Nancy Thompson (A Nightmare on Elm Street)
|A Nightmare on Elm Street character|
Heather Langenkamp as Nancy Thompson in the film A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).
|First appearance||A Nightmare on Elm Street|
|Created by||Wes Craven|
|Portrayed by||Original series: (1984–1994) |
Rooney Mara and Kyra Krumins (2010)
|Full name||Original series: |
|Occupation||Original series: |
High school student (former)
Graduate student in psychiatry, emphasis in nightmare disorders
High school student
|Family||Original series: |
Donald "Don" Thompson
Nancy Thompson is a fictional character in the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. She was portrayed by actress Heather Langenkamp in the series' first and third film, and by Rooney Mara in the 2010 remake, in which she was renamed Nancy Holbrook.
Introduced in the 1984 original film, Nancy is the first person to battle Freddy Krueger and survive. In A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), she guides the last of the Elm Street children in their battle against Freddy. In Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994), Langenkamp must become Nancy once again to put an end to an entity embodying Freddy in the "real world". The character also appears in the A Nightmare on Elm Street expanded universe, appearing in the comic book series, novels, video games and the 2010 reboot.
A popular A Nightmare on Elm Street character, Nancy has been called a 1980s icon and has often been regarded as one of the most significant female protagonists in horror cinema. She has also been regarded as a prominent figure in American pop culture.
In the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, Nancy Thompson is a 16-year-old girl whose parents, Donald and Marge, divorced when she was little. She is experiencing nightmares about a mysterious, disfigured man in a red and green sweater. The man has "knives for fingers", which he scrapes along objects in the dream. She learns that her friend Tina is having similar nightmares; Tina is murdered in her sleep later that night. Tina's boyfriend Rod tells Nancy that he saw four "invisible" razors cutting her at the same time, a revelation which convinces her that the man from her dreams is connected to the murder. Nancy begins relying on caffeine to stay awake, and develops sleep disorders such as insomina and night terror resulting from her sleep deprivation and nightmares. She discovers that she can pull things out of her dream after she takes the killer's hat, labelled "Fred Krueger". Her mother explains that Krueger was a child killer who was burned to death by vengeful parents after being freed from prison on a technicality. Nancy becomes convinced that he is exacting his revenge on the children of his killers from beyond the grave. Being tormented by Krueger every time she fall asleep causes tremendous stress to Nancy; her hair becomes prematurely grey, while Nancy notes that she looks like a woman in her twenties. With all of her friends dead, Nancy forms a plan to face Krueger and pull him into the real world, where he falls victim to a series of booby traps she has set up. Nancy finally defeats Krueger by taking back the energy she has given him and stripping away his power.
Although Nancy does not appear in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge, she maintains a presence when a new family moves into the house where she battled Freddy Krueger. Teenager Jesse Walsh, who inhabits Nancy's old room, and his girlfriend Lisa discover Nancy's old diary, which chronicles the events of the first film. It tells them of the murders of Nancy's friends, and also reveals Krueger's strengths and weaknesses. This helps Jesse and Lisa conquer Freddy in their own struggle with him.
