Film> 2010> April> "A Nightmare on Elm Street"> Production
WELCOME TO YOUR NEW NIGHTMARE
JACKIE EARLE HALEY as Freddy Krueger in New Line Cinema's horror film, "A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Courtesy of New Line Cinema
One, two, Freddy's coming for you...
"A Nightmare on Elm Street" is a reinvention of the seminal 1984 horror classic that unleashed Freddy Krueger upon the nightmares of a generation of fans. Now, a new Freddy Krueger, embodied by Oscar nominee Jackie Earle Haley, is born.
Welcome to your new nightmare.
"Freddy Krueger is the mythical boogeyman," says Haley, who breathes new life into Freddy Krueger in "A Nightmare on Elm Street." "He's everyone's worst nightmare... the character in the campfire story."
"Real horror, when you think about it, relates to things on a very human level," notes Samuel Bayer, the acclaimed commercial and music video director who makes his feature film debut with "A Nightmare on Elm Street." "And we all dream; it's universal."
"To me, the most terrifying aspect of Freddy Krueger is that he comes to kill you in your sleep, when you're at your most defenseless," says producer Michael Bay. "In your dreams, there's nowhere to hide. You can't escape, and he won't stop until you either die or wake up. He provokes fears we all have."
Producer Brad Fuller attests, "In watching horror movies, you often wonder how people can put themselves in such dangerous situation, but the thing with 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' is that no one can stay awake forever."
"Freddy's got nothing but time," adds producer Andrew Form. "All he has to do is wait, and eventually you'll end up in his world."
Wes Craven wrote the original "A Nightmare on Elm Street" after he became inspired by a series of newspaper articles about children who had suffered through a war and died from the power of their recurring nightmares. Released in 1984, the initial low-budget film, which starred Robert Englund as Freddy, became an international sensation for New Line Cinema--affectionately called "The House That Freddy Built"--and spawned a number of sequels.
Now, more than two decades later, Bay, Form and Fuller, whose Platinum Dunes production company has created a niche for reimagining classic horror properties, felt the time was right to unleash Freddy on a new generation of fans. "Growing up, I always felt that if I died in my dreams I would actually die, and that didn't come from hearing it on the news; that came from seeing the 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' movies," Form says. "They scared the hell out of me as a child."
Director Samuel Bayer has proven his ability to blur the lines between the real and the unreal and in him the producers saw the ideal sensibility for creating the ultimate nightmare. Form asserts, "Sam has created some of the most enduring images in his video and commercial work, and we were excited to pair him with this story."
Screenwriters Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer used Craven's 1984 film as a blueprint but evolved the ideas further as they explored the psychologically resonant elements of the character of Freddy Krueger. "Trying to write Freddy in a fresh way led me back to the Pied Piper, who'd punished a town by taking away its children," says Strick. "When I learned the term 'pied' meant 'stripes of contrasting colors,' just like Freddy's famous sweater, it felt like a sign that I was on the right track--making Krueger even scarier by painting him as a righteous avenger, a dimensional villain who's complex and more human and who may have been falsely accused."
Freddy's home turf--where he is in total control--is the world of sleep and dreams. Bayer offers, "Through the centuries, people have tried to figure out their own psyches and why they dream, and why some people fear sleep. At some time in life, we've all tried to stay awake for something. We know what it feels like when you get tired and your eyes just can't stay open. Usually it just means you fall asleep, but in this movie, you could actually die."
Heisserer found that research into this phenomenon uncovered an inescapable fact about sleep: after enough days without it, the brain shuts down to automatically recharge. Even as the teens of Elm Street resort to questionable methods in order to stay awake--from chugging energy drinks to downing prescription psychostimulants--without their knowledge they slip into a micro-sleep state.
"Micro-sleep causes you to fall asleep even for a few moments at a time," Heisserer explains. "Even though you're still conscious and awake, part of your brain is asleep. So, that phenomenon allows Freddy to get at the characters in the story even when they're awake...no matter where they are."
A NEW FREDDY KRUEGER IS BORN
Three, four, better lock the door...
With a charred, disfigured face, an unforgettable voice, and a wicked sense of humor, Freddy Krueger is both a physical and psychological predator as he invades the dreams of suburban teenagers and kills them in their sleep. The sense of palpable danger and genuine horror rests in the embodiment of the monster at the film's core: Freddy Krueger, played by Jackie Earle Haley.
