I AM NANCY – AN INTERVIEW WITH HEATHER LANGENKAMP

I AM NANCY – AN INTERVIEW WITH HEATHER LANGENKAMP

Two years in the making, the new A Nightmare on Elm Street-focused documentary I Am Nancy offers a personal view of the phenomenon and asks the question: Why Freddy [Krueger] and not Nancy? Heather Langenkamp was kind enough to accept our interview, in which she recalls the Never Sleep Again experience, discusses the new film, the place of women in cinema and the steps to making a DIY  film.

What is “I Am Nancy” specifically about and how did it come to be?

Two years ago was the 25th anniversary of A Nightmare on Elm Street and there were these events in all these conventions. I had been invited to quite a few and at the same time, my company here was doing make-up for The Cabin in the Woods so we had a big crew of people and a lot of them were Nightmare on Elm Street fans. My sister-in-law, Arlene Marechal, she was really curious about all these grown man, who would turn into putty the minute I walked in the door. They would get all giddy and blush, giggle and hide. She found it really funny and didn’t really understand it, as she wasn’t really a Nightmare on Elm Street fan. One guy had brought me this glove he’d made and another one had Freddy tattooed on his leg. She thought it was really interesting and strange. The strangest thing is that Freddy is so famous, he’s such a household name, but the character I play – Nancy – has kind of been second-class citizen in the whole folklore of Nightmare on Elm Street. So we – tongue-in-cheek, all of this is quite tongue-in cheek – decided to have this indignant attitude about why Nancy doesn’t get as much attention, when she’s as strong and bitchin’. So we set out on the road to go to all these conventions, with that always in the back of our mind: why Freddy-mania, why not Nancy-mania? So that was our starting point.

So we’ve got toys and we’ve got tattoos, we’ve got the conventions of course, and we came up with a lot of really funny and heartwarming material that Arlene, when we got back from these conventions, spent about a year editing together. And when you see this final product, what Arlene did – she was pretty much a novice – she has created this amazing film. It’s extremely fast-paced. We extensively interviewed Robert Englund and Wes Craven and the only questions we ask are about Nancy. We really tried to keep Freddy out of the whole thing. As a result, there are a lot of funny moments that crop up. That’s really at the film is about and we come to some conclusions about how important a character Nancy Thompson is.

So the film is about her place in the horror genre?

We talk about all three of the films [in which she appears] and we really look back to what Wes [Craven] was thinking and doing at the time when he wrote the part of Nancy Thompson, what were his influences. Everybody thinks they’ve heard all about the Final Girl, but it’s really not a part of Wes’ origin of Nancy. The cool thing is that people take something that has a lot of depth and they’re able to put their own statement about it. And that’s a lot of what we liked to explore: how each person takes what they see on screen and then retranslates it to their own lives. It’s definitely give-and-take between the creators of the movies and the fans. And you see that in this film.

Could you talk about the team behind this film and about how it came together?

The great thing about our team was that it was always changing. We actually called upon all of our family members to make the film. We were really shooting off the cuff about 80% of the time. For example, we went to Hartford, Connecticut to Monster-Mania and at that time were lucky to get a pretty accomplished cameraman named Jeff Crocker to do our footage. He knew what he was doing and everything was in focus and really pretty. We could conduct really nice interviews and such. Also my brother [Matthew Langenkamp] from China, who was happening to be visiting me, brought along his really nice camera and we got some B-roll from him. My niece happened to be with my brother so she got a little part. My cousin was there as well. All along the way we would call up relatives. We needed an animation for our main titles and luckily, our niece – she’s more like a second cousin – she’s going to CalArt in the animation program. So we called her up and literally in a week she produced what I think is one of the best parts of the movie, our main title. Then we needed some music and my brother had been in a band in college called Fabulon that had played over in Europe. So I asked him to create a song and my sister-in-law’s boyfriend is a musician so he did a couple of minutes as well. Basically everyone that we knew, we approached: “We know that you’re really creative, you’ve gotta be able to do something!” And people, of course, love to showcase what they do, and as a result we were able to do the movie and we’re really proud so many of our family members are in it. When you see the credits, you’ll see a lot of Langenkamps and Marechals. Pretty much everyone on the crew is somewhat related to us.

How was this experience different than your involvement with Never Sleep Again?

I really wanted to be a part of that project from the get-go and I had been thinking a lot about making a documentary about the movies and then I talked about it with my very good friend and manager Thommy Hutson and we found a third person, Dan Farrands, who had a lot of experience making these kind of retrospective documentaries and he had a partner, Andrew Kasch. So the four of us came together, Andrew basically edited the whole film and Dan was the producer, Thommy was the writer and I was the narrator. We split up our duties and the one thing I really tried to help with was getting in contact with people, like Wes [Craven] and Bob Shaye and make sure they were going to participate, because we knew that if these two people – and Robert [Englund] of course – hadn’t been involved, then it wouldn’t hold a candle to other documentaries that have been made about Nightmare. So we really strived to get every single important person that had been involved with Nightmare on Elm Street. We’re really proud of it and it’s doing really well.

Do you think of I Am Nancy as a complement to this movie?

It’s so much more of an autobiography of my character Nancy and me. It’s much more of a personal project. I’ve always felt it was as if I wrote a diary of what it’s like to be me, on a weekend at a convention. I really try to empathize with the fans that I meet, the places that I go and this wonderful opportunity I have to be friend with Wes Craven and Robert Englund. So I tried to mix that all up. I really hope it has a sense of humor that people can appreciate because it’s pretty absurd. My reality is so absurd and I like to step outside of my life sometimes and look inside and appreciate how weird it is and how unconventional it is.

I guess it’s a good time to be a fan of the series – between the remake and the documentaries that are coming out. Can you comment on that?

That 25-year anniversary really put the focus on Nightmare on Elm Street and I think a lot has to do with the conventions bringing in all the cast members of say, Nightmare 3 or 2. [Conventions] really were instrumental in creating this really large momentum for the movies and so many people ended up seeing the reboot of the movie and all of that came together to make that particular year [2009] Nightmare crazy at these conventions. People were talking about it, speculating, talking to Robert and asking him is his feelings were hurt and doing that particular thing at that particular time, and that’s when were at the conventions taking footage.

Did you pay any attention to the 2010 remake at all?

No I really didn’t. I mean, you’ve got to accept that these things will eventually happen, but I really didn’t have to participate in it or go see it or anything. I’m actually not that big a horror fan and I’m much more of a friend to Robert Englund I just felt like I didn’t want to see it, I didn’t want to see anybody else play that role. I know how much he dedicated to that role and over time he’s spent 25 years of his life promoting that figure to the benefit of everybody and I just felt like it was bad taste for me to go and see it and give some kind of opinion. If I didn’t like, it didn’t want to have to give my opinion and if I did like, I didn’t want to have to give my opinion either.

I guess it also would’ve been weird to see someone else play the Nancy character?

Yeah, I did not need to see another person play the character I really love so much and that might the best part I ever got to play. People are often telling me I take it too seriously but I really care, I do. It’s something I really cared about at the time and it has led me to have a really great life, so I have really protective feelings about Nancy.

She really helped define that specific type of character in the horror canon. We talked a bit earlier about the final girl, the victim-hero. How do you feel about that whole concept?

I’m a big fan of older movies and in old movies there has always been these women – and men too, but we’re really talking about the women – who really have a lot of personal power in fighting against whatever obstacle is in their way and it’s not just horror movies that provide that storyline. I mean, look at Sophie’s Choice or Katharine Hepburn in so many of her roles. Those were my models and those kinds of women who have some kind of a problem and have a certain attitude about dealing with it face on are kind of why I don’t buy into the whole final girl theory. It’s really just a type of women and a type of person that have been put in a movie. Up until that point, it wasn’t common to see that type of personality but they certainly have existed throughout film history and literature. I never really separated the genre like that, that you don’t find that type of character in horror films, because I know you did. There are a lot of scary movies where there are plenty of strong people, whether they’re men or women. I’m so much of a women’s right advocate that I really think that conversation has to end if we’re really going to enjoy equal rights. We even have to stop identifying gender as the basis of heroism at all, because there are plenty of examples of heroes and victims in both genders and it’s kind of like racism: the minute you start trying to identify it, you’ve already succumbed to it. I definitely feel that way about Nancy. It could’ve been a male part; it could’ve been Glen [Johnny Depp] who did what she did, if [Wes Craven] had decided to make Glen the hero, but at that time, he wanted – and though it was a good thing – the make a woman the hero. But it wasn’t so that he could rehabilitate women, or somehow provide something that had never been done before. He really wanted that character to be a woman and those choices are made by writers all the time and if you’re just doing it for the sake of their gender, it’s never going to be a very well-written part. It has to be for a good reason and Wes really addresses gender in a beautiful way that I think surprised a lot of people.

