Ed. note- I bought the download of I AM NANCY and watched it the Sunday night I interviewed Heather Langenkamp. I watched it again for the second time tonight, right after finishing the NEVER SLEEP AGAIN mega-doc. The highest compliment I can give is this: I have even more respect for Heather than I had before.- P.F.
In the 1980s, a strange phenomenon came to be in horror films. The monsters in these films became pop stars. Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger became cultural icons who extended far beyond the horror culture into the mainstream. Even among horror fans, it became popular to root for the slashers; they were the cool cats, whereas the teens were nothing but flesh meant to be sliced into a flesh storm. The Alices and Ginnys and Jesses of the world were swept away in the bloody wake of Jason and Freddy, even if the monsters more often than not weren’t the ones left standing. Among these teens, however, one stands out. Nancy is the proactive “final girl” from the first A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET film, and I AM NANCY is the quest of the woman who portrayed her, Heather Langenkamp, to discover why Nancy’s been so overshadowed by Freddy. It’s a great piece that also reveals much of how Langenkamp feels about Heather.
The opening shots of the film are culled from all over TV and movies in the 80s that glorify Freddy Krueger. It had me instantly questioning why a Looney Tunes cartoon would do a take on a child molesting dream murderer (until I remembered 50 years of Daffy Duck having his beak blown sideways by a shotgun blast). Having set the stage with outside footage, it then transitions to a fan getting a Freddy tattoo from an artist named “Twelve.” Heather joins the session, and questions how many Nancy tattoos Twelve has done; the answer is zero. The three discuss the cultural impact of Freddy, and gives us an insight into why this guy would want Krueger permanently painted on his leg.
The bulk of the middle section of the film takes place at several horror cons around the world. Heather interacts with fans, most of whom idolize Krueger. Her quest to find a Nancy doll among a blood sea of Freddys yields disappointing results. She buys one of her in the bathtub, and a 12 inch Krueger for Robert Englund to sign. Their conversation is insightful. Englund discusses the cultural impact of their alliance, and then Langenkamp says something quite revealing: she feels she has to keep doing shows, or Nancy will die off, killed not by Freddy, but worse, by irrelevance. And therein lies the theme behind I AM NANCY. Langenkamp is an intelligent woman with an interesting perspective and lots to say about her association with NOES. Nancy shares some of her best qualities. And yet there’s always that damn glove overshadowing everything.
Fortunately, Heather faces most of this with self-deprecating humor. Although at times I found the disproportionate love of Freddy and her reaction to it sad, I would’ve found it overwhelmingly melancholy if she had done it all with a straight face. Her approach takes a kind of bravery. It’s noble, and speaks well of the woman who portrayed a brave teenager willing to face down the dream master. What disappoints me is that she has to carry on for Nancy at all. My horror fan brethren who go all out for Englund—and in turn, Krueger—miss out on what makes the first ELM STREET a great movie: a smart female who goes on the offensive instead of waiting to be slaughtered. People can credit Sigourney Weaver all they want for attacking the xenomorphs in ALIENS. But Langenkamp beat her to the punch by two years.
The last act of the documentary is by far the best, as Heather sits down with Wes Craven. I’ve always been fascinated by Craven, mostly because we’re both former English teachers, but also because like George Romero, he makes thinking man’s horror. Craven’s take on Nancy is a little different from Langenkamp’s, and he fills in some of the blanks about why Nancy is strong. Among them, he discusses his own daughter Jessica, who asked him while watching SWAMP THING why women always fall down in horror flicks. Jessica had a major influence on NOES, including the casting of Johnny Depp. Heather intercuts interview footage of her with Wes, creating a nice balance of what the two have to say. Jessica holds her baby throughout the piece, which fortifies how important family is both in film and real life (just look at Nancy’s dysfunctional family, and then listen to Wes talk about his grandmother raising him single handedly). The best part of the discussion with Wes is when he says that coming back to the franchise, he chose to focus on Nancy in THE NEW NIGHTMARE. I don’t think he could give Nancy or Heather a higher compliment.
It’s also in this section that Heather talks about NOES with a female fan who got hit by a car as a child. The fan relates her own situation to Nancy’s, and how both found power in facing their fears head on and getting through them. Toward the end of their conversation, Heather starts to cry, and I’m not ashamed to admit that so did I. What might have been a tearjerking ploy in another doc was real, as Heather Langenkamp is. Her honesty about herself and her place in film history is refreshing, and makes I AM NANCY a success.
As the doc comes to its close, a number of the participants look directly into the camera and say, “I am Nancy.” Anyone who finds strength in times of darkness is Nancy. When the camera finally falls on Heather, her positivity comes out as she says, “Be Nancy.” It’s a nice message that should inspire any horror fan.
As for Krueger and his long shadow… When the U.S. Post Office decided to honor the Universal Horror flicks with stamps, it didn’t commission artists to draw Dracula’s victims, or the girl who Frankenstein throws into the swamp; it had them draw the monsters themselves. Our culture venerates Hannibal Lecter for being a cannibal, while Clarise Starling falls to the wayside. Fortunately for Nancy, I root for the good people when I watch horror. Maybe that’s the Nancy in me.