Wes Craven's original Nightmare on Elm Street is widely considered one of the best horror films of all time. Viewers who saw the film at an impressionable age have claimed that it actually left them with PTSD. "That this film seemed to have a window into my brain and was able to bring my darkest fears to life was simply ruinous," one viewer writes. The intense fear that many people experience as a result of watching A Nightmare on Elm Street may partly be because the film was (very loosely) inspired by a horrifying true story. But much of Nightmare's effectiveness comes from the film's expertly-staged and often groundbreaking special effects set pieces.
When someone remembers A Nightmare on Elm Street, there are certain scenes that come up again and again. Tina (Amanda Wyss) being dragged up the wall and across the ceiling. The bloody body bag in the school hallway. That familiar glove coming up out of the water as Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) relaxes in the bath. Freddy pressing against the wall above Nancy's bed. The stairs turning to marshmallow. The list goes on and on. But one of the best Freddy Krueger kills in the entire movie is the death scene of Glen Lantz, played by a young Johnny Depp in his first big screen role.
Let's set the scene: Nancy's mother, who has taken to drinking heavily, has just told Nancy about Freddy Krueger's bloody history and violent death. The doors are locked, the windows barred. Only Nancy seems to be aware of what Krueger has become; what he is now capable of. Her phone rings, and on the other end of the line she hears only the sound of knives dragging along slate. She tears the phone cord from the wall, yet the phone continues to ring. When she answers it, Freddy's voice says, "I'm your boyfriend now, Nancy."
Across the street, her boyfriend Glen sleeps obliviously, sprawled in his bed with his headphones on and a small TV in his lap. We hear the announcer's voice saying that the station is leaving the air, and at that moment Freddy's glove appears from inside the bed and begins to pull Glen down, sucking him down into a sudden rift within the blankets and mattress. He screams as he disappears - along with the TV and his stereo - into his own bed. He isn't gone long, though. As the score suddenly picks up, the hole in the middle of Glen's bed spits forth a literal geyser of blood. Gallons and gallons of it - according to Craven's Twitter, he was told that they used over 500 gallons of fake blood throughout the course of the film - until the ceiling is a veritable swimming pool of blood.
It's a memorable - indeed, perhaps an unforgettable - scene. So, how did they do it? They started by using the same revolving set they had built for Tina's death scene earlier in the film. Inspired by the 1951 musical Royal Wedding, in which Fred Astaire dances up a wall and across a ceiling, the set for Tina's death scene was built on axles so that it could rotate 360 degrees. Jim Doyle, the film's mechanical special effects designer, built the set, which cost him $35,000 of the $60,000 or so budget he had for working on the film. He was later able to rent it out for use in other films, including Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo and the Larry Cohen killer yogurt movie The Stuff.
The first time they used the room in A Nightmare on Elm Street it was to film Freddy dragging Tina up the wall and across the ceiling. Four stagehands would turn the set as the filmed, while Craven and director of photography Jacques Haitkin were strapped to the wall in racing car seats. For Glen's death scene, the room was simply turned upside-down so that the blood looked like it was spraying up onto the ceiling when, in fact, it was shooting down onto the floor. Unfortunately, 500 gallons is still a lot of blood to pump onto one floor, and so the scene didn't quite go exactly as planned.
All that fake blood - a mixture of Karo syrup and water - put a lot of weight on the ceiling (which was now the floor) of the room, and when one of the effects team shifted the wrong way, a wave of fake blood came pouring out. "The thing flew completely out of control, and it went over twice," Doyle recalled of the accident, which led to lots of fake blood getting on everything, including electrical cables. "There was this two-inch tsunami of blood," Robert Englund, who was on set to watch the filming of the scene, even though Krueger isn't actually in it, recalled. "The floor of every soundstage I've ever been on is covered in electrical cables, so I ran..."
Heather Langenkamp was on set that day, too. "The scary thing was that there was blood everywhere," she said to Rolling Stone. The blood shorted out the electrical equipment, and the set went dark. "There were these huge sparks," Wes Craven said, "and suddenly, all the lights went out." That left Craven and Haitkin stuck in the darkened set, hanging upside-down for as much as half an hour. "But we got the shot, as they say."
Getting the shot was one thing, keeping it turned out to be another. The same accident that sent the blood-filled room spinning out of control and shorted out the electrical equipment also filled two of the cameras with fake blood. "When we took them back to the camera rental company, they were like, 'You got what in these thing?'" Doyle recalled. "But the film was salvagable." While the film may have been saved from a dousing in fake blood, it was almost lost to the MPAA, who insisted that Craven drastically reduce the length of the scene or else face an X rating. Craven attempted to appeal by pointing out the scene of blood pouring out of the elevator in The Shining - which partially inspired the scene in A Nightmare on Elm Street - but to no avail. Those extra seconds of the infamous shot had to hit the cutting room floor before the MPAA would give "I've spent a lifetime battling the MPAA," Craven said. "It's a horrible system. I hate it."
The fight of the blood-filled room was almost unnecessary, as the geyser of blood wasn't actually in the original script. "We worked out several different ways to kill Glen," Doyle said. One of them involved a frozen clay cast of Depp's body coming back through the bed, hitting the floor, and simply shattering. An extended version of the scene was filmed, which shows Glen's limp body rising up from the bed following the geyser of blood and then collapsing onto the covers.
