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In the last few weeks, reader Bryan Kupko bombarded both Fango editor Chris Alexander and me with angry e-mails, calling us out for not putting the A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET remake on the cover of either FANGORIA #292 (April; my last as chief) or #293 (June; Chris’ first). What a switch that was. Back in the 1980s, when Freddy’s burned mug showed up on the cover of Fango and our spinoffs (GOREZONE, HORROR SPECTACULAR, FANGORIA POSTER MAGAZINE, HORROR VIDEO, etc.) at least two dozen times over a 10-year period, some readers berated us for the constant Krueger exposure. “Not another Freddy cover!” they’d cry. Wow, how times have changed.
Anyway, to answer Kupko’s question, I wanted to give the new Freddy the cover of my final Fango, slotted for a month before the film debuted. It would be the perfect way to end my run as editor-in-chief, especially after my long association with the NIGHTMARE series. But the creeps at Platinum Dunes would not release anything of Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy. Nada. Not a thing. Distributor Warner Bros. even claimed (lied?) that no close-up art showing Freddy even existed (!), though photos would eventually turn up in Entertainment Weekly and on the web, after we went to press.
I call that a pretty shameful way to treat a publication credited with helping build the Freddy franchise in the first place, and blame Platinum Dunes for the slight. They pulled the same “hide the monster” crap when we worked with them on their two TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE movies and the AMITYVILLE HORROR redux. On the latter, I spent an afternoon in LA going through the photo books at MGM to choose some cool cover images (like the demonic Indian), only to later have all my selects kiboshed by Michael Bay and co. The company’s idea of us promoting their films is a one-way street; we can push their recycled productions to millions of horror fans on the web, cons and in the mag, as long as it’s strictly on their terms. Want something in return, like an exclusive cover photo that would actually get people excited and buy Fango? Forget about it.
Why get so hot under the collar over this when, like you, I knew in advance that the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET revamp would suck? Well, for the record, the recent Fangos with the FRIDAY THE 13TH and HALLOWEEN remakes and last summer’s HALLOWEEN II on the cover were a few of our best-selling issues ever, even though the majority of Fangorians hated those films. Go figure. For me, the new NIGHTMARE did not add anything to the Freddy mythos. The movie slavishly followed the original Wes Craven classic almost to a T, right down to the lame epilogue with the dream killer nailing Nancy’s mom. With the amazing CGI toolbox at their fingertips, you would think that director Samuel Bayer and his team would really have opened up Freddy’s sleep world and delivered something unique and special. But instead, we get the same old dank boiler room and similar, unimaginative settings. Haley makes for a creepy child molester (like he did in his Oscar-nominated turn in LITTLE CHILDREN), but sorely lacks the Wicked Witch of the West menace that made Robert Englund such a memorable presence. However, the almost universal negative response had minimal impact on the latest NIGHTMARE, as it had a huge opening (albeit an equally steep second-weekend drop) and has grossed over $56 million to date, more than any other NIGHTMARE film (excluding 2003’s FREDDY VS. JASON).
This all brings me back to the gory days of being at the forefront of the initial outbreak of Freddymania. When I joined Fango in 1985, the first full issue I toiled on was #49, where A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE was represented by Krueger’s countenance on the front. Back then, emerging independent studio New Line Cinema would bend over backwards to guarantee a cover story, even two in a row if they buttered us up enough. Under savvy fan-turned-publicist Gary Hertz, New Line gave us anything we wanted: interviews, exclusives up the wazoo, our own photo shoots, etc. Wanna talk to Robert Englund? Hold on a sec, we’ll send him over to your office—in costume! (Yes, that actually happened, during the NIGHTMARE 2 press tour.)
In the ’80s, the NIGHTMARE movies arrived annually like clockwork, and their box office kept growing. By the time of 1988’s NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER, Freddy was everywhere: toys, posters, T-shirts, candy bars, rap songs, etc. The sleep demon became a pop-culture icon, and as a result, the films soon began getting sillier and sillier, with a cackling Freddy even riding a broomstick by the time of 1991’s tepid FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE. Fango garnered its first initial newsstand sales spike with those early Krueger covers, which then-publisher Norman Jacobs milked to the hilt by flooding retailers with endless Fango Freddy fronts and numerous tie-ins. We even published several official movie magazines, licensed from New Line, that heralded NIGHTMARE 5, FREDDY’S DEAD (with 3-D photos!), WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE and eventually FREDDY VS. JASON.
We loved hyping the Freddy movies (but not that awful TV show), and not just because of all the cooperation we got from the appreciative New Line. The movies were good, scary fun, especially Craven’s landmark first film, NIGHTMARE 3 (which set the sequels’ template) and WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE (arguably the best of the bunch). Both FREDDY’S DEAD (despite the unbilled Johnny Depp cameo) and FREDDY VS. JASON (which spent 10 years in development), alas, emerged as missed opportunities.
In the pre-Internet era, New Line execs would read our Postal Zone section for Freddy feedback and tailor subsequent entries to reflect the tastes of the buffs. To give you an idea of how intertwined the magazine and the Freddy flicks were at that time, when creator Craven returned to the fold in 1994 with NEW NIGHTMARE, he insisted that the character of Heather Langenkamp’s FX-artist husband in the film wear a FANGORIA T-shirt for his death scene!
Speaking of Freddy wardrobe, I once donned his sweater and crashed a wedding. Here’s the backstory: to ballyhoo 1987’s NIGHTMARE 3, Fango got to give away one of Freddy’s actual ratty sweaters worn in the movie in a contest. Around the time the priceless prop (caked with fake blood, grime and sweat; see photo below) showed up in my office, I was invited to both a Halloween wedding (STARLOG staffer Eddie Berganza’s big day) and costume party in the same day. So I surprised the bride and groom in full Freddy regalia—fedora, sweater, razor glove and latex mask—and chased the panicking newlyweds across the dance floor. Miraculously, Eddie (now an editor at DC Comics) and Cheryl have been together ever since, but the wardrobe was won by a reader who sent in his “Worst Freddy Nightmare” in our sweepstakes, the results of which Stephen King personally contested when we met at a party later that year!
Of course, the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET films would have been nothing without Englund. The role fit the former LA beach bum like a—pun intended—glove, and he truly made the character his own. How insulting that the actor was not asked to do a cameo in the new film, or something to acknowledge his contributions. (Then again, it was probably wiser to distance himself from the fiasco.)
One of the pleasures of my Fango reign was getting to know Englund and wife Nancy over the years, catching up with them at film festivals and conventions all over the world. Englund has always been a talkative, witty and cultured person who could charm both the average Joe and the intelligentsia alike. I also had the wonderful opportunity to work with him as a producer on several occasions, for the ’90s TV special THE HORROR HALL OF FAME (which he hosted), Bravo’s 100 SCARIEST MOVIE MOMENTS and FANGORIA TV’s SCREAMOGRAPHY. You just ask Englund a question and let him roll! As a conversationalist, storyteller and interviewee, Englund delivered every time I ever had the honor to quiz him on camera. If you’ve ever attended one of his convention appearances, you know what I mean.
Will the latest incarnation of Freddy capture a new generation of fans? The box-office results may say otherwise, but hardcore Fangorians certainly can’t be swayed, judging by many of the comments after Michael Gingold’s Fango review. My pal, longtime Fango follower Santos Ellin Jr., summed up the new movie by saying, “It just ain’t Freddy.” Amen to that.
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