Entertainment Magazine

13 Things You May Not Know About the Original Nightmare on Elm Street

Posted on the 12 April 2014 by Weminoredinfilm.com @WeMinoredInFilm

By 1983, only a forgettable quickie (House on Sorority Row) and classic franchise revival (Psycho 2) represented the slasher genre in the year’s top 100 domestic grossing films.  Slasher film fatigue had officially set in.  There were only so many ways you could film someone being stabbed as well as only so many holidays or notable calender events to be exploited ala Halloween and Friday the 13th.  The world had seen what the silent-but-deadly slasher villain had to offer, and officially grown tired of it.  So, a genre which traced its origins as far back as Norman Bates had gone a little too crazy after the 1978 success of Halloween.  Enter Freddy Krueger to save the slasher film from itself.

Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street arrived in November 1984, delivering not just an insta-franchise but a complete slasher game changer.  These films could actually be supernatural and remarkably visually inventive, using tricks like rotating rooms to achieve almost every single shot practically.  Your villain need not be a mad man chasing kids in the woods but instead a grim jokester taking many forms and literally haunting dreams.  Personally, Friday the 13th was the series I liked as a kid because I could rationalize my way out of being scared by it.  Nightmare on Elm Street?  That shit scared the hell out of me.  Beyond the bizarre but brilliant imagery I never could shake the following worry: if I got to sleep, will Freddy get me?

So, before we move on to Freddy Vs. Jason in our “13 things…” series about Friday the 13th we must give Freddy his just due and start a companion series of 13th things you may not about each of the Nightmare on Elm Street films.  We’ll start at the beginning: Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

1. The idea of dying in your dreams was actually based in reality

In the late 1970s into the early 1980s, the LA Times ran a series of articles exploring how male Khmer refugees from Cambodia were mysteriously dying in their sleep in the Los Angeles area.  Over a three year period, three members of this group of refugees died in the same exact manner: they’d have a nightmare, refuse to sleep for as long as they could stay awake, and then fall asleep only to awake screaming before sudden death.  Wes Craven read the articles, and assumed these young men must have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder considering their ordeal during the reign of Pol Pot in Cambodia.  He was particularly struck by the details of one of the deaths in which the man was found thrashing in his bed, yet by the time his loved ones could even cross the room to get to him he was dead.


You can see where the basis of Tina’s death scene is derived from the events of the guy thrashing and then dying in his sleep

At the time, there was no clear cause of death in any of the cases, with the autopsies revealing no signs of heart failure.  So, when Craven wrote the screenplay this phenomenon remained a mystery, which is what he found so intriguing.  Since that time, it’s been deduced the refugees were suffering from a genetic mutation unique to Asian men of a certain age whereby something goes wrong with the genes controlling the ion levels in the heart.  It’s called Asian Death Syndrome, under the umbrellas of Sudden Unexpected Death Syndrome (SUDS) and Brugada Syndrome.

2. The song “Dream Weaver” helped inspire the concept of an actual killer in your dreams

The case of the Cambodian refugees inspired Craven do a film about people dying while they were asleep, but that didn’t alone get him to Freddy.  The final push he needed came from, of all places, Gary Wright’s 1975 pop hit “Dream Weaver,” whose lyrics were inspired by a Paramahansa Yogananda poem calling upon the mind to control its own dreams:

From this, Craven created the concept of a villain weaving people’s nightmares.  Plus, he loved the dark opening of the song so much it was used as a direct inspiration for the Nightmare on Elm Street score composed by Charles Bernstein:

3. Freddy Krueger’s name and clothes are based upon Wes Craven’s childhood bully as well as a scary hobo – that’s right, you heard me, a scary hobo

When he was a kid, Wes Craven was bullied by classmate and paper route partner named Fred Krueger.  As the current mantra for bullying goes, it did get better.  However, Craven was left so scarred that he named not one but two of his cinematic monsters after Krueger.  One of them is pretty darn obvious:

Freddy 1984

The other he shortened to Krug:

Krug last House

Krug from Craven’s 1974 classic Last House on the Left

So, that’s where the name came from.  The appearance, specifically the dirty clothes and fedora, is based upon a hobo who had the gall to stand outside a 10-year-old Wes Craven’s house one night and look up at the same time Craven looked out.  This left the wee young Craven mortified.

