October 26, 2009 — “Every town has an Elm Street.” That's the wisdom I took home in 1991 from Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare, the sixth installment of the A Nightmare on Elm Street movie franchise. And while truer words have never been spoken by a bastard son of a hundred maniacs, only one town has the real Elm Street.
Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street came out in 1984, jumpstarting a series of movies and other media adaptations and creating a new cinema icon for a popular culture overly prone to bestowing icon status. Also, for unknown reasons currently being investigated by at least three different government-funded research institutes, the film series inspired the lyrics of a generation of rap stars including the Fat Boys, Naughty by Nature, and Will “Fresh Prince” Smith (“I'm your DJ now, Princey.”).
The original Nightmare on Elm Street tells the story of a neighborhood whose teens are besieged in their dreams by a scarred, blade-gloved fiend in a fedora and striped sweater that turns out to be a child-killing janitor who had been burned alive in a fit of vigilantism by the parents of these teens back in the good old days. The basic premise of the flick is that if Kreuger kills you in your dreams, you die in the real world, making sleep equal death in more than mere metaphorical ways.
And the genius of the movie comes in that terrifying idea that the protagonists have to fight sleep in order to stay alive. Nobody wins that battle regardless of, well, anything.
I can’t remember if the town where the film takes place was named in the original movie, but at least later sequels named it Springwood, Ohio. To find that quintessential Midwestern town, the milieu of which would be relatable to a large percentage of his target audience, Wes Craven ranged far and wide across the Midwest, interviewing locals, scouring neighborhoods, examining test footage, and generally trying to incarnate the soul of everyday America onto celluloid. Just kidding. His lazy location scouts grabbed the nearest Hollywood neighborhood, which, minus the palm trees that slip into frame every once in a while, actually does a decent job by itself of standing in for an any-town neighborhood.
Obviously, when you’re in Hollywood, there is tons of cool stuff you should be doing instead of seeing the anonymous street where they filmed a horror movie about dreaming teenagers. But the thing is, if you’re in Hollywood, it’s ridiculously easy to come across the street. It’s located right in the shadow of the Hollywood sign and just two blocks from Hollywood Boulevard, with its dingy Walk of Fame, dingy Grauman's Chinese Theater, and all the fading memories of that area’s more glamorous times.
Elm Street is actually N. Genesee Avenue, a long road that, like most of the long roads in West Hollywood’s orderly grid, intersects with Hollywood, Santa Monica, and Sunset Boulevards—all those streets that cheesy 80s movies liked to make big deals of. The short section of N. Genesee where Nightmare was filmed is a nice, tree-lined neighborhood that seems too pleasant a place to be located in Los Angeles. At the very least, it doesn’t seem the kind of place that would have blood spewing from its beds and girls dragged across its ceilings.
Despite my earlier joke, the section has no palm trees...although those glorified dust mops do actually slip into frame when they filmed scenes elsewhere in town. I also didn’t see any girls in white dresses skipping jump rope, but I promised myself in advance I wouldn’t be disappointed if that turned out to be the case. Still disappointed, though.
The central house in Nightmare’s story is located at 1428 N. Genesee. It was here where Nancy, played by Heather Langenkamp, lived and where much of the trying-not-to-sleep occurred. Just across the street, at 1419, is the house of her boyfriend, who is played by Johnny Depp in the film. “Introducing Johnny Depp,” in fact.
These days, the houses look close to the same as they did back in 1984, with only the cars in the driveways being different. The house that stood in for Nancy's is the one pictured above with the green roof.
In some ways, this street is as much a celebrity as any whose hands gouge the sidewalk in front of Grauman’s. The character it plays is marquee’d in the title of the film, after all. That fact plus having the central geography of the movie match up in real life makes this filming location a different kind of fun to visit than many other filming locations.
The original film was shot in other areas of Los Angeles as well, although after Elm Street itself, the rest is anticlimax. However, if you want to fully re-live Nightmare, the locations of some of the other scenes in the movie can be found on IMDb.com, as well as on any of the 1.7 billion A Nightmare on Elm Street fan sites out there on the Internet.
Although the glaring lack of knowledge evident in the past few paragraphs might seem to belie the fact, I did rewatch Nightmare before writing this article. The only new observation I have is, while I was prepared for Freddy to not be the punchline that he devolved into over the course of the series, I did find it strange to witness a world of people who didn’t already know who Freddy Kreuger was. That is a less-cool world.