Wes Craven's original A Nightmare on Elm Street is widely considered one of the best horror films of all time. Viewers introduced to Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) at an impressionable age have claimed he left them with PTSD. Culture writer James Gates says, "This film seemed to have a window into [his] brain and was able to bring [his] darkest fears to life [which] was simply ruinous." Perhaps many people experience lingering fear as a result of watching A Nightmare on Elm Street because it was inspired by a true story - though the expertly staged and often groundbreaking special effects also play a part in making this 1980s nightmare a classic in horror cinema.
The most memorable scenes from A Nightmare on Elm Street include Tina (Amanda Wyss) being dragged up the wall and across the ceiling; the bloody body bag in the school hallway; that familiar glove coming up out of the water as Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) relaxes in the bath; and the stairs turning to marshmallow as Nancy tries to escape. The best Freddy Krueger slaying in the entire movie, however, is undoubtedly that of Glen Lantz (Johnny Depp). Craven, Depp, and the A Nightmare on Elm Street special effects crew have spoken extensively about the inception of Glen's demise, the challenges they faced in effectively creating the scene, and how they ultimately pulled it off in a way that is now imprinted in the memory of any early '80s horror fan.
Glen's demise begins with Nancy trying to warn him Freddy Krueger has become a monstrous entity with the power to manipulate reality. Nancy's mother, who has taken to drinking heavily, informs her daughter about Freddy's history, prompting the revelation that causes Nancy to call her doomed boyfriend. The doors are locked, the windows are barred, and only Nancy is aware of Freddy's capabilities. Her phone rings and, on the other end of the line, she hears knives dragging along slate. She tears the cord from the wall, yet the ringing continues. When she answers, Freddy says, "I'm your boyfriend now, Nancy."
Article ImageAcross the street, Glen sleeps obliviously, sprawled in his bed with his headphones on and a small TV in his lap. As the announcer says the station is leaving the air, Freddy's glove appears from the bed and pulls Glen with his TV and stereo into a sudden rift within the mattress. Charles Bernstein's score picks up, Glen's mother enters the scene screaming, and the hole in the middle of Glen's bed spits forth a geyser. Over 500 gallons of fake blood were used to make this film, according to Craven's Twitter, with 80 gallons appearing in Glen's final moment.
Behind The Scenes
To create the unforgettable scene, Craven and the effects crew used the same revolving set they built for Tina's demise earlier in the film. The set was built on axles so it could rotate 360 degrees, and it was inspired by the 1951 musical Royal Wedding in which Fred Astaire dances up a wall and across a ceiling. Jim Doyle, the film's mechanical special effects designer, spent $35,000 of his $60,000 budget in building the revolver; to compensate for the cost, he rented it to producers for films like Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo and Larry Cohen's pernicious yogurt movie The Stuff.
When Freddy drags Tina up the wall and across the ceiling, four stagehands turn with the cameras while Craven and director of photography Jacques Haitkin were strapped to the wall in race-car seats. For Glen's scene, the crew turned the room upside down, so the blood appeared to be spraying up onto the ceiling when, in fact, it was plunging down onto the floor. Since 80 gallons of the fake stuff is a lot to spill onto a rotating set loaded with electrical equipment, things didn't quite go as planned. Thus, Craven and Haitkin ended up dangling upside down in darkness for at least half an hour.
The On-Set Disaster
The fake substance used for the film was made of Karo syrup combined with water and, when it spurted out onto the upside-down ceiling, it created extra weight. Article ImageThe crew accidentally shifted the set the wrong way and "the thing flew completely out of control... it went over twice," according to Doyle. It spilled out over everything, including electrical cables. Englund recalled that "there was this two-inch [wave] of blood. [And] the floor of every soundstage I've ever been on is covered in electrical cables, so I ran."
Langenkamp told Rolling Stone, "The scary thing was that there was blood everywhere." It shorted out the electrical equipment.
"There were these huge sparks," Craven remembered, "and suddenly, all the lights went out." Craven and Haitkin, who were strapped into their seats and mounted on the wall, were left to dangle upside down in darkness for as long as half an hour. "But we got the shot," Craven said.
After all the trouble they went through to make Glen's demise as graphic and memorable as possible, the crew almost lost the shot. The accident that sent the set spinning out of control filled two cameras with fake blood and "when [they] took them back to the camera rental company, they were like, 'You got what in these things?'" Doyle recalled. "But the film was salvageable."
The scene was recovered, but the MPAA insisted Craven drastically reduce the time spent lingering on Glen's Karo syrup-covered walls or else they faced an X rating. Craven rebutted that The Shining opens to similar circumstances with gallons pouring out of an elevator and Kubrick kept his R rating. The MPAA was set on its standards, however, and several seconds of the scene had to go. "I've spent a lifetime battling the MPAA," Craven told Rolling Stone. "It's a horrible system. I hate it."
Glen being swallowed by his mattress was not in the original script. "We worked out several different ways to [off] Glen," Doyle said. One of them involved a frozen clay cast of Depp's body coming back through the bed, hitting the floor, and shattering. Once Craven created the bed-eating disaster, however, there was no going back. An extended version of the scene reveals Glen rising from the abyss and landing onto the covers. The character's final moment is more memorable than any of Freddy's other slayings even without the extended cut, however, and horror fans from decades past won't soon forget it.