A Nightmare On Elm Street Is Based On A True Story, And More You Never Knew About The Film
1984’s original A Nightmare on Elm Street introduced us to Freddy Krueger, the terrifying dream demon played so unforgettably by Robert Englund. Freddy quickly became a pop culture icon, and in the sequels that followed he would turn into a more light-hearted figure, but in the first movie he was scary enough to leave many of us sleeping with the lights on. Here are some facts about Wes Craven’s horror classic you might not have known…
20. The film was inspired by true stories of people dying suddenly in their sleep following nightmares
If there was ever a movie you’d think (or hope) wasn’t based on a true story, it’s A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Well, we don’t want to give anyone sleepless nights, but the movie was indeed inspired in part by true events.
The film’s writer-director Wes Craven got the idea for the movie from a series of newspaper stories.
Reportedly a number of Asian refugees, after travelling to the US to escape war in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, experienced terrifying nightmares and refused to sleep.
Shockingly, some men, all aged between 19 and 57, actually died in their sleep soon after, and the phenomenon became known as ‘Asian Death Syndrome’.
Craven was both fascinated and horrified by the idea of people being literally killed by bad dreams, and this formed the genesis of A Nightmare on Elm Street.
19. Wes Craven based Freddy Krueger on two people he’d actually known
Wes Craven knew the idea of lethal dreams needed to be personified in a single, terrifying figure.
At the time in horror movies, killers tended to be mute maniacs in masks like Halloween’s Michael Myers and Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees.
For A Nightmare on Elm Street, Craven envisaged a boogeyman with a lot more personality, one directly inspired by two people who had scared Craven in real life.
One of these real-life figures was an elderly vagrant whom Craven saw when he was just a child. The man stared directly into Craven’s window as he passed, and laughed at the boy’s fear before disappearing into the night.
As for where Craven got the name of his nightmare villain from, the filmmaker took it from a boy he had been bullied at school by called Fred Krueger.
This bully clearly left a mark, as he had already inspired the name of Krug, the main villain of Craven’s earlier film The Last House on the Left.
18. Disney wanted to make the film but with a PG rating
With his idea for A Nightmare on Elm Street fully formed, Wes Craven’s next step was shopping the project around the Hollywood studios.
Unfortunately, the horror filmmaker (whose earlier work included The Hills Have Eyes, Deadly Blessing and Swamp Thing) didn’t have much luck.
For all the companies Craven pitched the project to, almost all of them rejected it outright.
There was one surprising exception. Walt Disney Productions liked the idea and were keen to make the film.
However, Disney had one very significant caveat: they wanted to significantly tone down Craven’s vision and make a family-friendly movie.
Craven, of course, had no desire to take this approach, and so he proceeded to take the film elsewhere.
17. David Warner was originally cast as Freddy
Freddy Krueger became arguably the most iconic horror character of the 80s – but he was almost a very different character.
Warner was attached to the project long enough to undergo costume and make-up tests for Freddy.
However, the actor was eventually forced to drop out of A Nightmare on Elm Street due to a scheduling clash.
After considering more imposing stuntmen types (including future Friday the 13th actor Kane Hodder), Craven and co ultimately cast Robert Englund as Freddy.
Englund was considered an unlikely choice for the role as he was small, skinny and had previously specialised in more light-hearted roles, such as his comic relief character on TV series V.
16. The movie introduced Johnny Depp
Watch the opening credits of A Nightmare on Elm Street, and you’ll spot the eye-catching words, ‘introducing Johnny Depp.’
Yes, the role of Glen (boyfriend of Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy) was the future megastar’s very first part in a movie.
At the time, Depp was actively pursuing a career in rock music, and had no serious plans to get into acting.
In a curious twist, Depp had only gone along to the film’s audition to accompany his friend Jackie Earle Haley.
Haley didn’t get a part in the film – but many years later he would play Freddy himself, in 2010’s A Nightmare on Elm Street remake. (Most fans agreed that Haley’s performance was pretty much the remake’s only redeeming feature.)
