There’s a hall. A hall of doors. But I never seem to go through the doors. As I get closer to a door, it recedes in perspective like the dolly zoom camera effect Spielberg used on Roy Scheider when he first sees the shark in Jaws. It literally gives me an upset stomach. This image frequently bookends a dream of mine that is about to go bad. It’s a warning. It telegraphs an impending nightmare.
SOON AFTER I FINISHED UP WITH Nightmare 2, V was canceled. The show was one of those unfortunate casualties of bad network-television decisions. Apparently the profit-and-loss statements at the end of the first season of this big-budget show weren’t looking good to NBC. It was popular, and I think the choice to cancel it was premature. Too bad. V had been an important chapter in my career and a cherished experience for me, but it was time to move on.
Thankfully I managed to keep busy—that’s what us utility actors strive to do, keep working—with a few TV movies (e.g., Infidelity with Kirstie Alley and Courtney Thorne-Smith) and another network series (Downtown with Mariska Hargitay and Blair Underwood). It was good to be working, especially alongside the beautiful young Mariska, but without V, playing Freddy again seemed more appealing than ever—especially since without regular, highly visible film and TV roles, I might wind up on the cutting-room floor, or backsliding into parts like Biker #2 on Nancy Drew or a recurring stoolie on Police Story, Police Woman, or, God forbid, Police Dog.
Fortunately, Nightmare finally started raking in serious bucks for New Line, not only as a result of its U.S. success, but also because Freddy was getting much love internationally. This was a welcome perk because the only overseas love I’d ever received was the little award I’d been given for V in Italy, and the room-service hooker I’d been assigned in the Philippines. The worldwide success of the first two installments meant that New Line was more than happy to green-light A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Which meant that for the time being, I wouldn’t be returning to play Thug #1 on Manimal.
To me, the screenplay for Dream Warriors was the best Nightmare script to date, probably because it was written by a trio of Hollywood heavies: Wes Craven, Frank Darabont, and Bruce Wagner. Since the first Nightmare, Wes’s most notable, memorable work was in CBS’s updated version of The Twilight Zone, which proved that he still had as good of a grasp on the surreal and scary as anybody in the industry. Darabont was a Hollywood newcomer, but anybody who read the script could tell that the guy had some serious chops, and probably wouldn’t be surprised that he’d later turn the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption into one of the great films of the nineties. Bruce Wagner was also a talented newbie who would make a mark several years later with his Hollywood-based novels Force Majeure and I’m Losing You. Together, these writers concocted a clever little sequel that I think deserves consideration as one of the hundred greatest horror films of all time. Over the last twenty-five years, I’ve met tens of thousands of Freddy fans, and I think it is fair to say that if they were all polled, Nightmare 3 would win as fan favorite.
Chuck Russell, who also had a hand in the screenplay, was making his directorial debut, but as was the case with Jack Sholder from Nightmare 2, the guy overcame his lack of experience with sheer moxie and artistry. This was by far the most complex of the Nightmare movies to date—bigger sets, bigger effects, bigger cast—but Chuck handled the whole production like a wily veteran. (Seven years later, he directed the seminal Jim Carrey FX vehicle The Mask, whose $18 million budget was only slightly eclipsed by the combined total of the first four Nightmare flicks. He would also go on to helm The Scorpion King in 2002.)
Chuck came across as the hardest-working director in showbiz, always the first to arrive on the set, and always the last to leave, possibly because he was enjoying the opportunity to play with that big toy-train set that a Hollywood movie can be. The late eighties was one of the most exciting times in Hollywood for anybody with an affinity for special effects … that is, if you had a big budget. Nightmare 3’s budget was $5 million, which was barely enough to cover an explosion on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.But luckily for us, Chuck and New Line assembled a crew who had the heart, skills, and vision to make our effects appear expensive. Chuck would ask, “Guys, I need Freddy to burn like the Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Can you do it for a hundred bucks?” and our guys would say, “Shit, Chuck, we can name that tune for $99.99.” This gifted young FX crew could watch a new effect in a big-budget movie and duplicate it for pennies on the dollar.
