A Nightmare On Elm Street's Amanda Wyss on what makes a dream short film
Amanda Wyss, the actress (almost literally) hurled into the spotlight by Robert Englund's Freddy Krueger in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, talks to us about being part of one of cinema's most iconic death scenes, her mixed experiences in working on short films, and the meatier roles now being offered to her by the horror genre.
Standing in the centre of the gigantic NECBirmingham, I am struck by its resemblance to an air craft hangar and the sweltering, windowless heat. Packed inside today is a celebration of all things cult – Collectormania. On one side of the arena, there are stalls full of obscure t-shirts, Pop Vinyl dolls, vintage posters and other niche merchandise, but it’s the other side I’m here for. Stretching from one end of the floor to the other are some of the most notable cult film actors cinema and TV have to offer and before them are hordes of cosplayers, cult film fans and giddy children, each contributing to the stifling atmosphere within. Freddy Krueger himself is here. The loquacious Robert Englund snarls and gurns for his army of fans, but it’s his first victim that I’ve set my sights on...
Perhaps it’s fitting. My first ever interview is with the first person to be killed in my favourite film of all time. Whatever followed, Tina’s death in A Nightmare on Elm Street was the first time we saw the slash of Freddy Krueger’s blades and arguably the scene that defines the whole franchise. A franchise that lifted New Line Cinema from indie outsider to Hollywood player and thus inadvertently birthing the Lord of the Rings trilogy. New Line may be “the house that Freddy built”, but it might be fair to say that the actor I am speaking to today helped pay the mortgage. Without Amanda Wyss’ performance as the doomed Tina in the first film, fans may never have become so enthralled and terrified by Wes Craven’s suburban nightmare.
Amanda Wyss is the definition of a cult film actor. While she has a wide range of credits in both television (Dexter, Cold Case, Murder in the First) and film, it is her roles in cult favourites like the aforementioned A Nightmare on Elm Street, Fast Times at Ridgemount High and Better Off Dead for which she is most instantly recognisable. I can say with confidence she hasn’t changed a great deal since those early roles, still speaking with a youthful California cadence, still flashing the winsome smile that made her on screen death so shocking back in 1984.
Sitting shoulder to shoulder with Lisa Wilcox (Alice from Nightmares 4 and 5) and her old sparring partner Robert Englund I wonder how long she has been attending conventions and what kept her coming back.
"I think [my first convention] was in 2000. If I get invited and I’m not filming I think it’s fun to come and meet the fans, it’s always great to come and speak to the people that love my movies, I feel really grateful for that."
Agreeing that it was also a great way to catch up with old friends, I mention Heather Langenkamp (Nancy from A Nightmare on Elm Street) and ask if they are still in touch – her face lights up at this point and she gestures to a publicity shot of Langenkamp and herself fooling around on the set of A Nightmare On Elm Street.
"We’re just like this all the time - she’s like my closest friend! Heather is writing and also directing, she’s a very busy “go-getter”!"
Inevitably talk turned to her most famous scene, the murder of Tina Gray, and the impact it has had on cinema and her career, although Wyss was not quite as familiar with it as I expected.
"I’ve only seen the film once or twice, because I don’t usually watch myself that often, but filming it was a really interesting experience and we knew we were making a really interesting piece of film. That death scene is on the 100 greatest movie deaths of all time, it’s been on the academy awards twice, it’s been used in movies and TV shows constantly, so I feel really lucky how it’s turned out to be and I’m totally grateful for it!"
Agreeing on the “unique honour” of being part of such a memorable scene, we move onto the subject of some of her more recent work in short films such as It Happened Again Last Night (2016), The Watcher of Park Avenue (2016), Oct 23rd (2013) and her feelings on the form.
"I wouldn’t say I do lots of short films, but in the last few years I have been asked to do a couple. I have mixed feelings about it. I think some of them have turned out well and some I don’t know that I’m thrilled that I’m in them, but I think that it’s an interesting venue for a good film-maker to tell a quick story if it’s done right and I really admire people that do it well, that are able to put together a good crew, a good cast."
Intrigued to find out how she feels her experience of short films differ from television and features, I ask Wyss what it is that can make it a more challenging environment.
"I don’t like working with a skeleton crew or if things are rushed, so I don’t know if it’s my place [short films] to work because they don’t really do it the way I like working. There is one that I did that was amazing, which is called Oct 23rd, which is so beautiful and so scary and so well done and I’ve won some awards for it and the movie won some awards and that’s how it should be done, that one has done really well and I’m super proud to be in it."
Oct 23rd is a taut, atmospheric thriller that gives Wyss the chance to shine in a main role, something she handles with aplomb. Clearly proud of this film, I ask if Wyss knows whether or not a film will be a success while on set.
"I think you can get a sense, I can tell if it’s not being lit well and there are certain things that show that even if the story or script is great there maybe isn’t the know how [from the film makers]. The thing is, I know everyone is always trying their hardest and everyone always wants it to be good, but sometimes people “put the cart before the horse” and they just aren’t ready for it, or they didn’t have the money for it. That’s what makes short films interesting, because you don’t know what it’s going to be like until you get there. You can ask all the questions in the world before you start, but it’s going to be what it’s going to be!"
Wyss is clearly prepared to take this gamble, with two more short films on the horizon, including Rest Stop, based on a Stephen King short story, which she is keen to discuss.
"...fingers crossed that comes out well, because it was such a nice group of people and they were so talented and the actors were so good, so keep your eye out for that one. I really admired the people that did it and they worked so hard on it."
While much of Wyss’ recent work has been in horror films, I note that she had memorable parts in comedies like of Fast Times at Ridgemount High (as Judge Reinhold’s girlfriend) and Better Off Dead (as John Cusack’s object of desire). I wonder if she always envisaged a career in horror, or did circumstances conspire to make this happen.
"I’ve always straddled horror with television and comedy, but I just love a good story and a lot of what comes my way is in the horror world and a lot of the young writers work hard to write good stories and I find that appealing. To be able to find something I can disappear into and something I can be creative with."
Like Barbara Crampton in You’re Next and We Are Still Here we are seeing many of Wyss’ fellow 1980s horror veterans rejuvenating themselves in the genre at the moment. We discuss the roles available to the women who were playing the teenage victims of slashers in the 1980s now that they are older and offer something completely different.
"It’s fun at my age to have this new experience to be trying new things. A lot of what I do happens to be in the horror market, because they write wonderful roles for women my age. The short films are great, because many young film makers are trying to write interesting roles for women and whether or not they come out, it’s A for effort!"
Before we go our separate ways, Wyss mentions her 2016 film The Id - a dark journey into the addled psyche of its main character and one of which Wyss is clearly very proud.
"It’s a slow burn creepy tale, it’s streaming online right now – I think you would like it a lot."
And indeed it is, a deep and disturbing rabbit hole exploring a very disturbed family. I for one hope that actors like Amanda Wyss keep getting exciting parts and the horror cycle continues and wish her the best of luck with Rest Stop being a short film done “the right way”!
You can follow Amanda on Twitter: @_AmandaWyss