They Are Still His Children—Part Two

Posted on: June/1/2010 12:01 AM

It’s a wonder there were any kids left on Elm Street once Freddy was finished.
By Lee Gambin

Published in Fangoria #294.

By the third installment of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, it was clear it was well on the way to becoming one of the most important and influential horror-film series to come out of the ’80s. It explored the dark side of the then-popular teen-flick movement—kind of a malevolent variant on the John Hughes/Brat Pack trend. Nightmare 3: Dream Warriors was even sort of like The Breakfast Club, but with dream demon Freddy replacing neglectful parents, peer pressure and teenage alienation.

In Nightmare 3, Rodney Eastman played Joey, a mute boy who remains voiceless for almost the entire running time; all of his communication comes from facial expressions and movement.

FANGORIA: Did the silent nature of your role influence the audition process?

RODNEY EASTMAN: Director Chuck Russell must have trusted my ability to convey the necessary emotions throughout the film without speaking. Actually, the audition for Joey consisted solely of the final scene, where he actually does speak. Chuck just talked me through the scene: “OK, Freddy’s got all your friends! You’re backed into the corner! You’re terrified!” etc. Then I had to deliver the line “Nooooooooo!!!” I think I got the part just ’cause I was 19 and looked a lot younger, and I was the best screamer they met.

FANG: It seems as though Joey’s preoccupation with being in the company of hot dream girls leads directly to his intimate meetings with Freddy: In Nightmare 3, it’s the nurse with the menacing tongues, and in Nightmare 4: The Dream Master—in which you’re killed—it’s the swimsuit model in the waterbed. What were those scenes like to shoot?

EASTMAN: There’s a funny story concerning that nurse scene. The day of the shoot, Chuck Russell pulled me aside in a very conspiratorial, urgent manner to have a private conversation. He asked me, “Rodney, is this your first scene involving nudity?” I said yes. He then asked me if I know about “the flick test”. I told him I didn’t. “Well,” Chuck said, “it’s nothing to worry about, just a formality. But I wanted to tell you about it in advance to save you any embarrassment.” Now I was thinking, “The flick test?! What the hell is ‘The flick test’?!”

Chuck explained that there’s a Screen Actors Guild law that whenever there’s nudity involved in a film, a nurse is assigned to the production. It’s for the protection and comfort of the actress in the scene, to make sure there’s no harassment or inappropriate behavior. He told me that every 15 minutes, the SAG nurse will come onto set, and to make sure you don’t have an erection, she’ll give you a little ‘flick.’ As Chuck said that word, he made a flicking motion with his thumb and forefinger. He told me all this with a complete poker face, patted me on the shoulder, told me not to worry and left the room. I was a pretty naive kid and I bought it, hook, line and sinker. So for the next hour I was sweating, thinking of every trick in the book to avoid any possible embarrassment at the hands of the visiting nurse, who I imagined would be wearing latex gloves and white orthopedic shoes.

So we shot the first scene where my dream nurse gets topless, and I didn’t have to do much acting at that point to appear turned on. Chuck yelled “Cut” and the 1st AD came up to him and said in a stage whisper, so the whole crew could hear, “Uh, Chuck. The nurse says it’s time for the flick test.” And let me tell you, at that point I definitely would have failed that test. Hey, I was 19! She was hot! I looked toward the door and waited for the real nurse with her latex gloves to walk in and administer the test, totally in a panic. The set was so silent you could hear a pin drop. All of a sudden, the entire crew burst out in laughter. A wave of relief spread over me like you wouldn’t believe, and pretty soon I was laughing along with the rest of them. Apparently, everyone had been let in on the joke except me. I don’t think I ever appreciated being the butt of a practical joke as much as I did that day.

The sad thing is, after doing take after take after take, any excitement or sexiness involved in nude scenes or love scenes wears off pretty quickly. It’s a sad fact, and if the “flick test” really did exist, about an hour into shooting that scene all the way through my career to this day, I would pass it with flying colors!

Ira Heiden played wheelchair-bound Will, who was also terrorized by Freddy in Russell’s film.

FANG: Critics and fans alike rate Nightmare 3 as one of the best in the franchise. What are your thoughts on the film, and how did it impact on your career as a young actor?

IRA HEIDEN: I really had no idea how big it was going to be. I remember seeing the first film, and it scared the hell out of me. In the whole series, I feel the first and third are the best. All the actors came together as a team and made a great film. That movie opened many doors to great jobs!

FANG: Nightmare 3 boasts an amazing cast: Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, and of course Englund return, but you were joined by the likes of Patricia Arquette, Priscilla Pointer and Laurence Fishburne; even Dick Cavett and Zsa Zsa Gabor came out to play. What was it like making the movie with those people?

