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Thursday, June 20, 2024 | Exclusives, Interviews


The history of teenage characters in horror is relatively short. In the early years of horror cinema, protagonists were typically played by either adults or children. Despite a handful of often low-budget exceptions such as the 1959 cult classic Teenagers from Outer Space, teenage protagonists were few and far between. When teenage characters did appear in horror (particularly in the early ’70s), their primary function was often merely as bait for the killer. Consequently, they were given little character development. However, in the mid-to-late 1970s, genre cinema changed and fully realized teenage protagonists started to emerge, including Carrie White (Carrie) and Laurie Strode (Halloween). As horror films rose in popularity during the early ’80s, it was only a matter of time before another iconic teenage character. And emerge she did.

In November 1984, A Nightmare on Elm Street opened in theaters, and the world was introduced to Nancy Thompson, played by Heather Langenkamp. In her superb performance, Langenkamp redefined the role of teenage protagonists in horror, elevating Nancy above and beyond the confines of the genre, and in the end, creating a role model and a pop culture icon.

RUE MORGUE caught up with Langenkamp to chat about all things Nancy, Freddy and the  40-year legacy of A Nightmare on Elm Street.

A Nightmare on Elm Street celebrates its 40th anniversary this year! Congratulations! How does it feel knowing that we’re still talking about this film and celebrating it after all these years?

Heather Langenkamp,’80s horror icon. Photo courtesy of Isabelle Anderson Photography.

I am amazed but not surprised that A Nightmare on Elm Street is considered a classic after 40 years. Of course, I feel very lucky to have played Nancy Thompson at a time when horror was the second or third-class citizen of Hollywood genres. Robert Englund and I have had the opportunity to really lean into this genre by getting to know our fans, honoring their genuine love of horror and letting them know how important they are – not just to us but to Hollywood. And of course, my mother was finally impressed when A Nightmare on Elm Street got admitted into the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress – the true mark of a classic!

How did you land the role of Nancy?

My agent sent me to an audition in Hollywood at a dingy office in a pretty awful neighborhood of Hollywood. I remember walking into the casting office, and there were no chairs to sit on, so we sat on the floor, waiting to see Annette Benson, the casting director. [It was] pretty obvious this would be a bare-bones production. I read the sides they gave me for Nancy and left. I got a callback days later. The next time I went to the office, the casting director brought the actors in two by two – one to play Tina and one to play Nancy.  Amanda Wyss and I were paired up. We went in and Wes Craven was there with Ms. Benson. I sat side-by-side with Amanda, and we read the scene where Amanda says, “You dreamed about the same creep I did.”  When it got to the part when Nancy said, “He scraped his fingernails along things. They made this horrible sound “scrrrrrch” …  I remember holding my hand up like Freddy’s claw and scraping it through the air next to Amanda’s face. We both kind of got goosebumps at the time. After we finished reading the scene, Wes Craven told us we got the part.  Right there in the office. It was amazing not to have to agonize and wait by the phone to get a call from my agent. It was very thrilling. I knew I would be able to pay my rent for a couple more months.

What was your first impression when you read the script?

Those were the days when all I wanted was to be in a John Hughes movie. So, in my eyes, it was like a scary Breakfast Club. I didn’t know what Wes Craven intended to create. I didn’t realize that the horror was going to be so visceral and violent at the time I read it. I didn’t have a clue what Freddy Krueger would look like.

Was there a moment early on when you realized just how big A Nightmare on Elm Street would become?


Do you have any mementos from the set?

I have kept Nancy’s pajamas and, of course, the script with all of the colored pages and notes that Wes gave me. 

Do you have a favourite line from the film?

“I’m into survival.”

Do you have a favourite memory of working with Robert Englund on the first film?

Our fight scenes were the places where I really got to know Robert. While I was new to everything, Robert had learned stagecraft and fencing at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. He had all these powerful, wonderful moves. I watched him carefully consider where the glove was going to be when he would click the blades together to make that awful sound and how he would threaten me, given the constraints of the space we had. When you watch the bedroom fights, you’ll notice we really utilize the whole space – from the mirror on the door to the bed to the desk to the coffee pot to the floor and the walls. We usually worked for quite a while before we shot the scene, putting the choreography together mainly with Robert’s ideas after Wes told us what he had in mind. The stunt coordinator made sure I wouldn’t get impaled accidentally. Jacques Haitkin, the DP, created all the great camera moves based on what we came up with. But most of the tension and glove terror came from Robert’s incredible ideas. With that much physical closeness, I learned to trust Robert. Aside from his great personality, which is always quick with a joke, I learned what a generous, intelligent, kind yet also imposing, twisted and powerful guy he is.  

In your fantastic 2011 documentary, I Am Nancy, you speak with many people who come up to you and tell you stories about the first time that they watched A Nightmare on Elm Street. It’s a milestone for so many. How does it feel knowing that A Nightmare on Elm Street is such a special and important part of so many peoples’ lives?

Living in this day and age is not easy. I look around and see all kinds of ways that people find comfort and strength in order to cope with the uncertainty and pain in their lives. For many years, I have listened to people discuss Freddy and Nancy in the context of achieving more power in their own lives and of facing the fears that permeate life. In the very early days – in the ’80s and ’90s – young gay men often opened up to me about the courage they derived from Nancy as they came out to their families. But as time went on, I discovered that Nancy provided a roadmap for facing your fear for all sorts of people.  Eventually, I started asking people who came to my table, “So, what’s your Freddy?” meaning, what is that one thing that scares you in your personal life that needs a big dose of courage to face? Child abuse, mental illness, anxiety, depression, physical challenges, health issues – all of these personal battles where courage to face your fear comes in handy. Thankfully, Wes created Nancy. I think of Wes as the shaman who illustrated in a terrifyingly enjoyable movie, the incredible power we all have to either avoid dealing with the bogeyman or to find the strength to face him.

Forty years on, why do you think Nancy has such staying power? What is it that sets her apart from the other final girls in horror?

Nancy is a really normal teenager. I have started using the word Final Teenager instead of Final Girl because I really feel Nancy is special not because of her gender but because of what she did. Freddy is after all of them, male or female. He doesn’t care. She survives because she is smart and courageous. Not because she is a girl. All teenagers feel the way Nancy, Tina, Glen and Rod felt. Wes once told me that they are all really one teenager. Each kid represents a different way our psyches handle fear – sex, media, eating – but it’s Nancy who faces her fear.  

What’s next for you? Do you have any upcoming projects that you’re excited about?

I am very proud of my role in Mike Flanagan’s The Midnight Club, currently on Netflix.  Fans are telling me they enjoy my portrayal of Dr. Georgina Stanton as well as the Devil! (You’ll have to watch to know what I mean!)  I’m also excited for people to see my scene in Mike Flanagan’s The Life of Chuck this year. I have a mysterious role in Spider One’s Little Bites, which premieres at Fantastic Fest this September. There are other projects that I’ve done in the past couple of years that are finding distribution that I’m also excited for people to see. Brian McQuery’s Plea is a thriller where I have a wonderful role. Then, finally, I had the opportunity to play a witch (my dream role) in Wesley Millot’s Stalked, with Scout Taylor Compton as one of my victims! The best part of that job was that my husband, David Leroy Anderson, created the witch makeup effects for me.  It was the first time we had worked together in that capacity –  a great joy for me. But truly, this year, I am most excited to meet all the Nightmare fans as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of A Nightmare on Elm Street.

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