Improbable pop icon, craggy-faced demon, the Mick Jagger of slasher-flicks: Freddy Krueger, the most beloved horror villain since Dracula, first slashed his way across silver screens three decades ago this year in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Krueger was a supernaturally evil burn victim whose wit was as sharp as the glove he’d modded out with razors. The character stalked mostly innocent teens in their dreams, toyed with their fears in darkly comic ways and then slaughtered them horrifically. But despite this scarred serial killer’s personality flaws, he quickly became horror’s last great rock star.
In the decades since its release, A Nightmare on Elm Street has become a phenomenon. The film went on to inspire five regular sequels, a TV show (Freddy’s Nightmares), a meta sequel in which Freddy terrorizes the cast and crew (Wes Craven’s New Nightmare), a crossover flick (Freddy Vs. Jason) and, in 2010, a remake. President Ronald Reagan described Democrats’ memories as looking like “Nightmare on Elm Street” in 1988; President George H.W. Bush publically accused Bill Clinton, when he was Governor, of running “a Freddy Krueger candidacy” in 1992. Artists ranging from Nicki Minaj to metal-hardcore crossover group S.O.D. have written songs referencing the striped sweater–wearing slasher. New Line Cinema, which went on to produce the Austin Powers and Lord of the Rings series, still calls itself the “House That Freddy Built.”
Although Krueger was the movie’s breakout star, the Wes Craven–directed feature was more of an ensemble piece. It focused on a teen named Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) and her friends – played by Amanda Wyss, Jsu Garcia (who was credited as Nick Corri) and some kid named Johnny Depp – as they confronted the killer in surrealistic dreamscapes. Its eye-popping visual effects – created within the film’s total budget of less than $2 million – helped A Nightmare on Elm Street go on to gross $27 million. People could not get enough of Hollywood’s ultimate boogeyman.
But the reason why the original film was such a success was because of the way the nightmares felt real. The challenge of realizing the filmmaker’s nightmares on a limited budget made for one of the most fascinating behind-the-scenes stories in horror, as the movie’s crew built a revolving room for two particularly surrealistic death scenes and consulted The Anarchist’s Cookbook for others.
Photo: Jim Doyle, foreground, building the revolving room. (Photo: Collection of Jim Doyle)
When breaking down the movie’s most horrifying scenes for Rolling Stone US, the movie’s actors recall some of the effects and sequences feeling so real that their performances capture genuine terror.
The Man of Your Dreams
Of the major modern pop-slasher movies, only A Nightmare on Elm Street focused immediately on the fully formed monster with grisly close-ups of Krueger (actually the hands of special-effects assistant Charles Belardinelli) fashioning steak knives into his first claw glove in an ominously steam-filled boiler room.
Photo: New Line/Everett
Wes Craven (director and screenwriter): I wanted Freddy’s weapon to be something somebody 1,000 years ago could have related to. What is one of the first things that really terrified humans? One would be a knife. That’s pretty obvious in any horror film. Certainly, predators like cave bears and saber-tooth tigers and all those creatures – if you look at them, they’re just knives, hands full of knives. It just worked in so many different levels, so that became the basis for the glove.
Jim Doyle (mechanical special effects design): Wes said, “I don’t know what it looks like, I don’t know what it is, but it needs to be able to be made by a guy that works in a boiler room, so it has to be those tools and those materials. And, it has to look like it’s giant fingernails.” He wanted him to be able to slice with it. Once we figured out how to make the fingers out of copper and get them riveted so they move, then it was pretty straightforward from there. It’s not a complicated prop.
Heather Langenkamp (Nancy Thompson): There were, like, 17 varieties of the glove. It’s like Doritos: there’s the spicy one, the sharp and shiny one.
Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger): There were three gloves originally. There was a hard rubber glove for stunts. There was one with real blades – I think we called it the “hero glove” and I think it was fish knives. And then there was a glove with hard balsa blades that were covered in Mylar; they would pick up the light. My running joke was I had to be careful going to the bathroom or I could change my religion.
Doyle: I remember the first time that Robert put it on, I said, “Be careful, because if you – ” and then I heard, “Ouch.” And he had little, tiny holes in his arm. “Oh, OK.”
Englund: The original glove was heavy, and after a couple of days with the first glove on I realized I was dropping my right arm and my right shoulder and I saw myself in the mirror and it looked kind of like a gun slinger in an old classic Forties or Fifties movie poster. That became part of Freddy’s look.
