Overdue Halloween Special: A Nightmare on Elm Street 1, 3 and 7: The Nancy Trilogy
Freddy Krueger is dead, killed by over-exposure, his memory ground further into the dirt by a Michael Bay produced remake. We know how it began, how it descended into buffoonish self-parody and then revived itself via the power of post-modern, self-reflexivity. That’s a given fact for fans of all things Freddy, but for the initiated we know who was there from the beginning (A Nightmare on Elm Street), the middle (Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) and finally set the whole shebang in stone with the New Nightmare: None other than Nancy Thompson herself, played by Heather Langenkamp. Perhaps Freddy’s true equal (sorry Jason), yes she only really got to flex her dramatic muscle in New Nightmare. But she was crucial in Freddy’s evolution from ghoul to ghoulish goofball, and finally back to ghoul.
But what of Nancy’s evolution? Technically speaking, ‘Nancy’ only really progressed from teen damsel-cum detective to mentor in the gaps between Nightmare 1 and Nightmare 3, before being prematurely skewed by Your’s Freddily. The cycle was naturally completed in meta-fashion by Heather Langenkamp as, Heather Langenkamp. Yes indeed, Nancy had run her course in the Elm Street saga, or had she? In many respects, it should have damn well been Nancy rather than Alice (Lisa Wilcox) to be threatened with carrying Freddy’s spawn in Nightmare 5: The Dream Child (as opposed to Nightmare 4, in which nothing happened). Although, disposing of Nancy and pursuing Heather bore fruit in the chance to start over. Freddy by that point had been neutered by the 6th entry, simply titled Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. A semi-3D craptacular that all but buried the reputation of the franchise (“kids!”). New Nightmare relocated the premise to Beverly Hills. Freddy Krueger is a horror icon, Heather Langenkamp can’t shake off the shackles of Nancy from a career ago and Robert England sees’ himself an artist, who knew? Seriously though (with this material? fat chance) the essence of the story is the fact that Freddy and Nancy are oil and water, the glue in this equation is that of Heather’s (fictional) son – and Freddy-fodder – Dylan.
Freddy needed to get back to his bogeyman roots, and they needed Nancy to be there (a fact the movie is well aware of). Going so far to cast the filmmakers as themselves, including director Wes Craven and New Line honcho Bob Shaye playing themselves, as they strive to coax the now parentally occupied Langenkamp back into the spotlight. Simply because Nancy was there from the beginning, almost apologising for the gaps in character continuity throughout the series. Crucially though, the film summarised and inadvertently satirised the horror picture business. A self-consuming cycle of retrospective revisionism and self-destructive nostalgia, all whilst ignoring the horrifying fact that the monster they created has become more frightening than any of them could imagine.
It’s a shame then that so little attention is paid to Nancy as a character, or actress Heather Langenkamp. For some of weaknesses in the first and third movie, she is at least as pivotal as Laurie Strode was to the Halloween franchise (Strode similarly appeared sporadically in that franchise, in four of the eight films). She’s no Ripley but like Laurie Strode, Nancy was the embodiment of the slasher movie heroine; a wholesome, middle-American girl standing up against the things that go bump in the night (and like to play, ‘skin the cat’). Langenkamp herself is rarely seen onscreen (some of recent credits include make-up and prosthetics work for Evan Almighty and Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead), as chance would have it (in relation to this article) Langenkamp has been busy at work on autobiographical documentary I Am Nancy. A look inside the Nightmare fanbase, notably the disparity in popularity between Freddy and Nancy (a look at the trailer reveals the absence of Nancy memorabilia). In conclusion, Freddy may be on the shelf at your nearest Forbidden Planet (or other geek emporium), but Nancy was always the most credible opponent. That’s unless you’d rather sit through (shudder) Freddy’s Dead again?