You just can’t keep a good dream stalker down.

Despite his apparent “death” in “Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare,” Freddy Krueger, alias Robert Englund, New Line Cinema’s pet bogeyman, last year re-endowed the horror genre with his presence – thanks to “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” – and is now gearing up for his showdown against Jason Vorhees, the hockey-masked star killer of the “Friday the 13th” movies.

The legacy started back in 1984, when writer-director Wes Craven unleashed the original “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” The film, budgeted at approximately $1.3 million, grossed about $26 million at the box office and set the ground-work for a franchise that since has enabled the independent horror genre to be more than a powerful force.

‘Nightmare’ success

Craven attributes the success of the “Nightmare” series to “those ancient things which lurk within the dream world and are way beyond our sense of control and understanding.”

Craven also gives Englund credit for bringing Freddy “humor and personality.”

“Instead of playing the cliched killer, whose face is hidden behind a mask, you get the impression that this character knows everything about you,” Craven says.

“You can never quite know whether events are happening in the real world or in the nightmare universe,” says Sara Risher, chair of New Line Prods., who’s been heavily involved with the “Nightmare” chapters since the first movie.

“(New Line CEO) Robert Shaye worked on that concept extensively,” Risher continues. “We had to blend that concept seamlessly into the world of reality.”

Meanwhile, the “New Nightmare,” a tale that revolves around the everyday world of Hollywood, portrays Freddy as a dark and evil character who masks himself to the very filmmakers responsible for breathing life into the “Elm Street” legend.

“Nightmare” veterans Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon – as well as Craven, Shaye and Risher – play themselves onscreen.

“We actually shot a sequence in Bob’s office at New Line,” says Langenkamp about a scene depicting Shaye persuading her to make a new “Nightmare” film.

“We had such a good time because (Shaye) played a cartoon version of himself – the big producer who has everything. He may have been a little bit nervous once the cameras started rolling, but I was even more nervous because I was acting in a scene with Bob and I didn’t want to upset him.”

As those diehard horror fans know all too well, the concept behind “New Nightmare” and the previous “Nightmare” movies is very simple: Anyone killed by Freddy in their dreams immediately dies in their sleep.

Craven, who came up with the concept after reading newspaper reports about Southeast Asian immigrants who were mysteriously dying in their sleep, says, “Many people rejected the original script because they either felt that the dream landscape wouldn’t be scary enough or else it would be too gorey.

“But from the get-go, Shaye knew that we were onto a very viable and commercial phenomenon and pursued the financing for three years before he came up with the final budget.”

Appearance is everything

When it came to devising Freddy’s appearance, Craven brought in makeup man David Miller – who later would work on “A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child,” “Freddy’s Dead” and “New Nightmare” – to create Freddy’s features. “Wes and I came up with the idea of burned tissue,” Miller recalls. “So for research purposes, I looked through books on burn victims and scarred people.

“Later, I sculpted about five versions and, after many discussions with Wes, eventually mixed and matched them into one basic look. I wasn’t very happy with the first test makeup, so I made it darker and more visceral and mucusy.”

In the meantime, the ghoul begins shooting his matchup with Jason in early 1996, to be produced by Sean S. Cunningham, who produced New Line’s 1993 release,”Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday,” and produced and directed Jason’s first outing in the original “Friday the 13th.” Pic is set for an August release.

While a script still is in the offing, Cunningham says, “We’re going to create a three-ring circus to feature two of the most popular pop icons ever seen within the horror genre. Everyone’s expectations will be pretty high.”

“Jason vs. Freddy is a terrific idea because it’s something which is obviously going to appeal to the core horror audience,” says Dean Lorey, who co-wrote “Jason Goes to Hell.”

“It’s going to be hard to find that balance between both characters, but provided that they (the writers) enhance the story with a sense of fun and really focus on the characters of Freddy and Jason, they’ll have a pretty strong movie.”

Adam Marcus, who directed “Jason Goes To Hell,” notes: “In the previous ‘Friday’ movies, scores of teenagers were slaughtered over a period of 90 minutes. (This time) we wanted to create a story in which a hero has to overcome Jason.”

Besides pumping fresh blood into Freddy and Jason, New Line has steered the horror genre into other areas – thanks to such releases as “Man’s Best Friend” – a tale of a dog that becomes a killing machine after being subjected to some bizarre experiments – and the recent John Carpenter directed chiller, “In the Mouth of Madness.” Inspired by the writings of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, “Madness” revolves around a book that renders its readers insane.

“Instead of seeing what’s waiting behind the door, Lovecraft’s work is always about the dread and anticipation of what could be behind the door,” says Michael De Luca, New Line’s president of production, who wrote the film’s screenplay.

“It’s a neat literary technique, but onscreen, you have to see the horror – so you have to be a little bit more explicit. And Carpenter’s ability to suggest that things are much more horrible than those things seen onscreen is the closest thing to Lovecraft’s method.”

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