Producers Brad Fuller and Andrew Form reveal what they have planned for this upcoming Platinum Dunes horror remake starring Jackie Earle Haley as the iconic movie maniac
Freddy Kruger is legend. The crispy knife-fingered killer has pushed past his own pantheon of evil doing to become something more than a child molester and dream rapist. In no short order, he has become a superhero of gore. In a clever reveal, the tortured soul of this misunderstood janitor pulls past his overcoat to expose that infamous red and green sweater. Its Clark Kent in a phone booth done up in gothic horror, and it's the most polarizing scene in the A Nightmare on Elm Street teaser trailer. Some argue that Platinum Dunes, the production company responsible for updating most of our iconic slashers during the course of this past decade, is turning one of cinema's most brutal monsters into an avenging supernatural force. Something he was never meant to be. Others argue that this is a true rebuilding of the myth. And that it will surpass even Wes Craven's original film. At this point in time, the verdict is still out. What has become very clear is that Freddy's new nightmare will indeed be a box office achiever when it arrives in theaters on April 30th of this year. If only because both the haters and the supporters what to be first in line to scream, "I told you so!"
Platinum Dunes' Brad Fuller and Andrew Form have a great track record when it comes to reinvigorating and rejuvenating horror icons of old. In 2003, they dusted off the once defunct backcountry cannibal Leatherface and gave him a horrific makeover with the smash hit "true-to-life" retelling of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The film opened number one at the box office, going on to earn well over $100 million worldwide. They followed up that venture with a reimagining of the 1979 spookhouse thriller The Amityville Horror, which opened number one in the spring of 2005 and proved to be as successful as their previous masterwork. The duo continued to pump out one horror hit after the next, reinstating the cult myth behind The Hitcher, as well as returning Crystal Lake's mongoloid shredder Jason Voorhees back from faded glory with the record breaking success of Friday the 13th. Now, moving into the Teens, Fuller and Form are tackling their biggest advisory to date. Recreating Freddy Krueger for a new audience of slash-hungry kids and the grumpy curmudgeons known as the "long time fan" has been nothing short of climbing Mount Everest.
They knew they had to get it just right, which, even at this late date, is still proving to be an on-going challenge. From nailing the hat, to perfecting the sweater, to galvanizing the glove, to updating the make-up, and especially to adapting that iconic gravel-laced purr originated by Robert Englund. Nothing has come easy on this particular set. Especially in terms of rebuilding this child-molesting janitor from the ground up. Fans have already begun to whine about Freddy's face, which now takes on the drooped, melting affects of an actual burn victim. Krueger is truly disturbing to look at. Almost vomitous. Gone is the cartoonish posturing that dominated the later part of the 80s franchise. Fuller and Form, along with director Samuel Bayer, have every intention of making this new nightmare a scary ride. They want to bring Kruger back to his early-80s roots. Still, they can't please everyone, and some Freddy enthusiasts are calling foul before the film even has a chance to emerge victorious.
The creative team behind this latest gore-soaked venture has played coy about the actual plotline, and Krueger's famed backstory is being left a bit ambiguous until its release in theaters. Is he a pedophile? Does he still torment children? If the teaser trailer, which debuted late last summer, is any indication, Krueger is being set up as a fall guy. Someone wrongfully prosecuted for deeds he did not do. The teaser sets Krueger up as an avenging angel. A man out for revenge. Is this the new myth being placed behind that barbequed mug? Or is Platinum Dunes setting up an unsuspecting audience? The gang remained equally secretive and just as aloof about the actually contents of the film when we visited the A Nightmare on Elm Street set in Chicago last spring.