Haley recalls that fans of the original "Nightmare" filled the internet with speculation about him portraying Freddy after the project was announced. "My immediate reaction was, 'That's kind of cool!' And then when the producers called and actually offered me the role, I was pretty flabbergasted. It's such an amazing, iconic character. It was just an absolute honor to be offered the role of Freddy."
"Jackie embodied everything that we wanted for this role," states Fuller. "The fans were aware of him, and he's a brilliant actor. We knew we wanted to make a seriously scary movie, and it would be impossible to tell this story without an actor of Jackie's caliber. We're not trying to replicate what was done in the past. Jackie made Freddy Krueger his own."
Haley plunged into the mythical aspects of the character to internalize what it was about him that resonated so universally. "Getting to play Freddy was exciting and challenging because, as this mythical boogeyman that we all love to be frightened by, there's a lot that makes him tick," the actor says. "It's fascinating that what's scary on screen has triggers in outside life, and Freddy encompasses so much of what terrifies us."
Haley also credits his predecessor, Robert Englund, for giving the role such power and wicked humor. "It was a very cool process for me, trying to figure out how to make Freddy my own," Haley reveals. "Robert did an amazing job portraying Freddy over the years. He made him who he is. What we're doing with Freddy with this new approach is still trying to be true to those things that fill him with rage, and the specifics that make him the malevolent villain that he is. But I think we're trying to capture him in a new that's darker, and a little bit more serious, less jokey and, hopefully, more scary."
Bayer has nothing but praise for Haley's work. "This is definitely Jackie's take. He created a character that you're going to hate and be scared of, but, at the same time, you're going to have empathy for him--it's all what Jackie brought to it."
At the suggestion of the filmmakers, Haley researched serial killers in preparation for the role, but ultimately chose to take Freddy out of the realm of fact and into the realm of myth. "I realized I wasn't playing a serial killer," he affirms. "I wanted to be true to who Freddy Krueger is and yet still bring a little bit of realism to his back story and what it was that turned him into this."
THE RESIDENTS OF ELM STREET
Five, six, grab your crucifix...
Standing in stark contrast to Freddy Krueger is the small coterie of teenagers who become his quarry. In casting the young people who are caught in Freddy's web of nightmares and deceit, the filmmakers set out to find fresh faces that would bring authenticity to their experience.
One of the first to be cast was newcomer Rooney Mara in the central role of Nancy, an introspective artist who works as a waitress at the diner where the other kids hang out. In some ways the most avidly pursued by Freddy, she becomes their best hope for stopping him and breaking the cycle of murders.
"Sam likes to describe Nancy as the loneliest girl in the world," says Mara, who emphasizes that, though they share the same name, her Nancy is very different from the Nancy played by Heather Langenkamp in the 1984 film. "My character keeps to herself; she's socially awkward and timid and really doesn't know how to connect with people. Even as a child, she was probably a little bit different than the other kids, which draws Freddy to her in a perverse way."
As the nightmare killer begins to stalk Nancy and some of her high school friends, she detects unseen connections between them and identifies the same touchstones--the bladed glove, the sinister voice, the scarred face--in their increasingly violent dreams. In trying to understand the very real danger of the man that is hunting them, Nancy is forced out of her shell. "Throughout the movie you see her grow," Mara asserts. "She forms a connection with Quentin and learns how to open up and reach out to people. As their situation gets worse, you see what Nancy is made of. She really becomes a strong woman."
"Rooney has something that is absolutely special," Bayer states. "The camera loves her, and she has a really introspective quality. I think she's a great heroine; I really love her."
Quentin, who forms a tentative connection with Nancy as their situation grows more dire, is played by Kyle Gallner, who notes that his character stays awake with the help of pharmaceuticals. "He pops Adderall, and he steals adrenaline from the hospital," Gallner relates. "He's a mess, more jittery and a more 'out there' than Nancy is. She's genuinely tired, while Quentin is irritable and strung out on top of that."
Gallner feels the characters move toward strength as their encounters with Freddy accelerate. "They're not like lambs sent to the slaughter," he observes. "They're actually people dealing with their problems who just happen to have this other very big problem thrown into their lap. You want these kids to get through this and win."
