Mr. Beaks Stays Up Late With Heather Langenkamp, The Narrator And Exec. Producer Of NEVER SLEEP AGAIN: THE ELM STREET LEGACY!
Published at: April 26, 2010, 3:32 p.m. CST by mrbeaks
While most of the chatter this week will be focused on the release of Platinum Dunes' A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET remake (in theaters this Friday), I'd like to turn your attention for the moment to NEVER SLEEP AGAIN: THE ELM STREET LEGACY, a brand new, two-disc documentary from the crack production team of Daniel Farrands, Andrew Kasch and Tommy Hutson. As they did with last year's HIS NAME WAS JASON: 30 YEARS OF FRIDAY THE 13TH, these three have assembled what they hope will be the definitive look back at one of the most successful horror franchises in film history. To accomplish this, they've interviewed as many members of the cast and crew of each installment as they could find, and rounded up a ton of behind-the-scenes footage, clips, storyboards and anything else that might illuminate why this series has endured for twenty-six years. As a fan of HIS NAME WAS JASON, I'm quite sure this will be a must-own DVD for all ELM STREET aficionados.
To help get the word out about the DVD, I spent some time chatting with NEVER SLEEP AGAIN's narrator and executive producer, Heather Langenkamp, who, as the star of the classic first film (as well as DREAM WARRIORS and NEW NIGHTMARE), probably understands the ELM STREET phenomenon better than anyone not named Wes Craven or Robert Englund. In 1984, Langenkamp's Nancy Thompson was unique among slasher film "final girls" in that she refused to be a victim. Nancy fought back. As a result, Langenkamp has become an icon in the horror community, appearing at numerous conventions, participating in scores of retrospectives, and even producing her own documentary on the ELM STREET legacy, the forthcoming I AM NANCY (which is previewed on the NEVER SLEEP AGAIN DVD).
As Langenkamp astutely notes in the below interview, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET was as much a commentary on the plight of the American teenager in the divorce-happy 1980s as it was a gore-soaked horror flick. You were meant to root for the kids. Unfortunately, the rooting interest shifted to Freddy somewhere between the third and fourth films, at which point the series gradually turned into another random slasher franchise (before being partially redeemed by Craven's NEW NIGHTMARE).
Before getting into our Q&A, you should know that if you pre-order NEVER SLEEP AGAIN from the official website, you will receive a 12"x18" copy of the above poster autographed by Ms. Langenkamp. You'll also be automatically entered to win one of three 27" x 40" NEVER SLEEP AGAIN posters signed by the cast and crew who participated in the documentary. And if you live in Los Angeles, there will be a special NEVER SLEEP AGAIN event on May 1st at Dark Delicacies in Burbank. Or you can just wait until the DVD streets on May 4th. Your call.
And now, here's my interview with Freddy Krueger's worst nightmare...
Mr. Beaks: You've obviously revisited these films many, many times by now. How does this approach make it fresh for you?
Heather Langenkamp: Every five years, it seems like they come out with something to add to their DVDs. I've been a part of lots of those. Usually, they only have one or two actors, and perhaps Wes. Our approach on this was to find the people who don't usually get to have an opportunity to talk about their roles in these films, people who were very important in the making of the movie, but, for whatever reason, were never [interviewed]. The eighty-five or ninety people that are interviewed for this comprehensive look back on A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET... of course you have Wes Craven, Robert Englund and Bob Shaye, who are really the original creators. But then you have people who had pretty small parts, and people who wrote [the screenplays], and people who were special effects coordinators and makeup artists; you have all kinds of people who contributed to the making of the film. I'm hoping there are people out there who know they're not going to be an actor or director, but who might get a lot of inspiration from hearing about the more unchampioned heroes of the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series. I think there are a lot of people who are fascinated by how these movies are made.
Beaks: It's really been a progressive thing, getting into greater minutiae for the fans, because they've been going back as much as you have. This allows them to engage with the material in a new way as well.
Langenkamp: How many times have you watched NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET? Lots of people have watched it dozens and dozens of times, but every time you hear someone talk about their little contribution to filmmaking, it gives a real fresh understanding the next time you watch it. You can say, "Oh, I remember when [special makeup effects artist] David Miller talked about that." There's a lot of little anecdotes and personal stories that people get a big kick out of that have never been talked about before.
A lot of the anecdotes that I remember... (Laughs) I'm afraid my part of it is going to be really boring because I have for twenty-five years had the opportunity to talk about the things we did. I'm probably not going to be the freshest interview on there; my memory is not as great as I wish it could be at times.
