‘The Midnight Club’ Brings ‘Elm Street’ Star Heather Langenkamp Back to Horror

Eric Goldman
TV Streaming
TV Streaming Horror Netflix

Rightfully beloved by horror fans, Heather Langenkamp cemented her place in cinematic history with her leading role as Nancy Thompson in Wes Craven’s 1984 classic A Nightmare on Elm Street, and would return to the long-running series for two other installments. Feeling frustrated by a lack of onscreen opportunities following her Nightmare films, for numerous years, Langenkamp has been keeping quite busy behind the scenes with AFX Studio, the makeup FX company she runs with her husband, David LeRoy Anderson, whose creations have been a part of 2004’s Dawn of the Dead, 2011’s Cabin in the Woods, and numerous seasons of American Horror Story, among various other projects.

Now though, Langenkamp is back in front of the camera in a big way for Netflix’s The Midnight Club. The latest Netflix horror series from Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting of Bly Manor, Midnight Mass), the series, created by Flanagan and Leah Fong, is based on the work of young adult horror writer Christopher Pike. Like the book it’s title comes from, it centers on a group of teenagers living at a home for kids with terminal illnesses, who collect together each night to tell spooky stories inside a construction that may in fact have its own scary supernatural presence. We see these stories the kids are telling depicted throughout the show, and each is based in turn on other Pike stories from throughout his career.

Langenkamp plays Dr. Georgina Stanton, the current owner of the facility the show is set at, Brightcliffe Hospice, and a firm believer in their approach to letting these kids face the end on their own terms.

I spoke to Langenkamp about her role in the series, working with Flanagan, the possibility The Midnight Club gave her to play multiple characters, and more. Plus, as a big fan of the Nightmare on Elm Street series myself, I asked her about working on the seventh movie in that franchise, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, and getting incredibly meta before numerous really understood what meta was.

MEETING MIKE

Heather Langenkamp as Dr. Georgina Stanton in 'The Midnight Club'

Though Mike Flanagan has built up quite an impressive slate of acclaimed horror series on Netflix in recent years, Heather Langkenkamp admitted that she actually hadn’t seen any of them yet when first approached about The Midnight Club and that when she first heard of Flanagan’s interest, “I was expecting something that was more like a cameo, where I walk in and all the horror fans obtain a little giggle, and then I leave and that’s it. And then after I saw the script, I literally burst into tears.”

While the kids are the center of The Midnight Club, far from being just a cameo, Stanton plays her own important role throughout the season. Langenkamp said her emotional reaction occurred because, “I knew this was, like playing Nancy Thompson, the part of a lifetime. It’s the kind of part that every actor would just die to play. It’s interesting, it’s mature, it’s a character that’s actually my age. I’m not trying to be this young ingenue anymore and that’s really what I want. I just want to be a woman who is a professional, who has real thoughts. And she’s managing this amazing hospice for kids with cancer and I just couldn’t believe it was such a good role. And, of course, then I watched everything that Mike did, and really could see his style and how he plays out his stories. He’s very methodical and he’s not in a rush. And I really liked that part of his shows; that you can really kind of settle into the people, settle into the situation, and obtain kind of washed in that moody haunted house thing that he creates for all his fans. I’m just over the moon and so excited.”

Flanagan has a group of highly talented actors he works with repeatedly, affectionately referred to by more than one fan as the ‘Flanagang,’ including The Midnight Club costar Samantha Sloyan, while Zach Gilford is one of several cast members who first collaborated with Flanagan on 2021’s Midnight Mass who is now back for a second project.

Though this group continues to grow, Langenkamp stands out in that it’s not typical for Flanagan to bring in such a recognizable horror icon. Asked why she felt he sought her out to play Stanton, Langenkamp replied, “I don’t know why he suddenly had this idea to bring Heather Langenkamp into his Flanagang. But I do agree that it’s an amazing group of actors. He’s now a confident filmmaker. He should be confident! Look at all of his hits, right? But I feel like he’s in this new place where he knows now that individuals really believe in him. And that took several years to develop, like anybody. Same with Wes Craven, it took probably 10 years before individuals really had confidence in everything that he was doing and in his choices that he was going to make. And I feel that Mike has come into this amazing place in his own career where I think he was just like, why not do this crazy thing, which is bringing Heather Langenkamp back from the dead and put her on my show?”

