A Nightmare on Elm Street SET VISIT
Adam Frazier visits Springwood’s most infamous street
”Sleep, those little slices of death; Oh how I loathe them.” – Edger Allan Poe
Director Samuel Bayer makes his feature film debut with Platinum Dunes’ new twist on Wes Craven’s 1984 classic, ”A Nightmare On Elm Street.” Bayer, who has directed music videos for Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, Metallica, Green Day and The Rolling Stones, is bringing his signature visionary style to one of the most beloved horror franchises of all time.
On Thursday, June 25th, 2009, I had a chance to visit the set of Platinum Dunes’ latest film, ”A Nightmare on Elm Street.” What follows is an odyssey into the darkest corners of the human psyche – where the line between nightmares and waking life blur to an indiscernible plane.
”Welcome to prime time, bitch!” – Freddy Krueger
Upon entering the Chicago set, my eyes find a clothes rack filled with dozens of red-and-green striped sweaters. There is a collection of dusty fedoras and black carpenter pants hanging nearby. Out of the corner of my eye I see a trailer filled with props, including dead dog carcasses in every stage of decomposition. I am taken on a tour of one of the film’s primary sets, a sort-of gateway between the real world and Krueger’s dream realm.
In the corner there’s a stack of multi-colored plastic chairs. Blue, green, yellow, red – the once cheerful hues have dulled with years of dust and grime. The fluorescent green walls have aged to the kind of muddy olive green reserved for swamps and coloring book images of ”The Creature of the Black Lagoon.”
I’m in the basement of a preschool. There are construction paper cut-outs decorating the walls and lockers – little pink umbrellas, neon-splashed rainbows. Production Designer Patrick Lumb has certainly perfected the art of creating nightmares. This basement set is the antithesis of a stroll through childhood’s warm nostalgia. Things that were once colorful and filled with joy have been twisted and turned cold.
There are crates and storage containers in every alcove and crevice of this basement, filled with miscellaneous mechanical parts. I cautiously lean over and peer into one of these crates to discover what appears to be a lawnmower component – still covered in grease. There is a workbench that takes center stage, littered with rivets and copper plates – bits of leather and cutting tools.
This is the office of preschool custodian Fred Krueger. This is where he brings the kids. This set, a crypt-like basement under the floorboards of an otherwise cheerful preschool, is the birth of true, inescapable horror. The reoccurring visions that torment the children of Elm Street are abruptly and viciously brought to an end in this very room.
Propery Master William Dambra produces an attache case that houses Krueger’s weapon of choice. Instead of a solid copper plate on top of the hand, there are individual ”veins” running from the cuff of the gardener’s glove to the copper joints – which give the weapon a more skeletal, organic feel. The pinky claw is significantly shorter in relation to the other three finger blades; making the glove more an extension of the monster’s gnarled and burned fingers than a murderous accessory.
”I was tellin’ a friend of mine,” starts Dambra. ”I said you know, I know next Halloween, I have small children and I’ll be taking them to the store to get a Halloween costume and some guy, some little kid is gunna [sic] buy that, and I’m gunna [sic] say, ‘Hey buddy I made that’. Yeah right buddy, yeah right.”
Dambra hands me the glove, which is all steel and copper. It weighs roughly four pounds or so, and I hold it with care – intimated by its power as if it were some sacred relic. I wonder what it must feel like for crime scene investigators to hold and examine the weapons of serial killers – blades and objects that have taken dozens of lives. It is a surreal moment, holding Krueger’s finger-knives, to say the least.
Makeup Artist Andrew Clement has taken Freddy’s hellacious, demonic appearance and added a layer of grime and menacing realism. Krueger’s smooth, wet flesh is reminiscent of real burn victims. One side of Krueger’s face is clearly more damaged than the other. ”I’ve always wanted to get an asymmetry going on,” says Clement. ”I think that’s really scary. You know, you see, unfortunately we did have to do some research into some tragic burn victims – and there’s a lot of asymmetry going on there – and I just think that’s interesting. A design that just makes you want to look.”
While the makeup is grotesque, seeing Jackie Earle Haley in his trailer – wearing sneakers and gym shorts – takes away from the spine-tingling horror of it all. It isn’t until I see him here on set, in full costume, that I feel this Freddy is a force to be reckoned with. Amidst the controlled chaos of Bayer’s film shoot, my senses are completely overwhelmed. There is a moment, however, when everything goes silent. The cast and crew take their places, and I am brought face-to-face with Freddy Krueger.