Beaks: Did your participation in this allow you to reconnect with people you hadn't seen in a while?
Langenkamp: I'm the executive producer, and our other producers, Tommy Hutson and Daniel Farrands - who's also the director with Andrew Kasch - they did the lion's share of getting the interviews. Thank god for Facebook and the internet; they really spent a lot of time tracking people down. Like Mark Patton [the lead of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART 2: FREDDY'S REVENGE], who was actually living in Mexico. It was very difficult to get a hold of him. But once he found out about the project, we were happy to fly him to Los Angeles to give an interview. That was the way it was with dozens of people we got interviews from: we had to find them first - or find friends of them, and then ask the friend if they could contact them. It was kind of like a high school reunion from hell; you have over twenty-five years of alumni of the series that you want to track down. But we really felt like our momentum built over the six-month process, and we got more and more excited. I don't think we ever thought in the beginning that we would have this many contributors. And then you had, like, Charles Bernstein, who wrote the music for the original NIGHTMARE: not only did he give us an interview, he ended up writing the music for our opening sequence. The same with our poster art [by Matthew Joseph Peak, who illustrated the poster for the first film]: we actually have these people participating in the production of the DVD. It's more than we could've ever expected.
Beaks: Individually, with all the anecdotes you were getting out of these people, were there any stories that surprised you?
Langenkamp: Well, I don't want to give anything away! People should definitely get a copy of the DVD.
Beaks: Oh, just a taste!
Langenkamp: (Laughing) You'll see for yourself how many surprising new stories there are. What always surprised me is that people really treasure their opportunity to be in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. In the beginning, when we made the first A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, we didn't really know what we were doing. We were all really young, and it's kind of naive. Horror hadn't really taken its place in American culture that it has today, so there was a little bit of a stigma attached to it being a horror movie. [For the actors], it was like, "Yeah, I know. I want to be over there and work with John Hughes, and try to get a TV series. But this will pay the bills." I think that's how a lot of people felt about getting jobs in the horror movie industry in the earlier part of the '80s. But with the success of Jason and Freddy and Michael Myers, I think everyone got really proud to be able to participate in one of these series - and the fans that I meet attest to that. They really love horror.
I've grown in my participation and my pride of being a part of this, in the same way a lot the people who are interviewed in the documentary have. They all have wild stories. Jennifer Rubin... they're all really funny people, so there's a lot of humor. David Newsom, who plays my husband in [NEW NIGHTMARE], he makes a lot of fun of me. We all make fun of each other. And Robert Englund, of course, is the man with a million stories. His interview was so long; I think they gave him four or five hours of interview time. I'm not exactly what got extracted in the end, but his stories are all fantastic.
I hope that it's new for people, and that they don't feel like anything's being rehashed too much. Everyone was really encouraged to dig deep and bring new things to their interviews.
Beaks: You know, you said something there - and I'm sure someone's already had this insight. I think what set ELM STREET apart at that time was that it played like a John Hughes horror film.
Langenkamp: Yeah, there was a real recognizability to the teenagers, and a real sensitivity to the plight of teenagers at that time. I think people who were really sensitive could sense that American society was letting down the American teenager, or that they were having to fend with themselves, what with the breakup of marriages and the education system starting to take a nosedive. Public schools were really crowded at the time. I think there was this general sense that, like, "Wow, teenagers aren't like they were in the '60s. We've kind of let them down." That was a real general sense to a lot of the movies that had teenagers in them. Like SIXTEEN CANDLES: they forget her birthday. Or FERRIS BUELLER: they're left on their own for this long period of time, and their teachers are really unsympathetic. I think they use the same formula in some ways with NIGHTMARE; I think we have these parents who have kind of checked out and aren't going to take what their kids have to say seriously. I do think the '80s was the period where that whole umbrella extended over the teenager movie in Hollywood.
Beaks: Is that something you're looking at with I AM NANCY?
Langenkamp: The thrust of I AM NANCY... I meet so many fans at the conventions, and I'm always really touched by how many people really love Nancy. They really look at her as an inspiration for... things they've dealt with in their own lives. Things that are as horrifying as being abused as a child to things that aren't quite as hard to handle, like having a bully in high school. But a lot of people - boys and girls - say, "You know, I looked at Nancy, and that helped me get through things that I was dealing with. She was such a strong heroine, and she faced her fears." All these great things they say about Nancy. So I juxtaposed those really warm feelings with the marketing and the growth of the "Freddy Mania" culture, which you see when you're at these conventions. The monsters-and-boogeymen thing, it's so driven by the tattoo culture and some elements of the new goth culture. It's all about Freddy and the little evil creatures, and creating teddy bears that are all dressed up like Jason. (Laughs) My real thought was "When did our culture start idolizing boogeymen, and try to sweep under the carpet the role of the hero?" It's not just in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. The role of the hero is actually kind of corny; it's a quaint notion.
