PJ VOGT: Welcome to Episode Two of The Scaredy Cats Horror Show. This week we’re talking about Nightmare on Elm Street with screenwriter and horror fan, Katie Dippold. As well as director Rachel Talalay, who actually worked on the original six Elm Street Movies. All that is coming up after a word from our sponsors.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Hello, welcome to uh, Scaredy Cats, the podcast where I take my chicken-shit co-host through some scary movies. (PJ: Jesus [laughing]) That came off a lot meaner than I intended it to. I’m sorry.
PJ: You meant chicken-shit in a nice way.
ALEX: My co-host, PJ Vogt, is very scared of horror movies and um, I'm convinced that I can make him like them if I just- if I like, I don't exactly know. If I do what- if I do, question mark.
PJ: Apparently bully me.
ALEX: [laughs] Um, so I am taking him through a battery of horror movies. I'm taking him through the big hits and, um, the rules that we, we follow, uh, which were established in Episode One are the Mantzoukas Rules, which PJ has to watch all the films at night in the dark with nobody there with him. And, he is absolutely not allowed to stop and start, take unnecessary bathroom breaks, call friends on FaceTime, open the curtains, check Twitter, or have a second screen of for any reason. No. like Animal Crossing, any of that stuff.
ALEX: PJ, did you follow the Mantzoukas rules for this viewing of Nightmare on Elm St?
PJ: Yes, I followed them completely.
ALEX: And did you manage to subvert them by coming up with new rules- new ways to avoid watching TV? Or were you actually engaged in watching the movie like an actual movie goer would be?
PJ: I think I followed - I don’t think I cheated!
ALEX: How much did you cover your eyes?
PJ: I didn’t cover my eyes. I’m not allowed to cover my eyes.
ALEX: I'm legitimately impressed.
PJ: I will say, I will say, one thing I’ve done, which is not covering my eyes, is I will make triangles with my hands and put them around my eyes like sunglasses so that I can close them like shutters if I had to, but I, just knowing I can do that I find helpful.
ALEX: It’s just really thrilling to have the option?
PJ: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
ALEX: (laughs) Ok...alright….Um, so today our guest is a screenwriter, Katie Dippold. Katie, thank you so much for being on the show.
KATIE DIPPOLD: I am all in. I am dying to know which one's going to scare the most. I'm obsessed with this now. I'm all in. I'm here.
PJ: And Katie, you like horror, right? A lot?
KATIE: A lot. I love it. I find it relaxing almost.
ALEX: Oh my god. A kindred spirit.
ALEX: That’s so nice to hear.
ALEX: When I can't sleep, I lay on the couch, and I will watch horror movies and it doesn't matter how bad it is.
KATIE: A hundred percent. Nightmare on Elm Street is a movie I like to fall asleep to sometimes. Like I just- I don't know. There's something cathartic about it to me, especially if you've already seen the movie it, I don't know, it taps into something. We'll explore.
PJ: I don't think anyone- like, almost everything that people feel, I feel like, okay, people are like me. They just feel things at different, like volumes or degrees or whatever. The fact that you guys both describe watching this movie as like, relaxing or cathartic, like, I can't imagine, I can't imagine what would have to be different for me to understand that feeling.
ALEX: Uh, it's just to me, you know, there are like, do you know how like some people are like, I really like watching sitcoms. Like I personally love watching the New Girl because at the end of every- at the end of every episode, no matter, like how complicated things have gotten, they resolve their problems and they’re friends.
PJ: Yeah but in a horror movie, everyone's dead.
KATIE: But you're safe. You know?
KATIE: And I think, and Alex, maybe this taps into something for you, but for me, I as an anxious person, I think I'm always waiting for the other shoe to drop.
KATIE: And it's- so you're always unsettled. And a horror movie lets you like- there it is. There that other shoe dropping. I knew there was going to be some shit around the corner. But you're safe and it's fine and you just had a good time. Does that make sense?
PJ: Huh, that is the first advertisement for a feeling that has felt like, oh maybe I could get there. ‘Cause Jason's sort of persuasive strategy was just to like, yell at me and call me a baby.
ALEX and KATIE: (both laugh)
PJ: Alex’s (ALEX: He’s not wrong) is a fairly disorganized campaigner where he kind of alternates between like babying me and then yelling at me for being a baby. But like, a lot of what the advice I've gotten has been like, don't be an anxious person. And the idea that, that, you know, I could surf this wave of anxiety rather than just trying to douse it somehow, that feels like more promising?
