Undoubtedly, Nancy Thompson has been one of the horror genre’s most beloved heroines ever since she made her big screen debut back in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984. Played by Heather Langenkamp, Nancy was remarkable in many ways- she was one of the rare horror heroines that not only came back for several sequels, but fans also saw her character evolve from a teenager into a mother.
As someone who grew up admiring several women characters in the horror genre, Nancy has always been by far my favorite. Not only was she strong and intelligent, but she was always the perfect yin to Freddy Krueger’s (Robert Englund) yang and wasn’t just another faceless teenage victim.
Since Langenkamp is about unveil a brand new documentary called I Am Nancy that explores the relevance of heroes and heroines in the modern horror age, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at my five favorite Nancy moments throughout the years. Enjoy the trip down memory lane and look for our interview with Langenkamp in the coming days!
5. Nancy Says Goodbye to Her Dad (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors)
In Dream Warriors, we learn early on that Nancy’s relationship with her father, Lieutenant Donald Thompson (John Saxon) has been strained since the events that occurred in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street. When Nancy first approaches her father for help in battling Freddy, we find Donald in some sad shape- drunk and unable to deal with the situation he had been put in. He brushes her off until in the third act when he’s forced to step up by Dr. Neil Gordon(Craig Wasson) in order to save his estranged daughter’s life. His final acts in Dream Warriors come at a hefty price, and Donald meets his untimely fate by the hands of skeleton Freddy in the junkyard where Krueger’s remains had been hidden for the previous few decades.
Around the same time her dad was losing his life at the hands of Freddy, Nancy and the surviving Dream Warriors were just putting the proverbial kibosh on Freddy in dream land. While celebrating, Nancy’s father beams in to make peace with his estranged daughter and as the two reconcile the past through a hug, the audience is let in on the reality of the situation as the camera pulls away- Donald was really Freddy all along and Nancy’s moment of tenderness becomes her downfall and she becomes one of Freddy’s final victims in part three.
What always struck me about the relationship between Nancy and Donald in Dream Warriors was how grounded in reality it always felt to me. Rarely in horror movies (or sequels for that matter) did audiences ever really feel the ramifications of the events of previous movies and I think is just part of many that made Dream Warriors such a phenomenal sequel. They treated the original source material with respect which is a rarity for horror sequels and how they continued to flesh out that division between father and daughter from the first film demonstrates why Dream Warriors remains many fans’ (and mine) favorite Nightmare sequel.
4. Nancy Puts Freddy in His Place (A Nightmare on Elm Street)
Imagine if young babysitter Laurie Strode could have had the opportunity to take away Michael Myer’s power in the original Halloween or if Sally Hardesty could have told Leatherface where he could shove that chainsaw in Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre how different the horror landscape would have been in the early 80s.
When writer/director Wes Craven created the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, he did something ingenious and made his film’s killer dependent on the fear of his intended victims. And while that ability was Krueger’s greatest asset, it also ended up being his biggest weakness because once Nancy no longer feared him, Freddy no longer held power over the young teen.
What I originally loved about the scene is that as a kid, I thought the Nightmare roller coaster ride was over once Nancy’s mom melted into the bed. But Nancy wasn’t quite through with Freddy and as the child killer attempted to break through to reality in a last-ditch effort to kill Nancy, she immediately realizes what she has to do- she turns her back on him, essentially tells him he’s a piece of shit, and walks away with all of the power. That’s pure gangster in my book.
3. Freddy Once Again Upstages Nancy (Wes Craven’s New Nightmare)
There is so much that I love about Wes Craven’s New Nightmare that I could probably go on for a few dozen paragraphs or so, but I’ll keep it short and sweet here. In case you may not have seen New Nightmare, let me set the stage for you- in the movie, we’re now seeing the ‘real lives’ of those involved with the Nightmare franchise. Heather Langenkamp stars in the film as a version of herself and when true evil is unleashed into her world in the form of Freddy, the actress must face him in order to save her son Dylan (Miko Hughes) who is being tormented by this new demonic version of Freddy.
