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A ‘Nightmare’ of a Task: Writing the ‘Elm Street’ Remake

Heisserer Elm Street Interview

Three years ago, David F. Sandberg’s short film Lights Out took the internet by storm, so it was only a matter of time before Hollywood decided to turn it into a full-length feature. Luckily for us, it seems to have worked in everyone’s favor. After premiering at the Los Angeles Film Festival (read our review) to rave reviews, expectations are higher than ever for the film from the first-time director. The screenplay for Lights Out was written by Eric Heisserer, best known for co-writing the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, as well as writing the 2011 reboot of The Thing and 2011’s Final Destination 5.  Bloody Disgusting had a chance to get Heisserer on the phone to discuss the ups and downs of his career.*

*This article only features the Elm Street portion of his career, but be on the lookout for the full interview later this week!

Eric Heisserer Interview

It would be an understatement to say that the 2010 remake of Wes Craven’s 1984 classic slasher film was met with a poor reception. Directed by music video director Samuel Bayer (in his only feature film gig), A Nightmare on Elm Street has a staggeringly low 15% on Rotten Tomatoes (based on 171 reviews) and a 35 Metacritic score (based on 25 reviews). It is one of the worst received horror films to come out in the last 20 years, remake or otherwise. High expectations certainly didn’t help matters, and neither did the lack of Wes Craven’s involvement (the studio chose not to have him on board as a consultant), something that made The Hills Have Eyes and The Last House on the Left remakes better films than they had any right to be. When thinking of someone to blame when it comes to any film’s end result, the common answer would be either the director, the screenwriter, the studio or some combination of the three.

Rather than go the Friday the 13th route and develop a plot that combined elements of the first few films in the franchise, the decision was made to simply remake Craven’s original and make it scarier. An original draft of the script was written by Wesley Strick (Cape Fear, Arachnophobia), but Heisserer, without a single credit to his name, was brought in to take elements from Strick’s script and write his own. This would be the first screenplay that Heisserer would get credit for as a screenwriter. You may be wondering how a screenwriter with no credits was handed A Nightmare on Elm Street. I wondered that too.  “I was brought in on what I thought was a general meeting,” Heisserer said. “Instead of meeting a junior executive I was meeting the senior executive and one or two others at New Line.” Understandably, Heisserer thought he had done something wrong and was being brought in to be chastised. “It turned out that they had a pair of writers that they thought would work on Elm Street but they couldn’t get them out of a contract. They needed a writer very quickly and I happened to be at the right place at the right time.”

The reason New Line was in such a hurry is that “they were trying to swing as hard as they could for the 25th anniversary of the original and that meant that they wanted to see a first draft from [Heisserer] in four weeks. It was ridiculously hard.” Funnily enough, they missed the anniversary by almost six months (the original was released in early November 1984 whereas the remake was released in late April 2010). It just goes to show that sometimes focusing on quality is more important than rushing something out to make a deadline. Still, the film went on to gross $115.6 million on a $35 million production budget, so it was a success for the studio.

Remaking a film that many view to be one of the best slasher films ever made is no small feat, and with it comes an understandable amount of pressure. “I was under a lot of pressure, for sure,” Heisserer said. “I also had some fairly direct orders of the shape of that story that the producers wanted and I had to follow within those lines.” Luckily for Heisserer, he had Strick’s script to go off of and essentially had a list of what the producers wanted in the film. “This was a case where it seemed like the producers knew what they wanted and my job at that point was to try and deliver the best version of that that I could, something that I believed in.” New ideas were brought in to the film, but since this was a major release with a lot riding on it, Heisserer was essentially given a instructions on how to write the film.

Something many people may not realize is that once the script is turned in, the screenwriter doesn’t have that much of a say over what happens during the filming process unless they are also serving as producer (something we will get to in a bit). I asked Heisserer if was one thing from his screenplay that he really liked that he was disappointed didn’t make it into the final cut and he bluntly replied “Uh, just about all of it.”  I was loathe to pry too much out of him regarding the circumstances surrounding A Nightmare on Elm Street since the man still needs to be able to work in Hollywood, but I did ask at which point he knew something was awry with the film. “I was fortunate enough to get a set visit,” Heisserer said. “My first night there the location was an abandoned church and Freddy Krueger was in this monk’s robe. I began to hyperventilate because I didn’t write anything like that at all. There was no scene in a church. The director had fallen in love with this location when they were scouting for places and decided they wanted something for that and were playing around with a scene that could take place in a church.” While that must have come as a rude awakening to Heisserer, it is unfortunately the way the industry works. If inspiration strikes, the director does have a certain amount of control over the proceedings.