ALEX: I think that what I was trying to say is that the comfort of horror movies is that they follow the same like rising action, climax, denouement as like a sitcom. Like it's just like, you know, what's going to happen—
PJ: I don't know (ALEX: roughly) what’s going to happen. And that's part of what is bad. I don't know what's going to happen and I keep thinking I know it's going to happen and that is not what is happening in the two movies that we've watched so far.
KATIE: You know, one trick for me, if a movie really gets me that I haven't seen before, um, usually I’m delighted by a well-crafted scare. I'm like, "Oh, look at how- that's just delightful." Like, like a good joke almost. But when something really gets me good and I'm scared and I can't sleep, I think, "What are the odds that the movie I just watched is going to also happen to me right now? Like that there's no way that's going to happen." So like that makes me like, "Okay, that's not happening," and then I can go to sleep.
PJ: The way you describe it, it really sounds like you're kind of, (sighs) it's like you're doing, you're doing to your anxious like nervous system, what a vaccine does. Where it's like you're giving it an anxious shock that you know you can talk yourself down from. And so you feel like- like that's how you talk yourself out of a real bad thing, also. It's like you're like, okay, realistically, like what's really going to happen?
PJ: Huh. Um, should we talk about the movie?
KATIE: Can I—I'm so curious if it scared you. Because I watched it last night, and it's, I've seen it so many times and it's—I cannot imagine what it's like to experience it for the first time anymore. Umm.
ALEX: Yeah, yeah. So, so just, just so the audience knows, we made PJ watch Nightmare on Elm Street, the original 1984 Nightmare on Elm Street. And the reason I picked this one is because like–
PJ: I just want to say Alex, you got—there's a lot of online blowback already from people who are like, don't agree with your strategy on that. Basically, I think the brunt of it is like, that you're kind of throwing me into the deep end a little bit. And they're like- the people that didn't think Exorcist was a nice first choice were not impressed with Nightmare on Elm Street either.
ALEX: You know, I tried playing nice with you. What the listeners don't know is I showed you the Night of the Living Dead and you were like, “This isn't scary”. It was like...
PJ: It was very boring–
ALEX: Oh okay–
PJ: It was very boring–
ALEX: Okay. All right. Then let's then let's go hard. Fine. (KATIE: [laughs]) If that's how you want to play, let's play, and now we're playing. Do you enjoy the game?
PJ: This doesn't feel good. This doesn't feel safe.
ALEX: So I thought like, okay, this is sort of like the next logical step in terms of like the level of scaredness that one would have, like the level of scares in it.
ALEX: Um, I also wanted to show you it because like, I started you on the big prestige movie, like the, “Hey, PJ horror movies can be art”.
ALEX: Kind of movie.
ALEX: And I wanted to, I wanted to toss you into like, a horror movie can be a horror movie, kind of movie.
KATIE: This one, I also felt like, and, I'm sorry but I'm so curious, it seems like it's either going to go one way or the other. Because watching it, I'm like, this is either gonna really scare him or he's gonna be like, "Why am I watching this movie about this chatty nuisance."
PJ and ALEX: [laugh]
ALEX: [laughing] Chatty nuisance.
PJ: He is a very like, he’s like the murder version of someone who you're trying to get off the phone with and can't get off the phone with.
KATIE: He's full of gab.
PJ: Oh my god.
ALEX: He only gets gabbier as the movies go on.
KATIE: Oh yes. He's a one man show by the end of this.
ALEX: So I can only imagine-
KATIE: It takes a different tone–
PJ: Okay. Okay. Anyway, uh, Katie. So your- the- the like two things that you were trying to figure out whether the movie would just feel like sort of cheesy or be really scary for me...
PJ: It was kind of weirdly both.
PJ: Like I was like, alternating between those reactions a lot more than I would've thought that I was capable of. Um, yeah. I feel like I should just give the barest. So basically the plot of the movie is, uh, Freddy Krueger is a monster who shows up in people's nightmares and he can kill you in your nightmare but not in the real world. And he's targeting this group of four kids, two boys, two girls. And it's sort of like they're trying—there's a hero who understands what's going on faster than anybody else. And she's basically just trying not to fall asleep and trying to convince other people not to fall asleep, and like trying to figure out how to fight him through the movie as he like knocks off her friends one by one.
ALEX: To be clear When they, when they are killed in their dreams, they die in real life.
PJ: Yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah. When they're killed in their dreams, they die in real life.