HEIDEN: Working with everyone was great! Robert was a blast to be around. Right before my death scene, I remember, I was sitting in a chair next to him. I was working on my death-acting skills, and what did Robert do? Why, he had the nerve to start telling jokes! As for the rest of the cast, we really bonded on that film. I just ran into Laurence Fishburne at the market, and we picked up right where we left off; he’s a great man. Heather, Patricia, Jennifer [Rubin], Ken [Sagoes], Rodney and Bradley [Gregg] all were so professional. It was as if we really were a family for the time we spent together.

FANG: You also got to co-star in 1988’s Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, starring the brilliant and beautiful Cassandra Peterson. What was that experience like?

HEIDEN: Elvira, Mistress of the Dark! Now that was a fun set to be on. The director, James Signorelli, used to do Saturday Night Live skits, so he was a riot to be around. As for Cassandra, she was hilarious! Jokes left and right, with a kind soul. One thing stands out, though; whether our call time was 5 a.m. or 5 p.m., she always blasted Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction from her trailer. Do you know what it’s like to get coffee early in the morning during “Welcome to the Jungle”? Wild, man, wild.

Ken Sagoes was Kincaid, the tough, street-smart dude in the third and fourth features, and also has fond memories of Elm Street.

KEN SAGOES: Kincaid was really the first kid who had the dream to go head to head with Freddy, physically. He dreamed strength and believed he was tough. He said the things the audience wanted to say to Freddy. Also, what makes Kincaid such an important character in the Nightmare series is that he made history: He was not only the first black kid to fight Freddy, but also the first black kid to survive a major horror film and return for [another] sequel.

The most fun about the shoots would be the moments behind the scenes when we weren’t filming; everyone was like family. And it was Laurence Fishburne who taught me how to do physical acting for the camera. Like a big brother, he took me to the side and told me I didn’t have to work too hard. I have never forgotten that, and never had the chance to tell him how much I thank him for that. I also love that in the fourth film, during my death scene, I got to shout out to the world, “Freddy’s back!”

Nightmare 3’s TV-obsessed Jennifer, played by Penelope Sudrow, gets to die to one of Freddy’s most-quoted lines: “Welcome to prime time, bitch!” But was Sudrow as much of a TV junkie as her character?

PENELOPE SUDROW: It has been a very cool thing to be part of something that has taken on cult status and become part of horror-film history. As far as relating to the character of Jennifer, I am not really up on current TV, but it’s always nice to play interesting characters. I like series that are character-driven, and bring both depth and humor to our lives and are about our lives too. I most enjoy shows that can bring lightness and intelligence to even our darker situations in some way. I loved Boston Legal, as an example. Mad Men is another favorite of mine in recent years; great characters, a witty and sometimes dry sense of humor.

In addition to the returning Kristen, Joey and Kincaid, Freddy had a new bunch of teens to slice ‘n’ dice in A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. One of these was Sheila (Toy Newkirk), a bookish asthmatic.

TOY NEWKIRK: I believe there are parts of Sheila that live inside me, like her sassiness and her love for her friends. However, where Sheila was driven toward the sciences, I naturally gravitated to the arts. Although I must say, Sheila was pretty inventive with her “ultra-high sound wave, which made them run screaming their antennas off”!

FANG: Most performers have mixed feelings about undergoing extensive makeup effects; on the bright side, it’s their moment in the sun for fans, but it’s also sometimes physically painful and stressful. Was having the molds made of your face and body for the scene where Sheila’s life force is sucked out of her a grueling experience?

NEWKIRK: In my interview for [the upcoming documentary] Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, I speak of this in great detail, but let’s just say, I thought I was going to die! When I was told to sit very still and not move, with two little straws in my nostrils, I realized they were more concerned with the mold than with me being able to breathe. The same material used to cast a broken arm or leg was used in creating my mold, which went from the top of my head down to my waist. Also, when Sheila has the air sucked out of her, the effects guys stretched my skin and painted a thin layer of latex on my face, which gave the effect of my features shriveling up like a raisin. It was the most uncomfortable day of my shoot, which left me with a greater admiration for Robert Englund and his daily dose of prosthetics.

In Nightmare 4, Rick (Andras Jones) was the karate-enthusiast brother of heroine Alice (Lisa Wilcox; see last issue), whose martial-arts skills were no match for Freddy.

FANG: Many horror films feature teens as the protagonists and major supporting players. Why do you think the genre appeals to adolescents, and why did Freddy become such a cultural icon of the ’80s and beyond?