Fuller comments, "Kyle is compassionate and smart and brought so much humanity and relatability to Quentin."
Katie Cassidy plays Kris, a beautiful and outgoing blonde who comes to suspect that something much more bizarre is happening than merely random dreams. "Emotionally, Kris is run through the entire gamut in this film," Cassidy offers. "She is literally dragged through hell, having to crawl through dark, claustrophobic tunnels. She's always crying and freaking out as her nightmares of Freddy bleed into her everyday life. Kris suspects there's something that connects her with the others; she even confronts her mother about it, but no one's talking."
Kellan Lutz plays Dean, Kris's new boyfriend, who is the first to put the others on alert about Freddy. "He's a character who you can tell has a lot of issues just by looking at him," says the actor. "He's extremely disturbed by the dreams and determined not to go to sleep, so he's on pills to stay awake. He comes to this diner to drink coffee with the hope he won't fall asleep, but ends up falling into a dreamlike state and has a terrifying encounter with Freddy."
Thomas Dekker plays Jesse, Kris's brooding ex-boyfriend, who is in many ways blindsided by Freddy's intrusion into their lives. "Jesse kind of knows what's going on but refuses to believe it," Dekker says. "He goes to great lengths to try and stay awake; he cries and talks to himself. He just has no way of coping with a threat that he thinks can't possibly be real. By the time Jesse comes face to face with Freddy, he's just a mess. There's no bravado about it. His terror is very real."
One thing that becomes clear to all of them is that Freddy Krueger is connected to something that happened when they were children. But the only people that could give them insight are not talking.
The parents of the Elm Street kids are played by veteran actor Clancy Brown as Quentin's dad, Alan, a guidance counselor at Springwood High School; Connie Britton as Nancy's mom, Gwen, a doctor; and Lia Mortenson as Kris's mom, Nora, a flight attendant.
DESIGNING THE NIGHTMARE
Seven, eight, gonna stay up late...
Essential to the mythology of "A Nightmare on Elm Street" are a number of indelible hallmarks from the original film that Bayer wanted to incorporate while creating an all new vision of Elm Street.
Freddy himself informs the world into which he draws his victims. Having died a violent death after being set ablaze, Fred Krueger, a mild-mannered gardener and caretaker at Badham Preschool, transforms into Freddy Krueger, the stalker of dreams.
To create the film's central image--Freddy's disfigured face--the filmmakers began with the reality of burn victims and took it into the realm of nightmares. Fuller remembers hours of discussion about what would be the scariest skin texture, and describes what they ultimately chose as "profoundly disturbing."
Once the design was in place, the filmmakers turned to veteran special effects makeup artist and designer Andrew Clement. "I wanted this to be textural and real," Clement reveals. "And, in keeping with horror makeup traditions, we really went for a terrifying, macabre design."
"Freddy now has a bit of a different look that's grounded more in reality," Haley observes. "Though his burned skin is very realistic, at the same time they put in undertones of a boogeyman on top of that, so he does not look anything like an actual burn victim. Andrew absolutely nailed the design."
For Haley, having hours every day to study himself in the mirror became part of his process for finding his way into the psyche of Freddy Krueger. "There's something about the process of building a character that I really find in working with the makeup, wardrobe and hair people," he says. "Looking in the mirror, it can become very motivating in the portrayal of the character. You start to get a sense of a whole other entity. It's very informative in playing the guy."
Prior to filming, a silicone life mask of Haley's head was molded so Clement could sculpt and modify Freddy's face. Early in production, the actor would sit in the makeup chair for up to six hours as Clement and his collaborator, Bart Mixon, adhered the layers of makeup appliances to Haley's head, neck and hands, with acrylic or silicone base materials, but once the rhythm became routine, the makeup time was cut in half. In addition, the makeup team needed to have a new set of appliances for each day's filming, and each piece had to be painted the afternoon before filming, a process that took up to eight hours every day.
In addition to all the on-set physical makeup effects, at times visual effects were incorporated to embellish the damage to Freddy Krueger's face, but in a subtle way. "We incorporated some digital green paint to Freddy's cheek that allowed Method, the visual effects company, the ability to create depth that could not be done with prosthetics alone," explains executive producer Mike Drake.