As for the actual color of Freddy’s sweater, Craven originally intended for it to be red and yellow ala the colors worn by DC’s Plastic Man, whose elasticity was similar to Freddy’s ability to change.  It was a 1982 Scientific American article saying the two most contrasting colors to the human retina were red and green that inspired Craven to drop the yellow and replace it with green.

4. Wes Craven originally wanted Freddy to look incredibly gruesome

You remember how the Jackie Earle Haley version of Freddy Krueger in the 2010 remake looked like this:


That’s actually somewhat similar to Wes Craven’s original concept  He wanted part of the skull to be visible through the head as well as pus to be seeping out of the sores.  It was his make-up artist, David B. Miller, who dissuaded him of this notion since in 1984 such a thing was entirely too impractical, even if they somehow used a combination of a live actor and puppets.  Miller was with Craven on wanting to make it look gruesome, basing his designs for Freddy’s face on photographs of burn victims from the UCLA Medical Centre.  He just didn’t want them to go too far.

5. Freddy’s glove is partially inspired by Wes Craven watching his cat unsheathe its claws

He's adorable.  His eyes look like little buttons, but check out those claws!

He’s adorable. His eyes look like little buttons, but check out those claws!

Jason Voorhees had his machete, Michael Myers had his kitchen knives, the My Bloody Valentine guy had his pickaxe – your slasher killer needed to have some distinct weapon.  By 1984, mere knifes were played out, and Wes Craven wanted something unique but practical for Freddy.  So, two things happened: because he’s super smart and very professorial Craven happened to be looking into primal fears in the human subconscious only to discover that across all cultures we’re all apparently super scared of animal claws.  Then Craven’s cat showed off its own claws to him,  Eureka!  A villain with a glove which has claws at the tips of the fingers!

6. Heather Langenkamp beat out over 200 actresses for the role of Nancy

Look how adorable Heather Langenkamp was as Nancy

Look how adorable Heather Langenkamp was as Nancy

At the time, Langenkamp was an unknown as were many of those she beat out for the role.  However, here are 4 of them who though not stars at the time would eventually become very well known:


Jennifer Grey, starring in Dirty Dancing 3 years later in 1987


Demi Moore, who would star in St. Elmo’s Fire in 1985


Courtney Cox famously dancing with Bruce Springsteen in the 1984 music video for “Dancing in the Dark”


She’d get a regular role on Growing Pains in 1985

7. Robert Englund wasn’t the first actor cast to play Freddy

Remember Billy Zane’s enforcer from Titanic?


David Warner, cock-blocking Leonardo DiCaprio since 1997

That’s who Wes Craven originally cast to play Freddy Krueger.  They did make-up tests and everything.

David Warner as Freddy Krueger

Suddenly, Warner became unavailable mostly because there was something better to do.  Enter Robert Englund, who is still profiting off the character to this day.

8. Johnny Depp didn’t so much audition as he was “discovered” at Jackie Earle Haley’s audition


Teen Beat covers await you

Note to all actors: if your best friend happens to look like Johnny Depp don’t ask him to come with you to your audition for a movie.  That’s what happened when a post-Bad News Bears Jackie Earle Haley brought buddy Johnny Depp along to his audition for Nightmare.  As soon as Craven caught sight of Depp, it was goodbyesville for Haley, and “Where have you been all my life?” for Depp, who agreed to audition and ultimately ended up making his film debut.