Eric Heisserer Interview

As depressing as it is that Heisserer didn’t have much of a say with the film, it makes sense. “I’m the baby writer. It was my first real credit and work on a studio picture. My voice carried no weight there. I had my share of ideas and there were plenty of people that supported those, but it’s definitely a group effort to get a movie made.” A group effort, indeed. But what happens when everyone involved in the making of a film has a different idea for the film? The end result, like that of A Nightmare on Elm Street can become a muddled mess. The character of Freddy Krueger is arguably the most recognizable slasher in the history of cinema, if only because he is one of the few that actually speaks. Unfortunately, Krueger had evolved in the 25 years since his introduction from a terrifying bogeyman to a wisecracking comedian. “So many people involved with the film had a different idea of Freddy Krueger,” Heisserer said. Those different idea made for a confusing end result with Jackie Earle Haley’s portrayal of the character, and the film was damaged by it in the process.

Going back to The Blame Game, Heisserer has certainly inherited a significant chuck of it (he even went so far as to thank me for not crucifying him during the interview). “Sure, I feel like I do get the blame but that’s because my name is in the credits there next to Wesley Strick,” he said. While it would be foolish to state that Heisserer shares none of the responsibility, it would be equally foolish to lay all of the blame solely on him. This was a group effort, and thus it was a group failure.

One tidbit of information that came out of the interview is that New Line Cinema apparently still considers A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010 to be a sequel in the franchise as opposed to an actual remake. “That’s why you’ll see ‘Story By Wesley Strick’ and not ‘Story By Wes Craven’ in the credits,” Heisserer said. Whether or not that was a way to get out of paying Craven more money is up to the reader, but it sure does seem fishy.

It wasn’t all bad though. When asked about the one thing he felt just had to be in the film (and did get included), Heisserer showed his true affection for Craven’s original. “What meant a lot to me about A Nightmare on Elm Street was what Craven had done with the original that was akin to Psycho. You follow a character who you believe is your main protagonist and then 30 minutes into the film she dies.”

Heisserer did try to inject some newer aspects into the story to add more terror to the proceedings. The most well-known of these aspects was the introduction of micro-naps. If you have seen A Nightmare on Elm Street, you know that while the concept shows a lot of potential, the film doesn’t really do much with it beyond its initial introduction. “One of the sequences I had been most excited to see was when the micro sleep got worse and Quentin (Kyle Gallner) and Nancy (Rooney Mara) were driving and trying to track down where Freddy was. There was a micro nap sequence inside the car where Freddy just completely gored Nancy and Quentin freaked out at the wheel, crashing the car into a tree.”  Clearly, that did not make it into the film. Instead we were “gifted” with a similar sequence, but with Freddy appearing in the middle of the street, leading Quentin to swerve and crash the car. Any horror fan knows that this is a familiar trope, so it is regrettable that they went that route, though it may have been due to budget constraints. Who knows?

Eric Heisserer Interview

Something else that showed promise in the film was the idea that Freddy Krueger may have been innocent all along. I’m only speaking for myself here, but that idea would have worked better had Kruger actually been innocent. It’s a plot development that sounds great in theory, but didn’t work in execution. The reveal that he was a guilty child molester failed to pack much of an impact, especially since that removed any internal conflict with the characters. It made the majority of the film’s run time feel like a waste. “Both the doubt and the reveal that he is guilty were elements from Wesley Strick’s draft,” Heisserer said. That being the case, it was something that was always going to be a part of the film. It’s just a shame it turned out to be a copout.

