Welcome to Freddy Hell!

Posted on: March/1/1987 12:01 AM

Despite script hassles and a new director, the “Elm Street” gang hope to redeem themselves with a dreamy new sequel.
By: Marc Shapiro

Published in Fanorgia #62.

“Frankly, Zsa Zsa, I don’t a fuck what you think!” Freddy Krueger rises up out of his seat on a mock talk show and, with that patented “your-hind-quarters-are-mine” look in his eyes, begins a backhand swipe with his razor-fingered glove will soon send a terrified Zsa Zsa Gabor to the promised land.

Freddy is about to do what critics have been unsuccessfully trying to do to Zsa Zsa for years. A dream come true? Yes, but were you expecting anything less from A Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warriors? Director Chuck Russell calls a temporary halt to the mayhem. Real life talk show personality Dick Cavett, who, moments before, sat on the set before a mid-interview transformation into Freddy, wanders back onto the set for a brief confab with Russell and Gabor before the inevitable retakes on this Saturday morning shoot on a crowded Los Angeles soundstage.

Gabor, her dog Macho in tow, is having a great time talking up her latest husband and offering that her schlock science-fiction opus, Queen of Outer Space, has become a cult hit in Europe. Cavett is equally animated about this cameo in Nightmare 3. “I’ve always had this secret desire to be in a horror film, so when they asked me if I wanted to be in a Nightmare movie, I said, ‘Let me count the ways.'”

Cavett, Gabor and first-time-director Russell are all newcomers to the Elm Street scene. But glancing around this soundstage and the precious day’s shoot at a Los Angeles cemetery, it becomes evident that Dream Warriors is the film equivalent of old home week. Heather Lagenkamp returns as Nancy. John Saxon is once again on board as her wacko dad. Robert Englund, doing double duty on Nightmare and as a regular on the since-cancelled TV series Downtown, is forever Freddy. FX good buddies Kevin Yagher and Mark Shostrom have also rejoined the fun. Basically, anybody who emptied an ashtray on the first two Nightmares is present and accounted for, with one collective goal in mind: to smooth out some rough spots in the Nightmare on Elm Street odyssey and to make Dream Warriors the Cadillac of the series.

Nightmare 3’s story, currently credited to Wes Craven, Chuck Russell, Bruce Wagner and Frank (The Woman in the Room) Darabont, appears up to snuff. It is seven years after the original encounter with Krueger and the teen suicide rate in the United States, thanks to Freddy’s latest return, has jumped an alarming 136 percent. Enter Nancy Thompson, now a psychiatric social worker, who is called to a mental institution to counsel a particularly deranged group of kids who are suffering the effects of Freddy’s latest assault on the real world. With the aid of psychiatrist Craig (Body Double) Wasson, Nancy organizes this group of teens (who all happen to have psychic powers) into a fighting force that confronts Freddy in a final showdown which occurs in both the real and dream worlds.

On the day of this Fango set visit, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 3: Dream Warriors is half-way through a 40-day shooting schedule, and—at least according to the grips and cameramen—has gone hitch-free enough to meet its late February release date. There are, however, uncertain vibes that make this less than the perfect family portrait. The biggest cloud looming on the horizon is the spectre of Wes Craven. The creator of the Freddy experience has not been on a Nightmare 3 set once, mostly due to the script’s pending Writer’s Guild arbitration hearing and the ever-cooling relations between Craven and New Line Cinema.

There is also some concern being expressed about the final verdict on Part 2. Freddy’s Revenge made a bundle and was a surprising favorite with mainstream audiences, but genre fans, particularly Fango readers, rated Nightmare 2 the bummer of the summer. Add to that the persistent word that any Part 4 would be made without Englund’s services and you get the feeling that it is “put up or shut up” time in Nightmareland.