And while there is so much I truly loved about Heather’s performance in the movie (we see her as a mother which wasn’t a role horror fans had seen the actress tackle in the genre up at that point in her career) but the one scene that I always had a fondness for was the talk show segment where Freddy once again upstages “Nancy” which was a perfect reflection of the fandom surrounding the Nightmare franchise and is almost a precursor to Langenkamp’s upcoming documentary I Am Nancy.
We see poor Nancy who thinks she’s in for a regular talk show segment suddenly get caught up in “Freddy Mania” when Robert crashes the interview in make-up and once again steals Langenkamp’s thunder. After the talk show taping finishes, we see poor Heather standing solo while waiting on Englund to finish up with the fans swarming him backstage and her reactions to being once again an afterthought to fans was spot on.
And even though I always found the scene funny, it was also a little sad for me as a fan because that is the reality of the situation-there’s no doubt that Freddy is what drives the franchise along but I contend that Nancy has always been the heart of the Nightmare franchise and had it not been for Heather’s performance in the original, Freddy may have just been another wisecracking slasher.
2. Nancy Saves The Day at Westin Hills (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors)
In 1987, this writer was a young horror fan who was seeing her first Nightmare on Elm Street flick in theaters with her reluctant mom. Being a youngster, I rarely paid attention to names on posters or in newspapers so I really had no idea that Langenkamp was coming back for the third installment until the moment she walked in the very first time. Talk about a “holy shit” moment for this (and many other) fan(s)- that moment for Nancy was not only was a crowd-pleaser for movie-going audiences but set the tone for establishing Nancy’s growth since we last saw her on the big screen. Gone was the tortured teen and in her place was a strong young woman who was there to help others who were dealing with some heavy issues.
In the scene, Nancy walks in to save Kristin Parker (Patricia Arquette) from doing something stupid and attacking the staff at Westin Hills after the troubled teen was admitted to the mental health facility following a ‘suicide attempt.’ As Kristin begins to lose it, with scalpel in hand, she starts reciting the Freddy Krueger nursery rhyme introduced to fans in Craven’s original film. Nancy quietly strolls in, calms down Kristin, and becomes the one voice of reason in the entire hospital.
What I also love so much about this scene is that it establishes Nancy’s transition into adulthood and how she’s taken the events from the first movie and turned them into something positive. Very few female characters in horror ever get to really do that and I think that’s another moment that establishes Nancy as more than just another “final girl.”
1. The “Nancy Prepares to Kick Some Krueger Ass” Montage (A Nightmare on Elm Street)
It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I am a sucker for a great montage and when the montage when Nancy prepares for the ultimate fight against Freddy in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street remains to this day one of my favorite 80s montage sequences.
At this point in Nightmare, Nancy has been through the wringer and then some- she’s seen all of her friends laid to waste around her, she has just learned that Freddy has killed off her beloved boyfriend Glenn (Johnny Depp), and her neither one of her parents believe that a guy they torched a few years back is haunting her in her dreams. So what’s a girl who’s been reading books on making booby traps left to do? Take on the psycho herself and try and bring him out into reality which would level the playing field for their showdown.
What I truly loved about this scene that in that time in cinema, you rarely saw women in these types of montages which made Nancy somewhat of a pioneer for the horror genre- she wasn’t sitting around waiting on a guy to save her, she was going to take matters into her own hands. While it wasn’t unheard of that a woman protagonist in the horror genre would choose to fight back against her tormentor, fans weren’t used to seeing the protagonist actually preparing for battle, making it a watershed moment for both the character of Nancy and for audiences alike.
And not only is the scene badass, but it’s monumental for an entirely different reason- some say that it also marks Nancy’s transition from a girl to a woman and this writer couldn’t agree more. Nancy was done hiding from Freddy and was willing to put it all on the line to stop the madman that was haunting not only her dreams but now her reality too. And if that meant that Nancy had to rig a sledgehammer above her bedroom door to get the job done, then so be it.