Mention the name Nancy Thompson to any horror fan, and they'll likely think of the heroine from A Nightmare On Elm Street, the 1984 Wes Craven film that introduced us to Freddy Krueger. But what about the woman who played Nancy? What's the story behind Heather Langenkamp, who herself has become a legend in the horror genre? Langenkamp had only appeared as an extra in two films when she landed the Elm Street lead. Langenkamp has even said that she didn't like horror movies at the time. "The only ones I'd seen terrified me," she stated in an interview years later.
Langenkamp is much more than just a scream queen. In fact, in addition to being an actor, she's a writer, director, producer, and entrepreneur. Below we'll take a look at the truly successful and unconventional career of Heather Langenkamp.
- Photo: Wes Craven's New Nightmare / New Line Cinema
'Wes Craven's New Nightmare' Was Based On Her Real Experiences With A Stalker
A decade after the first Nightmare On Elm Street debuted in theatres, Wes Craven came up with the idea of making a film where Heather Langenkamp would play herself, but in the fictionalized scenario of a fan-turned-stalker coming after her and her onscreen son. The film, Wes Craven's New Nightmare, took the Elm Street franchise in a "meta" direction seldom seen in horror films.
But Craven's concept of a stalker fan didn't spring entirely from his imagination. Langenkamp starred in the television series Just the Ten of Us from 1988-1990, and when it was cancelled, a disgruntled fan began stalking her and her real-life family. Years later in an interview, Langenkamp stated, "At the time there were a lot of cases of stalkers. It’s pretty de rigueur to have an issue with a fan that has 'demands,' there were a lot of cases like that."
While the real life events must have been terrifying for Langenkamp, she managed to use her Nancy persona to face the trauma she'd experienced.
- Photo: American Horror Story / FX
She Owns A Special Effects Studio With Her Husband
On top of her wide range of acting accomplishments, Langenkamp runs AFX Studio, a special FX company, with husband David Leroy Anderson. Anderson has won three Academy Awards for his work, and an Emmy for special effects on American Horror Story: Freak Show.
For her part, Langenkamp has acted as special makeup effects coordinator for a number of films including Dawn Of The Dead and The Cabin In The Woods. The AFX website states the studio can make its clients creature suits, fake heads, life-like animals, and "anything else that Hollywood can dream up." Langenkamp and Anderson's work on American Horror Story has been one of their longest-running projects to date.
She Owns A Surfer-Themed Chewing Gum Company
As if Langenkamp's work running a special effects company, producing, and acting weren't enough, she also owns a small business called Malibu Gum Factory. Langenkamp started the business in 1999 with the intent of producing 100% all-natural, environmentally-friendly chewing gum. Every pack of gum includes two trading cards of surfers and surfing enthusiasts, most of them unknown to the general public.
"From time to time, we just have these weird ideas about things we'd like to make," Langenkamp said of her company when it first launched. While Langenkamp initially took most of the photos herself, the company's website allows "regular folks" to submit photos for the delightfully quirky trading cards.
- Photo: I Am Nancy / Some Pig Productions
She's Behind Two Documentaries About The 'Nightmare' Series
In 2010 and 2011, Langenkamp produced two documentaries covering her life post-Nancy Thompson, as well as the Elm Street films in general. Narrated by Langenkamp, Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy looks at the history of the franchise, interviewing major players like Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger). The following year, Langenkamp produced the documentary I Am Nancy, which focused more on her relationship with fans and the Elm Street films, though Englund also makes an appearance.
When discussing the process of putting the documentaries together, and her own lapses in memory after 25 years, Langenkamp said, "I was 18 years old, working every day, working really long hours, living kind of by myself, it was a super intense work environment." Langenkamp has also said that I Am Nancy led to a larger fan following, with lines of fans growing tenfold at horror film conventions.