Johnny Depp accompanied his friend Jackie Earle Haley to auditions for the film. Instead of Haley being chosen for a role, it was Depp who was spotted by director Wes Craven, who asked him if he would like to read for a part. Depp got a part in the film, Haley didn't, but Haley would go on to play Freddy in the remake 26 years later (A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)).
Wes Craven first came up with the basic idea for the movie from several newspaper articles printed in the LA Times over a three year period about a group of Cambodian refugees from the Hmong tribe, several of whom died in the throes of horrific nightmares. The group had come to America to escape the reign of Pol Pot, and within a year of arriving, three men had died, with the situation the same in each cases; the young, otherwise healthy, man would have a nightmare, then refuse to sleep for as long as possible. Upon finally falling asleep from exhaustion, the man awoke screaming, then died. Autopsy results revealed that they had not died because of heart failure, they had simply died. It was this lack of cause which intrigued Craven so much. Medical authorities have since called the phenomenon Asian Death Syndrome, a variant of Sudden Unexpected Death Syndrome (SUDS) and Brugada Syndrome.
The idea behind the glove was a practical one on Wes Craven's part, as he wanted to give the character a unique weapon, but also something that could be made cheaply and wouldn't be difficult to use or transport. At the time, he was studying primal fears embedded in the subconscious of people of all cultures and discovered that one of those fears is attack by animal claws. Around the same time, he saw his cat unsheathe its claws, and the two concepts merged, although in the original script the blades were fishing knives, not stake knives as in the finished film.
In an interview with Heather Langenkamp, she mentioned that Ronee Blakley really did slap her during the kitchen scene. However, if you watch the scene carefully, you can see that she must be referring to a previous take. It's obvious that the slap seen in the final take is artificial.
During the scene where Nancy is running towards her house with Freddy right behind her, Heather Langenkamp cut her foot and required stitches. When viewing this scene you can clearly see her limping as she enters her house. This wasn't acting, but rather a genuine reaction to her injury. If you look closely you can see the bandage she's wearing in the last shot of the "goo stairs" sequence, which takes place just moments later.
According to Wes Craven, Robert Englund was not the first choice for the role of Fred Krueger; he had initially wanted a stunt man to play the part, but upon testing several stunt men, he realized he needed an actor.
According to Robert Englund, he based the physicality of Freddy on Klaus Kinski's performance in Werner Herzog's Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979). Englund also says on his DVD commentary that in his mind, the back-story for Freddy was based on something from his own childhood. On Valentine's Day when Englund was in school, everyone in the class made Valentine cards for one another, but there was one boy who received no cards from anyone. Englund theorized that this boy went on to become Freddy.
The very first time we see Freddy in the movie, he isn't being played by Robert Englund, but by special-effects man Charles Belardinelli, as Belardinelli was the only one who knew exactly how to cut the glove and insert the blades.
The inspiration for the character of Freddy came from several sources in Wes Craven's childhood. Fred Krueger was a schoolmate of Craven with whom he had shared a paper route, and who had bullied him for several years. In The Last House on the Left (1972), Craven also used this experience as inspiration, calling the villain Krug. Freddy's appearance (especially the dirty clothes and hat) was inspired by a hobo who Craven saw staring at him through his window one day when he was ten.
In the original script, Freddy was a child molester, however the decision was made to change him into being a child murderer to avoid accusations of exploiting a series of child molestations in California around the time of production.
Wes Craven's original concept for Freddy Krueger was considerably more gruesome, with teeth showing through the flesh over the jaw, pus running from the sores, and a part of the skull showing through the head. Make-up artist David B. Miller argued that an actor couldn't be convincingly made up that way and a puppet would be hard to film and wouldn't blend well with live actors, so these ideas were eventually abandoned.
The scene where Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) is attacked by Freddy in her bathtub was shot using a bottomless tub, which was put in a bathroom set that had been built over a swimming pool. During the underwater sequence, Langenkamp was replaced with stuntwoman Christina Johnson. Langenkamp spent 12 hours in the bath during filming.