PJ: So the first scary part of the movie that I wanted to talk about is actually a pair of scenes that happen right away. So opening scene, there's this blonde teenager named Tina. And she's having this nightmare where Freddy is stalking her through a boiler room. [Movie clip of Nancy running]. She's wearing this white nightgown and she narrowly escapes him but like at the last minute [Movie clip] he swipes at her and cuts her nightgown. And when she wakes up in her bed, she looks down at her nightgown and it's actually been cut like in real life. (Movie clip: “You ok Tina?” “Just a dream mom.” “Some dream judging from that.”) So when I was watching it, I was like okay. I understand—or I thought I understood like, okay, these are kind of like the basically the rules of the movie, I guess? It's going to be scary, basically, when people are asleep. Otherwise, it's gonna be fine.
ALEX: So it lulls you into a false sense of security.
PJ: Yeah because you never know if anyone's ever asleep.
PJ: And the second scary scene that freaked me out is like I assumed that Tina was gonna be the hero but then like ten minutes later there's a scene where she falls asleep and you see from the perspective of her in her nightmare. [Movie clip]
She's like walking around—Freddy like calls to her and she walks down this alleyway outside the house. And then he's stalking her through the alley.
[Movie clip plays]
PJ: And then it like cuts away and it switches to her boyfriend's perspective. And he like wakes up in the middle of the night. His girlfriend is lying in bed next to him. She just like—a trio of stab wounds appear on her chest and then he can't see Freddy. So he just invisibly sees his girlfriend like shrieking at the hand of some unknown assailant. She's getting like picked up, pushed up against the wall, pushed up against the ceiling. It's so bloody, like she's being spliced open.
AG It’s really intense. It’s the first kill of the movie and it’s so shocking.
PJ: It really sets the tone of the movie. And like, I don't know, it also—there were some things that I thought were gonna work in my favor, like it's an older movie. It's 80s. There's some cheesy special effects but like it definitely establishes that this was still a scary movie. And also it kind of almost feels like—to the extent the movies about something, it's about like fear itself.
PJ: LIke it's about people who are literally dying because of their nightmares.
ALEX: Well, to me, the movie's just about like the trauma of learning that your parents can't and often aren't even trying to protect you. Like, I don't know, Tina's mom is absent. Nancy's mom is a drunk. Like, it's about growing up and realizing like, "Oh, I'm not always going to be safe."
KATIE: I also think it does a great job of tapping into the real raw fears. Like when she's trying to run up the stairs and her feet keep getting caught in each step, like it really taps into like, you know when you have a nightmare, you can't really run. Like he really just fires off on all cylinders in those kinds of moments.
PJ: Oh god, totally. So this was actually—actually, this was the other kind of big scene I wanted to talk about because it was the scariest. I think it was the scariest moment in the movie for me. So like, what has happened in the story at this point is like, obviously, Tina's been murdered. Her boyfriend, who people initially think murdered her, he then is also murdered by Freddy. And it just basically turns into like Freddy vs. Nancy. Nancy’s trying to defeat him. She’s trying to convince everybody that he’s real and that they shouldn’t fall asleep. But then she does fall asleep [Movie clip], and she has this nightmare where she’s running from Freddie. She runs into her house, locks the door. And as she’s running up the stairs to try to get to her bedroom...it's like you said, like her feet just start sinking into the stairs like they’re quicksand. And it's like, there's so many more things in the movie that are gorier or like shock—more shocking. But it’s just such a perfect—it feels like an image that you've already had in one of your nightmares and just to see it happening in the middle of this scary movie. It's really scary.
ALEX: And what did the scare feel like? Was it awful? Was it thrilling? How did it feel to see something that feels so recognizable from dream world embodied on screen?
PJ It felt really bad. It felt bad. It felt - I mean, thrilling? Thrilling. It felt scary! It felt really scary.
It made me realize that one of the things that happens to me, I have a lot of nightmares where I’m being stalked and killed and I die in most of them. And there are all sorts of killers who are killing me for all sorts of reasons and in all sorts of places, but one of the things that almost always happens is like my ability to flee is somehow impeded. And so just seeing -it felt like, seeing that made it feel like the movie had access to parts of me that I don’t like feeling like a movie has access to, which maybe is my problem with horror movies
ALEX: There was—there is a scene in the movie, and I can't remember exactly where it was, I think it was when Tina was getting chased by him. Where she's running, but she's kind of not going anywhere.
ALEX: And I couldn't tell what— she's, she's running, but she's—and it looks like she's trying to run fast, but she's actually kind of running slow
ALEX: And I couldn't tell whether it was a deliberate thing by Wes Craven to make that happen, because that's the feeling I have when I'm running from someone in a dream. That like, I'm trying to haul ass but I'm just sort of running in place.