9. Robert Englund thought of Freddy as being the kid nobody made Valentine’s Day cards for


No “choo-choo-choose-me” cards for Freddy

Actors like to fill in a character’s back story, and faced with playing a former child murderer now slaying teenagers in their sleep Robert Englund drew upon his own childhood to envision what Freddy what must have been like as a child.  In the DVD commentary, Englund describes how when he was in school and everyone would have to make and hand out Valentine’s Day cards there was always that sad one kid who didn’t get any cards, a slap-in-the-face-reminder of their lack of popularity.  To Englund, that was Freddy’s childhood in a nutshell.

10. Freddy was originally supposed to be a child molester

In the 2010 remake, they made it far more explicit that Freddy was a child molester in life.  Though not necessarily a popular story decision, it’s actually more in keeping with Craven’s original concept.  The only reason he backed away from it was a series of child molestation erupted in California during development and production of Nightmare on Elm Street, and he didn’t want to be seen as insensitive or exploitative.

11. Did you notice that band-aid on Nancy’s leg during the melting stairs sequence?


Sometimes it’s a lost easier to act hurt or afraid if you really are, and that’s exactly what happened to Heather Langenkamp when she cut her foot so severely it required stitches during the scene where she is running towards her house with Freddy just barely trailing her.  She limps into the house after that because she was genuinely hurt and limping.  More eagle-eyed viewers have even noticed that you can see her injury is covered with a bandage as she struggles through the melting stair case.  Similar stories emerge elsewhere in the movie, such as how the top of the car in the end actually went down too fast and with far more force than expected, thus creating genuinely alarmed reactions from the actors

12. They filmed 4 different endings, and then just basically used all of them

Here’s an alternate ending:

Nightmare on Elm Street famously has its super, happy fun ending, and then the weird last-second scare ending. Craven hates that last part.  His film was supposed to end with Nancy awakening only to discover that the whole movie was one big nightmare.  New Line’s Robert Shaye said “Aww, hell no” to that noise, and insisted upon a Carrie/Friday the 13th-like ending.  So, they actually filmed 4 endings – Craven’s, Shaye’s, and then 2 versions of a compromise in which Freddy pulls Nancy’s mom through the window on the door of the house as the kids drive away unaware.  Shaye ultimately got his way, but it is because of this intrusion into his original artistic intentions that Craven did not return for the sequel.

13. They ran out of money 2 weeks into production

New Line had only released one film prior to Nightmare, and it basically went straight to video.  It’s not like they necessarily wanted to be the people both making and distributing Nightmare, but no one else in Hollywood would produce Craven’s screenplay, which had been kicking around since 1981, getting the most significant looks from Disney and Paramount.  So, as an independent film company New Line was constantly struggling for money.  Their financier for Nightmare dropped out mere days before the start of filming.  As a result, the production was unable to pay its crew two weeks into production.  Line producer John H. Burrows picked up the slack by paying out through his credit card, and eventually Shaye managed to convince the original financier and a new European company to put up the money for the budget.

The final damage

  • Box Office: Nightmare on Elm Street made back its budget in its $1.27 million opening weekend from just 165 theaters.  It would go on to gross $25.5 million domestically, which would be like $60 million at current ticket prices.  The unique thing from this point forward for the Nightmare series was the next 3 films would make more than the one which preceded it, unlike Friday the 13th, which never managed to match the grosses of the 1980 original.  Also, because Nightmare did so well it forever dubbed New Line as the “house that Freddy built.”

Next time, we’ll tell you how everyone involved with Nightmare on Elm Street 2 swears up and down that while they were actually making the movie none of the insanely obvious homoerotic subtext was intentional nor even noticed by them.

You can use the following links to check out all of our other “13 Things…” lists: Friday the 13thPart 2, Part 3, The Final Chapter, A New Beginning, Jason Lives, New Blood, Jason Takes Manhattan, Jason Goes to Hell, and Jason X.

Source: Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy; IMDB.com

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog