Wes Craven first came up with the basic idea for the movie from a series of articles in the "Los Angeles Times" over a three-year period about a group of Southeast Asian refugees from the Hmong tribe, several of whom died in the throes of horrific nightmares. The group had come to the U.S. to escape the murderous reign of Pol Pot, and within a year of arriving, three men had died all in similar situations--the young, otherwise healthy man would have a nightmare, then refuse to sleep for as long as he could. When he finally fell asleep from exhaustion, he awoke screaming, then died. Autopsy results revealed that they had not died from heart failure, but had simply died. It was this inability to find a cause of death, that 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 unsheath its claws, and the two concepts merged, although in the original script the blades were fishing knives, not steak knives, as in the finished film.
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 twelve hours in the bath during filming.
According to Wes Craven, Robert Englund was not the first choice for the role of Fred Krueger. Craven had initially wanted a stunt man to play the part, but upon testing several stunt men, he realized he needed an actor.
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. He was re-written as a child molester in the 2010 remake starring Jackie Earle Haley.
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.
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.
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 inspiration for the character of Freddy came from several sources in Wes Craven's childhood. Fred Krueger was a schoolmate of his, 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.
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 backstory 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.
In her room, after almost getting killed in the tub, Nancy looks at herself in a mirror and says, "Oh God, I look twenty years old." Many viewers find this humorous, thinking that Heather Langenkamp was twenty years old at the time of the movie. However, on the DVD audio commentary, she's quoted as saying, "I was eighteen or I was nineteen. I can't remember."
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 an alternate take. It's obvious that the slap seen in the take used In the film is artificial.
(At around one hour and seven minutes) There is a scene where Nancy attempts to warn Glen that Freddy is coming after him. She looks down to discover Freddy's mouth and tongue have taken form of the bottom half of the phone. The effect was made with cheap rubber and prosthetic. The effects team also reportedly stated Heather Langenkamp wanted to take the prop home after shooting, which they thought was unusual.
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 the house's present owner, Angie Hill, who was quite upset over it. This is shown on the second disc of the documentary Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy (2010).
Freddy Krueger was designed by Wes Craven to be the typical "silent" serial killer, such as Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. However, in the sequels Freddy developed a cheeky persona that enabled him to be the black-humored villain.
In the original script, Freddy's famous red-and-green 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 Wes 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 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.
The first 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.
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.
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.
The movie almost folded before production had begun. Initially, Smart Egg Productions was supposed to put one million dollars into the movie, but it dropped out several days before filming began, and 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 Media Home Entertainment, and subsequently persuaded Smart Egg to put up the final 200,000 dollars needed to complete the film.
According to Heather Langenkamp, the melting staircase scene was shot using pancake mix. Wes Craven, however, said it was oatmeal and glue. The fact track on the DVD says it was Bisquick (pancake mix). 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.
A few days before the film was to go into general release, the processing lab that had the negative informed New Line that it would be keeping the film because it had not been paid. At the last minute, however, Robert Shaye was able to negotiate a deal.
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, it 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.
Another source for the film is a 1968 short film made by students of Wes Craven 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).
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.
A popular myth surrounding this film is that David Warner was originally slated to play Freddy Krueger, and that make-up tests were done, but Warner had to drop out, due to scheduling conflicts. This has been proven false by the filmmakers, and Warner himself in the recent book "Never Sleep Again".
Many extended scenes, which were cut from the work print, appeared on the 1996 Anchor Bay Special Edition release. Charles Bernstein had not yet composed the score for the film, so these scenes include pre-existing 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 television series Freddy's Nightmares (1988).
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.
Wes Craven was a professor at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York, which has the actual Elm Street situated between the State University of New York at Potsdam, and Clarkson University. The house, on which it was based, is owned by a fraternity, and is listed at the address 20 U.S. 11, Potsdam, New York 13676 (this stretch of Elm Street becomes U.S. 11 in Potsdam).
During production, Screenwriter Leslie Bohem pitched the idea of a Freddy baby to the studio. His pitch involved telling a pregnant executive to imagine Freddy's claws tearing out of your body. Unsurprisingly, his idea wasn't used. His idea of a "Freddy baby" was used in A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989), which he wrote.
There is a scene in the trailer, not shown in the film, which explains why Donald Thompson believes Rod Lane killed Tina Gray. "Rod Lane was locked in a room with a girl who went in alive, and came out in a rubber bag."
The voice of Robert Shaye, the film's producer and owner of New Line Cinema, can be heard twice in the film--as the newsreader reporting on Tina's death, and as the station announcer saying "It is now twelve mid, and this is station KRGR leaving the air".
Pro wrestler Tommy Gilbert wrestled for a time in Memphis as "Nightmare Freddy." His son Doug Gilbert would take the gimmick to the Japanese hardcore wrestling promotion Wrestling International New Generation (W*ING), and bring his brother Eddie Gilbert into the promotion in 1993, where he would compete as Michael Myers (from Halloween (1978)).
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
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 cameras, 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 awakens 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, Robert Shaye wanted a twist ending that 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 the audience 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.
An omen that Johnny Depp's character is about to die occurs as he is lying 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.
In a deleted scene, featured on the LaserDisc and VHS from Anchor Bay, we learn that Nancy and many of her friends from the neighborhood weren't always only children. They 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.)
At around one hour and eleven minutes) When Nancy is trying to bring Freddy to reality, she tells her dad to break the door down in twenty minutes. At that point, it's twenty minutes until the movie ends.
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 (the red came from food coloring; 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, it 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 out, 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) thrashing across the ceiling was shot using a rotating room set, which was slowly spun to allow her to roll 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, Wyss got a bad case of vertigo.
The scene where Marge talks to Nancy about Krueger's death, and shows her his gloves was extended. Not only would her mother inform her that the Elm Street teenagers were not only children, but she would elaborate on what happened after the mistrial. The scene in the script was extended, and Marge goes into detail by saying that Fred did not die instantly in the fire. Just like a demon surfacing from hell, a burning and frantic Krueger burst from his basement. As the flames consumed him, he threatened the parents and swore revenge. As Marge confesses to Nancy it was actually she who took a gun and shot Fred, delivering the coup de grace.
Robert Englund has stated that his favorite kill in the "Elm Street" franchise, is Carlos' death in the sixth film. Carlos dies by having Freddy replace his hearing aid and causing his head to explode.