Why are you screaming? I haven’t even written anything yet.
It’s The RETURN month here at Nightmare on Film Street, and we’re nearing the close of our 31 day journey through the tense world of horror remakes. In the spirit of the re-do, I’ll be remaking one of my previous editions of Making a Monster. Today, I’m looking into Freddy Krueger once more, but not the Robert Englund version we covered last April. Before my introduction leads you into a micro-nap from which you cannot wake up from, let’s dive into Jackie Earle Haley’s portrayal of the infamous slasher in the 2010 remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street!
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Starting From Scratch (Get it? Scratch?)
From the start, filmmakers behind the Nightmare reboot wanted to start fresh, separating themselves from Wes Craven’s original and the multiple sequels that followed. “Instead of trying to build off of that whole franchise and continue with that same guy, you almost have to start over,” producer John Rickard mentioned in the film’s behind-the-scenes featurette. Looking to re-invent a movie character that had been on screen for over 25 years, director Samuel Bayer and crew had their perfect actor in mind from the start.
“On some level you just have to jump off a cliff, because you know fans are going to hate it.” – Producer Brad Fuller on redesigning Freddy Krueger
Jackie Earle Haley, who had portrayed a strikingly similar character in the 2006 film Little Children (minus the whole burned-up dream slasher thing), instantly became a name the crew was very excited about. Bayer revealed in an interview with Shock ‘Till You Drop what really sold them on Haley. “We got our hands on a screen test for Rorschach that he gave to Zack Snyder that was unbelievable. It blew my mind. He’s the real deal. He becomes that character. I appreciate his craft and how much he cares about what he does.” Now that the personality behind Freddy was inked to a deal, how would he look compared to the original character?
A Burned Boogeyman
Producer Brad Fuller said it best when explaining the challenges in reviving a beloved character. “On some level you just have to jump off a cliff, because you know fans are going to hate it. Initially they’re gonna hate it because it doesn’t look like their Freddy Krueger. That’s always a difficult decision to make.” Perhaps taking a page from Christopher Nolan’s rendition of Two Face in The Dark Knight, the filmmakers wanted a much more realistic look for the slasher than what had eventually become known as “pizza face Freddy.”
Special Makeup Effects Designer Andrew Clement was brought in to provide concept art, each of which was modeled to look similar to real-life burn injuries. Notably different from the original character design, Freddy’s ears and nose are missing, mirroring the first bodily casualties to severe burns. Using the technology available now that wasn’t back in the 80’s, CGI effects of burned flesh, bone, and tendons were added to the left side of his face.
“To go with a new look and new actor, screenwriter Eric Heisserer wanted to provide fans with something they had been relatively deprived of in the original franchise – Freddy’s backstory.”
Even with newer practices, Haley spent his fair share of time in the makeup trailer. “I’m going to have to steal Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s line when they asked him ‘so how did you get into the headspace of The Comedian?’ He says ‘Are you kidding? Three hours in that makeup I’d come out of that trailer wanting to kill anybody. And the same thing is true for Freddy.” The initial prep time took 6 1/2 hours to get Haley into character, and an additional full hour to be taken out of it. Fortunately, that time was brought down to 3 1/2 with the use of larger, pre-made latex pieces.
Fundamentally Altering Freddy
To go with a new look and new actor, screenwriter Eric Heisserer wanted to provide fans with something they had been relatively deprived of in the original franchise – Freddy‘s backstory. The dream monster’s new human origins began as a gardener who lived and worked at the Springwood preschool (search “zoning laws” but I digress). Accused not of murder, but instead of pedophilia, the children’s parents went the vigilante justice route and burned Krueger in an abandoned building. Elements of his work as a landscaper wove into his supernatural persona, most notably his hand-rake becoming the infamous clawed glove.
With multiple references to the story of the Pied Piper (including the sweater, “pied” = having two or more colors), we are originally led to believe that Krueger was innocent of these heinous crimes, explaining his targeting of the children later in life that falsely accused him. This was not the case for long, as Nancy and Quinten find Freddy‘s “secret cave” and all the evidence needed to prove their parents’ actions were justified.
“Perhaps predictably, audiences weren’t completely on board with this new take on Freddy Krueger.”
It’s well known within horror lore than Wes Craven originally wrote the Nightmare villain as a child murderer AND pedophile, but opted to drop the latter due to a collection of high-profile molestation cases that surfaced right around the time of the film’s production. Dropping this trait from the character fundamentally opened the door for what Robert Englund’s Freddy would become over the years, wavering back and forth between scary dream demon and stand-up comedian with more one liners than Steven Wright. Now that filmmakers added the pedophilia charge back into the story, there was little room for jokes. The dark, modern take on Freddy Krueger was complete.
Why Don’t You Sleep on It
Perhaps predictably, audiences weren’t completely on board with this new take on Freddy Krueger. Although the 2010 version of A Nightmare on Film Street grossed over $115 million at the box office, no sequels have yet to be produced from it despite Haley signing onto a three film deal. While fans and critics alike were unilaterally unsatisfied with the new look of the iconic slasher, Haley’s performance was often the subject of praise. The difficulty of retelling the story of any horror slasher is off the charts, as the eventual results of the Halloween, Friday the 13th, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacreremakes would show you. What separates Freddy from the other slashers from the aforementioned films is simple – he has a face and a personality.
“[…] what will the inevitable next Nightmare on Elm Street look like?”
Filmmakers were obviously in a lose-lose situation attempting to separate the slasher and the actor who portrayed him for eight prior films – Robert Englund. Haley did a commendable job with what was given to him, but unfortunately audiences may not be able to separate the character of Freddy Krueger from the actor that portrayed him for so long. This begs the question, what will the inevitable next Nightmare on Elm Street look like? A direct sequel to the original, similar to what Blumhouse did with Halloween? Maybe we’ll even get a direct continuation of the most well-regarded film in the series, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 : Dream Warriors! For now, all we can do is dream.
What did you think of Jackie Earle Haley’s portrayal of Freddy Krueger? Did you like the darker, crueler backstory behind the slasher, or do you prefer the more comically-based performance of Robert Englund? Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep before you tell us what you think on Nightmare on Film Street’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages! Until next time, fiends.