The Time Freddy Krueger Became a Nightmare for Will Smith

Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images
Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images

Fans of Will Smith’s music career may think they’ve heard every album and seen every music video from the actor’s days as one half of the hip-hop duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince. Thanks to one ill-timed and poorly conceived effort, however, there’s one performance that aired only a handful of times before being permanently pulled. It has never resurfaced on compilations, on MTV, or even on YouTube—until now. And the fault lies solely with Freddy Krueger, who used something even more dangerous than his razor-fingered glove: a small army of lawyers.

A promotional image of Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger
Getty Images

Back in early 1988, Smith and his musical partner Jazzy Jeff (a.k.a. Jeffrey Allen Townes) released their second album, He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper. It would eventually go platinum, selling 2.5 million copies through 1989 and spinning off the duo’s most successful single, “Parents Just Don’t Understand.”

In late 1987, Townes composed another single, “Nightmare on My Street,” that played with the premise established by the A Nightmare on Elm Street series. In the song, Smith’s dreams are haunted by a scarred bogeyman named “Fred”; a voice modulator mimics the raspy delivery of actor Robert Englund, who portrayed slasher movie icon Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street films. After his run-in, Smith tries calling Jeff to warn him of the threat but it was too late: The killer has gotten to his partner.

Zomba, the parent company behind the album's label, decided the song might be of interest to New Line Cinema, the studio behind the Nightmare film franchise. With the fourth installment, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, due to hit theaters in August 1988, Zomba executive Barry Weiss approached New Line with the possibility of collaborating and forwarded a tape of the song.

Weiss’s timing was spot-on. New Line had recently conducted research that indicated that 40 percent of A Nightmare of Elm Street's audience was black, and they felt that tying Krueger into the burgeoning rap and hip-hop industry would help cement his appeal to the demographic. But New Line and Weiss couldn’t come to a financial agreement. Instead, the studio went with The Fat Boys and granted permission for the song “Are You Ready for Freddy?” The video, complete with an appearance by Englund (in character), was released just a few months prior to A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 to raise awareness of the sequel.

Although New Line found their collaborators, Zomba didn’t appear willing to give up on the idea of a Freddy takeoff. “Nightmare on My Street” remained on the album, and Smith and Townes recorded a video intended for distribution on MTV. In it, Smith is stalked by a Freddy-like character who appears in a trench coat and has a wrinkled face. Smith’s lyrics make overt reference to a Krueger-esque appearance. (Fred is “burnt like a weenie.”) The eerie house Smith calls home even bears a passing resemblance to the house in the original Nightmare film.

If Zomba thought they could declare the song and video a parody and be safe from legal action, they were mistaken. Almost immediately, New Line's legal team sent a stern letter demanding the music label recall all copies of the song. When that didn't happen, the studio next sought a preliminary injunction to prevent “Nightmare on My Street” from being aired on MTV or elsewhere, citing copyright infringement and a concern that the video would detract from their collaboration with The Fat Boys.

"We own both a character, Freddy Krueger, and the theme music from Nightmare on Elm Street, both of which are protected under the copyright laws," Seth Willenson, New Line's senior vice president of telecommunications, told the Los Angeles Times in August 1988. “By using Freddy in the Jazzy Jeff song, they've infringed our copyright. We're protecting our rights the same way that George Lucas does, because as far as we're concerned, Freddy Krueger is the Star Wars of New Line Cinema."

Weeks before the release of the film, a judge in New York’s United States District Court would have to decide whether Zomba was entitled to a fair use exemption over a fictional child murderer.

Will Smith appears at the Grammy Awards
Matt Campbell/Getty Images

To Zomba’s dismay, judge Robert Ward didn’t buy their argument that “Nightmare on My Street” was nothing more than a Weird Al-style satire. Screening the entire first installment of the film series and the music video, Ward noted that the latter drew considerable influence in tone, mood, and characteristics from the feature. Fred’s voice was scratchy like Englund’s; his glove, though it featured phonograph needles instead of razors, was obviously meant to invoke Krueger’s weapon of choice. Where Zomba saw parody, Ward saw little more than a derivative work of a copyrighted property.

