Heather Langenkamp is a name synonymous with the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. She’s duked it out with the gloved one 3 times and come up the victor. But her character Nancy never seemed to get the same level of love or recognition from the fans and marketing, so Heather has sought to shine a light on her signature role with a new 75 minute documentary I AM NANCY which releases April 29th. This is Langenkamp’s second venture into the documentary world after executive producing the award winning Never Sleep Again, The Elm Street Legacy. But this time, the focus is on Langenkamp herself and her unique experience playing Nancy Thompson, Wes Craven’s legendary teen heroine. Langenkamp seeks to explore and reflect on the relevance of heroes in this modern age of monster lovers. Directed by Langenkamp’s sister-in-law, Arlene Marechal, was filmed over the course of 18 months at six horror conventions around the globe.
In a phone interview, Heather shares the driving force behing her latest endeavor, her thoughts on gender & horror, and revisits some forgotten gems of cinema.
What’s the catalyst for I AM NANCY? What should fans expect that’s different from the Elm Street documentary, NEVER SLEEP AGAIN?
Well NEVER SLEEP AGAIN was more of retrospective of the entire franchise. And the interesting thing has always been how fans respond to Robert Englund. And I began to think what part Nancy has in all of this. Is she special? Do the fans connect with her as they seem to often do with Freddy? When I set out to find the answers, I came to be blown away by the fans. My sister-in-law was really curious about the fanfare that surrounds it, as people would stop by the FX shop and ask for autographs and such. She’s a feminist filmmaker and she said that Nancy deserves some attention too. It was filmed over the course of 6 conventions and started off rather tongue in cheek, but it soon opened a heartfelt and serious dialogue. Nancy and Freddy are 2 sides of the same coin. And from 100 plus hours of footage began to emerge a storyline – What’s your Freddy in your life? – How do you stand up to it?
It took about a year to edit. We wrapped it all in December 2010, and said we were done, but we decided to add the full interviews with Wes and Robert. Freddy fans will love, and fans of Wes will get new insight into his writing and storytelling.
As a female icon in the world of Horror, what in your mind separates a strong female lead from your standard scream queen? Do you think there is anything that separates female horror fans from their male counterparts?
Well Wes said a hero isn’t someone that is fearless. And I scream as much as the next scream queen. A hero, whether male or female, faces their fear and engages it. I always thought of Nancy as in the vein of Jamie Lee Curtis in HALLOWEEN or even Sigourney Weaver in ALIEN. It’s unusual to see these roles often, but it doesn’t mean they’re not out there or that people don’t want that.
People assume males will be horror fans – there’s nudity and it’s violent, and it’s all very visceral. But there’s such a wide variety of fans. The youngest fan we interviewed for I AM NANCY was 4 or 5 years old and the oldest was well in their 80s. Lots of women are fans – maybe that’s a product of 40 years of Women’s Lib, but I think that people are more similar than different.
You also portrayed another Nancy on the small screen. How did you approach the role of Nancy Kerrigan for the TONYA & NANCY story?
I really liked that role. There’s such a commitment to discipline and hard work. I mean, it was really all about Tonya, but the interesting thing was Nancy falls from her perch – she was a princess. People though she was cold, that that’s why she didn’t have many friends, but I interpreted it as a level of perfection that you have to strive to and sacrifice for. The ice skating was the hardest part, I mean you physically see how tough ice skaters are. Just constantly falling on the hard ice and they’d just had layers of bruises. I ice skated as a kid, but never with that level of dedication. You start to think, “Who would ever want to do this sport?” I was proud of it – it helped develop a new style for television – very fast, and with the floating head interviews in between. I think it was kind of ground breaking.
Did you see it?
Oh yea. It was definitely an odd time for America, with that and the whole Amy Fischer story.
I was working on NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 7 and producer Marianne Maddalena said how much I looked like Nancy Kerrigan. She had a friend Bryan that was producing it at the time and said I should reach out. A couple days later I called for an audition – I didn’t have an agent at the time. I straightened my hair and pulled it back tight and went it and read. And that’s how I got it.
You’ve had an extensive career with television. What did it mean for you to undertake JUST THE TEN OF US?
With a television series it’s always so up in the air. They wanted to do a spin-off of GROWING PAINS and the auditions are so grueling. We ended up shooting the first 2 episodes. The thing with my character was there’s all these wacky teenage girls that are boy crazy – what’s her hook? Me, I wanted to be really religious, extremely devout and that’s something that makes all the difference. It’s the driving force of your character that can really help flesh out a story.
Looking back, did you have more fondness for television or film?
A sitcom is probably one of the best gigs you can have. You have the gift of a live audience to react to, you can have the time for a personal life, and you get to know the crew and writers. All that was very different from NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET because of the limited time and budget. You have to think on your feet and really trust the director.
Would you ever return to the Elm Street franchise?
I definitely would, but I don’t think that’s where they plan on taking the story.
What was your favorite special effects sequence from the Elm Street series?
That’s a good question. There were a few. My favorite was following the trail of sleeping pills to the slide that slips into Freddy’s underworld. The bath tub scene, though not so much fun to shoot was so iconic. It’s a perfect example of trust in your director. I always enjoyed anything in the boiler room – the steaming pipes and fire, every one of those scenes was great. Seeing the tractor trailer in part 7, I was amazed. We shot it with green screen and to see the final product was really something. But pretty much anything with NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 7 because it was like a big reunion. It’s probably my favorite. I remember on the last day of shooting I cried, because I thought this was the last time I would see a lot of these people together again.
Are some horror films too sacred to be re-made?
I don’t think so. If you’re gonna remake it though the question is – is it a new story or just an update? Remakes are okay. The fans are the harshest critics. They want you to be faithful to the subject matter, but not just update it with bells & whistles. And it’s not just for marketing reasons. I can understand why so many directors would want to work with such powerful stories.
Besides Wes Craven, you’ve worked with some other fun directors. What was it like working with director Robert Kurtzman on 1995’s THE DEMOLITIONIST?
Bob is a good friend from KNB. He had a part and I came in. It wasn’t too demanding so I guess it’s nice to have friends. I just kinda came in for the day and did my thing. It was great to see him spread his wings in a new direction and see people follow their dream.
What can you share about working with director Fred Olen Ray on 1999’s FUGITIVE MIND?
I didn’t realize at the time that Fred had such a body of B-movies, that he had amassed a certain style. I’m trying to remember the plot of the movie. They had me dressed up like the BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. I remember screaming a lot. It was a style of doing something cheap, we used a lot of different sets and shot in a very fast style of getting things done. And now it seems there’s more of a return to that, of taking effects that work and combining them with new technology.
What else are you looking forward to?
This Friday I will be at Chiller Theatre – I’ve never been so I have high expectations. I’m also looking forward to my new movie THE BUTTERFLY ROOM coming out soon I hope. I play Barbara Steele’s daughter, and I’m very excited. The whole thing is peppered with lots of actors from the world of horror.