Doyle: The “hero glove” was probably in the vicinity of a pound and a half, because the copper on the back of it was fairly thick. We didn’t want the thing falling apart halfway through the show.
Photo: Courtesy of Jim Doyle
Englund: My makeup would be camera-ready in about three-and-a-half hours. Sometimes there were contact lenses, which I didn’t like because they make me look more like a doll. If I was working in a fight scene, I could put a little bit of black and yellow on my teeth and get away with not wearing false teeth, because they made me sound like fucking Donald Duck. Freddy didn’t have any big soliloquies, but you didn’t want to sound like a cartoon character when you’re trying to scare a nubile teenage girl.
Amanda Wyss (Tina Gray): We filmed the opening scene at this old prison [in Los Angeles] called the Lincoln Heights Jail, down in the boiler room. It was so creepy and filled with such bad energy that it was terrifying just to be there. Everybody was like, “I’ll go with you if you want.” Nobody wanted to walk by themselves down there.
Jacques Haitkin (director of photography): You think about the whole backstory of Freddy, it’s his lair, and in terms of the fact that it’s a monster’s lair. I kept going back to the location by myself and just bonding, getting to know it so I could make good emotional and creative choices.
Craven: The boiler room is the sort of hellish basis of all. All the houses when I grew up had a furnace in the basement, so that became Freddy’s domain.
Robert Englund in the makeup chair (Photo: New Line/Everett)
Haitkin: Originally, I came to Wes with the idea of doing a special camera effect to suggest a transition into a dream for those sequences. He said, “I hate to break it to you, Jacques: We’re not necessarily gonna let people know we’re in dream. I’m gonna have them look like they’re live action. But the action in the scene is going to be the only tell.” When you’re in a dream, it looks real and feels real. That was a profound concept.
Wyss: It totally was scary. The scene where he’s coming up behind me, he would do it differently every take, so that I never knew when he was going to come up to me.
Englund: I can kind of get away with murder in that makeup. I was really profane around Heather and Amanda, and I could really get away with it ’cause I was the dirty old man on set. I mean, literally – the dirty old man.
The death of Tina Gray, 13 minutes into the movie, remains one of the most frightening and memorable horror sequences of the Eighties. She confronts her stalker: a fedora-wearing burn victim with a claw-glove. They tussle, and Tina’s boyfriend, Rod, watches as she flops up the walls (!) before her corpse drops from the ceiling on to the bed.
Wes with crew prepping a scene in the revolving room. (Photo: New Line/Collection of Jim Doyle)
Wyss: So many people are fascinated with my death scene, which in and of itself is strange, to have people tell you how much they love the way you died. “Oh, OK. Thank you!” But that death scene is amazing, and I understand why it’s become iconic.
Doyle: When Freddy is chasing Tina through the alleyway, we used a fishing pole gag to extend his arms. We connected a car battery to his glove so whenever he touched metal, it would spark.
Englund: People love the line “This is God,” from that scene; if I’m signing a glove, that’s what they want on it. They also love “Every town has an Elm Street.” I’m signing stolen Elm Street signs once a week – because every town has an Elm Street.
Craven: Elm Street is the name of the street that ran past the book depository where Kennedy was shot. To me, it was where the innocent world ended.
Doyle: The way Wes had written it, we would have the couple in the bedroom and she would get killed, and her boyfriend wouldn’t be able to see what was going on. She was just being thrown about the room.
Photo: New Line/Neal Peters Collection
Craven: The revolving room was based on something I had seen in a musical [Royal Wedding] where Fred Astaire does a dance number where he dances up the sides of the wall of a room and across the ceiling. I showed Jim Doyle how they had done that, and he built this giant room on axles and then the set would rotate on it. It was high enough so we could have light coming through the windows. It was really quite involved.
Doyle: Usually on [revolving] sets like that one, you couldn’t see out the windows. Doing it this way gave it a [sense of] place. It just gave it that next level of realism even when it was rotating. Rooms are heavier on the floor than they are on the ceiling because of the furniture load. You could technically spin it with one hand, but we’d have four guys moving it – two of us were pushing and two of us were pulling — so we’d get it to the marks we wanted and then stop it, nice and smooth.
