Nightmare on Elm Street Star Recalls First Time Seeing Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger: 'Totally Frightening' (Exclusive)

On the eve of his 40th anniversary, Nightmare on Elm Street star Heather Langenkamp looks back on the making of the cult horror film written and directed by Wes Craven, first released in theaters on November 9, 1984.

“Wes had a whole new idea — as he’s done many times in his career — about what we wanted to bring to the screen. And it was a version of horror that a lot of people called slasher,” Langenkamp, ​​59, tells PEOPLE exclusively about the film, which offered a new twist on the genre by blurring dreams with reality as a sadistic killer terrorized his crew of teenage victims.

A box office success, the slasher starred Langenkamp as Nancy Thompson, known as the film’s final girl (or main scream queen), longtime western star John Saxon, Oscar nominee Ronee Blakley and a handful of teen stars, including Johnny Depp, in his feature film debut.

From left: Nick Corri, Amanda Wyss, Johnny Depp and Heather Langenkamp in ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ in 1984.

New Line Cinema/Getty

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Although Langenkamp, ​​who was 20 when the film was first released, had previously worked in the industry Nightmareshe jokes that she felt like a veteran compared to Depp, who was 21 at the time.

“When I climbed Nightmare on Elm Street, I did several TV movies a week and smaller projects. I’ve been on sets before. And I always think about my experience in relation to Johnny Depp, who was literally in his first job ever,” recalls Langenkamp, ​​who has since starred in two Nightmare sequels, ABC’ Just ten of us as well as Midnight club and upcoming ones Chuck’s life directed by Mike Flanagan. “And so with him I felt like an experienced professional because he had never really been on set.”

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Although the actress felt like she knew what she was doing at that point, “I was probably acting half the time,” she says, noting that her first lead role “was a very scary experience for me.”

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Rounding out the cast is of course Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger, a violent child killer who stalks unsuspecting high school students in their dreams. And with his disfigured face, packor-striped sweater and fedora outfit, which came complete with his now trademark clawed glove, Craven’s creation became an iconic addition to the canon of horror killers, following Michael Myers from Halloween and Leatherface by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Speaking about the nightmarish horror that Craven’s team brought to life on the big screen, Langenkamp recalls the first time she saw Englund, now 76, in full costume and makeup on set.

“We were shooting a scene — it’s everyone’s favorite, where Nancy goes to her school and she walks down the hall and then she walks down the stairs and there’s Freddy down in the school dungeon,” she says.

“The moment she pulls back this curtain and reveals herself in smoke,” Langenkamp only remembers seeing a “menacing” figure standing in front of her. “He had such a good body language that he developed for Freddy. Everything was right there in full force. And then that hat was tilted over his eye and he had one shoulder higher than the other, it was the full Freddy look that I had never seen before,” she continues. “And I realized it was completely terrifying. It set me back a little bit.”

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Actor Robert Englund on the set of A Nightmare on Elm Street

Robert Englund in 1984 and as Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984.

Michael Ochs/Getty Archive

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Langenkamp also recalls another moment on set when the horror of Krueger sunk in — especially for the audience who would be watching it on screen.

“There was also the scene in the alley, where Freddy says his famous line, ‘This is God,’ and I remember being there, realizing how terrifying that line would be for so many people.”

In that particular scene, it was Tina (Amanda Wyss) who was sent running for her life. But Nancy also finds herself trying to escape Krueger’s clutches throughout the film, appearing in one iconic encounter after the next. “There was a lot of running,” Langenkamp recalls before getting into the physicality of the role.

“All those scenes where there’s so much action, so much fighting, I really relied a lot on my training as a dancer,” she says, referring to her past as a ballerina. “Of course, we had wonderful stuntmen to help us,” she adds.

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That didn’t necessarily prepare her to be filmed inside an 8-foot water tank, which was the case when it came to filming the memorable bathtub scene where Krueger tries to pull Nancy underwater after she falls asleep in the bathroom.

“Things like the bathtub scene were ideas that came to life organically on set. And I don’t think Wes was even sure what was going to be asked of me. He never, like, warned me, except maybe the night before, saying, ‘Oh , yes, we’re going to do this scene in the bathtub,’ she says, recalling the late director telling her, ‘We’ve got some ideas there. We hope it works.’

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Robert Englund attacks Heather Langenkamp in a scene from A Nightmare on Elm Street

Robert Englund and Heather Langenkamp in ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ in 1984.

New Line Cinema/Getty

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The actress also recalls recording a moment that didn’t even make it to the final part. “They put me in a harness. They said, ‘We’re going to fly you off the ceiling and hopefully we’ll be able to film you when it looks like you’re falling from the sky into your house after your dream,'” she shares, revealing she had a parachute-like device attached to her. .

“I remember putting this belt on and trying to figure out how the pajamas are going to go over it, how the hair is going to fly in my face and how it’s going to get out of my face,” she said. continues. “So it always seemed like we never had enough opportunities to practice, but then we just got going.”

Amazingly, despite all the action required on set, she only suffered one minor injury. “Once I cut my foot on the set. We set up very quickly and no one swept the floor. I was running barefoot and I cut myself on a piece of glass,” says Langenkamp, ​​adding, “but that was the only injury I had. ever obtained.”

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