When you look at the horror genre through time, say the slasher films of the 80’s and their contemporary remakes, do you think the portrayal of women on film has somewhat deteriorated?

Unfortunately, in films in general, there’s just not enough equality in how the stories are written and it really seems as if we’re in an age where the stories are male-dominated and I can’t explain it. In everything I write, my main characters are women- because I’m a women and I most can understand that point of view. I mean, I could write a male character, but I don’t feel like it would be as strongly written and so I do pick women characters and that’s probably the reason why men pick male characters. I think it’s a product of the imbalance in our business that is so male-dominated and even if women are trying to get to the top – if you have like 10 or 20 very powerful women – it doesn’t mean all the writers or directors out there are women. It’s a slow process, I wish it was faster, I really do and certainly my daughter would like to see more films about women and enjoy the stories. And not only in romance!

Going back to the film for a moment: what are your plans as far as distribution is concerned?

I’m going to several conventions this summer and of course, I’ll be selling [the DVDs] as part of my appearances in festivals this summer, like in Indianapolis for Days of the Dead and doing some film festivals and then I am marketing it on my website – iamnancy.net – so anyone from all over the world can order from that site but the next thing is I’m actually trying to get a television deal right now and I also want to stream it on Netflix and Amazon. Those are the deals that are currently underway. Everyone was so impatient because it took 2-and-a-half years to put this movie out and I couldn’t bear it anymore so I made a pretty limited run just to sell to my die-hard fans, who were literally asking for it every day. We made a limited edition of 300, which is actually already almost sold out. Next weekend is Weekend of Horrors in LA, so I’m pretty sure those will be gone. Then we’re doing a much bigger run, but the first thing we put on sale was this really limited signed run of 300. It has the bonus features and everything but the cover art isn’t completely finished and our cover art will be different on the next edition. We’re trying to go green and making our packaging entirely recyclable, no plastic. It’s a thing I wanted to do in respect to that, but it’s taking a little longer. It’s been a really fun process, we do it all ourselves. I design this and that and my sister-in-law will do something else. It’s really just the two of us. We like it that way on some days and other days, we’re just so overwhelmed.  It’s just our little personal distribution company online. We’re definitely seeking it out, though. I haven’t obtained a distribution yet, because I wanted to have a beautiful package all ready for them and obtaining insurance is very difficult as well.

What about the festival circuit?

We’re showing it a Another Hole In the Head, an indie fest in San Francisco, which is an offshoot of the San Francisco Independent Film Festival, so we were really excited to be invited to that. We’re also doing Bleedfest, which is a festival that features women directors and women writers, here in Los Angeles, every 28 days. It’s pretty much focused on women filmmaking in the horror genre. Then we’re doing Days of the Dead, where I think Fangoria is having a film festival at that convention. We did the Phoenix International Film Festival where we took a rough cut and it was really fun to show it to pretty hardcore fans. It got really great reviews in the paper so I’m imagining people really liked it.

I imagine this film is taking a lot of your time. Any new projects, either with directing or acting?

I did The Butterfly Room last year directed by an Italian gentleman named Jonathan Zarantonello. It was financed by the Italian government and Barbara Steele was the star, which for actresses of the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s…she’s an icon! So I got to play her daughter which for me, was an incredible opportunity to know more about the good old days of horror in Italy, where there are so many fans of the genre. It’s a national treasure for them. That is something that I really look forward to coming out soon. I hear that it is coming out this year. All the horror scream queens are in it. [Zarantonello] just hired a lot of scream queens so we had an opportunity to catch up with each other. I really hope that comes out this year. Otherwise, I’m just going to focus the rest of this year in trying to make [I Am Nancy] a success and see what happens after that. Maybe someday, someone will see me and wonder “Where has Heather Langenkamp been?” and then hire me for their next project. That’s what I’m hoping they’ll say!

——————-

-       Interview: Ariel Esteban Cayer

About the author:

Ariel Esteban Cayer

Ariel Esteban Cayer is a film student, programmer for the Fantasia International Film Festival, writer for Panorama-Cinema and an occasional contributor to Fangoria Magazine.

Comments

  1. i love Nancy so much she changed my life and I saw you on the show Just The Ten Of us

    3 yearss ago

Reply

Comment guidelines, edit this message in your Wordpress admin panel