PJ: Oh it was definitely on purpose. It was so- I forgot that moment. It was so scary.
KATIE: I just feel like, I just feel like we don't understand dreams enough. And sleep. I don't know. It's just a weird thing. Why are we having these dreams? I don't know. There's an answer. There’s a scientific answer.
PJ: No, I feel the same way. And I—like, I was a kid that never—like I've had insomnia my whole life. My whole life. Like one of my earliest memories was like, when I was in like first or second grade, I would just like, I'd run through all my books and so I would just read the dictionary at night to—because it was like boring to try to fall asleep.
PJ: And I would get like super scared. We had like a creaky old house. I remember reading the dictionary one night and like, it must have been like first grade or second grade or something, and I like kept hearing what sounded like draggy footsteps in the hallway.
PJ: And my door burst open and this person just ran in my room with like a skull-face mask on.
PJ: It was like two o'clock in the morning and it was my mom and she was like, “Oh, I found this mask up in the attic and I wanted to freak you out.”
KATIE: Oh my god. I have a—I think in general during the day, I'm like a relatively happy person. ‘Cause you know I'm an anxious person, but I think I save all of it for night, ‘cause I grind my teeth in my sleep a lot when I have scary dreams. Like I've lost two teeth. I have like two caps. But I had... what happens to me is, and it's been a while, luckily, but I'll wake up from the nightmare but I'm still sort of asleep. And I'll see the room, but whatever I was dreaming, I now still see in my actual room.
PJ: Oh god.
KATIE: So I can't tell if I'm still asleep or not. So like, and side note, my boyfriend, his biggest fear is home invasion. So it's a really terrible match because Like I'll—he'll wake up And I'll be sitting up in bed staring at the closet. And he'll be like, "What are you doing? And this one example. One time I was having a nightmare that I heard someone in my apartment. And I was going through looking because I knew someone was in the apartment. And so in real life apparently I sat up and was like, “He's here. There's someone in here, someone's inside.”
PJ: Oh my god.
KATIE: And so my boyfriend, Drew, sees this and he's like, in his mind, he's like, “It's happening. My biggest fear of home invasion, it's happening.” I, in my half-sleep, I get up and walk out into the hallway, ‘cause I'm still sleeping and looking for this person. He follows me out and I stare down the hall. And in my dream, I remember I saw a man in my shower start to climb out and walk towards me.
KATIE: And my boyfriend just sees me look past him down the hall and start screaming at the top of my lungs. The most visceral scream from the gut, like my throat was sore the next day.
PJ: Oh my god.
KATIE: And in my dream, this man was grabbing me, but what was actually happening was Drew not seeing anyone and just grabbing my arm, like, "What's going on?" And so I fell backwards in fear and started to do what he described as the, what you just saw, the spider crawl in the Exorcist–
PJ: Oh my god!
KATIE: –when she’s like scampering backwards. And I finally then wake up. Like, I just, it's like a sloppy spider crawl. I'm just like freaking out. And I wake up and I realize instantly what happened. I'm like, “Oh god, that was a dream.” And I start laughing. I'm like, “Oh, that's crazy.” But he experienced a home invasion like, he experienced waking up, being told there's someone in the house and me screaming. And he had to sleep on the couch for like three nights ‘cause he's just stared at the front door. Like it was a real—it was a real to-do.
PJ: [whispering] Jesus Christ.
ALEX: Are you worried that the movies that we're watching are going to, you're going to incorporate—they're going to become part of the lore of your brain?
PJ: Certainly. That's definitely going to happen. It hasn't happened yet, which is surprising to me, but it's definitely going to happen. And I also have this thing where I'm like, why, like when you're having dreams or nightmares, they're completely real to you. And then you wake up and you're like, that was a nightmare. But like that is, like then when you have a dream, the world that you left when you fell asleep, that world's fake. So I feel like I'm choosing to create- like the place where I have to spend one third of my life, I'm repainting to make more like Hell.
PJ: As a way to understand something, basically, because I want to see, Get Out. Like it feels crazy. I feel like I'm punishing a version of myself I will never meet, and who is–
ALEX: By the time we get through these things, Get Out is going to seem like small potatoes. Compared to what I'm going to make you watch, Get Out will seem really easy.
PJ: [sighing in relief] Cool.
KATIE: One tip, by the way, I have, I was thinking, if you're watching a movie and it starts to feel too scary, you should imagine like the craft services table to the side of the set.
KATIE: And like once the scene- like a bell's gonna ring, and then like whatever that scary monster is, is gonna walk over to the craft services and dig their hand through some M&Ms, you know?
