[To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the cult classic Heathers, we're celebrating all week long with "Heathers of Horror" special features highlighting our favorite horror performances by women with the same name as the iconic clique from the 1989 dark comedy! Check here to catch up on all of our "Heathers Week" special features!]
As a kid, one of my very earliest heroes (that wasn’t a Muppet, because boy did I love my Muppets back then) was the one and only Heather Langenkamp. Since I grew up being able to watch all kinds of horror movies from a very early age, there were many different female characters that I had always thought were really cool and badass, but to me, Heather Langenkamp as Nancy Thompson in both A Nightmare on Elm Street and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (and then eventually playing herself in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare) was in a league entirely her own. Nancy—and ultimately Heather herself—was someone I very much related to, and it was her intelligence, confidence, and ability to fend for herself that I very much looked up to over the years (plus, we had the same name and that was rad as hell).
As a kid raised in a single parent home by my mom, Nancy was one of the first female characters I ever saw in a movie that felt like someone I could actually relate to on a human level, and that felt like something very rare and very special. Sure, Langenkamp’s character was admirable because of how she was able to take on and defeat Freddy Krueger after he made mincemeat of her friends, but to me, the reason I thought Nancy was such a rock star was how she was able to confront all the other crap going on in her life outside of her perilous nightmares. And to me, cinematic heroes earn their mettle when their backs are against the wall and they find a way to triumph, but it’s the everyday heroes that truly shine when they can manage to handle their shit on a daily basis, and that’s what I liked about Nancy, and about Heather’s performance in the role as well.
While I think the entire cast in A Nightmare on Elm Street were all great in their respective roles, there was just “something” about Langenkamp that stood out to me. While I’m not sure I was ever as adorable as Heather was and/or is, the fact that her character, who was this “girl next door” and this mousy brunette who was also smart, resourceful, proactive, and knew her way around a sledgehammer, was totally badass, and Langenkamp’s natural affability added so much warmth to the character of Nancy, making her one of best heroines of horror over the last (nearly) 35 years.
When Heather returned to the Nightmare franchise for Dream Warriors, I was beyond ecstatic (you know that hyper sense of happiness that little kids get, the kind of happiness you spend your entire adulthood chasing after? That was me in a nutshell when I stumbled across a newspaper ad for Dream Warriors that featured Langenkamp’s name in the credits). And while I think Heather once again gives a warm and empathetic performance here, what the return of Nancy in the third Nightmare on Elm Street film meant to me was something so much more.
Here’s something weird to admit, and maybe this puts me in the minority, but growing up and only having a mom when 97 percent of the rest of my friends came from double parent homes, I was hard-wired to believe that I was somehow being brought up in “lesser” conditions. And what that ultimately meant was that from a young age, I was destined for failure, that my circumstances meant that I was afforded less opportunities by life. And that might be true in some ways, but when Nancy shows up in Nightmare 3 as a professional woman who has clearly taken ownership of her own circumstances (in a variety of ways), this might sound silly, but that gave me hope. And you know what hope can do for a kid? A lot.
So, to see the character Nancy flourish after the events of the first Nightmare on Elm Street, and come back stronger and even more adept at handling Krueger’s slash-tastic shenanigans as well, was the best thing ever to nine-year-old me. What’s also great is that it feels like Langenkamp also returned with a new sense of confidence as an actress, and I think some of the scenes she has in Dream Warriors are some of my favorite character moments we see in the entire series (especially whenever Langenkamp shares the screen with Patricia Arquette—that palpable chemistry shared between them becomes the beating heart of Dream Warriors).
As you can imagine, my tiny horror-loving heart was ripped to shreds after Nancy gets killed in the finale of Dream Warriors (I was crying so hard, my mom threatened to leave the drive-in we were at while on vacation in West Virginia if I didn’t stop, and I wasn’t about to miss out on Lethal Weapon, so I straightened myself out right quick), which is why, when I found out that Langenkamp was returning for New Nightmare, I had no idea how that could even be possible, but I was thrilled that somehow Craven found a way to bring Heather back into the fold.
The thing about New Nightmare that I find so endlessly fascinating is how unbelievably brave Langenkamp was about putting pieces of her own life and her own horrific experiences into the seventh movie of the franchise. During the 1990s, Heather was having to deal with a stalker who was making life miserable for her and her family, and for her to take that situation and put it out there for the entertainment of her fans, in my eyes, that’s a totally and completely ballsy thing to do.
What’s even cooler is that not only has Heather kept busy as an actress and filmmaker over the years, but she also works as a partner alongside her husband, David, in their special effects company, AFX Studio, once again proving her natural adaptability and versatility as a creative force in Hollywood. And while she has given us so many enjoyable moments on both the big and small screen for decades now, Langenkamp’s work in the Nightmare series had a hugely profound impact on me as a horror fan, and as a kid just trying to figure life out—most of the time on my own—and to have someone like Nancy to show me that I could survive, too, still means the world to me, even now as an adult.
Stay tuned to Daily Dead all week long for more "Heathers of Horror" special features, and check here to catch up on all of our previous features celebrating "Heathers Week"!