ANDRAS JONES: The horror genre is all about testing and pushing boundaries—not unlike our teen years. It’s also the place where cinema explores the things that grown-ups don’t tell us about: the screaming bloody horror of birth, the ambivalence of death. Nightmare on Elm Street explores the sins of the mother and father through the fog of dreams. Freddy is a trickster demon, a classic golem and a child molester come back to avenge his brutal lynching by the parents. The fact that Freddy was never innocent only adds to the terror. We are left to ponder how even if someone were to kill our childhood tormentor, they might come back as something even worse. How frightening is that?

But really, Nightmare is all about the dreams. They were my dad’s business, so I grew up obsessed with dreams, and I know what an extremely beguiling topic it is. When you weave together that many intoxicating strands, it certainly has the potential to be a phenomenon. I’m actually looking forward to seeing what Jackie Earle Haley does with the role of Freddy. That is some inspired casting.

Nightmare 4 gave Freddy a rematch with Kristen Parker, who was portrayed by Patricia Arquette in the third film, with Tuesday Knight taking over the role in the fourth.

TUESDAY KNIGHT: There was pressure playing Kristen—taking a part that has already been established by another actor is always stessful! You push yourself a little harder so you do it right. The entire time, you’re asking yourself, “Do the other cast members like what I am doing?” or “Are the fans going to like me?” It is definitely more stressful, especially when the films and character are so popular. But after the movie came out and I got a ton of fan mail saying how much they loved what I did with Kristen, I knew we did it right and felt relieved. And running into Patricia a few years ago, and her telling me I did a good job, sealed the deal. Kristen was one of my favorite parts to play.

In A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child, the killing sequences got even wilder. Joe Seely was comic-book obsessive Mark, who dies in an animated sequence styled like the classic a-ha video “Take on Me.”

FANG: Nightmare 5 was made during a period where graphic novels and comic books were enjoying huge popularity, one of the biggest commercial peaks in the history of the art form. Were you or are you a comics fan at all?

JOE SEELY: Yeah, I love good graphics. I produced a little comic book when I was 12, designing the character of a little ghost wrestler, and have always had a fondness for Robert Crumb’s work. Stephen Hopkins, the director of Nightmare 5, took me to a comic-book store and introduced me to Elektra: Assassin and The Dark Knight Returns. Frank Miller is brilliant, and Dark Knight is truly great.

FANG: It’s cool that Mark has an aversion to blood and, cleverly, his death is completely bloodless: He becomes one of his own comic-book creations and is shredded to bits by Freddy. How do you feel about your killing sequence, which is totally different from the others in the franchise?

SEELY: Yeah, it was a clever way to kill Mark. It’s funny, but I wasn’t even there for my death scene. I had the day off, and came back the next day to find out that they had dressed someone else in my clothes to play my corpse!

FANG: Do you have a favorite Nightmare 5 memory, and what does playing a part in the franchise mean to you?

SEELY: My most memorable moment was when I went in for my initial costume fitting, and the first person I saw was Robert Englund in full Freddy makeup with his blood-red head, sitting alone and eating a bright green salad with his hands. It was such a shocking visual with completely unthreatening behavior that I thought it was funny. The film also got me thinking about why scary stories are so popular, and introduced me to the horror genre—for which I’ll be directing a zombie movie this summer. Look for Cowboy Zombies, coming out next year! It surprises me that 20 years later, people are still asking me about it, but Freddy is really a timeless villain, so I guess I shouldn’t be.

Erika Anderson was Nightmare 5’s Greta the aspiring supermodel, whose demise at a chef-hatted Freddy’s hands gave new meaning to the phrase “stuff your face.”

FANG: Greta has a domineering mother who is constantly belittling her about what she can and can’t eat. Do you feel the Nightmare films tackled teen topics such as eating disorders and parental oppression just as well as more “serious” movies back in the issues-oriented ’80s?

ERIKA ANDERSON: I believe all teenagers feel parental oppression, and that’s part of the Nightmare series. The topic of eating disorders is a serious one and was not covered in a serious manner in Nightmare 5, as the series tended to get a little more comedic as it went on. Those youth topics were probably addressed better and more delicately in a lot of the dramatic films of that time. Teen alienation and feeling that pressure to be identified with a group is something all teenagers feel, and has been demonstrated in movies since they first started being made. The Nightmare series, more than anything else, was pure entertainment; kids went to see those movies time and time again because they enjoy the horror genre, and there’s something exhilarating about feeling the fear in a darkened cinema.

FANG: What do you remember best about your Nightmare 5 experience?

ANDERSON: Obviously it was the people I was able to work with, and forging great friendships, but there was also the added bonus of having my face completely mutated with makeup and prosthetics, hanging out of a refrigerator and realizing just how wonderfully fun the whole thing was! Making that movie was so enjoyable; we had a lot of laughs, and I’m proud to be part of the history of the Nightmare films. After all, not many people can say they died at the hands of Freddy Krueger!