Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Don't go to sleep... Retro LadyLand has a sleepover with the scream queen herself, Heather Langenkamp... 1...2... Freddies coming for you...

It was the night of the sleepover and I was as giddy as a school girl, as this had been like no other sleepover I had been on before, or every would again... Tonight I was eating pizza, talking about boys, playing truth or dare and trying desperately, oh so desperately not to go to sleep... because sleeping was the last thing we wanted to do...You see, this sleepover was with none other than the star of Nightmare on Elm Street and the woman who beat Freddy Kruegar... yes,  tonight my sleep over was with the amazing Heather Langenkamp... 

Made in 1984, Nightmare on Elm Street was directed by the horror genius Wes Craven. The film tells the tale of Nancy, [played by Heather] a 16 year-old preppy school girl and her friends who are stalked by a deformed child murderer burned to death by their parents for his crimes and now seeking revenge in their dreams...

Heather and I got into our
 pyjamas, they were strikingly similar, both Chinese design with flowers down the front and, after spending time making each up, ordering pizza, trying on each others clothes and then eating the ordered pizza until our stomachs hurt, we snuggled down in our sleeping bags and started chatting...

So Heather, I said sipping on another cup of strong coffee, how did you get the part of Nancy?

“It was a large casting call actually in a very grubby part of Hollywood, it was a very low budget horror so they had rented some office space and there was no furniture so it was really demoralising, the whole audition really... We all had to sit on the floor as I remember, while we waited our turn.  And then the casting director came out and we went in one by one, then I went home and got a call back... and then again... and then... I believe the third time I went that Wes Craven was actually there, we had a nice conversation and then I read my part with Amanda Wyss*, then Wes just turned to us and said 'That’s it girls here’s your part', right there in the room! Which never happens! We were just thrilled and excited! We didn't start right away as I remember, I think it was a little bit of a lagged time.

I heard that you were up against some pretty tough competition for Nancy, Jennifer Grey, Courtney Cox… Demi Moore?!

You know I’ve heard people say that but I never saw any of them in the audition room, but back then in the early 80s it wasn’t unusual to see a lot of those people at auditions. I mean everyone was pretty much the same age and it was pretty normal for them to send everybody out on these calls... And it was kind of a heyday of films about teenagers so there was lots of auditions all the time... I thought Nightmare on Elm street was going to be one of those movies that I would probably not be that proud of and certainly never put on my resume!”

We laughed at the irony! I grabbed another biscuit and dipped it in my coffee as Heather continued...

“Because believe it or not, it was not considered mainstream at all to do a horror and actually considered a very low level film, not what you would display in front of casting agents. I don’t even think my agent saw the film when it first came out, I kept telling them to see it but they considered a movie that they didn’t want to waste their time with... That was the attitude in Hollywood back in the 80s, they were disappointed that my very big first film wasn’t something a little more mainstream…”

Ha! Then it turned into one of the biggest films of the 80s!

We laughed at this for a while... But I couldn't hold back any longer... We were two females, alone with sweet treats and nips of whisky in our coffee... We had to talk boys... and one in particular...

They boys? They just came in and sat on the floor and went in for their audition, - in my little documentary film** I explain how Johnny Depp got the part,-  it’s a very sweet story and involves Wes Cravens daughter, Jessica, who happened to be at his office the day and she just took one look at Johnny Depp and said “Dad, You have to hire him!” Even though he was a total unknown and no one had ever even seen him act before.  He just had this charisma that Wes trusted his daughter to see! And he took her advice and hired him...”

And the rest is history... Yes, it was his first role, I wondered could she ever imagine that he would become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood today?

“No, there’s absolutely no way I could have known and he did have a lot of parts in his 20s, in each one you could see how much he grew and became more confident. He really grew into his personality that we know today and you know it’s a combination of so many things, but at the time when we were both 19, I don’t think I would ever thought it.”

I hated myself for going on, but I had to, it was not just the alcohol that was making my head dizzy... but I just had to ask, what was he like? Was he as lovely as he seems on screen?