“At one point, I felt that Part 3 had to be great for the glory of the series,” says Englund during a break in filming. “But I don’t feel that way anymore. Once I saw the script, I knew we would have no trouble topping the first two.” Englund falls back on his “going on automatic pilot” description to explain what it’s like playing Freddy Krueger for a third time. “It has gotten to the point where I instinctively know where Freddy should be cracking wise and where he should be scary. I had some ideas of my own about playing Freddy this time out. I wanted to play him a little older and a little more like a dirty old man. But there is a line in the script that says Freddy gets stronger by feeding off the souls of his victims. When I read that, I knew the cantankerous stuff would have to go out the window.” Englund might have noticed that bit of direction if he had read the script before signing for Dream Warriors. “I did not read the script until after all the negotiating was completed,” admits the candid actor. “I had the attitude of doing Part 3 just to make some money. But after I read the script, I was sold. The story is paced well, there’s an equal balance between the terror and humor, and the effects (optical, animated and mechanical) are great.”

The Freddy thespian claims he did the original Nightmare on Elm Street mainly as a lark because he had always wanted to play a monster. Englund agreed to do the next two because “the series is a hit and I would be a fool not to go where I’m wanted.” He also changed his tune on whether he will continue in the Nightmare series if it goes to Part 4. “I’ve always thought of the Nightmare films as a trilogy, but I would not mind doing a fourth one. But a Part 4 would necessitate some changes. I would like to see the characters age. Or maybe do a story where we regress the Freddy story to a point where they could finally get me out of this makeup. But I’m definitely not interested in doing one a year. Rather than seeing what is the best script we can come up with in six months, I would like to see what is the best script we can come up with in three years.”

Englund is interrupted by makeup man Kevin Yagher, who pats on some reinforcement to Krueger’s ample layer of scar tissue. The pair exchange some small talk before Freddy returns to offing Gabor. Yagher, fresh off a strenuous workout on Trick or Treat, looks at making up Englund on Dream Warriors as a walk in the park. “I can just about do Freddy in my sleep,” laughs Yagher. “Between Nightmare 2 and 3, I was on the road with Robert for a good part of the year, making him up for video promotions for the first two Nightmare films. So it has become pretty easy.” Yagher claims that the current edition of Krueger makeup appears much the same as that used in the previous film. “There is a little bit more detail, and I have taken the size of the nose down a bit,” he reveals. “I’ve also reduced the basic number of sections from nine to eight and have attempted to make Krueger look a little more like Robert. But the basic differences are not that drastic.”

The lack of challenge in making up Englund, however, is more than made up for by Yagher’s contributions (in conjunction with Mark Shostrom, Greg Cannom and Image Engineering) in the film’s major special FX. One that strikes Yagher as particularly effective is the giant “Freddy Snake,” a nightmarish creature that, during one encounter in the dream world, swallows a teenager and pukes her back up. “I worked on its construction and painting,” explains Yagher. “It’s this 10-foot-long snake with a head of Freddy the size of four basketballs.” The youthful Yagher is also fond of a scene in which Freddy rips open his sweater to reveal four faces of previous victims screaming in agony on his chest. “We took a cast of Robert’s chest and casts of the actors’ faces. Miniature faces were then sculpted and mounted on the chest cast and then mechanized so that they would appear to distort as they screamed. It’s a real hoot.”

It was an equal hoot the previous morning when a bit of Nightmare-style voodoo shared cemetery grounds with a very real funeral in progress. The scene called for Saxon and Wasson to perform a ceremony on Krueger’s skeleton. Needless to say, things don’t go quite according to plans and Wasson ends up getting knocked into a freshly dug grave. The scene, watched by curious onlookers on hand for other reasons, wrapped in quick fashion. The real funeral wrapped shortly thereafter. And it might be a career funeral for director Russell if he fails to deliver the Nightmare goods.

“Sure, I’m a little nervous,” admits Russell of his premiere directing job. “I’ve been in this business for 12 years and have worked at different stages of film development, but nothing can prepare you for the actual job of directing.” Russell, whose credits include co-writing and associate producer chores on Dreamscape and producer on Rodney Dangerfield’s recent smash Back to School, landed this plum assignment after impressing New Line President Robert Shaye with his critique of Part 2. “When I knew a third Nightmare film was being considered, I did a treatment and some storyboards for some ideas I had for the film,” Russell relates. “After Wes’s script was handed in, New Line brought it to me to discuss some revisions. I did those and they asked me if I wanted to direct it.” Russell is happy that Langenkamp and Saxon are back in the fold. He is equally enthusiastic about the opportunity the script gives to more fully explore Freddy’s dream world. “We are dealing more with the actual nightmares from Freddy’s point-of-view.”