It’s mid-June and a Chicago-area stage has been taken over by nightmares.
Freddy Krueger is nowhere to be seen (he’s back in a trailer half-way between being former “Bad News Bears” star Jackie Earle Haley and being a monstrous nocturnal stalker of attractive high school students), but walking around the “A Nightmare on Elm Street” facilities from small set to small set to small set, his handiwork is everywhere.
There’s an elemental theme to the rooms we’re passing through.
In one set, there’s a classroom that only barely survived an inferno. The air smells like charcoal and everything from the desks to the books to the ceiling tiles appears charred.
There’s a flood room, decorated with childishly scrawled artwork, that’s ready for a deluge.
And then there’s the dark, earthen cave. It’s Freddy’s cave, with more kids’ drawings on the walls, candles resting in muddy burrows and roots poking down from above.
Freddy Krueger isn’t just absent from the set at this moment. He’s been absent from the big screen since 2003’s “Freddy vs. Jason,” which wasn’t as damaging to the character as “A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge,” but certainly took the franchise pretty far afield from where it began in Wes Craven’s 1984 original. Now Freddy’s getting a reboot courtesy of the Platinum Dunes” team that also rebooted “The Amityville Horror,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Friday the 13th.”
“It definitely was one that we pursued for a couple years,” admits Brad Fuller. “New Line thinks that this is like their Batman, basically, and Freddy Kruger is very important to them, obviously. We were trying to get these rights before ‘Friday the 13th’ and feet were dragging for a long time and it really wasn’t until ‘Friday the 13th’ was done and in the can and they felt positive about it that they finally decided, ‘Yeah, let’s go with these guys.’ But it was torturous.”
“Friday the 13th” did $40 million in its opening weekend and earned Platinum Dunes a certain amount of latitude, but they didn’t intend to take Freddy Krueger in the same direction they took Jason Vorhees.
“I think a ‘Friday the 13th’ movie like we made was really fun. You know, sex, drugs, and rock and roll and I think a ‘Nightmare’ movie is not that,” says Fuller’s producing partner Andrew Form. So I think, we knew going in that the tone for this film would be much different than a ‘Friday the 13th’ film.”
Although Robert Englund’s Freddy eventually became a bit of a joke, a quipster more prone to trailer-friendly one-liners than creative kills, that’s not the guy Haley is playing.
“He wasn’t that way really in the first couple and that’s what we’re sticking to,” Fuller says of Freddy. “We’ve never been attracted to a jokey antagonist because it feels less scary and less real. As you guys will see tonight, Freddy Kruger looks very different. He looks like a real burn victim and that’s what’s important to us and he’s not witty. He’s a f***ed up guy.”
Part of that has to do with the specifics of Freddy’s origin story, which seem to have been altered from the original, though we won’t know for sure until the movie is released at the end of April. [The information in the next quote has been out on the Internet for a while, but you may want to skip the paragraph anyway if you want to go into the reboot unspoiled.]
“[W]e’re starting over from the very beginning and I think that when parents are confronted with the notion that their child might or might not have been molested, that’s an interesting part of the story for us,” Fuller explains of his antagonist’s backstory. “As you saw in the scene that we just shot, a kid can’t really say yes or no and how is it happening. Our Freddy is definitely, and I don’t think I’m letting the cat out of the bag, not a child killer. He probably has killed, but that’s not our angle. Our angle is more of the molestation. And that makes it different and more horrifying I think.”
The end result for Freddy, at least with the community’s parents, looks to have been the same. Certainly Haley’s Krueger looks more like a real burn victim here, a look which often took things too far into hyper-realistic territory.
“We had reference photos that we were going off of and you start with a bunch of pictures about how far you want to go,” Form says. “Even with skin color of a burn victim, how white the face looks or the pigmentation you have in it. I mean, there was definitely too far where I don’t think you would even look at Freddy. You would turn away when he came on the screen.”
However Freddy ends up in this new “Nightmare,” the process will have been overseen closely by a New Line team that has scrutinized screw, wardrobe, makeup and the entire production in order to protect this valuable property. Haley’s presence helped attract a strong cast that includes Clancy Brown and Connie Britton. The producers also attracted Sam Bayer to direct, building on a music video career that includes landmarks like Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Blind Melon’s “No Rain” and Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”
If one has a mental image of a movie director, he probably wouldn’t look like Bayer, who runs around the set looking like a wildman with unkempt hair, a beard and a black tank-top exposing numerous tattoos. As he coaches actress Katie Cassidy through a scene where she’s fleeing down a dirty tunnel, he appears to be getting his results. She looks terrified in the moment, but after a pause, emerges smiling and mud-caked.
Form and Fuller had previously approached Bayer to direct “Amityville Horror,” but he passed. To get him to sign on for “Nightmare,” they got an assist from Platinum Dunes’ heaviest hitter, “Transformers director Michael Bay.
“Michael said to me and Drew, ‘I want to reach out to Sam Bayer,’ which usually doesn’t happen,” Fuller recalls. “Bay, usually, he’ll listen to what we wanna do and he’ll let us purse it and he reached out to Sam and he and Sam, they had a conversation or some kind of exchange where I think Michael made a very intelligent reason for Sam to do this movie and get behind it and literally as soon as that happened, Sam got on-board and it comes back to the fact that his work is visually astonishing and it’s varied and he has a handle on the technical aspects of making these dreams work and he cares a tremendous amount about performance and he’s a true artist in every sense of the word”
Of the dream sequences, Fuller adds, “I think that our dreams are much closer to the first film than anything else. Again, you saw these sets and they’re dark and they’re dreary and there’s not a sense of wonder or fun in any way shape or form. That’s not the movie Sam wanted to tell, that’s not what we wanted and that’s not what New Line was looking for. So, these nightmares are truly nightmares and that’s one of the things that Sam is so great about. We all have nightmares but it’s a difficult thing to communicate what they feel like and I think that that’s what Sam is really doing an amazing job with is when I’m watching it, I’ve had nightmares that feel this horrible and he’s bringing that to film, which is a really hard thing to do.”
The return of the original’s famous hand-coming-out-of-the-tub nightmare has already been teased in the movie’s first trailer. Other familiar sequences from the original include the image of Freddy’s face pushing through the wall. Fuller thinks, though, that that even devoted fans will eventually be able to view this “A Nightmare on Elm Street” as its own thing and not get bogged down in comparisons to Craven and Englund.
“Okay, so people are going to say we’re the devil because we’re making Freddy Krueger and it’s not going to be Robert Englund. I’ve certainly read that more than once, and I get it from a 14-year-old kid who’s typing from his basement, but the reality is, they’ve been remaking The Mummy for the past hundred years,” Fuller says. “And the person who invented The Mummy isn’t the person who made the second Mummy or the third Mummy, and Freddy Krueger is today’s Mummy. In twenty years — when you guys’ll still be writing, and who knows what I’ll be doing — they’re going to make another Freddy Krueger movie, because Freddy Krueger is the Mummy, and Leatherface… Those characters, their first birth was in the ’80s, but horror itself has been reinventing itself from the beginning of time, so what we’re doing, although people see it as sacrilegious, it’s what the movie business has been from the beginning. I think that a lot of people that take runs at us don’t know their film history and aren’t aware that that’s what’s been going on since the beginning of time. There have been 40 or 50 werewolf movies, and they keep coming out and no one says anything. No one can tell me who made the first werewolf movie, and I just feel that the horror that Platinum Dunes is doing, this is our era right now, and hopefully my son’s generation will be making their own versions of Freddy and Jason, and those characters will continue.”
This generation’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street” opens on April 30.