“Nicer and more wonderful than so many men that you would ever meet, I mean he just had a sincerity and honesty about him that was and still is, I think, very rare. He’s a very caring a gentle person. He doesn’t have a machismo that so many other actors have, or try to have, he seems very settled and comfortable in his own skin and I know that we were both so nervous about doing a good job , but it didn’t translate into anything in him except, just this kind of very heart-warming earnestness that was really charming and we got along great, we weren’t close friends but we definitely had a great time working together...

... and I regret that I didn’t keep up with him, but I got married right after, had kids and a family and Hollywood kinda’ went into the back seat of my preverbal life’s car.”

I nodded empathetically.

“I did let a lot of friendships go by the wayside, but I hope one day we’ll get back together and then share some good stories.”

Oooh but he did have good hair…

“Yes, it was like a 50s haircut, all at the top of his head... you know, he looked very conservative, all of his clothes were very um… well, here in America we have football players, they dress in a very preppy way, so that was the character he played... he played more of a straight laced sort of tough guy. 

We laughed about the scene where he got sucked into the bed all the blood! which neatly led me on to my next question about the special effects in the film - There is an iconic scene where Nancy falls asleep in the bath - Go on, I said, tell us about that scene! Were you really in there for 12 hours?!

“Oh yeah, we did that in one day... we started in the water, it was large bathtub but it was about 10 feet deep, it had a false bottom, the bathroom level was elevated and then they built a set to look like a bathroom. So the scuba diver was below me... he was the special effects genius Jim Doyle... he was beneath me with a scuba tank, we did a lot of takes from all sorts of different angles, then we had the opening scene where I’m falling asleep and then the part where he sticks his hand up from beneath the water, so that took a long time. Then he had the part where he pulls me under the water... and the part where I’m getting rescued by my mother... and then when I get out, so that’s a lot of set ups, I mean that’s probably 30 -40 set ups of the camera and that was all in one day…

One day?!

Giggles “But I wasn't sitting in the water the whole day, and I would get out and warmed up and they would heat the water again, so 5 hours maybe…”

That’s still a long bath!


So did you have a stunt double for some of that?

“No, no, it was all me, and that’s what surprises me now!

But, the one scene they did stick a stunt woman in was the one shot that I’m actually under the water and you see it black and you see a body struggling against Freddy, that was done later on in the summer time in an outdoor swimming pool, but that was the only section of that scene where they had one."

Did you use one at another times? I mean,  you had some quite physical scenes!

I rarely used one except in the fire scene when were in the basement and I catch Freddy on fire…”

I don’t blame you!

“… and then we did a scene in the bedroom when I roll of the bed and Freddy’s on top of me, that scene I had a stunt woman... oh, and a couple of other scenes, but in general I did all my own stunts like the running, that’s when I cut my foot, I was running and there happened to be a piece of glass on the sidewalk…

OOOhhhh painful... And you had to have stitches..?

“Yes”  (giggles)

“We had to stop production and the producer was really angry and was like ‘Do you have to get the stitches?’  I still joke with him about it because we were literally running out of money and every minute counted on that particular day, we were completely behind schedule so I can see where his attitude was coming from but…

But at least you got the rest of the day off..?

“Oh Gosh I don’t think so, I think I went right back to work!”

And apart from the foot did you have any other accidents during the 30 days of shooting?

“It was a physical role and its one of the reasons I really liked it and still do is because you really are running around every day and it’s extremely exciting when you’re having to move like that. I loved ballet, as a child and took a million ballet lessons, so I found that I utilised a lot of my dance training trying to figure out ways of moving that looked stylised but not phoney - especially all the fight scenes with Robert [Englund] rolling around on the bed and things like that. We would often spend a lot of time choreographing our fights so that they looked beautiful and graceful... and created more than just thrashing around. And of course Robert was trained at Rada, he had wonderful training in movement so we would often put the fights together anyway and practice what to do with that glove all the time, we always wanted it to be highlighted in the scene and look very dangerous and menacing.

Oh yes, the glove... that glove... 

