From August 4th through August 6th, Flashback Weekend Chicago Horror Con took over the Windy City, and Daily Dead was on hand for all the horror-fied festivities. Throughout all three days, this writer served as one of Flashback’s co-hosts, and brought back some highlights from several of the panels held over the course of the convention.
Below is the first part of our excerpts from the panel featuring the women of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, and Ronee Blakley. The trio discussed their careers at the point of being involved with the first film in the Nightmare franchise, how the project came about, and their experiences seeing Wes Craven’s landmark film for the very first time.
Be sure to check back here on Daily Dead for more from the women of A Nightmare on Elm Street.
I would love to start off by hearing about where your careers were before A Nightmare on Elm Street, and then how everything changed after A Nightmare on Elm Street. Heather, if we could start with you, I'm just really curious as to what this film did for you and how everything shifted in your life once it was out there.
Heather Langenkamp: Well, first I did The Outsiders and then I got a speaking part in Rumble Fish, which is where I got my SAG (Screen Actors Guild) card. I didn't realize how lucky I was, because it's very hard to get a SAG card if you're in Los Angeles and just starting out. So, I went to college and I was in Stanford and I decided, Well, you know, I've got this SAG card, I'll just go to LA and just see if I can get some auditions. I had a wonderful friend who was a casting director who helped me get a couple of parts. I did a TV Movie of the Week. I did some commercials, including a Tab commercial, but I wasn't making a lot of money.
I was able to barely support myself with the help from my dad. He gave me a little bit of money. I went down to LA just for auditions and finally I got an independent feature that I thought to myself, Well, maybe I have a future if I just kinda stick to it. So, after that movie, I went back to school and I would fly over to Los Angeles for auditions, but it wasn't like I had a very good career going.
And then I got Nightmare on Elm Street, which I think was supposed to start shooting originally in May of that year. So, I actually left college, and I'm waiting for the movie to start, and it actually doesn't start until June. So we shot it over the summer, but I went immediately back to school. And then the movie came out, and you're not going to believe this, but absolutely nothing happened. Nobody really ever saw this movie until VHS came out. It did well in the theaters, where kids around America went and saw the film, but that was pretty much it.
Back then, you couldn't just plug in a movie to watch, so once it was released in theaters, it was just gone. I'd gone to many, many auditions after [that] and people had not seen the film. I put it on reels so they would see a few scenes, but in general I never met anybody who had seen A Nightmare on Elm Street for many, many years. And then, eventually, people would say, “Oh, I saw you in that movie. Why did you do a horror movie?” So there was a stigma to horror movies that was really strong, so it was on the bottom of my résumé in very small writing for many years.
I think when Wes [Craven] wrote Nightmare 3 and that movie was so successful that horror started inching up in popularity. But still, I've never gotten a job because I was in A Nightmare on Elm Street. I can even pretty much say that today. It wasn't the gravy train I wish it had been, that's for sure [laughs]. But nowadays, because everyone loves the movie so much, I get asked now to participate in people’s movies because I'm Nancy and so that's always flattering. But mainstream Hollywood didn't really pay attention like I thought they would.
How about for you, Amanda?
Amanda Wyss: I started out in theater, and I did these two plays that were a harbinger of horror. I did The Innocence and The Bad Seed when I was 11 and 12 in a theater in Los Angeles. The LA Times said that I was one of the most wicked children that they'd ever seen, too [laughs]. And so I was like, “Oh, there's something going on here.” Then, as a teenager, I did a bunch of commercials because I was the California girl with the long, blonde hair.
I did commercials, and then a few TV things, and then I did Fast Times at Ridgemont High. After that, I got to read for A Nightmare on Elm Street, but my first movie that I ever did when I was a teenager was called Force: Five and it was by Robert Clouse, who had directed Enter the Dragon. So, I was super excited because my guilty pleasure movies are martial arts films. I don't know how many people know that. Oh my God, I could tell you anything about Jeff Speakman, Cynthia Rothrock—you name it, I've seen it. So I was super excited to do this movie as a teenager, but it was terrible, and it's thankfully died a quiet death. It's un-findable now.