In A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, at age 22, Nancy is re-introduced as the new intern therapist at Westin Hills Mental Institution. Despite not having received her doctorate, Nancy is at the top of her class at graduate school and makes groundbreaking research on pattern nightmares (nightmare disorder); her studies are based on investigation of her own experiences. She is on the verge of becoming an authority on sleep disorders despite her young age, and qualified to work with the hospital's doctors despite still being a student. Nancy meets the last surviving children of the parents who killed Fred Krueger. For six years, she is dedicated to finding a way to stop Krueger, and tracks his activities and targets. Dr. Neil Gordon is initially reluctant to work with Nancy, but agrees after he sees her bond with one of his patients, Kristen Parker. Nancy knows that Kristen's mother, Elaine, participated in Krueger's murder, but Elaine initially fails to realize that Nancy is Donald and Marge Thompson's daughter. Nancy and Neil also begin dating despite their age differences. When Nancy realizes the children are falling victim to Freddy, she begs that they be prescribed Hypnocil, an experimental drug, which she has been using to suppress her dreams, in an effort to protect them. In a therapy session, Nancy uses hypnosis to put everybody to sleep and teach them how to use their "dream powers" to their advantage. However, she and Neil are fired when Hypnocil is blamed for a patient falling into a coma. Neil and Nancy learn from a mysterious elderly nun, revealed later to be the spirit of Freddy's mother Amanda Krueger, of Freddy's origins and that in order to defeat him they must lay his bones to rest. Nancy contacts her father to find out what the town's parents did with Freddy's remains. As Neil and Donald go to bury Freddy's bones, Nancy returns to Westin Hills and rejoins the patients in the dream world, where they use their dream powers against Freddy. Freddy tricks Nancy when he appears to her as Donald, and stabs her in the abdomen with his clawed glove. After rising a final time to stab Freddy with his own glove before he can kill Kristen, Nancy dies, and Krueger disappears as Neil covers Freddy's remains in holy water and a crucifix, and buries them. Kristen states that she intends to place Nancy into a "beautiful dream". Nancy's tombstone is seen briefly in A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master.
To some extent Nancy reappears in Wes Craven's New Nightmare. The story, set in the "real world", focuses on actress Heather Langenkamp being stalked by a malevolent entity. Heather learns from Wes Craven that the entity was locked in Freddy Krueger's character through the Nightmare on Elm Street film series. With the series ended after Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare the entity has been set free, and wants to cross over into the real world in the form of Freddy Krueger. It views Heather as an enemy, seeing her as Nancy, who originally defeated him. Like Nancy, Heather's hair also turns prematurely grey under the stress of Krueger's attacks in addition to the reality overlapping with his fictitious world. In order to battle the entity, who has kidnapped Heather's son Dylan Porter, Heather enters the dream world, where she traps him in a furnace and seemingly destroys him. However, Krueger's creator states that the entity is imprisoned in the film franchise's make-believe world once more.
Nancy appears in the documentary film The Nightmare (2015).
In the 2010 remake, Nancy's last name is changed to "Holbrook", portrayed by Rooney Mara. Kyra Krumins also portrayed the character as a preadolescent in the film's flashbacks and dream sequences. She is also based on the franchise's other heroine Alice Johnson due to Nancy's job as a waitress. In this film, she is portrayed as a socially unavailable outcast who loves art (Nancy's artworks were created by film's art department's artist Jessica Sheehy). Quentin Smith (Kyle Gallner), another high school outcast, crushes on her, and tries hard constantly to hit on her, but ends up failing. However, she does take partnership with him as they try to investigate the deaths of their three friends: Dean Russell (Kellan Lutz), Kris Fowles (Katie Cassidy), and Jesse Braun (Thomas Dekker), all of which died in their sleep, and both claiming to see a man matching the same description: a burnt face. As the result of their sleep deprivation, both Nancy and Quentin develop sleep disorders such as insomnia and recurring microsleep episodes, causing them gradually unable to grasp from reality to dreams and their supernatural stalker begins to be able to reach them from the dreamworld. When they discover that both she, Quentin, Kris, Jesse, and Dean all went to preschool together when they were little, they don't understand, seeing how they didn't know each other until high school. When Nancy's mother Gwen (Connie Britton) catches