Wyss: This is how I read the script: “I talk. They talk. Screen directions. I talk. They talk. Screen directions.” I learned the valuable lesson that you have to read every single thing. Even the scene where Jsu and I have a little sort of love scene, before the death scene, it’s just like, “They kiss, and then there’s a love scene.” I didn’t even read that, I was like “What?” And then when it happened, I was like “Oh, wait! That sentence means a lot! What’s happening.” It was totally awkward. It’s like “Hi, nice to meet you. What’s your name again? Oh, OK, hi, here are my boobs.”
Jsu Garcia (Rod Lane): Amanda’s an awesome actress. Man, she was hot. I couldn’t believe I was in bed with her.
Wyss: The very first spin around the room, I got vertigo. And in my defense, the cameraman Jacques [Haitkin] and Nick Corri, who played my boyfriend, were strapped into these chairs in the corner of this little teeny room that was literally built on a rotisserie spit.
Wes Craven with Amanda Wyss (Photo: New Line/Collection of Jim Doyle)
Doyle: The wall is a long way away, and all of the sudden it comes up really fast, and you kind of fall into it. It’s all of the sudden: “Oh, this looks not bad. Whoa.” Bam!
Craven: Yeah, it was super strange, because all the curtains had been super starched and everything else had been glued down…so the room looked like it was upside down. Your brain was telling you, “What the hell, man? What just happened?”
Garcia: There was one take where my hand was reaching out to her, as she’s being killed — but she’s on the “ceiling” and I’m on the “floor.” We were all upside down. It was kind of cool.
Wyss: So they spun around with the room, and my perspective kept changing as I crawled along the bottom of this box. The first spin around it felt like I was falling, even though I was on the floor. Then I felt that if I wasn’t falling, everything was going to fall on me. It was terrible. We had to stop. The terror in my death scene was 75 percent real.
Craven: She told me afterwards that she suffered from vertigo, so when Amanda finished her take, she stood up and just completely freaked out. I quickly climbed in the room and stood with her; I had to keep pointing, “That’s up, this is down. That’s up, this is down.”
Wyss: Once we introduced the blood there was no going back, so we had to do it in one take. After I did it, I really felt like I worked past some fear. Then my inner ear went crazy and it took a couple days for it to get righted.
Doyle: Freddy shows up on the wall, so he’s already there. He never went over center, so it was easier for him. That was a concern because of course he had the glove on. We didn’t want him to puncture anybody or himself.
Due to the heat, crew took off their shirts as they hook the stunt double to the ceiling rig. (Photo: Collection of Jim Doyle)
Craven: When you see Tina fall and land flat on the bed, that was a stuntwoman. We held her to the ceiling of the room with a quick-release pick, and on “Action!” they just released her and she splatted into the bed.
Wyss: She did a drop and spin and hit the bed. She had a really bad wig. It didn’t look like me at all.
Craven: “Tina” falling off the ceiling into the bed made an incredible splash of blood, and when you add in Nick Corri’s reaction, it was just stunning. The MPAA would not allow it to be onscreen for more than two frames. It ended up looking like a badly cut moment. You just want to kill yourself.
Doyle: I kept the room because it cost me a lot of money. I sunk like $35,000 into that thing, and I only had like a $57,000 or $60,000 budget. I was able to rent it out three times so it paid for itself. It was used in Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo and Larry Cohen’s The Stuff.
The Return of Tina Gray
After Nancy returns to school, “Tina” returns to haunt her in a bloody body bag that a mysterious force drags through the halls toward the basement. The sequence is one of the eerier scenes in the movie and one of the first to genuinely blur the lines between dream and reality.
Langenkamp: The classroom scene was so fantastic. We shot the whole first day at Marshall High in Los Angeles. Wes stood in front of us talking about how he wanted [actor] Don Hannah to read the Shakespeare excerpt. Wes said, ” You’re entering Heather’s dream world here, you need to use a moody, scary voice.” So Don came up with that crazy whisper. Then watching Tina, bless her heart, get into the body bag.
Photo: New Line/Neal Peters Collection
Wyss: I freaked out in the body bag. It wasn’t a “stunt” body bag — this was a low-budget film, so somebody went to the morgue, got a [real] body bag and poked some pinholes in it. There’s no inside zipper on the thing, they just zipped me in. I was just like, “Seriously?”
Craven: She did not like being zipped up inside that thing, and she wanted to get that take and move on quite quickly.
Doyle: There was goop in the bag and a stunt girl. She was just dragged out by the wire guy. There was goo coming out of the bag, she slipped pretty easy.