PJ: (laughing) That's really helpful.
PJ: That's genuinely really helpful. Like imagining like the Freddy Krueger actor, like trying to pick up like carrot sticks and eat hummus with his blade hands…
PJ: Totally helpful.
ALEX: Uh, alright, PJ. Um, so, how are you feeling?
PJ: How am I feeling? Uh, I don't feel like I'm a different person yet. Uh, but I'm, I'm still on board.
ALEX: We’re getting into it.
PJ: I'm not mad. [ALEX: This is good.] I'm scared. [ALEX: This is good] I'm scared. I’m, I'm scared ‘cause I know... I don't know. I just know this is going to get worse. Like–
Just like I'm scared- every movie that gets closer to the present I find more worrisome.
KATIE: Awww, remember craft services!
PJ: (Laughing) Remember craft services.
PJ: Alight, we're gonna take a quick break. When we come back, we're going to talk to Rachel Talalay. Stick around.
ALEX: Rachel, are you recording?
RACHEL TALALAY: Yes, I am.
ALEX: Uh, awesome. Um, thank you so much for doing this. We really appreciate it. I'm so excited to talk to you. Um, as a horror movie geek, I'm geeking out a little bit, if I'm being honest.
PJ: Well, so do you want to introduce yourself?
RACHEL: Uh, I'm Rachel Talalay, and what's relevant here is that I, uh, produced Nightmare on Elm Street part four and directed part six, Freddy's Dead and worked on all of the first six.
PJ: So you, you sent us, you- you got in touch with us last weekend because we’d announced that we were going to watch Nightmare on Elm Street. And I was very intrigued by your message because not only do you have the credentials of having helped make all these movies, you also said that you were basically a reformed scaredy cat that used to be a person who was too afraid of horror movies, but somehow you were also making horror movies, and I'm very curious about this.
RACHEL: So I was that, uh, terrible person in- at slumber parties who ruined them [PJ: Me too!] as a kid. [ALEX: Yeah, PJ was too.] Completely the slumber party bummer. I was terrified. Absolutely terrified. So the last thing anyone would, if you had to write in your yearbook, what's going to happen to this person, it would be, they would... making horror films would have been the bottom of the list.
RACHEL: Um, so, and I think Alex said last week that New Line is known as the company that Freddy built, and the house of Freddy built, and I'm the filmmaker that Freddy built. So that's why I felt like this was relevant, because when I read the script for the original Nightmare on Elm Street, it scared me so much I didn't sleep for four nights. The script. [PJ: Just the script?] The script. [PJ: Oh my god.]
ALEX: So what, what were you doing at the time? What was your role at New Line when you, when you got the script?
RACHEL: So when I started it- what's interesting about the eighties —and I really want to hear what PJ thought of the film and if he's recovering— but what's interesting about the eighties was that when I started, and I was in my early twenties and wanting to go into the film business was, there was the video cassette market started then. So there were all these small indie companies that started because of the video cassette market. And they were able to make the mov—the only movies they were really able to make were genre movies. So horror was the easiest thing to make because you didn't need a big star. So you couldn't-
RACHEL: So that's where this—that's where the eighties horror world came from. And I had actually worked with New Line, originally on, Polyester, I was a production assistant. I mean bottom, made coffee, bottom of the barrel, but that's where I met the New Line executives. And I then went up to New York and worked with them on a horror film, where they said, “Oh, we don't have an accountant. And you did math at university, so you can be the accountant.”, I had to pretend that I—oh yeah, I can do that.
ALEX: So what was your role on the first movie?
RACHEL: So, um, so, so when New Line decided to make Nightmare, they wanted me to be the accountant again. But by then I had started working with Roger Corman. And so I was the, uh, I was already doing production work. So on the first movie I was the location manager. And so I found the Freddy house and the accountant. But they gave me a credit as assistant production manager.
PJ: And did it feel like where you like could you tell, ‘cause one of the things that I now understand about Freddy is like, that it was this sort of monster hit. Could you tell when you were working at like, "Oh, this is going to be something, this is, this is a big deal?"
RACHEL: I could tell that, I mean, reading the script and being that scared, so I knew that this, I knew even for me, ‘cause I'd read a lot of bad horror scripts and this was a good horror script, so I could tell that. I knew Wes Craven was an amazing director and then when I saw the film—so then I was involved in everything. I was there for all the production. So I saw all the behind the scenes, I saw how the cool ways and the ways we messed up making it and then um, when the, when I saw the screening of the film, it was terrifying and I didn't sleep for four days.
