She Is Nancy, The Queen of Elm Street
Who could have predicted the impact a low-budget slasher film about a dream-stalking child murderer would have on pop culture?
A Nightmare on Elm Street is often remembered as the film that launched Johnny Depp’s acting career, earned writer/director Wes Craven the title “Master of Horror,” and made Freddy Krueger a household name.
However, the film is also responsible for introducing the world to one of the greatest heroines the horror genre has ever seen; one that many gay fans have been inexplicably drawn to since the film debuted in 1984 — Nancy Thompson.
Played by the instantly loveable Heather Langenkamp, Nancy was a far cry from the scream queens who dominated slasher films of the day. Instead of simply surviving, Nancy fought back with ferocity while still managing to maintain a sincerity and sweetness rarely found in the sea of cookie-cutter characters who still populate the landscape of horror movies today.
Now, more than 28 years after Nightmare — and Nancy — changed the horror genre, Heather Langenkamp shares her own unique perspective on the phenomenon of Freddy’s franchise in the documentary titled I Am Nancy.
The tongue-in-cheek autobiographical film follows Langenkamp as she attends horror film conventions around the world exploring the role of heroes in an era where villains reign supreme by asking fans, creator Wes Craven, and even the man behind the glove himself, Robert England, “Why Freddymania and not Nancymania?”
Gay.net had the chance to chat with Heather about the inspiration for I Am Nancy, her place in the history of horror, and the burning question every gay Nightmare fan has wondered for years — Would Nancy have a gay best friend?
Gay.net: What inspired you to create I Am Nancy?
Heather Langenkamp: I love studying fads, culture and history and I found it interesting that horror films — and Freddy in particular — are enjoying such an iconic place in pop culture right now. The horror genre has really come up in the world since I first appeared in Nightmare on Elm Street and I think that in itself is an intriguing reflection on our society today. So I thought an insider's view of the Nightmare phenomenon would provide and interesting perspective on the rise in the popularity of horror movies and the different groups of people who are fans of the genre.
Did you meet many gay fans at the horror conventions you attended while you were filming the documentary?
So many of the fans that come to horror conventions are gay and I have several fans who come to convention after convention with their partners. You wouldn’t think that horror conventions would be a place where gay couples come to have a fun weekend, but they do and they make it such an enjoyable experience. My gay male Nancy fans are the most loving and devoted fans I think a person can have.
Of course it doesn’t hurt that Nancy seems like she’d be the type of girl who would have a gay best friend.
Oh my god yes! She would definitely have a gay best friend, but then again Nancy would have every kind of friend. She’s the kind of person who’s so loyal and loving that anyone would be lucky to have her as a friend.
Aside from that, why do you think so many gay fans love Nancy?
Part of what makes Nancy successful as a hero stems from her ability to tap into her inner strength and all people have a desire to do that at some point. However, what makes Nancy unique is the fact that her sexuality plays no part in her vanquishing of Freddy. That’s rare for a horror movie heroine because they’re generally very feminine, but Wes (Craven) didn’t make Nancy’s sexuality an issue in Nightmare on Elm Street and that might have something to do with it. I also think Nancy has helped some gay fans face their fears. After all, coming out of the closet when you’re a teenager has got be more daunting than fighting Freddy in the boiler room and that’s the age that a lot of people are when they’re first watching horror films. I think being able to see a character like Nancy defeat something as evil as Freddy makes it easier for people to deal with the problems in their own lives.
How does that make you feel?
I’m so humbled by the notion that something I did could affect so many people in such a wonderful way. That’s something I hope I communicate with I Am Nancy.
Did you ever think that Nancy would have the impact she has on the people who’ve watched Nightmare on Elm Street?
No. I never would have imagined in a million years that Nancy would actually be a comfort to people, but by now I’ve heard it so many times I have to believe there’s some truth to it. As a matter of fact, one of the fans I interviewed who is heavily featured in I Am Nancy really touched my heart. She told me when she was going through a very difficult time in her life, it was important for her to see someone else go through a nightmare and overcome it. That’s the biggest message I learned from all the interviews I did with fans while making the documentary. Whether you have a terminal illness, or you’re struggling with bad parents, or you have terrible acne—whatever it is that you’re going through as a teenager—Nancy represents the ability to overcome that obstacle.
If the opportunity ever arose, would you play Nancy again?
Yes, of course. She’s such an important part of my life. I can see Nancy fighting Freddy until she’s in her wheelchair, frankly. I can think of all types of scenarios where they could continue their epic battle. It would be sad to see that come to an end.