10 Most Haunting Scenes of 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' - Rolling Stone
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Bedtime Stories: Behind the 10 Most Shocking ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ Scenes

The creators, cast and crew of a horror-movie classic dish the dirt on how they made the movie’s most memorable, iconic moments

Nightmare on Elm Street

FREDDIE'S NIGHTMARES, Robert Englund, 1988


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.

Related: How 'Nightmare on Elm Street''s Villain Became a Pop Hero

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." 

Nightmare on Elm Street

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. 

'A Nightmare On Elm Street',

When breaking down the movie's most horrifying scenes for Rolling Stone, the movie's actors recall some of the effects and sequences feeling so real that their performances capture genuine terror.


Freddy’s Revenge

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. 

NIghtmare on Elm Street

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 what I 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. 

Nightmare on Elm Street

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.

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