PJ: Oh my god!
RACHEL: So, so that’s basically–
PJ: When you say didn't sleep for four days, what do you mean?
ALEX: You knew exactly what was going to happen and then you still didn't sleep for four days again?
RACHEL: And I knew how it was happening and I knew all the things that were screwed up and I knew that those extending arms were, you know, broke in the middle of it. I knew that we had a stupid wig for Nancy that we had to replace. I knew all of those stories.
PJ: That makes me feel completely doomed, because the…
PJ: Best, like most hopeful advice I've gotten, is if you can remember, if when you're too scared, you can remember that it's just a movie, um, you'll be okay. And the fact that you had made the movie, saw the movie and didn’t sleep for four days, like, there’s no world where I’m going to be okay.
RACHEL: Yes, yes there is, but it just took a little bit more time.
RACHEL: I mean, and it really goes to show that, that the original Nightmare on Elm Street is seminally scary. It's so smart-scary.
PJ: Why? Like, can you explain why the movie is so scary? Like do you have a theory of it?
RACHEL: I do, but did, did you end up being scared afterwards? Did you end up having longer term, or did you just walk away?
PJ: I... I didn't have like a sleepless night, but I also take sleeping pills, so I don't have sleepless nights.
PJ: I will say that since it, since I watched it, at first I thought I was totally fine, like I didn't have Freddy nightmares. I don't think I had nightmares, period. What I've noticed in the past week though, since watching it, is that I keep thinking someone's in my house.
PJ: Like I keep hearing…
PJ: I live in an old apartment. I'm totally alone. There's no way there's somebody in my house and I've like, checked the locks a lot every day, which I, again, like I'd never done before. I keep hearing like if there's like a creak or a drag, I have to be like, "That's not a person. That's not a person."
ALEX: Um, the thing that I—that stuck with me from this viewing of it, having seen all of the movies in the series many times, except for some reason only having seen five once, I don't know why—is that, that the, the makeup on this one feels much grittier. Like Freddy's makeup, specifically, feels like much grittier and scarier and like his ears kind of hanging off and you can see bits of flesh hanging off of him. It's like much more unsettling than the more streamlined Freddy you get in the later movies.
RACHEL: So one of the things, that you should know is that as the series went on, so but Nightmare two wasn't very good, and there's lots of reasons for that. Um, and then Nightmare three, we doubled—we made it much funnier and we doubled the box office.
RACHEL: So that kind of has a lot to do with the fact that the bigger audience, that the hardcore horror audience loves the original. There's nothing that lives up to the original as being just seminally scary. But when we made Freddy funnier, and when we made the effects fancier, and when we made more, much more interesting effects and, um, the audience doubled. So, uh, and we were better at making that sort of, what works with the pop scare. You're surprised by your own fear and then you laugh at yourself. So that...
PJ: Wait what’s a pop scare? Is that like the jump out?
RACHEL: A jump- a jump scare, yeah. A jump scare.
PJ: I hate jump scares.
RACHEL: But afterwards you laugh at yourself, right?
RACHEL: So that's what we tapped into. And so that doubled- it became a date movie, um, by Nightmare three. And that–
PJ: Because the first movie was like too scary.
PJ: It's like, it's like you have to hit, like, you're making food that's too spicy for a lot of people to like it.
RACHEL: Yeah, but–
PJ: I'm a little bit curious why we didn't start with the more funny, less scary Freddy movie. ‘Cause we're going canon?
ALEX: I mean, not because we're going cannon, but because you've already seen the Exorcist. We're trying to ramp this up.
PJ: Oh, right.
PJ: They have to get worse all the time.
RACHEL: And also, people would not forgive you for starting with the humor ones.
RACHEL: You have to start with the seminal one. One of the things- I want to go back to your original question, which was, do I have a theory on why I think it's so scary, which is that I'm not scared really of being inhabited by demons. So the Exorcist is an amazing movie and it was terrifying in the day, and there are some terrifying sequences, but I'm not scared of that happening to me. But when you make it about your nightmares, no matter what, it's personal.
RACHEL: No matter what, it's such a genius character that no matter what, if that hit Nancy's nightmares and might not be your nightmares, but you know that he can get into your nightmares. So no matter what he can get into your psyche.
ALEX: How eventually- how did you eventually find your way to not being scared? If you actually saw a movie that you helped make, remembered all the special effects and perhaps failures and still couldn't sleep for four nights, how did you get to the point where you were no longer scared?