Craven: That was done in one take; we didn’t have time to go back and mop up the floor.
Taking The Plunge
Nancy attempts to unwind from her stressful day with a bubble bath. As she drifts off, singing the “One, Two, Freddy’s coming for you” children’s chant that Craven wrote and composer Charles Bernstein orchestrated, Freddy makes a Jaws-like appearance.
Langenkamp: I didn’t feel like I was at all aware that I was going to be led into this chamber of horrors that I would have to deal with. I thought, “I’m going to make a movie. It’s not going to be a big deal.” But every day, Wes presented me with something that would make me shift my mentality: “OK, today, I am going to be a bathtub all day long.” It lasted eight or nine hours…there was lots of pruning.
Doyle: I was the guy in the bathtub. My guy, Peter Kelly, was going to do it, because he’s very tall and has very long arms; he’s the guy in the bed that pulls Glen down. We put him in the bathtub and he was kind of claustrophobic. I’m a scuba diver and I was a swimmer for a long time, so I’m completely comfortable with water. I was holding my breath for up to a minute and a half for those scenes. Heather was basically sitting on my knees.
Langenkamp: Jim Doyle was in a scuba suit underneath me. I was sitting on a two-by-four across a bathtub that had the bottom cut out, and beneath me was a tank made out of plywood, filled with water. It was a challenge to keep it at a temperature that wouldn’t completely be unreasonable; you would get slightly cold just sitting there. What I remember mainly are the sounds. Wes told Jim, “I’m going to bang on the bathtub when I want you to stick the claw out.” So Jim is blindly plunging that thing between my legs. One time it’s too far to the right, next time it’s too far to the left, then it’s way too fast — and Wes just patiently waited until he got the take that he wanted.
Jim Doyle in tub scene as Freddie’s hand (Photo: New Line/Collection of Jim Doyle)
Doyle: We had a washcloth across her stomach, so when I dropped my knees and pulled the washcloth down, she just went.
Craven: For the shot of her sort of swimming back up toward the silhouette of the bathtub, we went into Jim Doyle’s pool out in the Valley. It was after the wrap party, when we were all horribly hung over, and we spent the whole day in the blazing sun in scuba outfits. We filmed his assistant swimming through the water with the pool being blacked out by this sort of plastic sheeting that kept breaking loose and flapping around, and we would get entangled with it underwater.
Doyle: Jacques was really sharp and brought his snorkel lens. He was about to get right down at the water level; I was weighted so I wouldn’t move up. We used my office assistant in that scene, and she later became the wife of Charlie [Belardinelli, special effects assistant]. They started dating on the film. They’re still married. It’s a Hollywood marriage that lasted [laughs].
The Nightmare Never Ends
Nancy convinces her boyfriend, Glen (Johnny Depp, in his debut role), to keep watch over her as she dreams. She encounters “Tina,” now covered in eels and centipedes — and Freddy, who follows her home. Good luck with that sticky staircase….
Wyss: Yeah, that scene…I wasn’t digging it. It was cold, I’m covered in sticky, wet fake blood, and there are eels and scorpions and God knows what other horrible things I had to handle. I was not a happy camper. I’ve been skydiving, and at the last minute, every part of you is like, “Don’t do this!” It’s the same feeling you get when you’re zipped up in a body bag. The crew are walking away, and I’m like, “Hello, Don’t leave me here.” I had a good sense of humor about it but I think I made it clear to everyone who was in ear’s distance, like, “Um, this isn’t good.”
Doyle: We used real eels. That was not impressive to her at all, but she was a trooper.
Robert Shaye (producer): I was able to direct the “sticky stairs” scene, much to [Craven’s] reluctance, since he didn’t want me anywhere near the actual filmmaking part of the movie. But the scene happened to be my idea: It came from a dream of getting glued into place while some horrible thing was about to bite my head off.
Craven: The stairs turned to oatmeal or goo. It was literally taking the top tray off the stairs and filling the inner surfaces with oatmeal. We just figured out how to do things at rock bottom prices.
Doyle: Bisquick turns out to be really sticky if you leave it for a while. It was like, “We’ve got 12 bucks, how can we do this?”
Shaye: It matched the carpeting on floor and on the rest of the stairs.
