Having written and/or produced some of the horror genre’s best documentaries, including such extensive ones as 2010’s NEVER SLEEP AGAIN, 2011’s MORE BRAINS! A RETURN TO THE LIVING DEAD and 2013’s epic CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES: THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF FRIDAY THE 13TH, it’s easy to say that Thommy Hutson not only loves the horror genre, but wants to give genre fans something different than just your run of the mill special feature EPK. You can tell a lot by watching a documentary and every single one Hutson has been involved with, really showcases an admiration and love for the slice and dice, blood-soaked greatest genre around.
While the NEVER SLEEP AGAIN doc covered the entire A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series, with a vast amount of knowledge, Hutson decided to serve up an even more personal account of not the entire series but 1984’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET alone, telling the tales (via the words of those who experienced them) of the mountain-size challenges filmmaker Wes Craven, producer Robert Shaye and every other member of the cast and crew faced to create what is easily one of the best films of all time. It’s an in depth and at times very close to vest-like book, one that every horror fan should own (it’s currently available on Amazon).
Hutson talked to Icons of Fright about the making of the book, the need for a book like it and much more. Read on!
A book like NEVER SLEEP AGAIN must be such an undertaking. What inspired you take it on?
It was an undertaking, but such a rewarding one. A year or so after writing and producing the documentary on all of the films in the Elm Street franchise (2010’s Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy), I realized there was not only a lot of material from those interviews we couldn’t fit in the show, but there was so much more to discover about the original film. That, coupled with the fact that the 30th anniversary of the first film was approaching in 2014, helped with the decision to put together a limited-edition, hardcover coffee table book. In addition to material already in the doc, I spoke to all of those interviewees again and even conducted interviews with people who were not in the show. All told it ended up being about 50 new interviews for the book. I was so thrilled that the hardcover was well-received and wanted to find a way to make the stories and pictures available to everyone. That is how the trade paperback was born. And for that, I interviewed even more people and found some more imagery. In a way, I suppose the book was crafted as a love letter to the film, and to the talents of Wes, Bob and the cast and crew for creating something that has had such a lasting impact. And since the sad passing of Wes Craven, it feels even more special to me that I was able to create something that hopefully fans of Wes, the film, New Line, or filmmaking in general can appreciate.
Your love for the series and more specifically, the first film, is evident just from the opening of the book, when you write about seeing it for the first time. What is it about Craven’s wonderful film that you think has shocked, scared and resonated so deeply with viewers?
First of all, it really is a scary film! I will always remember begging to go see it and then wanting to leave because I was so frightened. At the time so many horror movies were “stalk and slash,” and they had a tinge of camp or humor to them. It was a formula and it certainly worked; many of the movies genre fans, including myself, find so fun and memorable are in that category.) But I vividly remember Craven’s Elm Street was not cutesy; it was dark and scary. It’s also a smart film. There are ideas in there that weren’t really explored in genre movies at the time to such a degree. And then there were the characters, who all felt like real people: the kids felt like kids you knew, the parents felt like parents you understood, and Freddy as a villain was really creepy and terrifying. He had a backstory that was real and horrifying. Wes found a way to make all of these people and ideas, like parental ignorance, vigilante justice and growing up, work together. When I was a kid I was just plain terrified. It wasn’t until years later and watching the film again and seeing the sequels that I thought about a lot of the themes and depth of the original, but I am sure it was there creeping around my little subconscious mind.
Writing a book like NEVER SLEEP AGAIN must have been trying at times, with so many people involved and so much information. Did you run into any roadblocks in the process?
It felt like as much a feat as it was fun to put this book together. The original hardcover took three years from start to finish, and the trade paperback took about a year. But thankfully because of the documentary before it I didn’t really hit too many obstacles. People who took part in that were more than willing to talk again for the book. And, luckily, people who weren’t part of the show were happy to be found and asked to take part. And, frankly, having Wes write the foreword was such a blessing. It really lent a nice legitimacy to the project. Of course, I was not able to interview everyone I had on my list, due to schedules or the fact that there are some people I just couldn’t find, but it was, all things considered, a pretty smooth process. It just took a long time to put everything together. Thankfully, Peter Bracke (who wrote the amazing book Crystal Lake Memories) did a fantastic job on the layout of the book. There is a lot of text, something like over 140,000 words, and he found a way to give the book a real visual style that helped tell the story with images as much as with text. The funny thing is, there is still material I did not include that I could have, but I had to stop somewhere! And I am really happy that Bob Shaye wrote a nice preface to the paperback edition. At the end of the day, the story of Wes Craven, Elm Street, Bob Shaye and New Line Cinema is just so interesting. It’s a tale of moving a project in and out of the Hollywood system and doing whatever it takes to get a movie made, particularly when it is a passion project. This film was important to Wes, creatively and financially, and it was important to Bob and New Line, creatively and financially. They could have thrown their hands up so, so many times trying to get the film made, but they didn’t. And I think the genre is better for their tenacity and vision. All of it combines to tell a story for people who love the film as much as for people who love filmmaking.
Everything you do, whether it’s NEVER SLEEP AGAIN, the MORE BRAINS doc or your SCREAM: THE INSIDE STORY doc, shows how much you love the genre and the series we all hold so high. What is it about these franchises in your opinion, that keeps us coming back for more?
I do love the genre, and I love trying to celebrate it and the hard work that so many people put forth creating the movies so many love. For me, and I think a lot of other people, it’s the fact that a lot of us grew up watching these films. They were things we snuck into, or watched at sleepovers, or snuck in to the VCR when our parents were alseep. Horror movies for kids are almost like a rite of passage: you are terrified, but you have to watch, and when you do you come out the other side with this small badge of honor that, “Yeah, I watched it. I made it through!” So many of the films that we now call “classic” or “cult” are films we grew up watching and then passed on our passion for them on to others. It’s like a chain reaction that keeps these films alive. Another thing is many of these franchises came at a time when things were done live, on set. The monsters were “real.” The effects and scares were really happening, and I think we all responded to that in a powerful way. I will always believe that a physical thing, if done well, is a thousand times more fun than a gorgeously crafted and realized CG creation. That has its place, of course, and movies have come so far in trying to up the believability factor of such things. But for me nothing beats knowing that something, even if it’s a guy in a suit, is chasing the hero or heroine on screen. It’s certainly scarier than me thinking they were screaming at a tennis ball on a stick!
If you had to pick the ultimate guilty pleasure horror film to turn people onto, what film would it be?
Oh, so, so easy: Jaws 3. From Bess Armstrong’s constant “Muah!” when she kisses Dennis Quaid, to Louis Gossett, Jr. uttering one of my favorite lines ever (“You mean we talkin’ ‘bout some damn shark’s mutha!?), to (goodness, I love this)…Cindy and Sandy the dolphins! I can’t defend it. I probably shouldn’t defend it. But, man, I love it.