Local scream queen set to relive ‘Nightmare’

Malibu mom Heather Langenkamp talks about being part of the horror franchise that gave teenagers nightmares for decades.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

When Malibu actress, director, business entrepreneur and mother Heather Langenkamp starred in director Wes Craven’s iconic horror film “A Nightmare on Elm Street” in 1984, she had no idea she would be part of the launch of a film franchise that would go on to produce eight slasher movies, a television show, novels, comic books, bobblehead dolls and every teenager’s certainty that sometimes you just don’t … open… that… basement … door!

Twenty-five years later, New Line Cinema is set to release the remake of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” this Friday, with Oscar-nominated actor Jackie Earle Haley reprising Robert Englund’s original role of the infamous Freddy Krueger, the serial killer with long, razor-sharp fingers. Music video director Samuel Bayer directs this version of the film. Craven had written and directed the first “Nightmare” film, and is credited for the characters in subsequent films.

“Bob Shaye [producer Robert Shaye] really took a chance on this movie,” Langenkamp said in an interview with The Malibu Times. “It cost less than $2 million to produce, but [they] were scrambling to find enough money to finish it at t he end. I think it took in $25 million the first week. And it became a half billion dollar franchise!”

John Carpenter originated the low-budget horror phenomenon in 1978 with his film “Halloween,” and the 1980s and ‘90s saw a slew of releases in the slasher genre, with unsuspecting teens dying sudden, usually graphic, deaths at the hands of Yber monsters that prove to be amazingly difficult to kill off.

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But in 1984, Langenkamp said, co-starring actors like Ronee Blakley and John Saxon (who played Langenkamp’s parents) were skeptical of what such a film would do for their careers, and future megastar Johnny Depp was just happy to have a job that paid industry minimum scale.

“I’m curious to see if the remake can capture the original magic,” Langenkamp said. “I’ve seen some of the previews and it looks like the new version is recreating some scenes shot for shot. Maybe that’s just a gimmick. So many filmmakers struggle to create something new and I know how much blood and sweat-no pun intended-went into our movie. The hard part is invisible to fans.”

While sociologists and psychologists have bemoaned the graphically gory nature of such films, particularly because those that end up victims are frequently promiscuous and/or irreverent teenagers, Langenkamp feels that “Nightmare” presented positive reinforcement for youngsters, particular young women.

“I talked with Wes a lot about the ‘morality’ while we were filming,” Langenkamp said. “Ultimately, this movie is about how you confront your fears in life. If you run and hide, you don’t escape. Nancy [Langenkamp’s character] fights Freddy and wins. She’s a strong female character. That was kind of daring back then-a young girl who is not a full adult that triumphs. She’s not just a victim.”

Langenkamp has reason for concern about role models. She has two children, a son at Stanford University [her alma mater] and a daughter at Malibu High School. She never pushed “Nightmare” on her children, claiming that children of celebrities “have a hard enough time” forging their own identities. They seem to get more of a kick out of their friends seeing the movie.

And, as the “Nightmare” franchise has lived on in different iterations, Langenkamp’s identification with the series continues. She starred in two of the film’s sequels and is currently involved with two documentary projects about Freddy and friends. “Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy” will be available on DVD May 4. Another documentary, titled “I Am Nancy,” takes a humorous look at the convention culture that has grown up around “Nightmare.”

“I know people who tattoo Freddy on their backs and collect Nancy dolls,” Langenkamp said.

While Langenkamp has long been involved with all things “Nightmare,” she has, she said, also had a charmed career. She starred in a number of television series and movies before taking some time off to raise her family (she is married to special makeup effects artist and two-time Oscar winner David LeRoy Anderson, father of her children).

She launched Malibu Gum Company, which packages trading cards of local surfers with chewing gum, for “fun” and works on special effects makeup projects with her husband. She also recently directed a segment for a horror anthology (“Prank”) titled “Jessica.”

“You make choices to pursue a career or not, because you can’t have both,” Langenkamp said. “My son is off at school now and I miss him so much. I’m so glad that I didn’t give up his childhood by handing him over to nannies. But now that they’re grown, I hope to get back into it.

“I’ll always cherish my experience with the movie,” she continued. “To have worked with a director like Wes Craven was such an honor. Johnny Depp is one of the kindest, deep-down sincere people you’ll ever meet. And I learned so much from watching Robert Englund. You know, you’re so self-absorbed when you are 18, you don’t really appreciate the opportunities you get.”

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