When writer Jeffrey Reddick dreamed up the concept for 2000’s Final Destination — which positions Death itself as the ultimate slasher villain — he created one of the most successful horror franchises of the last 20 years. Now, Reddick has returned to the world of supernatural terror with his new movie, Dead Awake. Directed by Phillip Guzman, and starring Jocelin Donahue (House of the Devil), Brea Grant (Rob Zombie’s Halloween), and Lori Petty (Tank Girl), among others, the film concerns an ancient evil that stalks its victims through the real-life phenomenon of sleep paralysis.
“Jocelin Donahue plays twin sisters, one of whom suffers from sleep paralysis,” says Reddick of the film, which is screening this Wednesday as part of New York’s FEARnyc Festival. “Usually when we go to sleep at night, our brain shuts our bodies down, so we don’t act out our dreams. Sleep paralysis happens when your brain wakes up, but your body doesn’t click that switch. So, you’ll wake up but you can’t move your body. It’s really terrifying. Your brain’s synapses start firing and people hallucinate. There’s a common theme of feeling like something evil is in the room with them or there’s something on their chest suffocating them. A lot of people report seeing an old woman sitting on their chest, suffocating them. The ‘Night Hag’ is what it’s called. In the olden days, they thought this Night Hag was visiting people at night and sucking the life out of them. I’m always drawn to real-life stories and it was fun to delve into that nightmare territory.”
If you’re thinking this all sounds rather A Nightmare on Elm Street-y, then Reddick will not be remotely upset. Indeed, he partly wrote Dead Awake as a tribute to the late Wes Craven’s film and even included a bathtub scene in homage to the sequence where Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy is dragged underwater by Freddy Krueger. But the New Line Cinema-produced A Nightmare on Elm Street is not just Reddick’s recommendation for the best film to watch over Halloween. It is also the movie which set him on the path to becoming a screenwriter back when he was a teenager growing up in Kentucky.
“I was 14 years old,” says Reddick. “I saw it in a double feature at a drive-in, with Alone in the Dark. A Nightmare on Elm Street played second and it just scared the hell out of me. It was so imaginative. All the stuff that Freddy could do, I’d never seen that in a movie before. It also had a really strong female protagonist — she booby-trapped a house, she went in the nightmare after Freddy. You’d never seen a heroine actually go after the villain like she went after Freddy. It was a perfect mixture of great concept, great execution, great heroine, great special effects, great villain. That movie just really struck me.
“I wrote a prequel idea and sent it to Bob Shaye (New Line Cinema founder) in New York. I’m 14 years old in Kentucky. I have no idea how the film business works. He sends it back to me and he’s like, ‘We don’t take unsiolicited material.’ I wrote him back, and I’m like, ‘Excuse me, sir, but I’ve seen three of your movies, so I think you can take five minutes to read my story.’ [Laughs] Only the young can be so ballsy! He read my treatement, he got back in touch with me, and I ended up staying penpals with him and his assistant, Joy Mann, from age 14 to 19. Then I went to New York to study acting for the summer and I got an internship at New Line. They ended up hiring me, and I stayed there for 11 years, and they made Final Destination. I credit A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Bob, and Joy, for my career, basically. If he hadn’t returned that second little snotty letter, you never know where I’d be today.
“I got to meet Wes at the Last House on the Left premiere, the remake. We sat down, and we talked for a while, and I told him my story, and he was very nice and gracious. Wes actually died on the last day of shooting [Dead Awake]. We finished shooting the film, and I woke up the next morning, and my phone had so many messages. I just thought something had happened with the production, and it was people calling me about Wes, telling me he had passed away. That was really sad.
“[The last time I saw A Nightmare on Elm Street] was, like, a week ago. I often will play it when I’m writing as well, it’s in the background. There’s some ’80s hair and fashion that is questionable. But the way that Wes shot it, and the score, and the sound design — he put everything he had into that movie. You can tell it was just such a passion project for him. And Tina’s death is still one of the most terrifyingly amazing death scenes in a film. I love that movie.”
Dead Awake is also screening at the Alamo City Film Festival in San Antonio on Oct. 29.
Watch trailers for A Nightmare on Elm Street and Dead Awake, below.