You can't blame Platinum Dunes for wanting to keep a lid on the script. Every film, even a remake, needs some element of surprise. In this age of Internet backstabbing and blog posturing, its hard to keep anything under wraps for more than a few sparse seconds. While Krueger's new make-up job was kept from prying eyes for as long as possible, its secret was undone by something as innocent as an action figure. Now, there are rumblings of a magic hat that gives our slash champion his dream-traipsing abilities. Which, once again, has whipped some fans up in a mighty big fury. But it could just be haughtiness on the producers' part. Bad publicity is sometimes useful in getting seats filled. There is a great curiosity behind this particular remake. People truly love Brad and Andrew, and as much as fans bitch and moan, deep down they want nothing more than for this team to knock this particular remake out of the park. Despite some evidence to the contrary, folks actually love good cinema. And they want to rally behind the awesome entertainment value something like A Nightmare on Elm Street reboot can offer on a Saturday night.
If there's one thing Platinum Dunes hasn't been about this production, it's shy. Most film sets try to hide their titles or create new ones to throw snooping fans and paparazzi off scent. Not here. Just outside Chicago's Studio City looms a giant illuminated marquee that proudly displays the fact that A Nightmare on Elm Street is indeed shooting inside. That didn't seem to cause a security problem, as walking in and studying some of the decorated sound stages wasn't much of a problem. If there's one thing that can be said about this new horror remake, it's that the art decoration is immaculate. An extremely detailed classroom sits, scorched black. There is wicked child-drawn artwork on the walls depicting a stick figure Freddy; the desks are charred in ash. Belonging to the dream world in which Freddy inhabits, this particular setting looks and feels like something that belongs in a Nightmare film. We also got to visit Freddy's mancave of sorts. Its exquisite in its creepiness. If nothing else, Samuel Bayer is creating a stunning visual landscape that will please lovers of artistic cinematography.
On this particular day, Bayer is shooting a scene where Kris (Katie Cassidy) is chased through a dream tunnel by Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley). Cassidy is wearing the same football jersey Johnny Depp wore in the original; just one of the many Easter eggs Form, Fuller and Bayer have littered throughout the duration of the film. We watch as Katie crawls through her character's own Nightmare again and again, the crew joyously dumping buckets of dirt on her head. She gives good scream, and looks game for the part. The girl is ready for any bit of discomfort headed her way. It's Jackie Earle Haley that is having a problem. The tunnel proves to be a tight fit for this diminutive boogeyman. Every time he springs forward, his claw thrust out towards his victim, his hat falls off. He is having a problem delivering lines. Only because the cadence of his voice has yet to be decided on. So he has to run through it at various different speeds. He soon becomes weary of the journalists on set. He is trying to prefect this moment of terror, and it proves to be a bit distracting with a group of bloggers off to the side, ready to bitch and complain about every single detail without a true reference to the moment. Questions begin to arise amongst the on-lookers: "If Krueger is controlling the dream, couldn't he make the tunnel bigger?" "Freddy is the Indian Jones of Horror. His hat doesn't fall off."
Fuller and Form are very smart, and quite cognizant of their audience. They listen to criticism and take it to heart when it's valid. They actually like and know their fanbase. And they're quite personable. They want to please the horror fan first and foremost, and they're not throwing junk up on the screen just to make a quick buck. They, themselves, are fans. And they know quite well from experience that it sometimes takes a great amount of effort and time to make any particular scene work. Having a group of folks who are bound to slam the film upon its initial release no matter what, standing inside the actualized frame of its making, chirping about its supposed fallacies, is a bit detrimental to the creative process. It's hard to take the brunt of criticism when the film isn't even a third of the way through its shooting schedule yet. This is, quite literally, the cinematic equivalent of having someone stand over your shoulder while you try to read or write an essay on the true essence of an epic experience. Because of this, any outside source is quickly removed from the scene.
It was only natural that we be shuffled off to a closet somewhere. Left to sit and wait, hoping for another chance to watch the magic literally happen before of our eyes. That moment never comes. Form and Fuller are usually quite open when it comes to set visits. During the Friday the 13th shoot, Andrew actually pulled me into an overturned bus to stand literally against the cinematographer while Jason Voorhees slammed Jared Padalecki's face into a window. Real shattered glass showered down upon our heads. For a longtime Jason fan, it was geek Valhalla. But Freddy is a different beat all together. Jason's wants and needs are pretty cut and dried. It can't be argued that, as a character, Freddy is a more in-depth psychological study. There are more layers below the surface of that scorch skin. He needs to be nurtured and aged. This is fine wine compared to fast food, and it takes time. At that, Brad comes into our holding tank and confesses that the actors are the ones having a bit of a problem with us on set. And it's an understandable concern.
