“Nightmare on Elm Street” Star Recalls First Time Seeing Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger: 'Totally Frightening' (Exclusive)

Ahead of its 40th anniversary, star Heather Langenkamp looks back on playing Nancy Thompson in Wes Craven's iconic horror movie

<p>Craig Barritt/Getty; New Line Cinema/Getty </p> Heather Langenkamp in 2022 and in

Craig Barritt/Getty; New Line Cinema/Getty

Heather Langenkamp in 2022 and in 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' in 1984

Ahead of its 40th anniversary, A Nightmare on Elm Street star Heather Langenkamp is looking back on making the iconic horror movie written and directed by Wes Craven, first released in theaters on Nov. 9, 1984.

"Wes had a completely new idea — like he did many times in his career — about what we wanted to bring to the screen. And it was a version of horror that a lot of people called a slasher," Langenkamp, 59, tells PEOPLE exclusively about the movie, which offered a fresh twist on the genre by blurring dreams with reality as a sadistic killer terrorized its cast of teenage victims.

A box office success, the slasher starred Langenkamp as Nancy Thompson, a.k.a the film's final girl (or main scream queen), longtime Western star John Saxon, Oscar nominee Ronee Blakley and a handful of teen stars, including Johnny Depp, in his feature film debut.

<p>New Line Cinema/Getty</p> From left: Nick Corri, Amanda Wyss, Johnny Depp and Heather Langenkamp in 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' in 1984

New Line Cinema/Getty

From left: Nick Corri, Amanda Wyss, Johnny Depp and Heather Langenkamp in 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' in 1984

Related: Robert Englund Reveals His Own Freddy Krueger Nightmare That Still Scares Him: 'I Can Literally See It' (Exclusive)

Although Langenkamp, who was 20 years old when the movie was first released, had worked in the industry before Nightmare, she jokes that she felt like a veteran compared to Depp, who was 21 at the time.

"When I got on Nightmare on Elm Street, I had done several TV movies of the week and smaller projects. So I had been on sets before. And I always think about my experience versus Johnny Depp, who literally was on his very first job ever," recalls Langenkamp, who has since gone on to star in two Nightmare sequels, ABC' Just the Ten of Us as well as The Midnight Club and the upcoming The Life of Chuck from director Mike Flanagan. "And so I felt like the seasoned pro next to him because he really had never been on a set."

Although it made the actress feel like she knew what she was doing at that moment, "I probably was faking it half the time," she says, noting that her first starring role "was a very daunting experience for me."

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Rounding out the cast, of course, was Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger, a violent child killer who stalked unsuspecting high school teens in their dreams. And with his disfigured face, ratty striped sweater and fedora getup, which came complete with the now-trademark claw-like glove, Craven's creation became an iconic addition to the horror killer canon, following the likes of Michael Myers from Halloween and Leatherface of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Speaking to the nightmarish horror that Craven's team brought to life for the big screen, Langenkamp remembers the first time she saw Englund, now 76, in full costume and makeup on set.

"We were shooting a scene — it's everyone's favorite, where Nancy goes into her school and she walks down the hall and then she walks down some stairs and there's Freddy down in the dungeon of the school," she says.

"The moment when he pulls aside this curtain and he's revealed in the smoke," Langenkamp just remembers seeing a "menacing" figure standing before her. "He had such great body language that he developed for Freddy. It was all right there in full force. And then that hat was tipped over his eye and he had one shoulder higher than the other, it was a full Freddy look that I had never seen before," she continues. "And I realized that it was totally frightening. It did set me back a bit."

<p>Michael Ochs Archives/Getty</p> Robert Englund in 1984 and as Freddy Krueger in 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' in 1984

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Robert Englund in 1984 and as Freddy Krueger in 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' in 1984

Related: Nancy's House from 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' Hits the Market for $3.25 Million — See Inside!

Langenkamp also recalls another moment on set when the terror of Krueger sunk in — especially for audiences who would be watching it on-screen.

"There were also the scenes in the alleyway, where Freddy says his famous 'This is God' line, and I remember being there, realizing how frightening that particular line would be for so many people."

In that particular scene, it was Tina (Amanda Wyss) who was sent fleeing for her life. But Nancy also found herself trying to escape Krueger's clutches throughout the movie, appearing in one iconic encounter after the next. "There was a lot of running," Langenkamp recalls before getting into the physicality of the role.

"All of those scenes where there's so much action, so much fighting, I really relied upon a lot of my training as a dancer," she says, referring to her background as a ballerina. "Of course, we had wonderful stunt people to help us," she adds.

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That didn't necessarily prepare her to be filmed inside an 8-foot water tank, which was the case when it came to capturing the memorable bathtub scene in which Krueger attempts to pull Nancy underwater after she dozes off in the bathroom.

"Things like the bathtub scene were all ideas that organically came to life on the set. And I think Wes wasn't even sure what would be required of me. He never, like, gave me the heads up except maybe the night before, saying, 'Oh, yeah, we're gonna do this bathtub scene,' " she says, recalling the late director telling her, "We've got some ideas. They've been building this tank over there. We hope it works." 

<p>New Line Cinema/Getty</p> Robert Englund and Heather Langenkamp in 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' in 1984

New Line Cinema/Getty

Robert Englund and Heather Langenkamp in 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' in 1984

Related: 'Stranger Things' Director Shares 'Nightmare on Elm Street' Connections in Robert Englund's Episode

The actress also recalls filming a moment that didn't even make it into the final cut. "They put me in a harness. They were like, 'We're gonna fly you from the ceiling and we hope we can get a shot where it looks like you're failing out of the sky into your house after your dream," she shares, revealing that she had a parachute-like device attached to her.

"I remember getting this harness attached to me, and I'm trying to figure out how the pajamas are gonna go over it, and that my hair's gonna fly in my face and how they're gonna keep it outta my face," she continues. "So it always felt like we never got enough chances to practice, but then we just went for it."

Amazingly, despite all the action required on set she only suffered one minor injury. "I cut my foot one time on the set. We set up a shot really quickly and no one had swept the floor. I was running barefoot and I cut myself on a piece of glass," Langenkamp says, adding, "but that was it, that was the only injury I ever sustained."

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