Concluding the Elm Street portion of the interview, Heisserer touched upon how much of a learning experience writing A Nightmare on Elm Street was. The main thing he learned? Be explicit. “Subtlety can work very well for a reading draft or a spec draft,” he said, “but there are times when it’s okay to get sort of bold-faced about certain elements. If there’s a piece of dialogue or a little visual element in a scene that is a setup that has a powerful callback or payoff later on, it’s okay to be very bold about that so that when people are filming it they realize that it connects with something else later on.” The lesson here, screenwriters, is to spell things in your script out if they need to be spelled out. Don’t just assume that those reading it will understand what you are implying. You may not like how it gets interpreted.

Lights Out will be released nationwide on July 22, 2016.



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COMMENTS

49 Comments
  • Dee-abolik

    That was an interesting read. I don’t envy anyone who has to write a Nightmare sequel, it’s hard to come up with something new in that department. Although I don’t like the idea of “micro-naps” at all. Nightmare works because it follows certain rules- if Krueger can turn up any moment, it becomes random and loses a lot of suspense.

  • Khy

    Eric is a great writer- I don’t just dump all the blame of the Nightmare reboot on him at all. I thought Micronaps were a cool concept and he did an excellent job returning the FD series to form with FD5. I look forward to seeing more original work from him.

    • aNYagenda

      But he was also involved in that atrocious thing remake.
      Maybe one boo boo and it was an unfortunate accident,
      but when somebody makes a habit of it its not just mistake anymore.

      • DBZEROGRAVITY

        the only thing wrong with the thing prequel was that the practical effects were buried under horrible cgi. otherwise it was decent

      • disqus_uPh3WDxbQy

        I enjoyed The Thing remake. It gets crapped on a lot because of the special effects (which were not even that bad). It tied into the original beautifully.

      • Khy

        Well…I need to see some more original work from him- Remakes/Prequels he should stay away from.

  • aNYagenda

    But I’ll safely bet that it wasn’t nearly as hard as doing something original.
    This heisserer person is a scumbag IMO.

    • DrewHamster

      Did-did you even read the article?

  • Geno1987

    One of the worst decisions made to the character of Freddy was making him into a child molester. Making a school janitor into a child toucher is one of the most lazy cliché ideas you could write for a horror movie. Insulting to the legacy of the character.

    • Khy

      I just never understood why people had such a problem with him being a child molester. Being a child killer is no better and one could argue they’re both the same abominable thing. Besides, it’s obvious original Freddy was some kind of pervert too- think of in Freddy Vs Jason when he sexually licks the picture of that little girl or when the kids say “Freddy likes kids. Especially little girls…”

      Freddy is pervy either way you slice it. I just don’t get why people make a big deal about the reboot flat out stating what the original series hinted at. It’s like you’re saying murdering children is better than molesting them- when they’re both equally demented and often go hand in hand.

      • I don’t think people are saying it’s better to kill children, but that it’s worse. And they completely erased that murderer trait from Freddy’s character. If they were going to include molestation instead of imply it, sure, but don’t erase such an integral part of Freddy’s character.

        He’s the Springwood Slasher. Not the crusty janitor no one knows about who plays around with children.

        And like you said, if they do go hand in hand, they shouldn’t of erased the other.

        • Khy

          Well that makes sense.

        • AphroditeBoy

          From the very first movie I understood the implications of ‘child murderer.’ He was always a molester in my mind – attaching people in bed, in the tub, licking Nancy through the phone. . . the sexual subtext wasn’t subtle. It was there whether longtime fans want to admit it or not. And the remake didn’t erase the ‘murder’ aspect, it just didn’t focus on it. Murder and sexual assault are both horrific crimes, and Freddy has always been guilty of both. Just because he became campy and comedic doesn’t mean he is any less guilty.

          • Overton Green

            Agree 100%. You know it wasn’t until the remake that it ever hit me that they never really referred to him as a molester in the original film series.

            The reason it didn’t dawn on me is because I thought everyone knew that he was?? I mean the sexual abuse angle is so in your face in the first three films that it’s hard to ignore it.

            I just always assumed everyone knew Freddy was a child molester that sexually abused and killed his victims. I mean Freddy was so sexually in your face with his perversion that I thought everyone knew he was a child molester even if it wasn’t explicitly stated in the movies..

