The Platinum Dunes guys know exactly what you think of them. Since bursting onto the genre scene in 2003 with their revamped TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, the production company has released six other films; three were remakes of horror classics - AMITYVILLE HORROR, THE HITCHER, FRIDAY THE 13TH - and a fourth was a tepid prequel to TEXAS CHAINSAW. As horror lovers themselves, they feel they're pretty in tune with the genre they work in, and the fans who hold these movies dear to their hearts. They also read the internet, and are acutely aware of the harsh words spit their way. Each time a new title is announced, they incur more wrath from the very film geeks they hope to satisfy...
With A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, Platinum Dunes honchos Brad Fuller and Andrew Form put themselves in the public square once again, ready for the sticks and stones. They've updated notable titles before, but NIGHTMARE is something a little different, and its main antagonist - one Freddy Krueger - is a genuinely iconic film character (played memorably in eight films by the same man, Robert Englund).
While on the Illinois set of NIGHTMARE, the two producers sat down with myself and my journalist pals for an in-depth interview, all of us eager to talk about this new Elm Street: How is this film different from their others? What's their relationship like with Wes Craven? And perhaps most importantly, how have they altered our beloved Freddy?
Sam Bayer, Andrew Form, Jackie Earle Haley, Brad Fuller
Was this an easier experience getting through the rights and legal problems you guys faced on Friday, was it easier, having Friday at your back to convince Warner Bros. and New Line that you wanted to do NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET?
Brad Fuller: No, it definitely was not actually. This project was one that we pursued for a couple years. New Line thinks that this is like their Batman, basically, and Freddy Krueger is very important to them, obviously. I don’t think that- I mean 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. The only time it was easy for us with rights was Amityville Horror and that was just MGM owned it, nobody cared, no one cared about horror really at that point in a real way and that was just an easy hand off because that was just a property that wasn’t earning any revenue for them. Every other time it feels like we’re struggling.
Because Freddy Krueger was the guy who practically put New Line on the map.
Was this all during when Bob Shaye was on the way out? Did Bob Shaye have any say in this or…?
BF: That was kind of part of the issue... When we started negotiating, New Line was a wholly owned New Line, and then when the whole Bob Shaye went down, the brakes came out and there really wasn’t anything to do on this for about six months. And then I think that’s what happened, I suspect, and I don’t know this for a fact, Warner Bros. said to Toby Emmerich, “What kind of movies are you gonna be making? You guys do horror, so you should probably do horror.” This title was there and it was something we were down the road on. They had actually already hired Wesley Strick before we came on. So, it felt like the natural one to say “ok let’s go with that one” and I think these guys felt we did a nice job with Friday the 13th.
Why Nightmare in the first place; you guys had been pursuing for a long time so what was it about Nightmare that sort of attracted you guys in the first place?
BF: Well, we all love Freddy Krueger... we’ve always talked about it, wanted it, begged for it.
So, were there certain things that you always had imagined for this film that have made it, all the ideas from back in the day when you first started pursuing it to actually filming it right now?
BF: Well something that our company has always strived to do, is we try to hire very visual directors to make our films and make them look a certain way. And the dreams have always been very enticing to us because certainly with a visual director you put that in the hands of someone who can do something amazing visually and it heightens what that movie is. For us, it was always about finding the right guy who can make those dreams just feel amazing and visually... more than anything anyone has seen in the original films.
Do you have a preferred name for what you’d like people to call this; is it a reboot, is it a remake, is it a rehashing?
BF: We haven’t had that discussion, so in an absence of that discussion, we’re going with the same title.
But I mean in terms of how you guys want to view it. Do you want it to be thought of as a reboot or as a remake?
BF: You know the way we answer that question usually is the same thing we’ve done with the other titles we’ve been lucky enough to have where we take certain things about the original title that we liked…
Andrew Form: This one’s more like Chainsaw. It’s not like Friday the 13th where we picked from a whole bunch of movies. I think this one holds truer to the original Nightmare.
So you’re looking at this as the real events that actually happened.
BF: No, I wouldn’t say that.
You know what I mean by that?
BF: I do know what you’re getting at. That’s not really the way we’ve been looking at we just kind of went off the same general story and made some changes to it.
AF: When I say Chainsaw I mean as far as following the original.
BF: Our version of Texas Chainsaw versus the original version of Texas Chainsaw. That’s what Drew’s referring to.
AF: Right, because Friday the 13th was not a remake of the original. That was 1, 2, 3 pieces from a bunch of movies.
BF: We’re not borrowing, liberally, from all the movies to make this one. This is not going to be the best of Nightmare on Elm Street.
So you guys aren’t going to get in to that mythology of Amanda Krueger and some of the dream warrior aspects, you know... You’re not cherry picking those ideas.
BF: No, not at all.
Well that’s sort of interesting because with Friday you sort of distilled it down to what the essence of a Friday movies is. I feel like the popular conception of Freddy Krueger might be a little bit different than what you guys are going for here because Freddy Krueger, popularly, is Henny Youngman as a serial killer. He’s the one-liner, he’s a joke guy. And you’re not going that way.
BF: No, but he wasn’t that way really in the first couple and that’s what we’re sticking to. We’ve never been attracted to a jokey antagonist because... it feels less scary and less real. As you guys will see tonight, Freddy Krueger 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 fucked up guy.