In her room after almost getting killed in the tub, Nancy looks at herself in a mirror and says, "Oh God, I look 20 years old." Many viewers find this humorous, thinking that Heather Langenkamp was 20 years old at the time of the movie. However, on the DVD audio commentary, she's quoted as saying, "I was 18 or I was 19. I can't remember."
The scene where Freddy presses through the wall above Nancy was shot by stretching a sheet of spandex across a hole in the wall and pressing against it. In the shot, Freddy is played by special effects designer Jim Doyle.
Freddy Kruger was designed by Wes Craven to be the typical "silent" serial killer such as Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. But in the sequels Freddy developed a cheeky persona that enabled him to be the black-humored villain
The fictional address of the house in the film is 1428 Elm Street. The actual house where filming took place is located in Los Angeles, California, on 1428 North Genesee Avenue. The numbers "1428" on the side of the house were stolen and never returned, according to present real-life Elm Street House owner Angie Hill, who was quite upset over it. This is shown on the 2nd disc of the documentary "Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy".
The movie almost folded before production had even begun. Initially, Smart Egg productions were supposed to put $1 million into the movie, but they dropped out several days before filming began, and producer Robert Shaye had to try to raise money elsewhere. Two weeks into shooting, the production had no money left to pay the crew, so line producer John H. Burrows used his credit card. Eventually, Shaye brokered a deal with a European company called Media Home Entertainment and subsequently persuaded Smart Egg to put up the final $200,000 needed to complete the film.
Many extended scenes, which were lifted from the work print, appeared on the 1996 Anchor Bay Special Edition release. Charles Bernstein had not yet composed the iconic score for the film, so these scenes include preexisting temporary music taken from other sources. Some of the music heard is from Final Exam (1981) by composer Gary S. Scott. Scott later went on to score many episodes of the Elm Street spin-off TV series Freddy's Nightmares (1988).
The first ''A Nightmare on Elm Street'' was originally supposed to be set in Los Angeles, California. The script mentions the San Fernando Valley, a filmed-but-cut line from the film has a teenager say "California is the most high and palmy state, man!" in the classroom scene, and palm trees are visible in the background of some scenes. This detail was changed for the final cut of the film to make it vague in which city the movie was set - the town's name or possible location is never stated at any point. The second movie establishes the town's name as Springwood, and later movies confirm the new location as Springwood, Ohio.
Actress 'Ronee Blakely' played a country superstar in Robert Altman's film "Nashville" several years before playing Nancy's mother in the original "Nightmare on Elm Street". Actress Connie Britton, who played the same role (though the character's name was altered) in the 2010 remake of "Nightmare", later went to play a country superstar in the unrelated TV series "Nashville."
The sparking glove effect seen throughout the movie was achieved by attaching the glove to a car battery. The famous scraping noise was created by scratching a steak knife on the underside of a metal chair.
Another source for the film is a 1968 short film made by students of Wes Craven's at Clarkson University. The film parodied contemporary horror movies, and was filmed along Elm Street in Potsdam, New York (the town in the movie was named Madstop - Potsdam spelled backwards).
A few days before the film was to go on general release, the processing lab which had the negative informed New Line that they wouldn't be releasing it as they hadn't been paid. At the last minute however, producer Robert Shaye was able to negotiate a deal.
According to Heather Langenkamp, the melting staircase scene was shot using pancake mix. According to Wes Craven however, it was oatmeal and glue. According to the fact track on the DVD, it was Bisquick. The scene was directed by Robert Shaye who was on set pressuring for the film to wrap, and Craven told Shaye he could direct it, as it was based on a dream Shaye himself had once had. In another interview, Heather Langenkamp added that mushroom soup was also one of the ingredients in the staircase mixture.
The 2006 Infinifilm release fixes a continuity error in the original film. In the scene where Glen watches over Nancy as she sleeps, she turns her light off before sleeping, but it's on when she wakes up. The Infinifilm release fixes this mistake by digitally darkening the room when she wakes up, until Nancy's mother enters the room and turns it on.