          • I’m not saying he’s less guilty or the sexual undertones weren’t there in the original. But the remake did erase the murder aspect because he only murdered after he was burned. He killed children and that’s an aspect they should’ve kept. Yeah we all know he molested but it’s also disturbing to know that every child on Elm Street once had a sibling that was murdered by Freddy. And seeing as that was a concept deleted from the original movie, I would’ve much rather they used that in the remake than erasing his serial killer origins.

      • THGrimm

        In Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy they all said that he was a molestor, but they couldn’t outright say it at the time because of parents, censors, and such. I agree this remake didn’t really talk about him murdering at all, though.

    • Meisha’s Taint

      Cliche’?

      Where the fuck did you go to school????? Who else has done a janitor who is a child molester who stalks teens?

      • Geno1987

        Dude. Scary Movie.

    • Adam Clifton

      I don’t know about the child molester angle, but the whole school janitor thing kept reminding me of that Simpsons Treehouse Of Horror episode where Groundskeeper Willie comes back to life in the kids’ dreams to kill them. It had a very Groundskeeper Willie-vibe all through the movie

  • AphroditeBoy

    It’s not a poorly made film – it’s just there was no love in it. It looks fine on the surface; it’s is well made and edited – it just seems like no one involved was really passionate about it. Mara hated starring in the movie and her wooden performance shows it. A “back-to-basics” horror movie with ‘scary’ Freddy instead of ‘campy’ Freddy could have worked if everyone involved was actually interested in making a movie instead of just cashing in on the slasher remake trend.

  • BLKHRT

    Final Destination 5 was a fairly unique piece of work for what it was; an excuse to kill people in myriad of creative ways. NOES the remake was quite the opposite. When they inevitably attempt another reboot, hopefully they take things back to basics. Freddy’s a dream hijacking boogeyman and because of that, the dream state needs complete and utter creativity from the writing. Everyone knows what the man/thing is all about. Take advantage of the truly distinctive mythos the great Wes created for us to enjoy.

  • A-TOWN CALI DUDE

    Fuck all the haters, this movie was great.

    • Meisha’s Taint

      No it wasn’t

      • A-TOWN CALI DUDE

        Thats your opinion and you are entitled to it

    • Adam Clifton

      What are you basing that on?

      • A-TOWN CALI DUDE

        My own opinion Asshole

  • Meisha’s Taint

    Not enough people blame poor casting decisions. I couldn’t make it through the film and I tried twice because of the actors. A good cast is crucial.

  • Brandon MisterJuicy Alexander

    my main issue with the film was the flat vibe of the whole thing.

    its like the film ate one too many vicodin, and just sort of sat there drooling.

    makes me quite sad. when i was a kid, i didnt have jesus…. i had freddy.

  • Shane da Lucky

    I hope they remake number 2, Freddy’s Revenge, at the time of its release, one publication referred to it as “the gayest horror film ever” – I class that as a compliment. In the 21st century, it has become a cult film for gay audiences.

    Just check out Jesses’s dream when he meets his coach in an S&M Bar and then go back to the school’s gym showers…

  • Simon Allen

    The Elm street remake was one of the worst in recent history and i’m actually a big fan of remakes ! It had absolutely NO atmosphere what so ever , was hopelessly cast with a bunch of no talents in the leads and worst of all it was sooooooooo BORING !!!!

  • CB Punk

    I’ve only ever seen the film once didn’t really care for it because none of the characters seem to matter. In the original Nancy is damaged by the horrific events going on around her. Her parents think she’s losing it and you get a feel for that. The remake it’s just like oh here’s the teens now we’re gonna kill them who cares why. The only thing I enjoyed about it was the is he, isn’t he part of that kinda added a mystery to it. Kinda like the cover up part of the story in FvJ I didn’t think they explored that more than they could of. I’ve also wanted to see a prequel sort of thing I’ve always found the back story to Freddy very interesting. Could be done more as a detective/thriller peice.

  • Francesco Falciani

    NO agree at all! if freddy was innocent this movie would suked more than it already did! Freddy is evil!!!

  • I liked the remake, it’s not so bad as everyone says.