So, when I read for Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes had Heather and I read together, and then I got cast. And it was really fun, but I wasn't there through the whole filming. It was amazing, though, and I made lifelong friends. But pretty much the same thing that Heather said, as far as career-wise, nobody had ever heard of it or had seen it. So it didn't really do anything for my career afterwards.
I still just plugged along, plodded and clawed my way, just to keep it all going. But now, more people are asking me to participate in their films because of having been in Nightmare on Elm Street, so I'm super grateful for it. It was a very strange thing at the time, but now people respect it, as it should be, so that's nice.
And for you, Ronee?
Ronee Blakley: Well, I'm older than these girls, so a great deal of my career was behind me. My big thing had been that I'd been nominated for an Academy Award for the movie Nashville, Robert Altman's movie which resulted in me being on the cover of Newsweek and traveling the world. That was a hit, but it was not as big a hit commercially as A Nightmare on Elm Street. But also, I had done The Driver with Walter Hill, I had worked with Vin Venters on three movies. I had worked with Sam Shepard on a show for Hamlet, where Sam and I played opposite one another. I'd also worked with Bob Dylan on his records and tours and a movie called Renaldo and Clara, too.
I had gotten started in 1968 when I got out of Juilliard, where I was in Summerstock. Then, I moved to New York and went into electronic music with Gershon Kingsley and Robert Moog, who made the Moog synthesizers. The first time synthesizers were ever in Carnegie Hall, I was there. Then, I moved to LA on David Crosby's yacht. We sailed from Nassau to LA. I joined a band called California, and we did the title song to the Columbia movie April Fools. I think then I got a writing deal at A&M, then I got my first record deal, and from those songs, there were some that they desired to use in Nashville the movie.
And Susan Anspach was originally playing the part that I ended up playing, so for some reason they decided to have me instead in the film. That started my movie career. So John Saxon, who played my husband and Nancy's father in Nightmare, and I were the veterans in this, and our involvement was used to finance the movie for under two million. I think Wes and everyone were always afraid somebody was going to pull the plug.
Heather Langenkamp: Or that you guys would pull out of the film.
Ronee Blakley: Well, that would never have happened, at least not from me. I remember taking my mother to Palm Springs to show her the script because this was a dicey, shocking type of movie, so I wanted to warn her about it. She was a very nice Christian lady, so I didn't want to blow her socks off. She read it, and I remember telling her that I thought it was going to be a big hit. I said that to my mom before we ever did it. And oddly enough, I think it went to number one.
Heather Langenkamp: It might have been number one.
Ronee Blakley: It made a ton of money.
Heather Langenkamp: You know, my agents were the biggest agents in town, and I would repeatedly go in there to meet with them, and my agent was like, “Yeah, I'm so sorry I didn't see it. It's just not the kind of movie I want to go see.” I was like, “I'm your client. It's your duty, right? [laughs]”
Amanda Wyss: We were with the same agent, too. Two of their people were in the movie and they didn’t see it. And they were like the biggest agents in the city at the time and could have really helped us.
Heather Langenkamp: Well, we left that agency [laughs].
Ronee Blakley: Okay, well, I saw it in Times Square, and there was a Kentucky Fried Chicken right next to the theater. So everybody in the theater was eating chicken and you could hear the rustling of all these bags. Rustle, rustle, rustle, then, "Ahh!" Rustle, rustle, rustle, "Ahh!" So anyway, I saw it with a theater full of people eating Kentucky Fried Chicken and they loved it, it was sold out.
Heather Langenkamp: I saw it in Oakland at a theater where the audience was probably 80% African American, 20% white, and everyone was talking at the screen the whole time. It was hilarious, but I didn't catch all the subtle lines in the movie because everyone was so loud. So that was the first time for me. It was a lot of fun.
Ronee Blakley: I finally watched it all the way through for the first time sitting between Heather and Amanda here in Chicago at the outdoor theater 10 years ago. I could never keep my eyes open when Amanda's bag got dragged out and the worm crawled out, and when Johnny [Depp] got bloodied up to pieces in his room. And then all these things that happened with Heather, I had to shut my eyes. I tried not to let anybody know it. I finally watched it sitting between these two women, which was great.
In case you missed it, check here to catch up on all of our coverage from Flashback Weekend 2017.
Editor's Note: Above photo from the video recorded by Kenman81.