“It is in this month that many individuals will make their decision whether Nightmare IV is a film that they are interested in viewing,” wrote Ward in his decision. “Thus, the telecast of the lower quality DJ Jazzy Jeff video with the somewhat silly and less frightening Freddy could dissuade an unspecified number of individuals from seeing the film.” The injunction was granted, with a full hearing to be held at a later date.

That didn’t happen—both parties settled out of court. While the song remained on the record, it began to ship with a disclaimer that it wasn’t associated with New Line; the video, which had aired only briefly on MTV, was pulled, and the court ordered that all copies be destroyed. But at least one survived: In October 2018, a YouTube user named "Nancy Thomson," a nod to the Heather Langenkamp heroine who appeared in several of the Nightmare movies, shared the video in its entirety.

If Smith and Townes were bothered by the outcome, they didn’t voice it publicly. Smith even dressed up as Krueger in a 1990 episode of his sitcom, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. But there is one additional bit of film trivia to come out of the case: In seeking to resolve the issue, New Line offered DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince a two-film option. If they accepted the roles, their salaries would be deducted from the settlement payout. One of those projects was 1990’s House Party, which the two declined. The roles eventually went to Kid ‘n Play.

Look Back at All 23 MCU Films With the Infinity Saga Box Set Trailer

Marvel Studios
Marvel Studios

While there had been plenty of popular Marvel movies prior to 2008’s Iron Man, everything changed when Robert Downey Jr. stepped into the role of Tony Stark and began the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With that came the Infinity Saga, the culmination of all 23 films of phases one, two, and three of the MCU, concluding with the bittersweet Avengers: Endgame earlier this year. While fans are no doubt excited to follow Phase 4 with all the new, exciting films to come, nothing will ever be the same again.

Now that it’s all over, Marvel Studios is releasing an Infinity Saga box set of all the MCU films so far, and according to ComicBook.com, the upcoming release has also come with an emotional trailer. After debuting at San Diego Comic-Con earlier this summer, fans can now see the trailer on YouTube. 

The trailer features the biggest moments in the Infinity Saga leading up to Iron Man snapping the universe back into place, and sacrificing himself in the process. “What a world—universe, now,” Tony’s voice narrates. He’s got that right.

With Phase 4 of the MCU not picking back up until May 2020 with Black Widow, buying this box set might not be a bad idea. A release date has not been announced yet.

El Camino, the Breaking Bad Movie, Is Coming to Theaters

Doug Hyun/AMC
Doug Hyun/AMC

On October 11, Netflix will unleash El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie on the world at midnight. But for those Los Pollos Hermanos-loving fans who want the theatrical experience, Entertainment Weekly reports that the film will also screen in cinemas across 68 cities from October 11 to October 13.

Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan told The Hollywood Reporter that he filmed the movie—his feature film directorial debut—in CinemaScope 2.39 wide-screen format, making it an ideal film to watch in a theater. “Every time we’d put out a new season of Breaking Bad, we would have a premiere in a big movie theater,” Gilligan said. “I always thought, ‘This thing, it looks like a movie. It doesn’t look like a show.’ I really want to be able to share that with fans.”

Not much is known about the Jesse Pinkman movie, which filmed in secrecy last year. However, during this Sunday’s Emmys broadcast, a longer trailer will be released.

Here’s what we do know, though: Gilligan told The Hollywood Reporter he worked with a fairly high budget and was able to film outside of Albuquerque. Ten “familiar” Breaking Bad characters will make appearances, including Jesse's beloved pal Badger. No matter what, the movie—whether watched in theaters, on your couch, or at your desk—will be an epic event.

To find tickets, click here and type in your city. Several shows in NYC are already sold out, so it’s best to purchase tickets sooner rather than later.

[h/t Entertainment Weekly]

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