    • Joseph

      Agreed. A few interesting concepts for sure. I think it shows the outline of a potentially very good film that never really get passed likable, but that’s fine. I think because it’s Freddy Kruegar AND a modern remake, it’s going to get sh*t on unless it’s fantastic, there’s not a lot of middle ground. I enjoyed it for what it was, thought it was okay overall, isn’t the worst Nightmare on Elm Street to me and I, also, think it’s nowhere near as bad as I’ve read people say over the years.

      • A-TOWN CALI DUDE

        Its because you’ve got these no brained shithead fans that wanna see the same story, characters and plot rehashed over and over again rather than be open to something new and they bitch because they dont get it. I mean did you REALLY expect Robert Englund to reprise his role? He too now, so no! And he has no interest anyway! It was time to move on! These fans wanted a carbon copy Robert Englund and that would been insulting! Im glad they went with Jackie Earl Haylie and im only sorry they didnt do a sequel to the remake! Fuck all the haters! CHEERS!

  • Freddy’s ace and all but at the end of the day we are talking about a film that not only features multiple sequels, a semi-reboot, a 3D film, a television series, a couple of video game appearances and more merchandise you can shake a stick at, to say this ruined the series as a whole is madness. It wasn’t without it’s charms, the make up was awesome, that he could have been innocent angle was brilliant, the supermarket dream was one of the best “nightmares” in any of the films and fun things like Fred’s jumper was knitted by the woman who did the original one in 84, not a bad couple of hours worth of entertainment.

  • Halloween_Vic

    ” One tidbit of information that came out of the interview is that New Line Cinema apparently still considers A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010 to be a sequel in the franchise as opposed to an actual remake.” That sentence baffled me like what the actual fuck New Line? A sequel? Really like did they even watch the first film? Ughh this is what’s wrong with Hollywood nobody actually has a fucking brain.

    • I sort of agree, that said if you randomly put the numbers of almost any horror sequel in a different order without mentioning it would 95% of people barely even notice, Also I’ve no evidence either way to back this up but it’s probably for just some “other” reason, like how nearly every horror sequel is made by some weird company name like 2nd Elm Street Venture or something like that. Funny you should mention brains, New Line to me are flipping geniuses, I may be paraphrasing but they figured out how to make the perfect hamburger for want of a better metaphor and just did it over and over again.

  • Overton Green

    This movie was terrible. I did like the different approach to the makeup, and I also thought Jackie did a great job.

    Everything else flat out sucked and it didn’t help that the lead actress completely phoned in her performance.

    The grocery store scene/nightmare was pretty epic though…if only we had got more of that, and less talentless Katie Cassidy. Talk about a character surviving far to long..

  • One thing I did miss was a “song” yeah you can’t expect it to be by Dokken or something, although that would be awesome, but it would be good to have a stand out track by some modern band, and get Freddy in the video for old times sake.

  • CLK

    Eric Heisserer is a talented, smart guy who wrote the upcoming movie ARRIVAL, directed by Denis Villenueve and starring Amy Adams.

    He’s the king. All you dorks in the comment section are ignorant.

    • aNYagenda

      He’s the king becasue of a movie that nobody has seen yet, that may or may not be as terrible as everything else he’s done?

      • CLK

        Yup. Bye!

  • Luca

    I look forward to the rest of the interview, so that someone can explain to me that if the The Thing is supposed to a prequel. Then why wasn’t the cast speaking Norwegian?

    • It’s been posted! Though I did not touch on that fact.

    • aNYagenda

      Also, why is it just a blatant almost page by page rewrite of John Carpenters the Thing.

  • The Drucifer

    I always enjoyed(for lack of a better term) that when they found out they were molested it held no emotional response they were only angry mommy and daddy lied to them. Using Freddy as a buried memory or the physical representation of trauma is almost brilliant, almost.

    • AdamX

      I kind of wish they left that out. I am not trying to make light of the molestation thing but Freddy as a victim vs the monster he was in the original time line would have been interesting to see. JEH really was not made for comedic Freddy but he felt a bit sympathetic to me before the big reveal.

  • Billy Bob Throrton

    He was told what to write by producers…?
    That’s called being a writer in Hollywood.
    “Nnng…being paid to make sh*t up is harrrd…waahh”
    What a little bitch,you know the real reason he got Nightmare on Elm Street with no credits is he rode some producer’s boner.

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