She added, with a laugh, “Not that I was dead, but I was not getting a lot of offers and I wasn’t able to obtain the ear of big directors in town, that’s for sure. So I felt super blessed. I sowever can’t really believe it. I was happy that he was such a fan of Nancy and Nightmare on Elm Street that this would have occurred to him, ‘Oh yeah, Heather now is the age that she could play Dr. Georgina Stanton. Let’s see if she would be good in this part.’ Luckily, it worked!”

MULTIPLE ROLES

(L-R) Iman Benson as Ilonka, Matt Biedel as Tim Pawluk, and Heather Langenkamp as Dr. Georgia Stanton in 'The Midnight Club'

Beyond all of her scenes as Stanton, Langenkamp has much more to do in The Midnight Club, as she, like the kids in the show, actually plays multiple roles in the series, as we see the same actors also portraying the various characters in the stories being by the kids said each night, which run the gamut from a noir-style prank gone wrong tale to a story about an average high school kid who’s also a serial killer. This scenario allowed Langenkamp to really go for it in all manner of roles within the same project, something that also made a big impact on her.

Said Langenkamp, “I think that Mike had faith in me in a way that actually no other director has ever had faith in me. Not that I didn’t want that, but it’s just there’s not that numerous parts out there that have so numerous different characters that you obtain to play all within the same show. I have never had more fun. I’ve never dived into playing these different characters with such gusto. And I just felt like this was the possibility of a lifetime. So I might die on this field of being a crazy actor trying something new, but Mike let me.”

Without getting too particular to protect some of what awaits in The Midnight Club, Langenkamp mentioned, “There’s one character that I play that was my favorite by far, and I love her. And I really, really have never been able to play something like that. And it really let me stretch all my acting muscles to play all these different characters.”

That aforementioned favorite character makes an impression visually in that she’s covered in tattoos. When it came to how that character would look, Langenkamp revealed, “I said, ‘Let me help design these tattoos,’ because in my other life, I work in makeup effects. So I said, ‘I think she should have tattoos all over her body. Not just on her arms, but everywhere.’ And so with Todd Masters, who’s the makeup effects coordinator for the show, we went back and forth. It was the art department with some ideas and I gave my ideas. And lo and behold, they all ended up on my body. It was really great.”

LEADING GROUP (AGAIN)

Just one of the creepy matters awaiting you in 'The Midnight Club'

Georgina Stanton is a very different character than Nancy Thompson, but there are some incontrovertible elements of The Midnight Club that evoke Langenkamp’s time as Nancy, specifically in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. In that film, a now adult Nancy worked as an intern at a psyhciatric hospital, helping with the care of troubled teens who were all believed to be suicidal. In The Midnight Club, Langenkamp once more is taking care of a group of teenagers living together while going through unimaginable issues, and she is even seen leading group therapy sessions much like those Nancy helped lead in Dream Warriors.

Asked about these echoes, Langenkamp remarked, “I keep thinking, ‘If only everyone could go to group therapy,’ right? We all need to go to group therapy like that. Though group therapy scenes are really hard to do. Because you have all these individuals and they’re all sitting in a big circle. Drama-wise, camera-wise, how are you going to look at that person way over there on the other side [of the group]? And how’s the camera going to read all of that? We got to touch on that in Nightmare 3, obviously, with Dream Warriors, and kids love that movie so much. I love that movie too because of those group sessions. I didn’t realize those are the favorite parts for some kids, are those group therapy session.”

On The Midnight Club set, Langenkamp said they did laugh about the Dream Warriors similarities, but given how emotional Flanagan’s work tends to be – and the innate sadness of the situation these kids are in – perhaps it’s not surprising that she added, “These sessions are a little bit even more heavy to me. Obviously, in Dream Warriors, we just plucked these kids out of suicide. We’ve plucked them out of these situations and we’re trying to obtain them back on their own course in their own lives. And these sessions in The Midnight Club, we’re trying to tell them how to obtain to the end of their lives with grace, with understanding. So the message of the group is completely different. And that was not missing on me. Ironically, this show is all about living. It’s all about these kids and how they’re going to live in this last chapter of their lives.”