the both of them, she finally admits that as children, they and all the kids in the preschool were molested by a man named Fred Krueger, the school gardener who resided in the preschool's basement. She claims that Freddy fled the area before they could turn him in, and that their dreams of Freddy are just repressed memories. However, when Quentin learns the truth through one of Freddy's dreams when he falls asleep in swim class, they both confront Quentin's father Alan (Clancy Brown) for killing Freddy when the parents had chased him down, and Alan through a fire-lit gasoline gallon into a shed where Freddy hid, despite not there being any evidence that he was molesting them. Alan admits regret for his actions, but also defends them, saying they were only trying to protect them. Quentin storms out in anger, as a guilt-stricken Alan instructs Nancy to never reveal to anyone who Freddy was. Still unable to understand, Nancy and Quentin decide to go to the preschool to find answers, and when they arrive, it is revealed that Freddy was in fact molesting the children when they discover pictures of Nancy as a child (though never shown only implied). With their memories back, they realize that Freddy isn't after them because they lied about him, but because they told the truth about him. When Nancy sees a piece of Freddy's sweater she pulled out from a dream sequence before, she realizes that Freddy needs to be pulled into the real world to be defeated. When she does, she defeats Freddy by slicing off his clawed hand with a broken paper cutter blade, and finishes the job by slicing his throat. They burn down the preschool with Freddy's corpse inside, and she and Quentin escape, with Quentin hospitalized. Nancy also reciprocates Quentin's feelings for her. Nancy returns home, and thanks her mother for trying to protect her, but Freddy appears in a mirror behind Gwen. He kills her, and drags her body into the mirror, with Nancy screaming.
Nancy's spirit appears in the story "Asleep at the Wheel" from the 1991 short stories collection The Nightmares on Elm Street: Freddy Krueger's Seven Sweetest Dreams, appearing in the dreams of the character Ian to warn him that Freddy is real and not just an urban legend or the result of mass hysteria.
Nancy returned in Nightmares on Elm Street, a canonical six-issue comic book series published by Innovation Comics from 1991 to 1992. In the story, Nancy teams up with several other characters from the film series, including Neil Gordon, Jacob Johnson and Alice Johnson, to fight Freddy in his nightmare world. The events of this series were meant to fill in the time period between the A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child and Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare films. The series was written by Andy Mangels. The first two issues of the story explain to the readers about Nancy's life in between parts one and three. After the events of part one, Nancy had been sent to an institution by her father until she was "rational" again. Around the time she was in college after she was released, her father sold 1428 Elm Street to the Walsh family in Freddy's Revenge. In college, she studied psychology and sleep disorders, and made two friends in her roommates Cybil Houch and Priscilla Martin. After Nancy was fatally wounded by Freddy at the end of part three, Kristen had dreamed her soul into the Beautiful Dream, the good side of the dream world, where Nancy now acts as its agent as Freddy acts as an agent for the nightmare realm. In the story, Freddy begins targeting Cybil and Priscilla in an attempt to get to Nancy. He actually succeeds in killing Priscilla and Cybil's husband, James, before Nancy rescues Cybil. She is then reunited with Neil Gordon and the three of them realize that it might be impossible to fully destroy Freddy since he is pure evil, but it is possible to weaken him. Freddy is stopped and weakened by the dream-selves of unborn children, such as Cybil's unborn daughter, in a realm in the Beautiful Dream. The next four issues, titled Loose Ends, deals with the characters from previous Nightmare movies teaming up to defeat Freddy again. Here, Nancy is reunited with the soul of her father, who Freddy uses to try to kill her but is unsuccessful. Nancy defeats Freddy and manages to stop his plan of using Jacob Johnson to break into the real world with help from Neil Gordon and Devonne, a psychotic former accomplice of Freddy's.
Nancy makes an appearance in the final issue of the crossover comic series Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash: The Nightmare Warriors. In a battle against Freddy Krueger, Dream Master Jacob Johnson summons the spirits of Freddy's past victims, including Amanda Krueger and the Dream Warriors. Nancy also appears, reuniting with Neil Gordon to help him read the Necronomicons' passages needed to banish Freddy. With Freddy defeated, Nancy leaves Neil and returns to the afterlife with the other spirits.