[I AM NANCY] is much more like a sociology report. I go through so many different historical periods, like from the '80s to today, where even in the cover art for A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET... it used to have that wonderful poster of Nancy on the front; now, the new editions only have Freddy and the glove. They're very stylized: it's all about Freddy, and the role of the heroic character has really been kind of moved onto the side. And yet with the fans it doesn't seem to have made a difference. It's this irony that I've observed.
I love Nancy Thompson so much that I wanted to give her one more shout-out. Because what I see even happening with the remake is that Nancy is no longer even billed as the heroine of the movie. It's all Freddy. That's why I'm anxious to see the new movie: I want to see how the role of Nancy has changed in the last twenty-five years. The original Nancy Thompson was kind of groundbreaking in that she was female and she was kickass and very resourceful; she really attacked Freddy and went after him. I want to see if that's still her role in the twenty-first century. Or have we switched back to where it's just victim after victim?
Beaks: Are you concerned that the remake will be this generation's A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, and that it will dilute the impact of the original?
Langenkamp: Definitely. I think it's going to dilute the impact of the original, and that does sadden me. I think the original... it was such a magical coming-together of Wes Craven hitting his stride as a filmmaker, and actually having some strong messages - not only philosophical messages, but he really layered that film with lots of intellectual ideas about the psyche, about how we deal with fear, our human response to fear, how each character represents different responses to fear. It's all very erudite because Wes was a professor, and... it's very clear that he did give those ideas a lot of thought. But when you make a film, you don't necessarily know those layers are there; it depends on how much of a scholar of [those ideas] that you are. I don't know if they'll take as much care in [exploring those ideas] in the remake. I don't think it matters that much to them. As a result, I think it will dilute the impact. But I think the remake will always stand out as the ninth movie that they made as an experiment - maybe it's successful, and maybe it's not successful. But I think it speaks to the strength of Freddy and, I think, Robert Englund that that character has captured our imagination in the way that it has.
Beaks: I'd like to also get your thoughts on the idea that the sequels, in turning Freddy into a quipster, are responsible for getting us to this remake.
Langenkamp: I think that a lot of Freddy's power has been sucked out of him; I don't think that he's the same horrible creature that he was in the beginning. He's become more palatable and marketable and cute - they make plushies of him. (Laughs) It takes twenty-five years to take a psychopathic child murderer to become palatable to society somehow - and it is because he uses humor. I mean, Robert is so naturally funny; he's so evilly funny I think that was really Robert written into the script at the beginning, and then [subsequent] writers tried to outdo the one before. Once Robert showed that this character could have this evil, sadistic humor... it doesn't seem to me how the character was written in the first one. And then in the second one... I can't really remember exactly when you first realize that Freddy can be funny. But in the third film almost every line is some sort of evil double entendre. Robert had a lot of that in him. That's for sure.
Beaks: So are you segueing into filmmaking now?
Langenkamp: I'm trying to segue into more filmmaking projects where I'm not the actor, where I'm either writing or directing or producing. But I did just act in this project called THE BUTTERFLY ROOM. I don't know if you know the actress Barbara Steele?
Beaks: Oh, yes.
Langenkamp: I play her daughter in a movie where she's extremely evil and horrible. And I am the daughter who is, like Nancy, trying to convince everyone that she is not this beautiful old woman as she presents herself, but that she has this [dark] past. I acted in that this year, and really rediscovered how much I love acting, so I hope I get to do more of that as well. You know, I slowed down my career a lot because I found it too difficult to do it all at once; I was terrible at juggling my family and work. So I'm one of those people who realized early on that you can't have it all. (Laughs) But what happens is that your kids leave, and then you're left with all of this wonderful time to be creative. I found that when I was trying to write and act and produce things and have children, I was just sad and miserable all the time. Now I realize I have all this energy and can apply myself to projects that I really love. The first project is ELM STREET LEGACY, and then I AM NANCY, and then [THE BUTTERFLY ROOM] will come out, and then we'll see where the chips fall! I hope something good happens. I have several projects that I'd love to get off the ground. But it's a really tough business here in Hollywood, as you know.
If anyone can survive Hollywood, it's the person who kicked Freddy Krueger's ass. Thanks, Heather!