Bob Shaye and his creative gang at New Line also assembled one hell of a cast for the movie. Heather Langenkamp was back and, as always, a real trouper. The character Kristen was played by a nineteen-year-old knockout named Patricia Arquette, whom all the young males in the cast desired. These lovelorn boys were writing her mash notes and buying her flowers, and one particularly desperate young man turned to me for advice. He whined to me, “Patricia’s sooooo beautiful. I’m never gonna feel love like this ever again. What should I do?” He even asked me to help him with a love letter. I felt like Cyrano de Goddamn Bergerac.
A pre-Matrix Laurence Fishburne had a small part, and Dick Cavett and Zsa Zsa Gabor appeared in cameos. With Zsa Zsa in the movie, the already blurred lines between on-screen dreams and reality became even more surreal. Ms. Gabor, who was probably just grateful to be asked to appear in a movie again, apparently didn’t read the script or bother to do any research on the Nightmare flicks. I guess her agent told her, “I have a job for you,” and all she said was “Great. Vhat time zhould I zhow up, dahlink?” not realizing that she was about to throw down with a burnt-to-a-crisp serial killer. During the fake talk show where she’s interviewed by Dick Cavett, all her reactions seen on film were 100 percent genuine. She didn’t know who the fuck Freddy was, so when I jumped out, she had a mild freak-out. Cavett, who always had his finger on the pulse of pop culture, knew exactly who and what he was dealing with and looked wholly unfazed and handled the whole faux TV interview with aplomb.
Also making her film debut, breathtaking young model/ actress Jennifer Rubin played Taryn, the spiky-haired, dream-warrior junkie-girl who gets a fatal heroin injection from Freddy. At one point, the track marks on Taryn’s arms come to life and turn into little, hungry, sucking mouths. Those tiny mouths required an extensive special effects makeup session, with Jennifer having to hold her arm motionless for almost seven hours. The FX team did meticulous work, except for the minor error of putting the mouths on the wrong arm. Major bummer. Which, of course, meant Jennifer had to repeat the entire process.
The next morning, still half-asleep, I stumbled into the makeup FX room and was shocked to see the mirror covered with graffiti. The mystery tagger had used red lipstick instead of spray paint. Amid the lightning bolts, squiggles, and frowny faces, right in the middle was a single phrase: DA MAKEUP DONE GOT ME!!! Apparently, after almost a dozen hours in makeup, Jennifer snapped. I can’t say I blame her one bit. There have been days in the makeup chair when I’ve contemplated arson.
I’ve heard stories about actors who have been in the business far longer than Jennifer who have had major issues with makeup too. In 1984, my old pal Gary Busey played football coach Bear Bryant in a biopic called The Bear, and apparently the age makeup made him itchy and self-conscious, and it drove him nuts. Lori Singer, the cello-playing beauty of Fame fame, reportedly suffered through and could barely endure an elaborate witch-makeup session in Warlock, courtesy of my old producer Roger Corman. In The Bride, Sting’s contribution to the Frankenstein canon, the actor playing the creature apparently had such an intense allergic reaction to the makeup that production temporarily ground to a halt. And word on the street was that Leo DiCaprio despised the synthetic hair he had to wear as the aging Howard Hughes in The Aviator. Some people can handle it, some people can’t. Getting that shit put on and taken off your face every day for hours on end can be a real bitch.
Some difficult moments also occurred outside the makeup room on the set of Nightmare 3. One evening, we were shooting a scene in Freddy’s hellish boiler-room lair, using a converted warehouse across the street from the gritty, fortresslike Los Angeles County Jail. Heather and Patricia were supposed to run down the stairs from a high platform constructed near the warehouse’s ceiling, wind their way through boiling cauldrons of multicolored stuff, and attack Freddy; this meant that the girls had to begin their entrance from a ledge where the actresses could barely stand up straight. Making matters worse, the night crew had just finished painting all the interior sets that morning, and some of the stuff bubbling away in the cauldrons was actually paint.
I was down below on the floor waiting for Chuck to call action, and I realized that the entire warehouse reeked—once all the stage lights had gone on, the still-wet scenery paint had heated up, and thanks in part to the solvents being released from the bubbling-paint effect, the fumes had gotten noxious. Down where I was, it smelled pretty bad, but I could live with it, so I didn’t pay much attention to the odor. However, waiting for their cue up at the top of the set, Heather and Patricia almost succumbed to the poisoned air, especially Heather, who nearly passed out from the fumes and could have fallen God-knows-how-many feet to her death.
That night, after everybody went home, Kevin and I—whom people had started referring to as the Siamese Twins because we were practically glued together (literally, we spent so much time touching up the makeup with medical adhesive)—finished my makeup removal around four forty-five in the morning. With some Vaseline residue still on my face and a bit of crusty, dried fake blood coming out of my ear, we trudged out of the warehouse into the dawn, dragging ass because we were so fucking exhausted and starving. (I don’t eat much when I have the Freddy makeup on because, when I do, the natural oils in food cause my lips to come unglued, and when my lips come unglued, Kevin comes running across the soundstage and attacks me with his little, stiff glue brush, and believe me, nobody needs that.) Parked fifty yards ahead of us, in the street in front of the jail, there was a hard-core Mexican catering truck, the kind that some people refer to as a roach coach or a ptomaine wagon. We were so hungry that we didn’t care. If our burritos were seasoned with roaches, so be it.
Unless you’ve had a friend or relative serve any time, you probably don’t know that in California, when you’re released from jail, you’re let out in the morning, bright and early, which was why a small crowd was in front of the security gate—mothers, daughters, sons, girlfriends, wives, all waiting for their loved ones to be sprung. Right behind all these friends and family members were about a dozen prostitutes. You might ask yourself, why would a bunch of hookers stand right in front of L.A. County Jail at the crack of dawn? Simple: the first thing some of these just-freed men want to do is to get laid. What these horny cons didn’t realize (or did they?) was that a couple of the prostitutes were transgender, one of whom presumed that Kevin and I might be potential clients and cut in line to proposition us.
Kevin and I politely declined his/her invitation. But since I was still wearing almost as much makeup as the, ahem, young lady and was kind of sympathetic to her plight, I pulled out my wallet and said, “Let me treat you to some breakfast.” The three of us stood there chowing down on the best burritos I’d ever tasted and watched the smoggy L.A. sun rise over the jail. As the ex-cons trickled out of lockup and into the welcoming arms of family and friends, our new transgender acquaintance polished off her burrito, daintily dabbed her mouth with a napkin, touched up her lipstick, and declared, “Excuse me, gentlemen, but I have some dicks to suck.” A little walk on the wild side. Cue Lou Reed.
AS WITH THE FIRST Nightmare, we shot a couple of interesting scenes that didn’t make it into the final cut, most notably one featuring a female Freddy. One of the kids in the hospital has a Freddy dream in which he’s being seduced by a sexy nurse. The nightmare evolves into a kinky S&M fantasy, but becomes less M and more S when the ropes that bind the kid to the bed become Freddy tongues, and the nurse’s face morphs into Freddy’s, but her topless torso, which features a pair of perfect Playboy breasts, remains smooth and inviting … that is, for a moment. All of a sudden, the veins in her areolas come to life and turn into Freddy-like burn scars and snake up her cleavage, past her neck, and onto her face. (I’m pretty sure Kevin enjoyed the four hours it took to apply makeup to those tits.) This troubling, erotic transformation didn’t make the final cut for some reason. Occasionally I find myself signing bootleg stills from the missing sequence. Especially in Europe. Ooh la la!
After Nightmare 3, the Freddy Krueger phenomenon was in full swing: Freddy was making appearances in popular comic strips and in political cartoons on the editorial pages of daily newspapers. My old hero Johnny Carson started doing Krueger jokes, and references to Freddy appeared on TV and in major motion pictures, including one by none other than Tom Hanks in Dragnet. All kinds of weird Nightmare merchandise was marketed throughout the country: you could find pinball machines, Freddy Krueger action figures, talking dolls, posters, comic books, plastic knife finger gloves, squirting Freddy heads, board games, calendars, playing cards, and decals. I would even eventually stumble upon a Freddy Krueger pillbox sold in a kiosk at Catherine the Great’s summer palace while on location in St. Petersburg, Russia. In Cyrillic on this unlicensed (sorry, New Line) sleeping-pill/Valium container next to Freddy’s likeness, it read, “Take one and he’ll come for you.”