I asked Langenkamp what it was like working with her young costars, given she was also quite young when she started her own career and she replied, “It’s funny, because Robert Englund would always say, when we were working together, ‘I would just look over at you and Johnny [Depp] and just go ‘God, they’re so young and beautiful and you guys don’t even know what’s ahead of you and you’re so innocent and pure.’ And Johnny and I would be like, ‘Yeah, right! Shut up!’ [Laughs] We were like, ‘Oh, Robert Englund is always waxing poetic about how young and beautiful you were.’”

Now though, Langenkamp noted she understood what Englund meant, saying, “I felt the exact same way! I would just look at these young actors and just think ‘Oh my gosh, you’re so young and beautiful, you have your whole lives ahead of you, and you’re so talented!’ It was just pretty marvelous to work with them.”

NEW NIGHTMARE FOREVER

Heather Langenkamp in 'Wes Craven's Nightmare'

Lagenkamp starred in three films in the Nightmare on Elm Street series, but the last of those, 1994’s Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, stands out for how unusual its entire approach was, completely throwing out any traditional sequel parameters. In New Nightmare, Langenkamp didn’t play Nancy, she played Heather Langenkamp. The entire movie was set in the “real” world, with Langenkamp, Robert Englund and even Wes Craven playing themselves on screen, alongside other Elm Street cast alums and even New Line Cinema executives, in the story of how an ancient evil entity has been set loose into the world, with the character of Freddy Krueger as the latest face it has taken on.

It was a bold and audacious film, taking a highly unusual meta approach before the word meta was commonplace in pop culture. Though it received some strong reviews, New Nightmare – which not only opened after Freddy-mania had subsided but on the same day as Pulp Fiction – was a box office bomb, but its reputation has grown in the years since it came out. I said Langenkamp that I felt like if it opened today, its concept would sowever be seen as clever but it would be more familiar and far easier to process for your average viewer than it was in 1994, when individuals just weren’t as conditioned for such a wild approach with a familiar franchise.

Langenkamp agrees that Craven’s take on New Nightmare was ahead of its time, noting, “He spent like seven years trying to think of that idea. And when he finally came upon it, everyone who read it was like, ‘I don’t know Wes, this is kind of weird. Breaking the fourth wall, this is really… We’ve never done this before.’”

Even as the movie was being made, Langenkamp said there was trepidation behind the scenes. “I’d say it was only a 50/50 buy-in. Even the individuals producing it, I don’t think were as confident in the story as Wes was. Wes was very confident that this was going to be an amazing horror movie. And he directed it with such a self-assured hand. That’s why I think the movie is so good. He never, ever was confused about how bizarre that story was going to be. Going into it, I was not as confident, because I had never seen a story like this, but I trusted Wes so much. Every time I would say, ‘I don’t know, Wes… This sounds kind of ridiculous. I don’t know if individuals are gonna buy this,’ he would say ‘It’s going to work, it’s going to work.”. He would always give me a lot of confidence that he knew what story he was telling.”

Langenkamp added, regarding Craven’s approach, “Mike Flanagan is very similar. They’re very confident in the story that they’re telling. And it gives actors a lot. You just have to relax into that and you have to have faith in it. You have to trust the director and the producers in ways that a lot of individuals aren’t accustomed to trusting people.”

I said Langenkamp I always felt an interesting trilogy of sorts is to watch Craven’s straightforward horror in A Nightmare on Elm Street, his serious yet highly meta approach with New Nightmare, and then his comedic meta approach in Scream and she replied, “Yeah, I think he realized that himself.”

New Nightmare opened 28 years ago, and Langenkamp observed, “Now that so numerous years have passed for New Nightmare, I think individuals are finally ready to really understand what a revolutionary movie that it was. I hear individuals like you all the time. I understand how earth shattering that storyline really is. And I believe Kevin Williamson saw that movie and was inspired to write Scream because it gave him permission to actually go into this new way of storytelling that Wes pioneered. He really pioneered it. And then I think they were fortunate enough to obtain Wes to direct [Scream]. He already was so dedicated to these new stories and this meta universe of storytelling. Wes really came up with it and I really think he’s the father of that.”

The Midnight Club premieres October 7 on Netflix.


Eric Goldman
Eric Goldman is Managing Editor for Fandom. He's a bit obsessed with Star Wars, Marvel, Disney, theme parks, and horror movies... and a few other things. Too many, TBH.