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. In the sequels that followed Freddy became a more playful pop culture icon, 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. However, the movie was indeed inspired in part by true events, with writer-director Wes Craven taking inspiration from a series of newspaper stories.
Reportedly a number of refugees who came to the US to escape war in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia began experiencing terrifying nightmares and refused to sleep. Shockingly, some actually died in their sleep soon after, and the phenomenon became known as ‘Asian Death Syndrome’.
19. Wes Craven based Freddy Krueger on two people he’d actually known
Wes Craven modelled A Nightmare on Elm Street’s bogeyman Freddy Krueger on two people who had frightened him in real life. He took the name from a boy who bullied him at school (who Craven had already used as the basis for the evil Krug in his earlier film The Last House on the Left).
The other real-life figure Craven based Freddy on was an elderly vagrant whom the future filmmaker 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.
18. Disney wanted to make the film but with a PG rating
Once Wes Craven had dreamed up A Nightmare on Elm Street, he set about pitching the project to all the major studios in Hollywood – but he didn’t have much luck. Almost all of the studios rejected it outright, with one surprising exception: Walt Disney Pictures.
Executives at Disney liked the idea and were keen to make the film, but they had one very significant caveat: they wanted to significantly tone down Craven’s vision and make a family-friendly movie. The filmmaker was totally against this idea so he rejected Disney’s offer.
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. Originally, the role had been given to David Warner, the English actor who appears in such hits as The Omen, Time Bandits and Tron.
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, Craven gave the role of Freddy to Robert Englund, then best known for 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.’ The role of Glen (boyfriend of Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy) was the future Pirates of the Caribbean megastar’s very first part in a movie.
Depp’s role in A Nightmare on Elm Street led to him landing the lead role in hit TV series 21 Jump Street, and from there his career skyrocketed. The actor would briefly return to the series with a cameo in 1992 sequel 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). The young actor landed the film at a very difficult time in his life, as he was struggling with depression due to recently being made homeless.
In order to deal with these emotional problems, Garcia has since admitted he was using drugs heavily during the Nightmare on Elm Street shoot. Happily, Garcia has long since gotten clean, and has gone on to many more acting credits in film and television.
14. The colour combination on Freddy’s sweater was designed to offend the eyes
It’s not just Freddy’s ability to invade the dreams of teenagers that makes him scary. Robert Englund’s character also has a very distinctive look with his burned skin, his scruffy old fedora and his glove adorned with blades over the fingers. On top of all that, there’s Freddy’s signature sweater.
Striped in red and green, Freddy’s sweater is an extremely ugly piece of knitwear, and 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.’
13. The studio insisted on a bleaker ending in which Freddy wins
A Nightmare on Elm Street’s final act sees Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy form a plan to end Freddy Kruger’s reign of terror. She proves successful in this, and originally Wes Craven wanted the film to end on an upbeat note, with Nancy having defeated Freddy for good.
However, studio New Line Cinema saw the potential for a franchise built around Freddy, so they insisted on a shock ending which implies Freddy has won. 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.”
12. 500 gallons of fake blood was used throughout the shoot
As is the case with many of the most popular horror movies of the 80s, A Nightmare on Elm Street has a whole lot of fake blood. It has been reported that a whopping 500 gallons of the stuff was used during the film’s shoot – and 300 of these gallons was used in (spoiler warning!) Johnny Depp’s death scene.
The question of which 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 holds the record 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
US ratings board the MPAA would not pass the initial cut of A Nightmare on Elm Street 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 recut the film, removing 13 seconds.
Despite these cuts made in the US, A Nightmare on Elm Street was originally released uncut in other territories, including the United Kingdom. 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. SFX artist Jim Doyle constructed several gloves for Robert Englund and his stunt doubles to wear. Most of these were blunt, and were used for long shots and stunt scenes.
However, the main glove used for close-up shots – dubbed ‘the hero glove’ – had blades that were very real and genuinely sharp. This glove, Doyle recalls, “was dangerous. Every time someone put it on, they hurt themselves… if you closed your fist, the blades cut your forearm.”
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 the 1984 original, Langenkamp would reprise the role of Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, and play a fictionalised version of herself in 1994’s Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.
A number of other well-known 80s actresses were in contention for the role of Nancy, including Demi Moore, a pre-Dirty Dancing Jennifer Grey and future Friends star Courteney Cox. Other contenders included 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 didn’t have much money for special effects, so in order to bring Craven’s ambitious vision to life within their budget, the crew had to get creative. 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: this was actually 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 big break, but another young up-and-comer was considered for Glen: Charlie Sheen. Some sources say Sheen was offered the role, but allegedly he wanted more money than the filmmakers were prepared to offer.
The cast were paid just under $1,500 a week, but Sheen (or his agent) allegedly demanded $3,000. In the years since, Sheen has denied these reports, insisting he turned the film down because he didn’t think it would work (and admitting that he was wrong).
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 death scenes. 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, 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.
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 in the years that followed. Craven had no interest in making sequels at first, but his contract gave New Line Cinema the right to make further films without his approval or involvement.
Craven almost returned for Nightmare on Elm Street 3, for which he co-wrote the original script before again falling out with New Line. Things didn’t improve between the studio and the director until he was lured back for sixth sequel New Nightmare, on the original film’s tenth anniversary in 1994.
3. Robert Englund almost didn’t reprise the role of Freddy Krueger when the studio refused to give him a pay rise
1985’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge features none of the original cast except for Robert Englund as Freddy. However, Englund nearly didn’t reprise his role as he demanded more money to return, but New Line refused and cast an unknown as Freddy in his place.
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 in the sequels and TV series Freddy’s Nightmares.
2. The movie and its sequels launched New Line Cinema
Founded by Robert Shaye in the late 60s, New Line Cinema was originally a distributor of independently produced films. By the early 80s the company had branched out into producing original films of its own, and A Nightmare on Elm Street was its first big commercial success.
By 1994, the production house became a big enough deal to be purchased by the Time-Warner group for $500 million. As the company owes most of 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
One scene in A Nightmare on Elm Street shows 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, with a poster for Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes visible in one scene.
The mutual homaging didn’t end there. Raimi would later include another Craven Easter egg in Evil Dead 2, by hanging Freddy’s glove on the wall. 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.