RACHEL: Well, uh, I think working on, uh, a lot more, watching a lot more and working on a lot more and I'm still scared sometimes. Um, uh, I still have moments where I'm scared. But you, the more time and the more you watch and the more, um – I mean, I would agree that understanding how things are made and I often step back and say, "Ooh, how did they make that? How did they do that? That's really cool. Why didn't I think of that?" Um, so that goes through my head. But also finding the humor in everything. Always. I've become known as being very, very good at scary. And I would say that I'm very, very good at scary because I, first of all, I know all the things that I'm scared of. So I can—when we were coming up with nightmares in the later Nightmare on Elm Streets, I was a Bible of, well, you can be scared of this. You can be scared of that because I knew everything. So you would be useful in those meetings. And those meetings are fun. Um, and one good example of what we did was, uh, we had a character in Nightmare Four, who was afraid of bugs. And so it seems like what you would do is just throw her in a pit of bugs, like they did an Indiana Jones, but instead she turns into a cockroach.
ALEX: I remember being, being uniquely unsettled by that. She turns into a cockroach and she's also in a Roach Motel, so she can't—she's like stuck to the glue in the trap and she can't get out.
RACHEL: She pulls her face off.
ALEX: And as she's trying to pull out, she pulls out of her skin and just becomes this cockroach. It's a-—transformation like that, metamorphosis I guess, you could say like–
RACHEL: Full-on Kafka.
ALEX: Is really unsettling to me, which I suppose it's supposed to be.
PJ: When, is it like when, when, when you guys are having discussions about, you know, like sort of writer's roomy type, like how do we make this as scary as possible, are those conversations like, are they like philosophical about, you know, like, like when you're trying to figure out, you're like, well, it's scarier if she turns into a bug than if she falls into a pit of bugs. Does that mean that you're having to talk about like what is scary about bugs or what, what does it mean to be scared of that? Like, are you really, is it a lot of conversations where you're plumbing like what fear is?
RACHEL: It’s a lot about, “God! That would be so cool. How do we make that really, really cool?” So–
PJ: Got it. So it’s like people one-upping each other?
RACHEL: Yeah, and what's the coolest version of that. And how can we rip her face off? And will Roach Motel give us permission to say, “You can check in, but you can't check out.”
RACHEL: Which they did. Um, so a lot of much more creative discussions of how to make it really, really cool and a lot less- but then later on, the French critics come. And the French critics come and say, “Did you mean that blah, blah, blah, blah, blah about Diderot and uh, Freud,” and you go, “uh-huh uh-huh what do you think?” And then you get to read these amazing articles about the meaning of what you did.
PJ and ALEX: [both laugh]
PJ: I feel like, Rachel, I still don't totally understand, like, like you were a me and now you're a you. And you being a you is like being a super Alex. But like, is it like, is me asking you how that happened like asking somebody who like did a bunch of pushups, at what point they became strong? Like is it just about like exposure over time? Or was there like a moment or a way that your thinking changed or like something that I can be looking for?
RACHEL: Well, I went to- got to a place where I was like, this is cool to see how they do this. This is cool how- I got into sort of a psychological thing where, oh, why is this working? Why is this working so well? Oh, it's working so well because of this and this and this and this and this.
PJ: I think, I think like the, the sort of like how did they do- like if there's a way you're watching it, I think, Rachel, where it's like... you're like technically how do they pull that off? And I think that probably won't work for me that well ‘cause, ‘cause I don't know anything about how movies are made. And I feel like as we get more modern, they'll just be like, "Well, they did fuckin’ CGI probably."
PJ: But sort of like, why is this movie scary? Or like how are they doing it? Just the like narrative-y stuff. I think that might help a little bit, maybe. Maybe.
RACHEL: Yeah. I mean, I think you can say, how did that work for me? What did they do for the set up, why did- and for me, I have to understand, why was that particularly scary compared to this one not being scary? Because I do it. I create it. I, um, you know, I remember throwing Johnny Depp upside down and revolving rooms and doing it backwards and buckets of blood and the body bag and things that went wrong. I mean, like, the fact that Wes scripted you know, the arms extend and the fingers spark. And then you get there and there's this really shitty looking, uh, you know, puppet arm of, of, of stuffing. Um, and it doesn't extend at all. And then everybody's running around set going, well—Wes is getting really angry and saying, “This looks terrible,” and everybody's running around set with fishing poles and, and creating new pieces of costume and creating pieces to make it extend.
RACHEL: And then you, and Wes was like, “This is never going to work. This is always going to be crap.” And you get into the theater and those, and it's beautifully lit and you've got those shadows and those silhouettes. I was like, whoa, that really works.
