How we made A Nightmare on Elm Street | Film

Robert Englund, played Freddy

Before I played Freddy Krueger, I was in a lot of best-friend roles. I needed something more distinctive – and thought this little indie film called A Nightmare on Elm Street might be it. Wes Craven, the director, looked preppy, wearing Ralph Lauren and chinos, but looks were deceiving as he had a visionary mind. Remember: he discovered both Johnny Depp and Sharon Stone. He used to tell me that Freddy was the “bastard father of us all”. The character was supposed to signify the loss of innocence, as teenagers turn into adults and become corrupted.

My Freddy was inspired by Klaus Kinski’s Nosferatu, but also by all the monsters that Lon Chaney created. The way Freddy always stands with his legs far apart was something I stole from James Cagney – a pose that signifies sheer power. People wonder why Freddy has this strange posture with his right shoulder slouched, but it was because that claw was so heavy it weighed me down. But I liked the way it made me look like a cowboy drawing a gun.

I knew Freddy’s claw had to be its own character, an extension of evil, but I also wanted it to be mildly erotic. Some people said Freddy was a pervert and a paedophile. They criticised the way I licked my lips at the teenagers as I haunted them in their dreams. But that was forgetting that Freddy is invading people’s dreams, a very private and intimate thing. If someone gets into your subconscious, it’s like they’re in your underwear drawer. Teenagers always think about sex, so Freddy was a natural extension of that.

My favourite scene is when Freddy drags Tina across the ceiling. We shot some really nasty stuff: there was one particularly disturbing shot of me between her legs that we couldn’t get past the censors. That scene, plus the one where Johnny Depp’s character gets swallowed by me into the bed and his blood pours upwards, were filmed by bolting the kids’ beds to the ceiling and filming upside down.

The makeup took three and a half hours each morning. It was uncomfortable, hot and itchy. I remember seeing some of the teenagers waltz on to the set one day, envying their youth and beauty. “Wait a minute,” I thought. “I need to channel this jealousy into Freddy.”

I played the character in eight films, so he’s never really left me. Sometimes, I’ll be stuck in traffic in LA and he just comes out. I’ll do the Freddy voice and shout: “Get out my way, motherfucker!” I’m glad he’s become this iconic bogeyman, but the films were so much more than him. They’re all about a strong girl surviving Freddy. She’ll realise her inner strength and beat this symbol of patriarchy. Nancy in the first movie was basically Alien’s Ripley for teenagers.

Heather Langenkamp, played Nancy

‘To this day I find it scary to take a bath’... Heather Langenkamp as Nancy

‘To this day I find it scary to take a bath’… Heather Langenkamp as Nancy Photograph: New Line/The Elm Street Venture/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

From the tone of the script I read at the audition, I didn’t know this was a horror movie. It seemed more like a John Hughes film, with all these mischievous teenagers. Boy, was I wrong!

Wes wanted to tap into how teenagers live a double life. They project confidence but inside they are terrified – and they have all kinds of personal Freddys. I think he cast me because I really was Nancy. I studied hard in school, I was earnest and respected my parents and I had a nice boyfriend. He wanted me to bring that to Nancy so that her transition into someone who can defeat Freddy is even more powerful. I remember being terrified when I first saw Robert in his Freddy makeup, but he was like a big brother and taught me so much about movement.

I loved all the dream sequences. The part where Nancy’s feet sink into the stairs was based on a real nightmare people have. The steps were mushroom soup, as it was the same beige as the carpet. The set absolutely stank. The moment when Freddy puts his head through my bedroom wall was created with loads of Lycra from a DIY store – there wasn’t a lot of money, so we had to be creative. The bath sequence was crazy, too. It was 8ft deep and, as I floated on the surface, the SFX guy was below me in a scuba suit. Wes would tap on the side when he wanted him to raise Freddy’s claws between my legs. To this day, I find it scary to take a bath.