”He’s burned and he wears a weird hat and a red-and-green sweater, really dirty. And he uses these knives, like giant fingernails…”
Krueger’s signature fedora returns, giving the monster a certain kind of murderous chic that exudes confidence and panache. The colors of Krueger’s sweater have been dulled and darkened to match the film’s somber, horrific tone. Candy Cane Red and Christmas Tree Green have been replaced with the colors of dried blood and crocodile scales.
When asked if the classic Freddy one-liners are present in this adaptation, Production Designer Patrick Lumb is tight-lipped, but it is clear that this Fred Krueger is far from comedic. He is a monster – a predator – in every sense of the word.
Haley has carved out a niche by playing psychologically damaged, defective characters. How is Freddy Krueger different from Rorschach or Ronnie J. McGorvey? Haley says, ”I think what I was playing before was tortured souls, so I figured in this one I’d play the torturing soul.”
What separates Craven’s ”A Nightmare On Elm Street” from its slasher horror brethren is that the villain has to act – he actually has a personality. He isn’t some slow-walking mute masked man. Producer Brad Fuller is fully aware of this reality. ”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.”
In one nightmare, Krueger has disguised himself as Nancy’s boyfriend by wearing a flesh-suit. Nancy approaches as her boyfriend screams and slowly unzips himself down between the eyes, revealing Freddy’s hideous visage underneath. In this moment, I realize what Bayer’s intentions are – to create a horrific case study in audience perception. He wants all of us to question where the line between dreams and reality lies.
In taking on the role of Krueger, Jackie Earle Haley has reflected on ways of paying homage to Robert Englund’s iconic performance while creating an entirely different monster. ”I re-watched the first one and I’ve seen bits and pieces of the other ones,” Say Haley as he takes a drink from his water bottle. ”For a while I was even like, ‘Should I even watch any of it?’ Then I decided it was probably a good idea to watch the first one and I’m glad I did.”
Haley’s Krueger certainly isn’t as gleefully evil as Englund’s. ”It’s probably a little darker, a little more seriousness. There’s some of that gleefulness, but it’s a little more serious. A little more pissed.”
Haley researched what people sound like when their vocal cords have been damaged or burned in developing Fred’s voice. The result is completely unsettling and off-putting. He’s not here to make jokes – he’s not here to revel in his own creativity or celebrate the nightmare he has created. He’s pissed off, and he’s not wasting any time exacting revenge.
Mara Rooney’s take on Nancy Thompson is quite different from the original girl next door played by Heather Langenkamp. This Nancy has a Gothic twist, for the Hot Topic generation. She’s an artist, and the works she creates are a window into suppressed memories – childhood trauma so painful her mind has blocked it out completely.
Rooney remembers the first time she saw Craven’s film. “I saw it when I was 12 years old – I was at a slumber party. I remember Tina’s death just freaked me out. I had that image in my head for years, her flying across the room.”
Tina’s death has been replicated for the Platinum Dunes adaptation, however Kris, played by Katie Cassidy, has replaced Tina. The infamous bathtub scene is also in the film, but the staircase sequence is not. I’m hoping there are no blatant shots of mattresses on staircases, either.
Kyle Gallner plays Quentin, Nancy’s boyfriend. Unlike Rooney, who has very distinct memories of seeing the original, Kyle has never seen it. “Quentin is different from Glen – Johnny Depp’s character. I kind of wanted to make Quentin my own. So I will watch it when this is over, but until then I’m going to stay away from it.”
Platinum Dunes producers Brad Fuller and Andrew Form say this take on Elm Street is much more brutal and realistic than its predecessors. “I think that if we’re going to try and restart this franchise or at least bring our take to the franchise, it had to be different from what the other one was,” said Form.
“It felt like the first ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ was kind of a scary, straight ahead horror movie, and then as they went on, they became more funny. In an effort to differentiate ours from what it had become, we wanted ours to feel much more real.”
Time will tell if this realistic, straight-ahead approach will pay off for Fuller and Form. I imagine it will be incredibly difficult for the masses to accept an Elm Street film without Robert Englund as the wisecracking slayer of teenagers – but with Hollywood’s latest trend of making every profitable franchise dark and brooding, there’s hope for a whole new set of nightmares.
For more “A Nightmare On Elm Street” news, check out my roundtable interviews with (Note : will be updated with links as they’re posted):
Makeup Artist Andrew Clement
Thanks to: Cynthia Raza, Orna Pickens, Alicia Leung, Patrick Lumb, William Dambra, Andrew Clement, Samuel Bayer, Jackie Earle Haley, Rooney Mara, Kyle Gallner, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller, Warner Bros., Platinum Dunes.