“Oh yeah, well first of all a lot goes wrong with that glove! So you have to maintain your concentration, but sometimes it snags, it rips, your hairs getting pulled in the wrong direction… But the thing about horror is that you’re laughing and smiling and giggling and joking right until the camera is rolling, part of horror is recognising that you've got to make it scary... but you can’t walk around being scared, so what we would do is be incredibly relaxed and Wes would always kept up the mood, always joking and laughing and making us giggle... and then, when the cameras were rolling, you just had this ability to change... When it was time to be scared, or look scared, it just looked so great... I think in a lot of modern horror people are just too tense, there’s no relaxation and as a result the acting gets stiffer, I found that you needed to be relaxed so your body looked fluid through space and although you think 'when you’re scared you should go ridged', it doesn’t look good that way... maybe that’s reality, but it doesn't look beautiful on film, I think that’s what Wes taught me the most, that you have to be relaxed to be afraid on film and look good doing it.”

But were there any times you were actually scared?

“Gosh, you know people ask me that a lot and you know I don’t think I got spooked, I mean most of the effect, if you watch the movie now, are kinda’ silly looking, I mean tongue phone…  The stretchy arms across the alley way, all those things, set up in a line they are pretty silly looking… so nothing was that spooky except for Freddy’s glove... which just working with it was spooky! and you always have to be on guard. It’s a very dangerous implement.

So, were they really sharp knives then?!

“They were a combination of either very hard plastic, or dull, in some of the scenes they wanted them to make noise and so they would use metal, but always dull… never sharp! He never had a sharp pair round me… well maybe once, but I read him the riot act! I was like “Don’t you dare ever wear that near me..!” But even unsharp they were incredibly dangerous.”

Do you know who has the original glove?

“Ha, I must have 10 people every time I go to a show tell me they have the original, I wouldn't be surprised that it went missing because it was a really beautiful object and they had about 5 or 6 gloves so you know, it’s probably in someone’s garage, wrapped it…”

Waiting to return…

“There were so many and they were all worn at different times in the movie... But yeah it wouldn't surprise me… As it’s a total industry itself, people buying those Freddy gloves… so…."

Talking of Freddy, I wondered what it was like talking to him, fully... Freddied..?

“Well, he (Robert Englund) had a very dramatic personality and, believe it or not it actually over shadows the way he looked! His personality is so one of a kind, so grand, I mean he really had such a big personality, he’s very warm and affectionate and he really wants everyone around him to succeed and be happy, he’s very generous too, so I just never really noticed the Freddy make up on him, it’s like a mother, father or child who has a disfigurement, you just eventually don’t pay attention to it…”

Quite a big disfigurement though…

“yes, but the human brain has a way to normalise things, I think the first couple of days I winced a bit when I saw him, but it didn't last long and soon I didn't even react to it...  He had to wear the make-up all the time and when you see the person acting normally in this hideous make-up...  it’s not hideous any more.”

I had heard that in the original idea Freddy was not only a child murderer, he was also a molester, but they changed it so he would be more… ‘likeable…’

“No.. I the original script they called him a child murderer, they did not emphasise that he was a molester, he was not introduced that way… He was a child murderer and when my [Nancy’s] mother and father decide to kill him in the boiler room…

She paused

...Or where ever he lived… It was an act of vigilante justice and that is actually what starts all the problems for Nancy and  her friends. It’s not just about Freddy being a murderer, it also has a very strong sense of ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’ .... they are to blame for a lot of what goes on with Nancy and the children. 
I think that Wes made a strong statement that what the parents did was very bad... I had to ask Wes what he thinks about vigilante justice like this, and he feels that it is extremely wrong for society to take justice into its own hands, so there is a lesson to be learnt about that in the film. Whereas today it’s really glorified, I don’t think people take it the same way. But Freddy was just a really bad man who had killed a couple of the children on Elm Street, it was only later on, because child molestation became such a big deal in the 90s and what’s going on now that people made that association. But in the script I never really found support for that.”

Yes, I don’t think he would have been so popular and would have probably changed the dynamics of the film…

“Exactly, I don’t think Freddy would have grown into such a… some people would call it ‘entertaining’ figure if the cloud of being a child molester would have been a strong part of who he was, I think that the movies would have been that successful if that was really emphasised…. But what do I know?”

Heather and I drained our drinks, stared at the empty pizza boxes and then  stared at each other... Finally admitting to each other that we could eat some more, Heather remembered some soup she had in the cupboard, as she left to warm it up, I scanned the room and noticed her DVD collection... I remembered something I had read... I called through...

