April 7, 2013

The Dream Weaver on Elm Street

Whatever you do don't fall asleep...this warning became the ad campaign created by a then small company named New Line Cinema to advertise their sleeper hit A Nightmare on Elm St. This film destined to become the ultimate metaphor for the movie going experience since as an audience we all  venture into that dream witin a dream when we go to the movies and Wes Craven took that experince to the next level by having those dreams invaded by Freddy Kruger the most iconic cinema monster since Norman Bates went a little mad back in Hitchcock's Psycho.

The actor chosen to play Freddy Robert Englund, was at the time of filming, a working actor surviving on episodic television and minor yet showy roles in films like Stay Hungry and Buster and Billie. Robert was could be intense when the part demanded however Robert always had an edge in his performances with his offbeat sense of humor. I got to know him slightly through our mutual friend Martine Beswicke. Martine was a Bond girl and a Hammer Horror Queen who like Robert was at the time doing her share of episodic Tv while waiting for that big break that for most actors never really seems to happen. Martine had first met Robert either in an acting workshop or on the set of Cover-up which they both had done during the early 80's. Martine was on somewhat of a roll as 1980 came to a close having won the lead in The Happy Hooker goes Hollywood.  Cannon Films who produced Hooker was the company to watch back then releasing mutiple titles every year. They gave Martine a Hollywood style opening night at one of the larger theaters on Hollywood Blvd and Robert was there that night to give his support. After that we would see Robert at parties and especially small gatherings of actors in and around town. By early 1984 we would all find ourselves at a mutual friends condo in West Hollywood celebrating a birthday.  I remember this party especially because Robert had just completed this film and was conflicted as to whether or not he should have bothered to do it in the first place.  Robert and I were standing out on the balcony that afternoon chatting about one thing and another when he began to tell me about this weird film he had just finished that I might really dig because it was a horror film. I was already well known for my taste in this area so he felt like I should know about this I imagine since Martine was always kidding me about knowing too much about her Hammer days.

Robert then began to tell me the story of Nightmare on Elm St and the terrible part he played of a child killer who was horribly burned by the parents of the dead children. "I don't know if this was worth all the effort since you can't really tell it's me because I am covered in a mask without much dialogue"  Robert was at that time going through a king a punk rock thing with gel in his hair and a bit of eye liner as I recall.  He did explain that he felt something was different about this Horror film while making it like they were all on to something with this concept of invading dreams and especially how these teenagers were killed while in a dreamstate.  I think I may have mentioned that it reminded me of Dreamscape a bit and what was sort of odd about that was Bruce Cohn Curtis who produced that film had just left the party as we were going outside to the balcony.  This fact kind of weighed heavy for a moment and then Robert said something like "well as long as the kids enjoy it and get frightened then I did my job".

None of us there that afternoon could have imagined just how successful Nightmare on Elm St would become earning more than 30 million during its first run. What he did for Robert was equally amazing as we watched him become the quintessential bogeyman of the 80's and beyond that to a bonifided Horror star. Robert was more than deserving of this newly found success and always handled it with grace and style.  I would see him occasually after that because Martine had begun a relationship with a handsome young man named Dimetri who  was working with Robert on completeing his home in Laguna Beach. Dimetri was a first class carpenter allowing Robert to really design his house from the ground up, ths also allowed for a lasting friendship that extended of course to Martine as well.  I was by then a memeber of the Hollywood Foreign Press and as such would run into Robert at press screnning of the various sequels of Nightmare that would continue through the 80's and beyond.

It was during one of those press parties given by the Foreign Press that I remember asking Robert how he felt about Freddy becoming such a pop icon with more one-liners than a Vegas headliner. Robert had obviously given this a great deal of thought because he was quick to point out that Freddy had orignally been a child molester in the first draft of the script and they quickly decided to drop that in favor of having him stay a killer with no sexual kink whatsoever. This was a wise move considering how much audienices would identify to Freddy Kruger as America's first surrealist horror comic. I made a comparision during this conversation with Peter Lorre's performance in Fritz Lang's M, since both characters share the guilt of murdering children and Lorre was more than capable of being very funny as well as terrifing such was his genuis as an actor. I then said to Robert can you imagine if after M came out in 1930 shocking audiences around the world what if the producers of M had decided to make more with Lorre playing this character until like Freddy he became a personality unto himself.  Robert thought for a moment and said "Well I can tell you this much it would have certainly changed Lorre's career in ways he could not have imagined"

The very last time I would see Robert or visit the Nightmare on Elm St landscape again was with the making of the 2007 Infinifilm presentation on dvd for the first Nightmare which had by then gone on to spawn six sequels and a tv series.  For this project they assembled the entire cast with Wes Craven and Robert leading the team.  I was brought in as the resident Film historian and we were all recorded at different times and then the tracks were placed in order to make for a round table like discussion of the film. It was a unique experinece to revist the events of 1984 as they occuried in that mythical town of Springwood Ohio to a group of attractive yet doomed teenagers. Freddy Kruger as he is presented in the first film is a dangerous dream weaver a demon of the mind. While Elm St represents everything safe and secure in American Life as we knew it in 1984. The role of Freddy has always been to punish those who deny him a place in that world.  A nightmare on Elm St will remain a high water mark in the evolution of the Horror genre. This is a classic retelling of the sins of the fathers brought into the modren world by a comic book styled bogyman with surrealistic imagery in the magical realm of dreams, in a very real sense we are all dream weavers where we are never really sure if we are awake or asleep it is a wonderful game regardless of which dream state we imagine we are in Freddy will still be there and surviving him is the greatest thrill of all.

1 comment:

  1. Funny that Englund didn't think much about the film before it was released. Seems to be a reoccurring theme that stars in these iconic films tend not to think much of the film before it's released. Harrison Ford (and probably the rest of the cast) thought that Star Wars was going to be some campy kids movie while they were filming it (Granted they didn't know the Special FX that were going into it), but then they're totally surprised when the film becomes a mega hit. Maybe it's a safety mechanism for actors- if the film flops, they won't be so crushed about it, compared to if they had such high hopes for it.