Englund: When Freddy puts on the eviscerated face of Tina and impersonates Tina…that’s some black humor. It’s a dark, dirty, nasty joke to play on somebody, to put the skin of their best friend over yours. There was a bit of a punk sensibility — and a kind of Sam Raimi sensibility, if you were a fan who had already had their cherry popped with The Evil Dead.
After Nancy’s nightmare, she and Glen race to the jail. Meanwhile, as the incarcerated Rod sleeps, his bedsheet begins to wrap itself around his neck slowly, pulling him upward. By the time the teens make it to his cell, it’s too late — Rod’s been hanged.
Garcia: That was wild. The fishing wire broke so they had to get the same poundage for my weight. And then they did things backwards. They filmed it untying and then reversed it.
Wes Craven directing in the jail scene. (Photo: New Line/Collection of Jim Doyle)
Doyle: Everybody likes the bedsheet wrapping around Rob’s neck, and that was done in a series of five different shots to get different parts of the effect of it coming around his neck. Some of it was going forward, some of it was going backwards. Then we just cut it together so it looked right and it looked like it was just snaking around his neck. And for the primitive way we did that it came out looking really good.
Garcia: I was always looking for a father and Wes was…you know, I’ve had tons of fathers in my life, throughout my career. But when Wes was there to give me good direction and we did it…I miss that. That’s why the jail scene is one of my favorites.
When Nancy’s phone rings and the sound on the other end is just screeching metal on metal (guess who’s on the other end?), she freaks out and yanks the phone line out of the wall. Then, the unplugged phone rings and she answers, only to get an unusual person-to-person call from Freddy.
Craven: Robert does that thing in the boiler room scene with Heather, where he does that tongue-flip, la, la, la, la thing. That looked really creepy, so I think that’s why we decided to put it in a phone as well.
Langenkamp: The scene where I answer the phone, and the tongue comes out of the mouthpiece and says, “I’m your boyfriend now, Nancy,” Wes had a very specific idea of what he wanted. He wanted to see the tongue coming out very close to my mouth, but he didn’t want it to look like the phone was licking me or like I was kissing it.
Photo: New Line/Everett
Doyle: David Miller did that. I helped him with the cable rig, but beyond that it was all him. He did the tongue.
Langenkamp: That phone was so phallic and so disgusting, plus you have this virginal, 16-year-old creature on the other end of it. I mean, how do you not make it look like a porno movie? I kept thinking to myself, “This is going to look like Deep Throat at the end of all this.” And then, Wes gave me this direction that I needed to move my eyeball in this really sharp movement. It was hard to do. Now when I see that scene, it’s a famous shot because it’s that tongue phone, and it’s my eyeball looking down at it in shock. It was the shock that sold it. He knew how to do that just with the movement of my eyeball.
After Glen has dozed off, Freddy’s claw reaches up from within his bed and pulls him in. The bed then vomits out a geyser of blood. It’s one of the most iconic scenes in horror, shot on the same revolving set used for Tina’s death.
Craven: Johnny Depp was a fluke. When Johnny came in I thought, first of all, this guy is beautiful. Second, he looks kind of like he hasn’t taken a shower in two years, and his fingers were completely yellow from nicotine. But I took his 8×10, and my daughter was visiting from New York with her friend – they were 14. I put a few pictures on the kitchen table, including Johnny’s, in front of them and asked, “What do you think?” And they pushed the pictures of the surfer and the quarterback aside, and they said, “This guy.” I said, “Why him?” And they both said it in unison, “He’s beautiful!” He ended up being great.
Englund: Johnny Depp was like the most polite kid in the world. I had to make him stop calling me sir. “Stop it!”
Doyle: We worked out several different ways to kill Glen. One, he would pop back through the bed, he would hit the floor and — because we were going to make a clay version of Johnny Depp and freeze it — he would just shatter. Wes didn’t like that too much. Finally, we pitched, “Why don’t we just have this tremendous torrent of blood come back through the bed?” And he was like, “That’s it. That’s it.“
Craven: For Johnny’s scene, where he’s pulled into the bed, and the bed spouts out all this blood, we had to have a system for spraying something like 500 gallons of bloody water out in a very short time. The only thing that they forgot to do was to somehow insulate all the lights and wires, so when we did the take, the blood coming out so fast made an enormous weight on the bottom [of the set]. It’s literally coming out of the bed and landing on the ceiling, which was the floor.
