The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise has helped launch many a film career in Hollywood, including Johnny Depp, Patricia Arquette, and Kelly Rowland, just to name a few. But none more notorious perhaps than the career of Tom Arnold. Halloween is almost here which means when we had the chance to speak with Tom Arnold about the new horror comedy Dead Ant, we couldn’t resist the chance to get in a question about his relationship with MovieWeb’s favorite horror movie killer Freddy Krueger.
The 58 year old actor and comedian, who earned an MTV Movie Award for Best Comedic Performance thanks to his supporting role in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s True Lies, made his film debut in Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, the supposed finale of the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, which arrived in September 1991.
It was the height of tabloid fame for Arnold and his then wife, Roseanne Barr, creator and star of the hit sitcom series Roseanne, another Movieweb favorite. The couple poked fun at themselves in a surreal cameo in Freddy’s Dead, which saw the people of Springwood in a dazed stupor after years of abuse from Freddy Krueger.
The movie was directed by longtime series collaborator Rachel Talalay, a producer on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master who has since directed a ton of television, including episodes of Doctor Who, The Flash, Supergirl, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. In addition to Tom and Roseanne, Freddy’s Dead featured a cameo from Johnny Depp, who’d gotten his big break in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street.
“It was the first film I was ever in,” Arnold explained, chatting on his cell phone while driving through Beverly Hills, California. Roseanne had previously starred in 1989’s She-Devil. “We loved the [Nightmare on Elm Street] films. We liked [Talalay]. We liked Johnny Depp. We liked all of the people involved with those films. We were just fans. So when they asked us to be in it, we said, ‘When? Where?'”
Arnold and his ex played a pair of hapless parents who were clearly suffering from some PTSD courtesy of the Springwood Slasher. When the movie’s crop of teenagers show up to town, Roseanne’s character goes crazy maternal on them. Arnold’s husband is angry, most likely because he knows new teens means Freddy’s return.
“We just riffed on something stupid,” Arnold said, with a laugh. “We look like morons, but we were playing morons. It’s nice to be part of a cultural phenomenon.”
Freddy’s Dead has another notable cameo from Alice Cooper, who plays Freddy’s abusive adoptive father in flashbacks. There’s a connection between the legendary shock rocker and Arnold’s latest film, Dead Ant. Arnold plays a rock n’ roll manager in the new horror comedy, a drive-in style b-movie about a band attacked by giant insects in the middle of the desert on their way to a Coachella knock-off festival. Arnold says he based his performance on his pal Shep Gordon, the Hollywood agent and band manager who was the subject of the 2013 documentary Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, directed by Saturday Night Live veteran Mike Myers.
“He started with Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. He’s managed Alice Cooper for all of these years. It was a crazy business in the beginning, but it was always about keeping the show going no matter what. No matter if somebody throws a chicken onstage… You just keep going forward. That’s how I saw this guy. We just keep marching. The ants have bitten my arm off? We just keep going to the concert. The show goes on! No big deal. I based taking that old adage to the extreme on Shep.”
Arnold sees Dead Ant, which co-stars Sean Astin (The Lord of the Rings) and Jake Busey (Starship Troopers), as a movie in the vein of the b-movies he loved to see at the South Ottumwa Drive-In (which closed in 1996) as a kid in small town Iowa. “Our drive-in was party central,” he said. “That’s where my dad took us. That’s where everything happened. It was on the edge of town. It was an exciting place. That was all we had. So going to the drive-in on the weekends was everything.”
“And we didn’t go to see The Bridge Over the River Kwai or Citizen Kane,” he added. “We saw these types of movies and loved them. [Dead Ant] is a drive-in [style] movie, with your speaker hanging on the car window, when you could walk to the bathroom in the middle of it without missing anything, that whole experience. The horror was scary but you’re in a big place with a screen in front of you and everybody you know is in a car behind you so it’s fun scary, you know?”
There was no film criticism happening on those Arnold family weekends. “Professional wrestling was our biggest sport. And we bought into it! Even to this day, when a professional wrestler passes away, I have to take a moment, because that’s a visceral connection to my childhood. We just couldn’t wait for the weirdest, scariest [movie]. We didn’t try to pick the movies apart. We were fans. ‘We’re buying this. This is awesome.’ Film critics and the like look at these films differently than people who grew up like I did. [These movies] were such a big part of our lives. So to be involved with a film that’s a little bit of an homage to that is a fun thing.”