To appease our weary gang, prop master Billy D'Ambra is brought into the room with a locked briefcase containing Freddy's prized glove. It has been updated, but remains classic in its look and feel. Just as Jason's hockey mask didn't stray too far off the charts in terms of aesthetic. It's a leather glove, but gone are the straight razors, replaced by sturdier blades of steel. Its worn and blackened, and quite grizzly. The biggest thrill comes when it is passed around the table. Everyone in attendance is allowed to try it on for size. This display is followed up with a stack of conceptual drawings that show the many proposed incarnations the glove evolved through to arrive here, back at its original starting point. It was considered, at one point, to even have the claw actually growing out of Freddy's fingers as an organic extension of his nightmare self. D'Ambra took us through the design process, revealing that there are four different gloves all made out of different materials. The one we were seeing had real metal blades, and it was being used for most of the shooting process.
Soon after the glove presentation, Fuller and Form arrived together to chat about the shooting we'd seen earlier in the day, and the film itself. Brad jumped straight into the legality of securing Krueger's legendary mythos for this particular remake, "It was definitely one that we pursued for a couple years. New Line thinks of this as their Batman. Freddie Kruger is very important to them, obviously. We were trying to get these rights before Friday the 13th. Feet were dragging for a long time. It really wasn't until that film was done and in the can that they felt positive about it. That they finally decided "Yeah, let's go with these guys." But it was torturous. The only time its been easy for us with rights was with The Amityville Horror. MGM owned it, nobody cared, and no one cared about horror at that point. That was an easy hand off because that property wasn't earning any revenue for them. Every other time it feels like we're struggling. When we started negotiating, New Line was a wholly owned operation. When the whole Bob Shay thing went down, the brakes came out and we couldn't do anything on this for about six months."
The most important question poised to the Platinum Dunes duo seemed to be, "Why?" Being fans, why would they want to accept the challenge of revamping a property as iconic as A Nightmare on Elm Street? "We all love Freddy Kruger. We've always talked about it. We wanted it. And we begged for it. We try to hire very visual directors to make our films. And make them look a certain way. The dreams have always been very enticing to us. Certainly with a visual director you put that in the hands of someone who can do something amazing, and it heightens what that movie is. For us it was always about finding the right guy. Someone who can make those dreams feel amazing and visually. More so than anything seen in that original film." Andrew added, "This one's more like Chainsaw. It's not like Friday the 13th where we picked through a whole bunch of movies to make it. I think this one holds truer to the original Wes Craven film. We went off the same general story and made some changes to it."
Fuller and Form don't want their Freddy falling into the same trap that Robert Englund's version succumbed to as far as the jokey nature of the past few movies, "He wasn't that way in the first couple. That's what we're sticking to. We've never been attracted to a joke telling antagonist. Because it feels less scary and less real. Freddie Kruger looks very different. He looks like a real burn victim. That's what's important to us. He's not witty. He's a fucked up guy." Will the occasional joke sneak its way in? "There's stuff in there. But the jokes are never with Freddie, necessarily. We heard one a few nights ago out of him. But it's not what you're thinking. When you say a joke, it's not what you're thinking at all. It's not like, 'Are you ready for primetime?' He doesn't say stuff like that, but he definitely screws with the kids."
Having just come off the success of Friday the 13th, were there any lessons learned about retooling an iconic slasher for today's audiences? "Yes," Joked Brad, "There will be no nudity in this movie." Andrew was quick to discuss the differences between the two films, "The tone of this is so different from Friday. It's darker. Friday the 13th was really fun. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll. A Nightmare movie is not that. We knew going in that the tone for this film would be much different than a Friday the 13th film. You're dealing with themes that are pretty horrible. Freddy's back-story is very dark. You have a five-year-old girl with scratch marks on her back. There's a lot of that in this movie. Its disturbing."