Englund: I think the effects crew had been on the Eighties equivalent of Red Bull, if you know what I’m talking about. They shot for about four days, working on a low budget horror movie and everything was perfect. I remember walking up on set to watch that scene, my makeup was half off and sexy little Heather Langenkamp was there with her buttons undone and her pajamas. Then Jim Doyle and the crew pivoted it the wrong way.
Craven: When the effects guys went the wrong way, inside the room the blood shifted and cascaded down the wall, and the whole thing just took off like a bat out of hell, spinning.
Langenkamp: It was supposed to revolve clockwise, but the grips pushed it the wrong way, and nobody could stop it. The blood just flew out onto the ground, where all the electrical equipment is. I think some of the power might have gone out momentarily, but the scary thing was is that there was blood everywhere. It was just disgusting. Fake blood looks just like real blood. If you don’t like the look of blood, don’t get into horror.
Englund: There was this two-inch tsunami of blood. The floor of every soundstage I’ve ever been in is covered in electrical cables, so I ran like a girly man. I grabbed Heather’s hand and we ran into the corridors of Desilu studios. I wasn’t about to fucking save anybody. I didn’t want to get electrocuted.
Doyle: I’d consulted the fire department, and they’d said a stream of water is not going to conduct electricity more than three feet or so. The problem was, this was a heavier stream than they were talking about, which makes it more conductive. So Charlie got a little bit of a shock off the metal that was around him. He was grounded, so it wasn’t lethal. But that was another “Oops, shit.” We should’ve done it with a 12-volt battery. There were a number of “Oops, shits” that day. We’re talking about day 24 of a 26-day shoot, and nobody had their mind about them at that point, including me.
Craven: There were these huge sparks, and suddenly, all the lights went out. Everybody’s screaming, and the only two people inside the room were Jacques and myself. We were in five-point harnesses, strapped to the wall in some racing-car seats, hanging upside down in the pitch dark with all the fuses blowing. When they finally were able to get some light in there, we had been hanging upside down for half an hour. But we got the shot, as they say.
Doyle: The thing flew completely out of control, and it went over twice. I remember Jacques was screaming and Wes was giggling. He thought it was about the most fun he had ever had. Everybody just walked away from it either drenched in blood. Jacques was a little bit shaken. Wes had a big smile on his face, and I think Wes knew at that point how good this was.
Mrs. Jacques Haitken strapped in chair and key grip as they test of all the rigging in the revolving room with Jim holding onto platform in foreground. (Photo: New Line/Collection of JIm Doyle)
Haitkin: They like to embellish these stories. I think it was more that at first I was cool with it, but then I realized being upside-down for so long was starting to make me feel uncomfortable. It was not healthy. I suppose if it was an absolute emergency, they could have gotten us out with ladders. Our way out was to turn the room around. I remember it being only about 15 or 20 minutes.
Doyle: Two of Jacques’ cameras were full of blood. When we took them back to the camera rental company, they were like, “You got what in these things?” “It’s Karo syrup. Just clean ’em out, would you? Charge us.” But the film was salvageable.
Haitkin: We ruin cameras all the time. That’s no big deal. I just finished Furious 7 and we crashed a bunch of cameras all over the place. We call them disposable cameras. They’re in crash housings. The film inside survives.
Doyle: The MPAA wanted to give it an X rating because of that scene, and Wes was like, “Well, what about The Shining? That got an R.”
Craven: I’ve spent a lifetime battling the MPAA. The amount of times that the blood could be shown raining into the room was limited, and that shot was shorter than I wanted. Is there any other art form where somebody will tell the artist that it’s too intense? Kubrick’s Shining had the scene of the blood coming out of the elevator, but I wasn’t allowed to cite other movies that got an R. You can’t claim jurisprudence. And you cannot address the MPAA yourself, as a director. It’s a horrible system. I hate it. I hate it.
Doyle: On the next-to-last day of dailies, we saw that scene, we saw Tina in the body bag, we saw Freddy coming up to the bed. When it was done I turned around to Wes and he goes, “Well, there’s your trailer.”
The crew devised a number of practical effects and lighting to create one of horror’s greatest showdowns, which ends with Nancy seemingly defeating the supernatural Krueger – who rises from the bed – by confronting him and taking back her energy.
Doyle: There were so many [special effects] gags in that movie. When we finished the script we had a 90-page script with 80 effects in it.
Photo: New Line/Everett
Langenkamp: The whole setup of laying the booby traps and then bringing him into my dream was all very technical. Fighting with Robert is fun.