So is it true that you had only seen one horror movie before making the film??

“Well, yeah… "

She called from the next room.

"I just didn't know that there were horror films, I grew up in a very provincial town… you know, I hate the word but provincial, but it was… in Tulsa Oklahoma, people just didn't do horror films… I did see one called ‘Burnt Offerings’ with Karen Black, and that was when I was in 6th grade… and of course I saw Jaws and Altered states…

Two great movies…

“Yeah, and movies like that,  I thought were really scary, but no bloody movies, no Friday the 13ths or Chainsaw Massacre and certainly none of Wes Cravens films! I didn’t even have friends who watched them… My favourite movies were movies about people in the wilderness trying to survive, or like Swiss family Robinson… I loved period drama and films about dead queens; I really loved anything about Anne Boleyn! Yeah, I didn’t even really know that horror was even around! 

But Nancy obviously did, I noticed that in the movie you, well she, is watching Evil Dead…

“Oh yes that’s right… yes, I had no idea what that film was, that was Wes’ idea, when he said he was going to play it I thought, ok… its you’re film… But I had never seen it before …

Heather re-entered the room carrying two steaming bowls of soup and some bread rolls, she handed me one and sat down.

So that was the first time you had seen it?

“Yes, well they kept playing that same little bit over and over, so I didn't really get an idea of what the movie was about. But once I got involved in this genre, I realised it was part of my homework to actually see horror movies, because people will often ask me to what I think of this horror film, or that movie, and so my husband (David LeRoy Anderson - Make-up artist) and I will sit down and watch the films but …”

...You still crave Anne Boleyn?

“yeah… Ha!

You know I think the last film I paid to go and see was ‘Dead Silence’… because my husband worked on it! But I don’t make a habit of going to see scary movies. I get scared!”

After all this talk about gloves and special effects brought me neatly on to my next question about a dream sequence with the famous 'melting staircase', so what was that staircase made of…? Bisquick, oatmeal? I even heard rumours of mushroom soup...

“I think I’ve heard it was a combination of all of those things! I told someone the other day it was mushroom soup but I think that was where my son vomits all over me in New nightmare…"

I stared down at my own soup... and carefully placed it down beside me... Heather seemed less bothered and tucked in... She continued... 

"But yeah it was something like oatmeal and Bisquick and other lumpy beige mixture... they carved out the carpeting and filled it all in with the stuff... talk about your easy special effects! It probably cost them about 3 dollars to make, but it was so effective I can’t tell you how many people love that scene."

“If you’re making a good enough movie you don’t need all that… The idea that you have to spend millions of dollars to create these monsters and explosions is just so misguided, because what you need to do first is have everyone believe in your movie! The suspicion of disbelief is the most important thing to have in a horror... I really think that computer generated effects do something to your mind, you really can’t be absorbed in what you’re watching and you become distracted. I think the simpler the better and I think the more home spun, the better they blend into the story.”

I couldn't agree more, but talking of special effects and reality...  there's a scene where Ronnie Blakely really gives Nancy a good slap... I wondered, 'Did she really hit you, or was that just astounding acting?!'

“Yes!  That was the worst part of the whole shoot, she was very into method acting and just couldn’t figure out how to do a fake slap, it was making her uptight, so we didn’t do many takes naturally after that she did actually hit me a couple of times! 

I looked at the clock, it was getting late, very late... I could feel my eyes getting heavy, but I wasn't here to sleep, I was here to keep Heather awake... We drained another cup of coffee and I sipped my RedBull... I looked over at Heather, she looked tired to... I could have done with one of Ronnie's slaps now! 

With a yawn, I carried on... 

'I haven’t seen it myself, but I wondered if you had been tempted by the new Nightmare on Elm Street movie' (2010) I asked.

“Nor me either, and I wouldn't because I'm not a big fan of the remakes, it’s like… um… like roast beef on the 5th day”

Nice analogy!  