One of the most polarizing aspects of this retooled version amongst fans is Krueger's new look. How did Fuller and Form arrive at such a gruesome and realistic take on the character? Andrew explains, "We had reference photos that we went off of. We started with a bunch of pictures. Then it was a matter of how far we wanted to go. Even with the skin color of a burn victim, you have to look at how white the face looks and the pigmentation. We could have gone too far. Where you wouldn't even be able to look at Freddy. You'd turn away when he came on screen. We actually had to dial it back after we did some tests." Brad didn't want Krueger looking like a full-blown burn victim, "It's just so grizzly, it's hard to look at. It still is. We tried to do little things. We wanted to make it so you could see Jackie's eyes a little bit better. Some of the earlier versions had the skin so burnt; you couldn't really see his eyes. You couldn't see him emoting. We did some work with that. We had to make tough choices, like: Does he have eyelids or no eyelids? Ears or no ears. We did pull back a little bit in terms of what we were doing. We didn't want the audience to stop and think about it. But, we certainly wanted to push what they did in the original because we have better materials now then they did back then."
Another important aspect in discussing the character of Freddy is his backstory and the rumor that he won't be the full-blown child-molesting killer that we've all come to know and love. That his mythology is being deconstructed for a more PC age. That Krueger is now being presented as a hero of sorts. Fuller didn't mind taking these rumors on head first, "I'll say this: We're starting over from the very beginning. When parents are confronted with the notion that their child may or may not have been molested, that's an interesting part of the story for us. As you saw in the scene that we just shot, a kid can't really say yes or no. Or 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 on the molestation. And that makes it different and more horrifying. You don't want to make a child molester sympathetic, certainly. It's a big story point. It's hard for me to just talk about it. I don't know if I want to be that open about what this is. I'd rather you guys see it, because that does give away some things. Both in the way you're thinking, and in other ways too. I want the journey for the viewers to be a little bit different."
What about the dream sequences? How are those being approached, and how different will they be from those seen in the original series? Fuller explained, "Our dreams are much closer to the first film than anything else. Again, these sets are dreary. There's not a sense of wonder or fun in any way shape or form. That's not the story we wanted to tell, and that's not what New Line was looking for. These nightmares are truly nightmares. That's one of the things Sam Bayer is so great about. We all have nightmares, but it's a difficult thing to communicate what they feel like. That's what Sam is really doing an amazing job on. I've had nightmares that feel this horrible. He's bringing that to film, which is a really hard thing to do."
On a break from shooting, Jackie Earle Haley decided to give us a little face time, arriving amongst us in full Freddy Make-up. His face proves to be as ghastly as rumored. A few green dots pockmark his head for later CGI manipulation. He is hard to take in the flesh, his hands burnt and his fingertips melted. He is the true embodiment of a boogeyman. He is a monster. And a killer. It's a little hard for Haley to shake the character while seated in front of our digital recorders. For the duration of our group interview, his mind seems to be elsewhere. When asked how he is doing, Jackie replies, "I don't know." He then goes on to comment about the make-up, "I'm still trying to figure this stuff out. It's torturous for me. It means a long time in the chair. Wearing this stuff? My ears are killing me. It pulls down on the back of my neck. I have to eat Advil. At the same time, it's kind of odd. I'm wondering if I can even like play this character if the make-up wasn't on. I reach this point where it starts to become the character. They throw in contact lenses. They're huge, so it's like scratching your eyes out. You can barely see out of one. It's a trip. It's oddly encumbering and oddly empowering at the same time. It's like I've got fingertips glued on, then they put the glove on so I can't tie my shoes. I can't pee. It's just a trip."