PJ: I have to say the extending arms did not scare me. But many, many, many, many, many things in the movie really did scare me.
RACHEL: And then part of what's scary is you don't know whether you're awake or asleep. That's just that, that, that, that I just love.
PJ: It really feels like, it feels so, it feels like, to me, the core really smart thing about it is like if you're afraid of scary movies,You start to feel like you don't know if you're safely watching a movie or have been pulled into one in a very awful way.
RACHEL: That's great.
ALEX: Yeah, PJ, that's great.
RACHEL: Think about that. Think how good that is. Think about what a great- compared to Don't Go in the Basement.
PJ: Yes. No, it's very, very clever.And I love genre stuff. Like I love how genre sometimes lets you like explore metaphors and ideas in a way that like non-genre stuff just doesn't. Like I like, I like all that. Like in theory, besides the fact that I'm a huge wimp, every other part of me is primed to really love horror movies. It's just that I'm a wimp.
ALEX: That is the most encouraging thing I've heard you say so far.
RACHEL: There you go. You're going to be okay. You're going to be okay.
PJ: I mean, a lot of people have gone broke betting on me to stop being a wimp.
ALEX: (laughs) Um, Rachel, thank you so much.
PJ: Yeah, thank you.
ALEX: It was such a treat to talk to you.
RACHEL: Well, you've got a few more, a little ways to go. I'm rooting for- I am rooting for you!
PJ: (laughing) Thank you.
PJ: Alright. So...
ALEX: Congratulations on making your way through Nightmare on Elm Street. I think that was pretty cool of you.
PJ: Do you think that? You keep alternating between being like encouraging coach and mean bully and I can't tell which one's sincere
ALEX: I think that I'm being serious. I'm kind of making fun of you but I also like, I know how this is for you. So, I'm proud of you.
PJ: But also, you're making fun of me?
ALEX: I'm sorry.
PJ: When you're like teaching your kid how to ride a bike, you're just call him a loser the whole time?
ALEX: Uh, no. I usually give up cause it's so frustrating to try and teach someone how to do something.
PJ: Well, that all goes well for this. What's the next movie?
ALEX: The next movie is the 1979 Sci-fi horror movie, Alien.
PJ: Hmm, okay.
ALEX: Why do you say it like that?
PJ: I don't—I mean, my brain is just doing fear math. I'm like, okay. Well, I'm glad we're going back in time a little bit but I know Alien is very scary. The only thing I know about Alien is that—I don't know why I have to know this, like how did this stupid fact get in my brain? That they made the creature scary by not giving them eyes.
ALEX: Oh yeah. That is—it's true. They don't have eyes.
PJ: And it's Sigourney Weaver.
PJ: I will say this is one of the movies—this is maybe the first movie we're watching, while I'm afraid of being scared of it, this is one of those movies I'm like, "I wished I could have watched this movie." I think this might be the first one that that's true for.
ALEX: Well now you can.
ALEX: And, I think you could probably watch the second one too. So each Alien movie has had like a completely different tone. And so the first one that I saw was Aliens, the second one. And it's a James Cameron movie and it's like an action movie. It's a bunch of marines that go into a planet with machine guns and start blowing things up. And there's a lot of great set pieces and the music is...
PJ: It's like Dune.
ALEX: Not unlike Dune cause...
PJ: Space Marines. Okay, but the first one's more of a horror movie?
ALEX: And then I went back and watched the first one, expecting something somewhat similar and was very surprised...in a good way.
PJ: Makes me feel...
ALEX: In a good way.
PJ: Like I would probably like the second one more. Okay, alright. Is there anything we need to do special? Do you need to wear like cool alien hat or something?
ALEX: In order to enjoy it more?
PJ: I don't know. Do you have any preparation instructions?
ALEX: Uh, I don't know. Pop some popcorn. Get a warm blanket. Snuggle up with Ralphy.
PJ: Yeah, okay. Alright. I'll see you in two weeks. Let's do it.
Scaredy Cats Horror Show is hosted by me, PJ Vogt, and Alex Goldman. The episode was produced by Jessica Yung and edited by Tim Howard, with more help from Damiano Marchetti. We’re mixed by Kate Bilinski.. Fact checking by Michelle Harris. Our intern is Lisa Wang. Our theme song is by Mariana Romano, and our closing theme is by Alex Goldman. Our cover art was made by Olly Moss. Don’t forget to watch Alien in advance of the next episode. We’ll be back in two weeks, you can catch new episodes early on Spotify on Tuesdays, and you can hear the show everywhere else on Fridays. Thanks for listening.