“It’s like ‘what’s the point?’ it’s just tasteless and there’s not that much left of the original. The early 80s was a very important time to set that film, it had a lot to do with the end of the nuclear family, divorce was becoming very prevalent and we were in a society where there were a lot of teenagers who were kind of set adrift by the new family situations... and so I think they've tried to recreate the past, but I don’t think they do a good job of it sometimes… I don’t think the the Nightmare on Elm Street story would be as successful in this new millennium.”

I couldn't actually agree with her on that, although I kept my mouth shut but I knew I'd love the film, whatever decade or century it was... 

“It was new schools and new clothes, it just didn't translate when I saw the previews, I though 'urgh' it looks horrible! Cheap and terrible and they just didn't capture what we were.”

But I could totally agree with that sentiment... 

“They didn't think it was important, but I really did”

... and kids aren't so naive any more…

“Yes exactly, the innocents of Nancy and Glen, even Tina and Rod... Sometimes I think 'is it quaint?'… But I don’t think it is…it’s just kind of heart-warming that there was a time when teenagers were so innocent, it’s like the way our parents looked back on the 40s and 50s and their own innocents, but since I have two grown children now I know for sure that that innocence is gone!

You know I just got back from a convention in Texas and I’d say that there were a couple of dozen, perhaps even more, real babies, under the age of 5 that not only could point at Freddy Kruegar but seemed to really enjoy him, like talk about him and sing the little song, so children today are experiencing Freddy in such a different way… I don’t relate to it because I don’t know how they’re relating to it, I don’t know how they’re parents allow them to watch it at such an incredibly young age and they’re so proud saying oh yes, I let him watch it and he’s fine! It’s our duty to maintain as much innocence in our children as possible… But I feel like I'm an old lady now to say that…”

Well she certainly didn't look like an old lady! She looked incredible. 

I admitted to Heather that I saw it when I was only 15 and it scared me silly! 

“Ha yeah, you’re lucky! You, and all the people who saw the film had such a great experience that I have never had.  I often feel very jealous because I never had that opportunity to feel those feelings that you do, and I wish sometimes I could erase my memory and see it with fresh eyes like the fans have. I think it would be fantastic to be able to do that.”

But how did you feel when you first it?

“We’ll I just still remember all the minutes leading up to the action and what happened after cut, I remember them greasing the tongue phone with KY Jelly and all the things that went wrong or the problems with the costumes. I mean I just remember to many of the details and as a result the movie is not just a movie for me, it’s a whole universe of memories of “Oh God, I wish I hadn't done that” or “That dress looks frumpy on me” …

So I guess you slept ok after seeing it…

“No I had no problem sleeping… Isn't that crazy?!”

But did you ever have nightmares, relating to Freddy?

“Yes, I did have a bad dreams from things that happened on set... The scene where the big tongue (‘Wes Craven's new nightmare’) comes out of the Furness and starts wrapping around my head... that gave me terrible nightmares for weeks after. I had my own child at that time and transferred a lot of that feeling to the action sequences... and had a lot of nightmares based on the psychological scenes, they enter your subconscious… So I have had my fair share of sleepless nights, not from the movie per say, but I think there are some humiliating experiences you have when you’re an actor – like you have to have a big tongue wrapped around your head and everyone’s laughing at it being a phallic symbol – yes, I think that’s what disturbed me most.”


In the film you were 19 or 20?

“I think I turned 19 in the summer”

And Nancy was meant to be 16? because you say that line “God I look 20 years old”

“Yes, I would often ask Wes, How did you think of that line? It is one of the funniest lines and it was so fun to say that line too”

Now, I know I am a big fan... I have all the movies on DVD... have watched them over and over and now I'm sitting here in Heathers house stopping her from falling asleep, but... well I'm just a big fan... and I head heard that poor Heather had even been stalked...