Did anyone warn him about the process before he accepted the role? "Nobody really warned me about what to expect. You kind of have an idea. My biggest experience with this is just sympathizing more and more with Jeffery Dean Morgan. So much of what he said? I'm living it. When he'd come out of that trailer as The Comedian, he was just ready to fucking kill somebody. It's like the best Freddy research and motivational shit I could do is sit in that torturous chair for 3-1/2 hours. I'm pretty ready to throw the glove on and start slicing just about anybody when I come out of there." Haley is asked about Ronnie J. McGorvey, the child molester he played in 2006's Little Children, and how the experience here might be similar. His quick response is, "I'm sorry?"
The actor is taken back, as it seems ridiculous to compare the two fictional entities to each other. But maybe playing McGorvey allowed Jackie a certain perspective into the Freddy Krueger archetype. Did it allow him a certain amount of pathos when dealing with Krueger's inner demons? "This version of Freddy is less campy. We're focusing more on his dark side. Here, he has more of a serious side. We find out who this guy is. It's a deeper look at him as a person. At the same time, with my research, I really started to delve into serial killers. I was looking at all this stuff. I found information on Ed Kemper. They did a movie on him. I went to it and I'm looking at it. It's a total slasher movie. It pissed me off. That's when I realized I'm playing a boogeyman. That's what I'm really trying to embrace. At the same time, I want to find out what makes this particular boogeyman tick. There is room to look at his past. To see what's happened and to see what makes him who he is. To see what's made him the boogey-man that he has become. It's really important that Robert Englund and New Line have done such a fine job over the years in creating this world and this character. It's fun to re-envision and do that again. At the same time, we need to remain true to who Freddy is and what the franchise represents. It's neat to get to re-envision it. At the same time, you don't want to go so far that it's no longer cool and bitchin'. I've never been a big horror genre fan. I did go see Nightmare on Elm Street in the theatres. And I dug it. I thought it was cool. Just the concept of it. Also the idea that there was one of these films in the genre that had a little depth to it. Freddy was always my favorite of that group of classic monsters, you know? Meaning Jason, Michael Myers and all of those guys."
Humanizing the character has made Freddy a bit more frightening to Haley, "When you get a sense of what makes him tick, you realize that that clock is ticking out of whack. That's scary. That scares me in this world. When you run across people that seem to be tracking on a different cord and something's up. To me, that seems even more horrifying. When it's not making any real sense. But it makes sense to him. That's what's truly terrifying about it. I'm a compartmental actor. This really throws me for a loop, sitting with you guys. It's cool, but I'm so in the middle of it. There's a process. In terms of posture and voice. It's not about sitting down and trying out voices. It's when you're not thinking about it, all of a sudden stuff bubbles up. I strongly believe in 'thinkubation'. I recently went and saw John Cleese's college tour where he's going around talking about creativity. He talks about the subconscious mind. The conscious mind is but a mere oil slick on the top of your brain. So much of our creativity bubbles and pops up from this. That's a creative idea. The process for me is making sure I'm feeding that conscious level, giving it time for the subconscious to brew. I don't know if that makes any sense or if I sound like a madman."
With the pain that comes from the make-up, did Jackie feel apprehensive about signing on for future sequels? "A little bit. I definitely had to think about it. It all boiled down to: How do you not play Freddy Krueger? You know what I mean? It's such a cool project. Such an iconic character and such a cool challenge. Clearly I wasn't thinking about all this shit glued to my head, but, yeah, it was too cool to not do, man!" Is he afraid of the fans response to seeing him in this? "Sure. Yeah. I think it would be kind of unhealthy if I wasn't. We're re-envisioning this thing. Robert Englund's done an amazing job over the years playing Freddy. Everybody loves Robert. That's a challenge when you've got to step into a big man's shoes like that. It's scary. But it's also exciting. You can't please everybody. All I can do is work from the heart and do the best job at playing Freddy that I can and hope for the best."
With that Jackie was called back to the set. And we were left to wait. And we're still waiting to see how all of this turns out. Is Platinum Dunes' A Nightmare on Elm Street another horror neo-classic in the waiting? Or is going to be debated by fans for years to come? This question will be answered when the film hits screens nationwide on April 30th, 2010. Until then, all we can do is hope for the best.