Is there gonna be jokes that sneak in there?
AF: Yeah, there’s stuff in there.
BF: But the jokes are never with Freddy, necessarily.
AF: We heard one a few nights ago out of him. A little bit.
BF: Yes, but it’s not what you think. When you say a joke, it’s not what you’re thinking.
AF: It’s not like “Are you ready for primetime?” He doesn’t say stuff like that, but he definitely screws with the kids.
Are there any lessons that you have learned from the success of Friday the 13th that you’re sort of applying in terms of the tone of the film? What the audience might have an appetite for...
BF: Yes. There will be no nudity in this movie.
AF: The tone of this film is so different from Friday. Like Brad was saying, it feels…it’s darker. 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. So I think, we knew going in that the tone for this film would be much different than a Friday the 13th film.
Darker than Texas Chainsaw?
BF: It’s in a different way. You’re dealing with themes that are pretty horrible.
AF: I mean his back-story is very dark.
BF: I mean you guys saw the scene that we just shot. That’s uncomfortable having a child with their dress up and seeing that.
AF: You know, a five-year-old girl with scratch marks on her back... There’s a lot of that in this movie.
Is that something the studio worries about. Do they say shy away from getting too serious because after all it’s a fun horror movie or are they letting you just go all the way?
BF: We agree on a script. We agreed on the script long ago. I don’t think that anyone saw this characterized the way you’re characterizing it, as a fun horror movie. I would characterize Friday the 13th as a fun horror movie and when we make another one of those that’s what we’re going on for that. In this, it’s more about terrifying and unsettling and, if we’re lucky, making people have horrible nightmares. I mean that’s what the whole movies about and that’s what we’re aiming to do.
Could you guys talk seriously about Freddy’s look and where the line was? There had to have been a point when someone said, “ok that’s too much like a real person.”
AF: You’re right. 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. Even with skin color of a burn victim, how white the face looks or how much 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. So, you dial it back a little bit and we did some tests…
What was that too far? Was there like something where people just cut off?
AF: Yeah, full-blown…
BF: …burn victim. It’s just so grisly it’s hard to look at. And it still is, it’s just little things we tried to do. We wanted to make it so you could see Jackie’s eyes a little bit better. I think some of the earlier versions had the skin so burnt you couldn’t really see his eyes and you couldn't see him emoting. We did some work with that.
AF: And choices like do you have eyelids or no eyelids.
BF: Or ears.
Did having the Two-Face that they had in The Dark Knight in a PG-13 movie, did that kind of up the ante for you?
BF: Not so much in the rating necessarily, but in terms of…we all didn’t see eye to eye on that. I thought that was pretty amazing what they did. Some people thought it was so amazing like it pulled you out of the movie because you were trying to figure out how they did it. So, we did pull back a little bit in terms of what we were doing because we didn’t want the audience to stop and think how he got that way. But we did certainly want to push what they did in the original because we have better materials.
AF: It showed us that we could take it another other step. It showed us that it doesn’t just have to be appliances on a face.
BF: And you’ll see tonight that we’re doing a tiny bit of what they did in The Dark Knight. I don’t want to give it away, so you’ll see it when you see him and you’ll understand exactly what I’m talking about.
AF: You’ll see what we’re doing to manipulate.
Freddy’s an interesting character because over time he’s one of those characters who becomes the hero of the franchise. How sympathetic do you make Freddy in this picture especially some of the rumors we’ve heard that there are questions…
BF: Let’s talk about the rumors. When you talk about the rumors, which rumors are you talking about?
That there are questions as to whether Freddy actually did anything to these kids, whether or not he was wrongfully burned and thus makes him a more sympathetic character.
BF: I’ll say this: we’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. 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.
Well, how sort of sympathetic do you go with him?
BF: Well you don’t want to make a child molester sympathetic, certainly. (laughs)
Because that’s why they skirted the child molester thing in the original. Because they wanted to sort of be sympathetic and you could sort of be on his side if he killed kids. If he did something else to kids you could never be on his side.
BF: You know it’s a big story point and it’s hard for me to just talk about. I don’t know if I want to be that open about what it is. I’d rather you guys see it, because that does give away some things; in the way you’re thinking and in other ways too and I want the journey for the viewers to be a little bit different.
In terms of the mandates that New Line set, because I mean New Line has a whole legal team that watches how Freddy is handled. I mean when Universal Studios had their Halloween Horror Nights, they actually sent a guy to see how Freddy was portrayed. Have you guys faced that on set? Were they were able to go, “Freddy can’t do this, Freddy can do that, Freddy can’t do this, he’s not allowed to do that,” so on and so forth?
AF: No, we haven’t felt anything like that. I mean, he’s pretty much doin’ what he wants.
BF: I will say this to you. New Line has been…the character is so important to them that I would say to you that we’re on our fifth week of shooting and we were making refinements on the Freddy character up till last week. Wardrobe stuff, makeup stuff; we collectively are scrutinizing it to the nth degree. It’s not coming from a legal standpoint, it’s from a quality standpoint and they’ve been all over us.
AF: From the sweater to the hat to the glove.
Have you guys changed the glove?
BF: You’ll see. It’s cool, but it’s THAT glove.
Keep your eyes peeled for Part 2 of the interview, coming soon!
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET opens on APRIL 30, 2010