This was the second movie produced by New Line Cinema. The first was Alone in the Dark (1982), directed by Jack Sholder and starring Jack Palance. However the film was given a very limited theatrical release, and when it performed poorly and received bad reviews, it was released straight to video. As such, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) was New Line's first genuine mainstream cinematic venture.
Wes Craven had helped Sean S. Cunningham by working on a few shots for Friday the 13th (1980), in turn, near the end of the production of this movie, Cunningham directed a few shots when several units were working at once.
In relation to the famous red and green sweater, in the script, the sweater was red and yellow (based on the colors worn by Plastic Man, who, like Freddy, could change his form; the idea was that whatever Freddy changed into would be yellow and red). However, when Craven read an article in Scientific American in 1982 that said the two most contrasting colors to the human retina were red and green, he decided to alter the colors.
The scene where Glen (Johnny Depp) lies on the couch and can hear Tina (Amanda Wyss) and Rod (Jsu Garcia) having sex was based on an incident from Wes Craven's own life where he lay on a couch listening to a couple having sex next door.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
An omen that Johnny Depp's character is about to die occurs as he is laying in bed listening to his radio. The broadcaster announces, "It's midnight and you're listening to station KRGR." KRGR is "Krueger" without the vowels.
The scene where Freddy is set on fire, chases Nancy to the top of the stairs, falls back down and starts back up again was all shot in one take with several camera and was the most elaborate fire scene ever filmed up to that time. Stuntman Anthony Cecere won best stunt of the year for the scene.
In the original script, the movie ended happily: Nancy kills Krueger by ceasing to believe in him, then awakes to discover that everything that happened in the movie was an elongated nightmare. She then says goodbye to her mother and drives to school with her friends. However, producer Robert Shaye wanted a twist ending which would leave the way open for sequels. He suggested fooling the audience into thinking Krueger has been defeated, only to reveal that the final scene itself is actually a nightmare, and then end the film with Freddy driving the car away from the house and the kids screaming. Wes Craven hated this ending, and ultimately four endings were filmed; Craven's happy ending, Shaye's 'Freddy ending', and two versions of a compromise ending Craven and Shaye had reached in which Nancy's mother is pulled back into the house, but it is left slightly ambiguous as to what is going on. Craven has always maintained that the film should have had the happy ending he originally wrote.
For the blood geyser sequence where Glen (Johnny Depp) is killed, the filmmakers used the same revolving room set that was used for Tina's death. They put the set so that it was upside down and attached the camera so that it looked like the room was right side up, then they poured gallons of red water (normal movie blood couldn't create the right effect for the geyser) into the room by pumping it down through the bed. The room itself was to be turned as the blood flowed, but it was turned in the wrong direction so instead of the blood gushing out of the bed and then splashing down the walls, the blood gushed out of the bed and out of the room through the open door where the camera and equipment was, with exposed wires and electrical sockets. The power on the set went, but no one was injured. On the DVD commentary, Wes Craven remarks that the room spinning the wrong way was like a "Ferris Wheel from hell." The blood was water mixed with food coloring. The scene was partly inspired by the elevator scene in The Shining (1980).
The scene of Tina (Amanda Wyss) trashing across the ceiling was shot using a rotating room set which was slowly spun to allow her to role into position. The camera was bolted to the wall, and the cameraman strapped into a chair beside it, which turned in tandem with the room. For the two shots where Rod (Jsu Garcia) and Tina reach for one other as Tina is on the ceiling, she is really lying on the floor and Garcia is upside down with his hair pasted down to stay flat. The effect was so good that just before shooting began, Amanda Wyss got a bad case of vertigo.
In a deleted scene featured on the Laser Disc and VHS from Anchor Bay we learn that Nancy and many of her friends from the neighborhood weren't always only children, but had a brother or sister before they were killed by Freddy (during the scene in the basement just before Nancy's mother reveals she has Freddy's glove.)