladies and gentleman, Robert Englund!”
The crowd applauds as the set backdrop tears open and Freddy Krueger leaps onto the stage, confronts a terrified Langenkamp with a rap that ends with “Let’s do lunch” before wading into the audience and into camera range.
“Give it up, kiddies!” yells Freddy. “You’re all my children now!”