In video games
In her debut game appearance, Nancy is a playable character in the 1989 A Nightmare on Elm Street video game. Released by Monarch Software and Westwood Associates, Nancy and the Dream Warriors are on a quest to stop Freddy Krueger. As each character has a dream power, Nancy has the ability to freeze enemies. Although not playable, Nancy makes a cameo appearance in Freddy's ending in Mortal Kombat (2011). Nancy is mentioned in Quentin Smith's biography in Dead by Daylight:
- "When he heard that Nancy’s mother had disappeared, Quentin Smith knew instantly that their success had been short-lived. Although their plan had seemed to work flawlessly, Freddy Krueger had beaten death yet again. But Quentin wasn’t about to give up. It may take many attempts, but he vowed that somehow they would find a way to beat Freddy, once and for all. If he didn’t, it would only be a matter of time before Freddy would win and Nancy was lost..."
Additionally, a variety of Freddy's in game "Add-Ons" are named after Nancy: Nancy's Sketch and Nancy's Masterpiece. Nancy was originally meant to be a playable survivor but the developers couldn't obtain the rights to the character.
Nancy Thompson is the only character featured in several A Nightmare on Elm Street merchandise. Kristen Parker is only featured in Screen Grabs: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (a diorama released by Mezco Toys in 2007). Debbie, in mid-transformation as a cockroach, is featured as a Cinema of Fear 4 action figure (released by Mezco Toys in 2009).
In 2008, Mezco Toyz Cinema of Fear Series 2 released a Nancy Thompson action figure—which recreates the famous bathtub scene in the original film. Within the same year, the Mezco Toyz Cinema of Fear Series 2 also released the diorama Screen Grabs: A Nightmare on Elm Street. The diorama recreates the bedroom scene in which Freddy creeps along the wall above a sleeping Nancy. McFarlane Pop Culture Masterworks released an A Nightmare on Elm Street 3-D poster, with Nancy featured prominently as the central figure. In 2002, NECA released an A Nightmare on Elm Street Snowglobe. The female within the globe resembles Nancy, with a stalking Freddy Krueger forming the globe's outside base. However, the product information never confirms if it is actually the character. In 2004, NECA also released a lunchbox and thermos set with the poster image from A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Since May 2011, there has been an online petition for manufacturers to create a Nancy Thompson doll.
In fan films
Although not considered a part of the official film canon, Nancy Thompson has appeared in various fan films:
- Krueger (A Tale from Elm Street) (2011; Blinky Productions): The film takes place during Lieutenant Donald Thompson's interrogation of Freddy Krueger. During the course of the interrogation, Donald shows a picture of his daughter Nancy in order to gain a confession from Freddy. She would figure into the events of future fan films produced by the same production company. In Krueger (A Walk Through Elm Street), Freddy interacts with Marge Thompson who is pregnant with Nancy.
- The Confession of Fred Krueger (2015; Produced by Rebel Rouser Comics): The film takes place during the 1970s during Freddy Krueger's interrogation after his arrest. Donald Thompson (prior to his becoming a lieutenant) and Nancy Thompson make cameos in the film.
- Don't Fall Asleep: The Film (2016; Produced by 3 Count & Go): Taking place between A Nightmare on Elm Street and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, Nancy Thompson (played by Diandra Lazor) is struggling to maintain her sanity after she is checked into a psychiatric ward. The film includes narration from Heather Langenkamp. There are brief appearances by the canon characters Donald Thompson and Alice Johnson. The characters Cybil Houch and Priscilla Martin from the Nightmares on Elm Street six-issue comic book series (published by Innovation Comics in 1991) also make brief appearances.
- Before the Nightmare (2017; Produced by Occult Classic): Taking place before A Nightmare on Elm Street, Donald Thompson (prior to his becoming a lieutenant) has a greater incentive to catch Freddy Krueger, as the "Springwood Slasher" has set his sights on an elementary school-aged Nancy Thompson.