“I was, ironically it was after a TV series, [not Nightmare on Elm Street] and it was a real eye opener… I’d never been a celebrity from the film because it wasn't the kind of role that people paid attention to… There was no TV shows like 'Access Hollywood', so nothing to promote movies and as a result you had your opening night and that was pretty much it. The Hollywood machine was just starting and as a result I just escaped. But Warner brothers did everything they could to promote the TV series, so probably a million people saw the film, but then you’re on TV and you have 20 million people watching you every week... so as a result you do have a lot more notoriety and naturally you are going to have fans that aren't that stable.
Ironically it was a fan that was upset that our TV series ended... I played a religious and very proper young lady and he was obsessed by her. Fandom is fandom and I meet so many people these days  when I go to the autograph shows and there are such a wide range of people, families there, with babies in strollers with pink tutus on, seeming so wholesome, you know, the kind of people you would meet in a school playground. Then you will also have people covered in tattoos and piercings, wearing crazy outfits. I really appreciative and how they love the art form of horror and  Nightmare on Elm Street came to them in part of their lives when you can really grasp onto the strength that the kids, especially Nancy has…

You must get so many things brought to you, I thought... along with the espresso maker and pep pills that I had brought her... 

“I get so many gifts;

She spoke, all the while yawning and stretching her arms

I have to have a museum some day! A lot of people draw pictures of Nancy for me, I’ve had people write poetry and short stories about Nancy… I mean… Gosh… I’m also asked to sign crazy things like stuffed animals, this one woman brought me a stuffed animal to sign that she had through 9/11 and she has all her favourite stars sign this stuffed animal. Some people make dolls for me, they’ll take a Barbie and transfer her into a Nancy doll, with a costume and all her little props and they sew the little pyjamas, they decorate anything… literally the skies the limit! Everything than can be made with a Nancy theme has been made! I keep all of them in special storage area.”

I looked at the clock 3am... It was so late, my head was swimming... after a second my eyes re focused on the clock, it was 3:08... oh god had I been asleep? I looked at Heather, 
she had turned her head towards the window as if reminiscing, but then I noticed... oh no... her head was slumped and her eyes had closed... She was asleep!  I nudged her, she opened her eyes and shook herself... 
I handed her a Redbull and carried on chatting, not giving us the chance to drop off again...

So, I asked was there any feeling that this little film was going to be big?

“No, there really wasn't and I wish I had known because I might have conducted my career a little differently if I thought that this would be the character that I would be known for! Yes, I would have been a lot more enthusiastic about my role in this movie, horror was considered a B genre amongst all the principle producers and agents and they did pigeon hole people quite a bit back then and I just didn't want to be... Sometimes I think that I was too afraid of it.”

When did you realise?

“I really knew that the film was really popular when I saw my first little Freddy on Halloween. That was when I first thought this character is now part of our pop culture... And now its 30 years later and Freddy is a household name! I said to my husband the other day that I couldn't believe that it had been 30 years  and I'm still talking about this roll and it makes me feel really honoured
And it’ll probably be on my head stone ‘Heather, she was Nancy’”

You famously wear pretty cotton pyjamas, where are they now? 

“I have them in my closet, I actually put them on again to shoot the cover of my documentary and they barely fit…”

But they still do fit!!!

“They just simple Chinese pyjamas from china town, but you can’t find them anywhere, I’ve been
looking for 30 years!”

We laughed, but I have to admit, I wished my clothes would fit from when I was 19... No chance of that! 

Then suddenly I heard it, very distant at first and then louder, it was a childs voice,

 1, 2 Freddy's coming for you... 

What the...?! I wondered if Heather had heard it... "Heath..." I started but Heather, had changed... When did that happen? And why was she wearing that scruffy green and red stripped sweater?"

There it was again, louder and more distinct this time...

3, 4, Better lock your door...

My heart was racing now...  I looked back at Heather, who was now wearing a hat, a brown hat... just like.... just like....

5, 6 Grab your crucifix... 

I couldn't breath.... I couldn't think.... I couldn't.... Oh my god the glove... Heather was holding up the glove... But, But... How... ? How...?

7, 8 Better stay up late...

She... he... it spoke softly... "You fell asleep... You both fell asleep..."

You mean... You mean... You mean we had been asleep this whole time.... Oh my god! I tried to scream to wake myself up, I tried to find something, anything to hurt myself with to just wake myself up... But there was nothing... I looked back at Heather... But there was no Heather anymore... Just a burned, scared, disfigured man and he was getting closer.... 

9, 10 Never sleep again.................................................................................

* Amanda Wyss -

** I am Nancy -

For more info on Nightmare on Elm Street go to