I think it made a lot of guys uncomfortable. Perhaps I underestimated the 'ick' factor in a certain segment of the audience.
Are you a fan of horror films? Do you have any favorites?
If you’re asking if I have a lifetime subscription to Fangoria, or a widget on my desktop counting the days until the release of the next “Saw” installment, I would have to say no. But I like good movies (and even some bad ones) in just about any genre. I usually have a sprinkling of horror in my Netflix queue – mostly based upon recommendations from a few trusted sources.
As for favorites, there are dozens – some going back to the silents like “Caligari” and “Nosferatu”. “Night of the Living Dead” is up there, as is “Village of the Damned”, “The Exorcist”, Kubrick’s version of “The Shining”, “The Last Man on Earth” – in fact just about anything with zombies in it. More recently, “Identity”, “Shaun of the Dead” (zombies again) and “Final Destination” come to mind.
So how did you get involved with Nightmare 2?
I was fortunate enough to be working at New Line Cinema at the very beginning – back when they were a struggling distribution company and just getting their feet wet in production. While working at New Line was my day job, I wrote scripts at night. Over time, I optioned a couple of stories to Bob Shaye for this fledgling production company he had in mind.
To be honest, the success of the first “Nightmare” took just about everyone by surprise – we didn’t have a wide national opening – we opened a couple of territories at a time, so it took a little while for us to realize that there could be sequel potential here.
Anyway, sometime during the release of the first one, Stanley Dudelson, the head of distribution calls me into his office. Stanley was a classic, right out of central casting with the big cigar and the bad temper. “Chaskin,” he shouts at me, “You think you could write a sequel to this piece of shit?" Seriously, that’s how it started. I wrote a story on spec, Bob Shaye liked it and they hired me.
Was it a daunting task to follow Craven's original?
I know I should probably say yes but, to be honest, not really. I mean, no more daunting than writing any screenplay. First of all, the first Nightmare hadn’t yet achieved its exalted status – Wes even balked at doing a sequel, which is why the job was open in the first place. The first Nightmare was an entertaining horror picture and my job was to write a movie that was (hopefully) at least as entertaining. And cheap to make.
Were you given any direction? Or allowed to take it in any direction you wanted?
In general, I could go where I wanted – there were plenty of notes along the way and countless rewrites but the basic story remained intact.
The film has become sort of infamous among horror fans for having homoerotic undertones. Are you aware of that, and was that something you had intended? Or was it something that happened on the directorial level?
Yes, there was certainly some intentional subtext but it was intended to play homophobic rather than homoerotic. I thought about the demographics for these types of films (young, heterosexual males) and tried to imagine what kinds of things would truly frighten them, to the core. And scary dreams that make them, even momentarily, question their own sexuality seemed like a slam dunk to me.
If you really wanted to have fun, one might argue that the entire movie is a metaphor -- Jesse is, in the end, finally able to control the monster inside him (his latent homosexuality) with the love of a good woman. Maybe they should show this film at one of those evangelical deprogramming sessions where they try to “fix” gay people into regular Americans.
That said, there were certain choices that were made (e.g., casting) that, I think, pushed the subtext to a higher level and stripped away whatever subtlety there may have been. To this day, Jack Sholder says he read no such subtext into the script. It must have been by osmosis. At any rate, he should have seen it coming – when we opened in New York, we got a rave review in The Advocate.
You mention something on your site about taking criticisms from Freddy Krueger fans... what types of things do you usually hear from fans about the sequel?
I’ve heard a few complaints that we strayed too far from the formula (i.e., bringing Freddy into the material world) and that somehow, the syntax didn’t jive with the original, although I’ve yet to hear an example that holds up to scrutiny.
Some of it, though, I think goes back to your last question – you even used the word “infamous” to describe the sexual subtext. I think it made a lot of guys uncomfortable. Perhaps I underestimated the “ick” factor in a certain segment of the audience. Perhaps it worked too well; maybe it hit a little too close to home for some of them.
How did the final product live up to your vision for the film?
Meh. There were a lot of things I would have done differently but it is what it is. Whatever its faults, there’s one aspect of the franchise where "Nightmare 2" rarely gets the credit it deserves: we gave Freddy a genuine persona. In "Nightmare 1," Freddy was little more than a boogieman who sliced up teenagers; he had very few lines and he was always shot in the shadows. "Nightmare 2" brought Freddy into the spotlight. He talked. A lot. One reviewer called him “positively chatty”. That was unusual for a horror movie villain and it carried through the rest of the series. Freddy had a personality. Freddy had a sense of humor. Freddy had panache.
Is it frustrating being a screenwriter, since your final vision rarely makes it to the screen unchanged?
Filmmaking is an incredibly collaborative process and only one person, usually the director, can have the power and the responsibility to make the final decisions that will make it all work as a piece; you can’t make movies by committee. (Well, you can but they inevitably suck). So, yeah, it can get frustrating but I made my peace with that a long time ago. If I really wanted it badly enough, I might have pursued directing. But to be honest, I don’t like getting up that early in the morning.
Was there ever any talk of having you write the sequel after yours?
Not really. After "Nightmare 2" confirmed that we had a franchise, Wes came back in as a writer and executive producer. And, at the time, I didn’t have much of a desire to do another one; I was coming off a hit film and I had other fish to fry.
Have you seen any of the films after the second? Did you enjoy any of them?
I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the third one and I’ve seen others but mostly in bits and pieces; my son was a fan of the series and every once in a while, I’d walk past the TV while he was watching one and catch a few minutes. And yeah, I can enjoy them – at least some of the set-pieces I’ve caught. And watching Robert Englund chewing up the scenery is always fun.
I saw on your site that you offer consulting services for screenwriters. What is the most common mistake that you see new screenwriters make?
The most difficult terrain to cover is usually in the second act – almost everybody has a great first act and they have a general idea of where they’d like everybody in the story to wind up at the end but the middle part is always where it gets a little hairy. And I think that’s a problem for many screenwriters, not just new ones. Otherwise, it’s usually a matter of finesse – knowing how to strike a balance between being overwrought and on-the-nose, to being so spare as to be inscrutable.
You've worked in all aspects of filmmaking, which part do you prefer?
Well, when everything works out, writing a movie that goes into production is the most fantastic high in the world; sitting in the screening room, watching the dailies, there’s nothing more thrilling than when, to paraphrase George S. Kaufman, you think you hear an actor saying one of your lines.
Any advice for aspiring screenwriters?
Develop a thick skin – you’re going to need it.
Well thanks for answering our questions, and good luck in the future!