You just can’t keep a good man, or murderer, down. Long before the days of one-liners and product placement, the original Freddy Krueger was a pretty dark and demonic figure. He was a child murderer hunted down by the parents of his victims and burned alive. He returned to take his vengeance by tormenting and brutally slaying his captor’s children in their nightmares as they laid helpless, tucked into their beds.
To offer a little backstory, the Krueger character was first born out of the imagination of Wes Craven, who directed the first film and later returned for New Nightmare. Craven got the idea from a series of news stories about a young man from a Southeast Asia war camp who was suffering from intense nightmares, claiming someone was stalking him while he slept. He kept himself awake for days. When he finally did drift off, the family heard screaming and thrashing. They came rushing to his room and found him stone cold dead. Krueger’s look was based on a homeless man Craven had seen out his bedroom window as a child. The man turned when he felt someone watching him and locked eyes with a terrified young Wes.
Six sequels and a battle with Jason later, Freddy was a far cry from his dark origins. After being made into dolls, appearing on children’s lunch boxes and even VJ’ing for MTV, Krueger had grown into an icon of pop culture, less monster and more comedian, spouting catch phrases and cackling like a witch as fans cheered on his next kill. At a certain point, the question became, where exactly could Freddy go next?
After a long pursuit, Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes finally acquired the rights to the next movie. Though the work of Dunes producers Brad Fuller and Andrew Form (Texas Chainsaw, Amityville, Friday the 13th) has been uneven at times, the duo admitted to a certain passion for Mr. Krueger. Their plan was to bring Freddy back to his roots. “The first Nightmare on Elm Street was a scary, straight ahead horror movie,” said Form. “As they went on, they became more funny. We wanted ours to feel much more real.”
Dunes received the usual skepticism and outcries from fanboys, but they turned heads and silenced many critics by casting Jackie Earle Haley as Krueger. “Jackie brings something else to it that audiences will respond to,” said Fuller. “The fact that we have a guy who was nominated for an Academy Award playing Freddy Krueger is very exciting to us. It feels like it elevates our movie.”
Dark Horizons was amongst a select group of press invited to the Chicago sets of Elm Street last summer. As a longtime fan of the series, I went into the warehouse with an open mind, still a bit skeptical but also quite hopeful. Casting Haley meant they were taking this movie seriously, that they were going for a darker tone and stepping back from the cheesy grandstanding Freddy has become known for.
The visit took place on day 38 of the 46 day shoot. On arrival, we are greeted by Fuller and Form. Although they have always been receptive to online press, they seem noticeably more enthusiastic than past visits I’d done for Texas Chainsaw: The Beginning and Amityville Horror. Fuller, always the salesman of the two, grins widely, telling us the production has been going very, very well.
The first scene we observe occurs towards the end of the script. Nancy (Rooney Mara) and Quentin (Kyle Gallner) have discovered the basement where Freddy first did his dirty deeds. When Mara enters the room, Gallner sits in a chair looking dazed. He starts to shake and convulse before screaming in agony.
At this late point in the story, the characters have been sleep deprived for days and no amount of caffeine or energy drink is cutting it any longer. They’ve begun to experience a phenomenon called micro-naps in which the brain slips into a dream state for seconds at a time.
“This scene is way at the end of the movie,” Mara tells press. “We’ve found the preschool that we’ve been looking for. We go into the basement. I was just in Freddy’s old bedroom. Basically at the end, there are so many micro-naps, you never know what’s real and what’s a micro-nap. What I just shot isn’t real, it’s still a part of a dream. And you’ll see that when we film the second half.”
As director Samuel Bayer commands from behind a cluster of monitors, Gallner lets out a few more screeches and howls before the director is satisfied. “I think a couple more, I would have been fried,” says Gallner. Press commend the actor on his scream queen skills. “I think it helps because it echoes through the whole building, but thank you,” Gallner says, laughing.
As the crew sets up for the following take, we head to the cast trailers outside. It’s time for the moment we’ve all been waiting for, meeting Mr. Krueger in the flesh. Up until this point, we hadn’t seen so much as a glimpse of Freddy’s new look, so we were more than a little taken aback when the slightly diminutive Jackie Earle Haley walked up to us, grinning and waving a polite hello. The detailed makeup covers his face and shoulders, though he was not yet in full costume. Instead, Freddy sported sneakers and gym clothing. Kind of hard to picture Freddy getting fit.
“It gets a little fuzzy in all of this makeup,” Haley tells press. “It gets kind of warm so hopefully I’ll make some sort of sense.”
By now you’ve probably gotten a glimpse of Krueger’s new look from the trailer and the shots of the forthcoming models and toys, but in person it is even more off-putting. Less the precise, symmetrical burns of the Robert Englund makeup, this look is that of a horribly charred burn victim. The burns are uneven, skin pulled taut and stretched out in all different directions. His ears are bent and burned, almost melted into the side of his head. The look is effective, even possibly making the observer feel a tad bit sympathetic. “It’s pretty encumbering,” says Haley. “It feels like crap when you’re sitting around, but it’s kind of oddly motivating for the character between action and cut because it’s just such a weird feeling.” Haley added that the process took about three hours and 20 minutes. Continue reading Set Visit: “A Nightmare on Elm Street”