Beyond the face are Freddy's trademark torn red and green striped wool sweater and battered fedora. The process of creating these pieces began with the screenplay. "We looked at all of the things that we knew about him just on the surface and tried to find a deeper mythology, a deeper reason for why they become so such an indelible part of Freddy," says screenwriter Heisserer. "Why the fedora? Why the sweater? Why the glove? And in looking at that and placing him as a caretaker at a preschool, furthermore a gardener, we applied some base logic to why he became the character he is now. The gardening hand claws that he used in the landscaping of the preschool suddenly turned into the glove and blades."
Creating the pieces was costume designer Mari-An Ceo, who is a veteran of previous Platinum Dunes titles "Friday the 13th" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning." "I wanted to do the 'Big Three,' and since I'd already done Jason and Leatherface, I figure that now, with Freddy, I've got the three horror jewels," Ceo smiles.
Ceo says that the mandate for the new "A Nightmare on Elm Street" was to create something that was at once fresh and familiar. "We decided to stay true to the fan base and what had already been created. I don't know how many people know this, but the red and green are two colors that, optically, the brain can't register properly. So that was something we took into consideration when designing the sweater."
Director of photography Jeff Cutter recalls, "Mari-An, Sam and I must have tested eight different sweaters under multiple lightings to pick the perfect one for the movie. It's surprising how dark the sweater is and how much more light we needed than we thought we would."
To fabricate Freddy's sweater, Ceo brought on Judy Graham, who actually knitted the original sweater worn by Robert Englund in Craven's 1984 film. "Judy has done work for me before," Ceo, relates, "but I hadn't realized she did the original Freddy sweater. So, we brought Judy back and she was meticulous and fabulous. It was great."
Ceo worked likewise closely with Haley and Bayer to find the perfect fedora. They chose a brown beaver fedora from Chicago's Optimo Fine Hats, which was then redesigned and aged to give the hat its battered look. "The hat went through a lot of changes. It was definitely an evolving process," Ceo notes.
Perhaps the most striking accoutrement of Freddy is his four-bladed glove, with which he leaves his signature mark of four bloody slashes upon his victims. "A Nightmare on Elm Street" prop master, William Dambra, oversaw the lengthy process of creating the glove--a standard gardening glove fitted with a set of four razor-sharp blades welded onto the back of the hand--working in collaboration with the filmmakers and production designer Patrick Lumb.
"It took us three or four weeks of picking apart drawings until we finally came up with a final concept," says Dambra, the Chicago native who had previously worked with Platinum Dunes on "The Unborn."
Utilizing the final illustration and molds made from Haley's right hand, different versions of the glove were then hand-fabricated by the special effects department rigger and welder Joe Mack, who hammered and welded them out of brass, copper and hardened steel. Several versions were assembled, including a rubber model for close-up stunt slashing work, one that sparked, and Freddy's "hero glove," all with blades ranging from five to seven-and-a-half inches.
Mack details, "Knowing that this is a glove that Krueger would have made, I made each individual piece hand cut and jagged, so that it looks like it was done in a garage." Mack says that each of Freddy's hero gloves are comprised of 39 individual handmade pieces.
"The guys did a great job on the glove," states Haley, who had to undergo multiple fittings over several weeks of all the wardrobe pieces in the film before everything fit perfectly. "There were a lot of times on set where I had to be very careful not to get it too close to the other actors or to fall on it."
For the Elm Street kids, Ceo had fun creating new looks while also paying homage to the original film. Katie Cassidy's character, Kris, for example, wears a T-shirt that marks one of the nods to the earlier film. "Johnny Depp began his career in the original 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' and he had the fabulous cut-off football '10' jersey on, so we did this modern version of it for Katie Cassidy," says the costume designer.
For the character of Nancy, who is an artist, Ceo had her wear clothes that she could have made herself.
A NEW ELM STREET
Nine, ten, never sleep again...
Working with production designer Patrick Lumb, Bayer sought to use the locations to create a familiar suburban world so safe that Freddy's intrusion is all the more jarring. By contrast, Freddy's world was in part inspired by the dark, fantastical paintings of late 18th/early 19th-century Spanish artist Francisco Goya. "What we tried to do was to base the dream world on the real world, and craft rich and exciting transitions between them," Lumb states. "Working on dreamscapes and inventing a world around Freddy was one of the great joys of this project for me."