Depp of course went on to huge success, and would briefly return to the series with a cameo in 1992’s Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare.
15. Rod actor Jsu Garcia was using drugs throughout the shoot
The part of Rod, boyfriend of Amanda Wyss’ doomed Tina, was played by Jsu Garcia (credited as Nick Corri).
When Tina is horribly murdered, bad boy Rod is the only suspect, and is promptly arrested, with only Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy believing he’s innocent.
Garcia landed the film at a difficult time in his life. The young actor was struggling with depression due to recently being made homeless.
In order to deal with these emotional problems, Garcia was using drugs heavily during the Nightmare on Elm Street shoot.
Garcia has admitted that he was under the influence when shooting the scene in which Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy visits him in jail.
Happily, Garcia has long since gotten clean, and has gone on to collect many more credits in film and television.
14. The colour combination on Freddy’s sweater was designed to offend the eyes
On top of his ability to hunt down teenagers in their dreams, Robert Englund’s Freddy Krueger has a very distinctive look.
First, there’s his hideously burned skin, his scruffy old fedora and of course his glove adorned with blades over the fingers.
Then there’s Freddy’s signature sweater, striped in red and green (not red and black as some viewers have thought over the years, reminding British fans of comic character Dennis the Menace).
Freddy’s sweater is an extremely ugly piece of knitwear, but it seems this was very much the idea.
Craven picked red and green as the colours for Freddy’s sweater after reading that they were ‘the most clashing colours to the human retina.’
Bizarrely, Craven was also inspired by the DC comics character Plastic Man, whose costume had a similar colour scheme.
13. The studio insisted on a bleaker ending
Wes Craven conceived the character of Nancy as an antidote to the more passive ‘final girls’ that were commonplace in horror at the time.
A Nightmare on Elm Street’s final act sees Nancy form a plan to take Freddy down, and she ultimately proves successful.
Originally, Craven wanted the film to end on an upbeat note, with Nancy having defeated Freddy for good.
However, New Line saw the potential for a franchise built around Freddy, so they insisted on a shock ending which implies Freddy wins.
Craven admitted later that he regretted changing the climax in this way, “because it’s the one part of the film that isn’t me.”
This was in part why Craven returned to co-write third instalment A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. He wanted to present a more optimistic take on the material, showing teen audiences that they have the power to overcome their demons.
12. 500 gallons of fake blood was used throughout the shoot
As is the case with many popular 80s horror movies, A Nightmare on Elm Street has a whole lot of gore.
It has been reported that a whopping 500 gallons of fake blood was used during the film’s shoot.
According to Wes Craven, 300 of these gallons of fake blood got used in a single scene.
The scene in question involves (spoiler warning!) Freddy dragging Johnny Depp’s Glen into his mattress and producing a geyser of blood.
The question of what film has used the most fake blood is always the subject of some debate among horror fans.
In more recent years, it has been claimed that the 2013 Evil Dead remake is the goriest movie ever, with a reported 50,000 gallons of fake blood used.
11. The film was censored for an R rating, and the uncut version is currently unavailable
Considering how much gore is on display in the film, it’s hardly unexpected that the censors had some issues with A Nightmare on Elm Street.
US ratings board the Motion Picture Association of America would not pass the initial cut of the film with the desired R rating.
Rather than release the film with a more prohibitive X rating (the precursor to today’s NC-17), Craven and New Line Cinema reluctantly agreed to make minor cuts.
This amounted to 13 seconds of cuts to the two goriest moments, the deaths of Tina and Glen – not that this did much to detract from the impact of either scene.
Despite these cuts made in the US, A Nightmare on Elm Street was originally released uncut in other territories, including the UK.
However, today all the DVD and Blu-ray editions of the film use the R-rated cut, much to the annoyance of fans.
