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 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.