The filmmakers found their classic Midwestern town in Chicago, Illinois, and surrounding suburbs, as well as neighboring Gary, Indiana.
With all the principal characters being students at Springwood High School, the production utilized two local high schools: John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, a northwest suburb of Chicago, for interiors; and Elk Grove High School in nearby Elk Grove Village, for exteriors and establishing shots.
The filmmakers shot during school hours, and enlisted hundreds of students and teachers to become background extras for the various sequences shot at the high schools.
In addition to exteriors, Elk Grove also offered a cavernous indoor swimming pool, where Quentin is a swim team member of the Springwood Mustangs, with his fellow swim team members being played by Elk Grove's water polo and swim teams.
The second week of filming took place entirely in the historic neighborhood of Jewel Park, a circa 1920s upper middle class suburb in the village of Barrington, Illinois. Linden Road, a winding street lined with large two-story homes, portrays the film's iconic Elm Street, where Nancy and Kris's homes are located across the street from each other. In homage to the original "A Nightmare on Elm Street," Nancy's home was numbered 1428 Elm Street, the same address Nancy had in the original.
One of the most cinematic and creepy locations was the historic City Methodist Church in Gary, Indiana, an abandoned nine-story tall English gothic church, which now sits in picturesque ruins. This became the setting for one of Quentin's encounters with Freddy Krueger.
Freddy's most personal space is the steamy, fiery boiler room, a specter of the "A Nightmare on Elm Street" mythology. These sequences were filmed over four nights at a power station in South Chicago. The multi-level industrial facility was outfitted by the film's art and special effects departments to feature vintage boiler room equipment as well as steaming pipes, smoke, fire, dripping water, and big chains where Freddy could hang his victims.
The production also utilized the historic former ACME Steel plant (now the Beemsterboer Steel Plant) and nearby training center in Chicago, which the art department transformed into the Badham preschool, where Fred Krueger worked as a caretaker 15 years earlier. "The steel plant was very industrial and down and out, but it was perfect for us," Lumb remarks. "We did an extensive amount of work on the exterior and the interior. The classrooms were all fabricated from the doors, to the color on the walls, to the flooring, and everything else. One of the nice things about the preschool set is you feel a little bit enclosed. It's kind of ominous in a way because it's similar to a jail cell, but at the same time you can 'friendly it up' to give the illusion of safety, even though it's anything but safe."
Other notable Chicago area locations included Bluff City Cemetery, a late 19th century gothic cemetery in Elgin; Powell's Bookstores in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood; Michael Reece Hospital in Chicago; Hawthorne Pharmacy in Cicerop; and the ultra-modern Orland Park Police Station in Orland Park, the first LEED (Leadership in Environmental Design) Gold Certified Police Station in the U.S.
Many of the film's interiors, along with some green-screen sets, were erected on two soundstages at Chicago Studio City, an independent studio and production services facility. Over the course of three weeks of filming on stage, some of the prominent sets included the charred and water-filled classroom sets from Kris's nightmare; Kris's bedroom sets; Nancy's art-filled bedroom where Freddy stretches out from the wallpaper above her bed, and the bathroom where his bladed hand emerges from under the water.
The burnt classroom and water-filled classroom sets were among Lumb's favorite, and most challenging, sets to design. For the water-logged classroom, Lumb referenced a book of photographs from the New Orleans flood from Hurricane Katrina to give these nightmarish images a solid basis in what could be.
Producer Bay credits Bayer for creating a film that seamlessly juxtaposes the physical world and the dream world that is Freddy's domain. "In many ways, they're dark mirror images of each other," he asserts. "Both are very real, very visceral, but the safety and security of this comfortable and suburban town and high school become the lie, because the dream world is where these kids have to fight for their lives. They have to believe in it completely, and the audience also has to believe in it completely. Sam did an incredible job creating this jarring dichotomy."
Bayer reflects, "It's an urban fairytale. It's what scares you. As the kids in the movie fight so hard to stay awake, the switch between the real world and the dream world happens even more quickly, so it's a ride. But we wanted to create a situation in which this nightmare scenario is grounded in truth, to the point that you wonder, 'Can someone actually kill you in your sleep?'
© 2010 Film Entertainment Magazine / EMOL.org. All rights reserved.
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