10. The main Freddy glove had genuinely sharp blades
A big part of what makes Freddy Krueger so scary and iconic is his blade-adorned glove.
This unique weapon was dreamed up (so to speak) by Wes Craven, who enlisted special effects designer Jim Doyle to make it a reality.
Doyle constructed several gloves for Robert Englund and his stunt doubles to wear, some of which were blunt, for long shots and stunt scenes.
However, the main glove used for close-up shots – dubbed ‘the hero glove’ – had real, actually sharp blades.
Doyle recalls, “the hero glove was dangerous. Every time someone put it on, they hurt themselves.”
The problem, the designer recalls, was that “if you closed your fist, the blades cut your forearm. Oops.”
9. Heather Langenkamp beat Demi Moore, Jennifer Grey and Courteney Cox to the role of Nancy
Next to Robert Englund, the one actor most synonymous with A Nightmare on Elm Street is Heather Langenkamp.
On top of playing Freddy’s nemesis Nancy in the 1984 original, Langenkamp would reprise the role in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.
Later, Langenkamp would play a fictionalised version of herself in 1994 meta-sequel Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.
As such, it’s difficult to envisage anyone else in the role today – but a number of well-known 80s actresses were in contention for the role.
Soon-to-be superstar Demi Moore, a pre-Dirty Dancing Jennifer Grey and future Friends star Courteney Cox also auditioned for Nancy.
Others who tried out for the role include Back to the Future’s Claudia Wells and Tracey Gold of TV’s Growing Pains.
8. Spandex and pancake syrup were employed for some of the nightmarish special effects
A Nightmare on Elm Street was made for $1.1 million, a good chunk of which went on its top-billed actors John Saxon and Ronee Blakely as Nancy’s parents.
In order to bring Craven’s ambitious vision to life within their budget, the crew had to get creative.
In the end, many of the film’s most memorably bizarre effects were created using household items.
The moment where Freddy leans through the wall toward the sleeping Nancy was achieved by stretching a sheet of spandex where the wall should be.
Later, there’s a moment when Nancy tries to run up the stairs from Freddy, but finds her feet sinking into mush.
For this moment, which was inspired by a real nightmare of producer Robert Shaye’s, the crew used pancake mix.
7. Charlie Sheen almost landed Johnny Depp’s role, but wanted too much money
A Nightmare on Elm Street gave Johnny Depp his break, but it could also have given an early role to another young up-and-comer.
Charlie Sheen was also a hot contender for the part of Glen. According to some sources, he was officially offered the role.
However, Sheen was taken out of the running because he wanted more money than the filmmakers were prepared to offer.
As a low budget production starring unknowns, A Nightmare on Elm Street could pay its main actors just under $1,500 a week, but Sheen (or his agent) allegedly demanded $3,000. (Sheen for his part has denied this, insisting he turned the film down because he didn’t think it would work.)
Missing out on the role didn’t hurt Sheen’s career too much, as he would get his first big role that same year alongside Patrick Swayze in Red Dawn.
A Nightmare on Elm Street wasn’t the only horror movie Sheen missed out on; later, he would also audition for the lead in Fright Night.
6. A revolving room was built specifically for the two main death scenes
A Nightmare on Elm Street stands apart from the other slasher movies of the time thanks to its physics-defying murder sequences.
First, Amanda Wyss’ Tina is dragged across the ceiling of her bedroom while Rod watches helplessly.
Later, Johnny Depp’s Glen is sucked into his bed, then regurgitated onto the ceiling in bloody form.
In order to achieve these eye-opening scenes, the Nightmare on Elm Street crew went to the considerable expense of building a rotating room.
Special effects designer Jim Doyle came up with the idea for Tina’s death – and in order to get their money’s worth, they decided to use it for Glen’s death as well.
Later in 1984, that same rotating room set would be used again in a perhaps unexpected place – dance movie Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.
5. The tune for Freddy’s nursery rhyme was made up by Heather Langenkamp’s boyfriend
One of the most memorable and enduring aspects of A Nightmare on Elm Street is the nursery rhyme about Freddy.
