The 1984 horror classic "A Nightmare on Elm Street" celebrates 35 years on November 9.
Director Wes Craven read several disturbing news articles in the early 1980s that inspired his Nightmare vision. The articles detailed the deaths of several Southeast Asian teenagers who had immigrated with their families to the United States. All had complained of terrible nightmares, and all had subsequently died in their sleep.
Craven crafted a story about teenagers too scared to go to sleep for fear that a real killer was waiting for them in their dreams. He completed the script and shopped it around town for three years without a buyer. His luck changed when he brought the script to New Line Cinema’s Robert Shaye.
Shaye’s New Line Cinema had been distributing foreign and arthouse films to college campuses for years and had produced a few of their own movies. Shaye responded to Craven’s tale of teenagers battling a boogeyman killer in their dreams. He began putting together financing and produced the film.
The film was shot over approximately 30 days in Los Angeles. Craven cast Heather Langenkamp in her first starring role as Nancy Thompson. Langenkamp brought both an innocence and an inner strength to Nancy. Craven cast Johnny Depp in his feature film debut as Nancy’s boyfriend Glen Lantz.
Amanda Wyss would play Nancy’s best friend Tina Gray, whose dreams are haunted by visions of Freddy Krueger. Nick Corri would play Tina’s troubled boyfriend Rod Lane.
Craven would look to some bigger names to play Nancy’s parents. John Saxon, of Enter the Dragon fame, would play Lt. Thompson, and Academy Award nominee Ronee Blakely would play Marge Thompson. Both brought complexity to their characters and life to their checkered history with Krueger.
Casting Freddy Krueger proved to be a different type of challenge. Craven knew that this was the most crucial role to cast and would be a key to the film’s success. Craven met with hundreds of actors, primarily auditioning either large stuntmen or older actors. When Craven met with Robert Englund he knew he was perfect for the part. He brought a great enthusiasm and a unique physicality to the role.
The film was a huge hit. Englund would play Freddy in seven sequels, becoming the star of the franchise.
The success of the film would lead to the growth of New Line Cinema. New Line became a big player in Hollywood and were now able to produce many more pictures. Shaye and company took the gamble on making A Nightmare Elm Street and won. New Line is affectionately referred to as “the house that Freddy built.”
- Special effects wizard Jim Doyle created a wall out of spandex material so that Freddy’s presence could stretch through it when Nancy falls asleep in bed. It was, in fact, Doyle’s face and hands that stretch through the wall and reach out for Langenkamp.
- Jim Doyle also created Freddy’s signature glove. When Robert Englund was given the glove, it was very heavy, and made his right shoulder drop from the weight, like a gunslinger. Englund adopted the posture as part of his character, giving Freddy a unique physical presence.
- For the scene in the jail cell where Rod is attacked by a bed sheet that comes to life, portions of the action were shot in reverse.
- During Tina’s alley dream sequence, Freddy’s long arms were controlled by puppeteers with fishing poles. And to get Freddy’s glove knives to spark, the special effects team hooked up the glove to a car battery.
- Wes Craven held onto most of the wardrobe from the film for 10 years because the studio was going to throw it all away. He ended up reusing some of it for the seventh film, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.
- In the first film in the franchise, the character is actually credited as “Fred Krueger”. He would become known as “Freddy Krueger” in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, and all subsequent sequels.