In Wes Craven's original script for A Nightmare on Elm Street, Nancy Thompson was initially named Nancy Wilson. In the scene in which Tina, Nancy, and Glen are at Tina's house, Nancy describes a dream in which Freddy Krueger leered at her obscenely. Soon afterwards, when conversing with Glen, Nancy shows an earlier interest (at least when compared to the actual film) into why her and Tina dreamed of the same individual. While Nancy's character differs little than the actual film, the original script has scenes that emphasize her headstrong nature.
The biggest change was in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors script. Nancy was closer to her personality in the first film. She was not a dream researcher, nor did she have the mature and calm demeanor portrayed in the actual film. Instead, Nancy was brazen and street smart—at times heading straight into a potentially dangerous situation. Nancy's stubbornness was evident in that she had traveled through five states in search of her missing father, Donald Thompson (named "John" in the script). When first attacked by Freddy Krueger, Nancy tried to physically fend him off with her bare hands—despite being shocked from dreaming again after a five-year time period. This contrasts with the actual film, in which she used a broken mirror shard to injure Freddy. While Nancy cared about the Westin Hill patients, the age disparity between her and the teenagers was not as emphasized. In fact, some of the teenaged patients and hospital workers initially mistake Nancy for a patient. Thus, Nancy was not written as acting maternal. Instead, Nancy acts more like a big sister to the patients. There are instances in which Nancy fights back against the medical authorities, dismissing Dr. Neil Gordon's (named Neil Guinness in the original script) insistence that she has Delayed Stress Syndrome. As with the first movie, Nancy dismisses any attacks on her sanity—as she knows that Freddy Krueger is real.
With regard to A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, Heather Langenkamp stated her viewpoints about Nancy Thompson's characterization:
- “The connection with Nancy was there. I never felt that comfortable in the skin of that role because...I just felt like the dialogue that they gave Nancy was so stiff and there was no sense of humour at all. She had barely anything going in that department at all and then she’s supposed to be having this quasi-love affair with Craig Wasson’s character...None of it really seemed to have a dynamic energy behind it and as a result I felt I didn’t know what Nancy was anymore. I was struggling to make something of her because she didn’t have that big of a role in some way. She was like a facilitator, she was always showing things like 'let me show you how to do this', 'let’s do it together' but she was never really moving the plot forward herself that much and as a result I didn’t feel like I did a very good job in that role. Then when I saw the movie I thought 'oh it’s not as bad as I thought' because actually the relationship I had with the kids does come through and she is a kind of a reassuring presence in the movie rather than this fighting, battle warrior that she was in the first movie. So I just had to get used to this different role that Nancy played..."
In his book Horror films of the 1980s, John Kenneth Muir references Nancy Thompson, stating the following:
- "As written by Craven and performed by Langenkamp, Nancy is a rarity in the horror genre: an intelligent and insightful youth who is capable of connecting the important things in her life. Only Nancy can recognize the link between worlds for what it is, and look below the surface of reality because she is already trained to do so, through family history. Nancy is prepared in her battle with Freddy because, one senses, she has already detected the dark truth lurking beneath the affluent surface of Elm Street. She has suffered her parent's divorce, her father's absence, and her mother's alcoholism...Nancy is even compared explicitly to Hamlet...in that Hamlet stamps out the lies of his mother, an act which Nancy will repeat during the course of the film..."
- "So the key to defeating her Freddy... is something that goes against Nancy's most prominent characteristic. She must turn her back on the dream demon. She must take back all the energy she gave him...This is Nancy's crisis: knowing when to dig for truth and confront the lies, and when to turn her back on the corruption and lies she has discovered..."
- "The final girl must actively take steps to protect herself and vanquish evil. For example, Nancy buys a survivalist, self-defense manual and in the conclusion of Elm Street, baits Freddy into chasing her. She then runs him through a punishing course of booby traps...Unlike Laurie, whom Halloween depicts as a victim of unchangeable 'fate,' someone who must mount a defense on the fly, Nancy is armed for battle and ready to rock."