Doyle: Some of those booby traps actually came out of The Anarchist’s Cookbook. That’s where the gunpowder in the light bulb came from and possibly the way the sledgehammer was dropped.
Englund: I think Heather stepped on a rusty nail at one point and I kind of had to summon up all the balls I had and say, “Let’s all stop here and take a breath. Let’s sweep the floor so our leading lady doesn’t get tetanus.” It was kind of funky.
Doyle: The fire in the basement, [stuntman] Tony Cecere did the best body burn that I’ve ever worked on, ’cause he just kept going. We were actually worried about the room because the flames were beating the ceiling. When he turns and goes up the stairs, we expected him to die at the top. No, he comes rolling back down. OK, he’s not dead yet. And he gets up and he goes back up the stairs again and finally he’s down. And we’re like, “Dude!”
Jim Doyle on set (Photo: New Line/Collection of Jim Doyle)
Craven: The most difficult scene was the one of the mother sinking down into the bed when she died. It looked like a bad dissolve or something.
Doyle: That was the worst gag in the whole film. The body looked terrible. The fog in the bed wasn’t thick enough. That’s the one thing in the film I hate seeing because it looks so fake.
In the film’s final scene, all is back to normal – save for the mist surrounding the house – and Nancy’s mom sends her off to school with Tina, Glen and Rod. Then a claw comes out through the window of the door and pulls Nancy’s mom into the house as jump-roping kids recite the “One, Two, Freddy’s coming for you” chant plays. The movie’s open ending, involving a Freddy-striped convertible roof, came from a disagreement between Craven, who wanted finality, and Shaye, who wanted an ending like he’d seen in other horror movies.
Craven: We were forever puzzling over the scene where Nancy’s mom gets sucked through the front-door window. Bob Shaye was on the set, and we tied a rope around a mannequin and put, like, three grips on the end of the rope inside the house. On “Action!” they pulled and the dummy just went through on the first take. Zip! It looked great, and I said, “OK, that’s a wrap.”
Shaye: Wes always thought I wanted an ending that would leave the door open to sequels, but I really didn’t. It was more about how other classic thrillers and horror films had always chose to have a zinger at the end, which was what Wes didn’t want. In retrospect, I get it: He just wanted to have a horror movie that ended with a new tomorrow, and I was more interested in having something that sent people out of the theater with a strong experience.
Craven: We worked it out. Bob wanted to have Freddy driving the car. I refused to do that, so we had Johnny Depp driving the car, but the car itself being sort of -Freddy-like. You know, “We’ll paint the roof of the convertible with Freddy stripes and that will be a good enough.” There’s always a pissing-on-the-post point in the making of every film, where somebody from the studio has to say, “No, this is whatI want right here, and if not, I’m not going to give you that extra day of shooting you need.” I think it would’ve been classier just to have it the way it was written, but, hey, there are one’s hopes and then there’s the real world.
Englund: When the sequels started, it became an expanding universe for me. I wanted to be Warren Oates, the old character actor in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, or Strother Martin from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I thought I’d be the young version of those guys for a while. Then I did Freddy, and now I’m somewhere between Klaus Kinski and Vincent Price. Had I not done Freddy, I might have been fourth billing or fifth billing on a Murphy Brown episode. I may be “just” a B-movie actor, but I’m definitely an international B-movie star, and that’s a great gift. They never teach you that in drama school. You can’t make that happen.
Robert Englund (Photo: New Line/Everett)
Langenkamp: I didn’t appreciate what I had been involved in at all. Then about 10, 15 years later, as things started to really develop and horror became this really legit genre that the big players in Hollywood were trying to tackle, that’s when I started getting nice compliments from people. It was a very of slow-growing snowball and right now, at the 30th anniversary, it’s the biggest it’s ever been. It’s really fun having more fans than I’ve ever had now, when I’m old enough to kind of really appreciate it and think how awesome it is.
Shaye: When I saw Freddy Krueger showing up in political cartoons and headlines of various newspapers and magazines, I was impressed. It became a phenomenon.
Englund: The first time you here Johnny Carson or Jay Leno do a Freddy Krueger joke, it hits you just how much you’ve permeated the culture.
Craven: If whoever makes my gravestone has a sense of humor, it should say, “The man who gave you Freddy Krueger.” But my change would be for it to say, “Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep.” Every time our culture falls asleep, we get into a lot of trouble.