It was already part of Craven’s script that scenes in the film would include little girls singing a rhyme about Freddy whilst playing jump rope.
While the words (‘One, two, Freddy’s coming for you’) come from Craven himself, the melody has been attributed to musician Alan Pasqua.
Though not technically part of the Nightmare on Elm Street crew, Pasqua was close to the production as he was Heather Langenkamp’s boyfriend at the time.
The film’s composer, Charles Bernstein, took Paqua’s contribution on board and incorporated it into the soundtrack.
The eerie little tune has been used again in all the subsequent Nightmare on Elm Street sequels.
4. Wes Craven turned down the first sequel because he didn’t envisage Elm Street as a series
Although A Nightmare on Elm Street was Wes Craven’s creation, the filmmaker had a strained relationship with the series (and with producer Robert Shaye) in the years that followed.
New Line Cinema saw franchise potential, but Craven had no interest in making a sequel, having conceived the film as a stand-alone feature.
However, Craven had signed a contract that gave New Line the right to make further films without the writer-director’s approval or involvement.
As such, Craven had no say in the five sequels that followed, nor did he make any money from them – with the exception of Nightmare on Elm Street 3, for which he co-wrote the original script and almost directed before again falling out with New Line.
Things didn’t improve until New Line lured back Craven for sixth sequel New Nightmare, on the original film’s tenth anniversary in 1994.
As well as giving Craven total creative freedom on the film, the writer-director’s contract for New Nightmare also retroactively gave him a percentage of the profits from the sequels and the merchandising.
3. Robert Englund almost didn’t reprise the role of Freddy Krueger when the studio refused to give him a pay rise
Work began on follow-up film A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge in April 1985, five months after the original’s release.
None of the original cast returns in the sequel except for Robert Englund – but even he very nearly didn’t reprise his role.
After the original’s success, Englund asked for more money to return, but New Line refused. They cast an unknown as Freddy in his place.
Rival horror franchises Halloween and Friday the 13th had tended to cast anonymous stunt performers as their bogeymen, and it was assumed a similar approach would work with Freddy Krueger.
However, a couple of weeks into shooting the filmmakers realised that Englund’s performance was vital to make the character work, so they finally agreed to the actor’s demands.
Englund would go on to play Freddy many more times, both in the big screen sequels and in TV series Freddy’s Nightmares.
2. The movie and its sequels launched New Line Cinema
After its many rejections by the Hollywood studios, A Nightmare on Elm Street finally found a home at New Line Cinema.
Founded by Robert Shaye in the late 60s, New Line was originally a distributor of independently produced films.
By the early 80s, however, the company had branched out into producing original films of its own.
A Nightmare on Elm Street was New Line’s first big commercial success, and their fortunes increased with the sequels that followed.
By 1994, New Line became a big enough deal to be purchased by the Time-Warner group for $500 million.
As the company owes its initial success to A Nightmare on Elm Street, New Line Cinema has long been nicknamed ‘The House That Freddy Built.’
1. A clip of The Evil Dead appears in the film
There’s a scene in A Nightmare on Elm Street which features The Evil Dead playing on the television.
This was a nod from director Wes Craven to The Evil Dead’s director Sam Raimi, after Raimi’s earlier film had itself included a similar nod to Craven.
In one scene of The Evil Dead, a torn poster for Craven’s 1977 film The Hills Have Eyes can be seen on the wall.
In response, Craven included a glimpse of The Evil Dead in A Nightmare on Elm Street.
The mutual homaging didn’t end there, as Raimi would later include another Craven Easter egg in Evil Dead 2, by discreetly hanging Freddy’s glove on the wall in a couple of shots.
Later, The Evil Dead would get a namecheck in Craven’s 1996 hit Scream, whilst TV series Ash vs. Evil Dead included another glimpse of the poster for The Hills Have Eyes.