In his book Horror Movie Freak, Don Sumner also notes how Nancy was a different "final girl" despite following the rules of avoiding sex, drugs, and juvenile behavior. He mentions that "the stereotypes of the victimized female screaming in terror and hiding in the closet do not apply to Nancy as she sets out to trap Freddy and attack him with all of the vigor of a killer herself. Her active role and anti-victim posture broke the mold of the horror heroine..." In her book Visions of the Night: Dreams, Religion, and Psychology, Kelly Bulkeley compares Nancy Thompson to Dorothy Gale in Wizard of Oz in that "Nancy ultimately finds in her dreams the deep resources of personal strength to overcome an evil that the adult social world had failed to defeat." Nancy's death in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is even given some interpretation. In her book Phallic Panic: Film, Horror and the Primal Uncanny, Barbara Creed notes that as "Nancy embraces her father's/Freddy's body and tells him that she has always loved him she is torn apart by his finger-blades. The point is that it is dangerous for children to want the love of their parents--disappointment, even death, is the final result."
The documentary The Making of Nightmare on Elm Street features a segment concerning the casting of Heather Langenkamp as Nancy Thompson. According to Sara Risher, Langenkamp was chosen because Wes Craven wanted a "young girl who was smart-looking, obviously pretty, vulnerable, but clearly had a good head on her shoulders." Langenkamp herself said that she identified with Nancy Thompson the most, stating that Nancy "had a great sense that she could solve problems without anybody's help at all. I try to be like her, actually." In the same documentary, Langenkamp also characterizes Nancy as the "good girl" whereas the Tina Gray character is contrasted as giving the feeling that "she wasn't going to make it."
In her documentary I Am Nancy, Heather Langenkamp laments how Freddy Krueger became an iconic character while Nancy Thompson disappeared into the background. To explore why this phenomenon occurred, Langenkamp visits six horror conventions, and tries to discern why the villain became the celebrated figure. After interviewing several attendees, Langenkamp learns that while Nancy Thompson's impact on fans is subtle, she still represents strength and intelligence in the hearts and minds of many. For the advertising campaign, campaign buttons were given out that displayed "I am Nancy". A Facebook page allowed Nancy fans to share their artwork, photographs, and sentiments about the character. The film won a Best Editing Award at the Amsterdam Film Festival. In addition to interviewing Nancy fans, the documentary also features interviews with Wes Craven, Robert Englund and Jessica Craven (Wes Craven's daughter). Langenkamp learned from Craven that:
- "I never knew it but now that I’ve talked to him about it, he always thought that Nancy was the centre of his story. It wasn’t this typical horror movie where you’re going to kill off everybody. He knew that she was the heart and soul of Nightmare On Elm Street so I think it made a lot of sense for him to bring her back, but I didn’t know all of this until recently, after conducting my own interviews with him and asking him myself..."
When developing her documentary, Langenkamp also learned that Nancy Thompson is considered a gay icon. Although Nancy Thompson is heterosexual, Langenkamp shared her theories of why gay and lesbian audience members would be drawn to the character:
- "I read a lot of these PhD thesis’ [sic] that talk about the final girl, sexuality and sexuality of horror… they’re kind of on to something but I don’t know if they’re onto the right thing. One theory goes that Nancy is not a particularly feminine hero; she’s not androgynous but she’s not scarily beautiful and as a result she can easily identified by both men and women and I don’t know if that’s the key to her popularity..."
- "I think that people like these movies at a time in their lives when they’re also understanding who they are sexually so it makes sense that they make connection and they see things in these movies that express who they are...For the gay population out there, I’m not sure if its just a great movie or there is something to it that gives a gay man or woman a sense of strength maybe...that watching inspirational characters helps you be true to yourself and find the strength you need to do whatever you need to do..."
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