Robert Englund reflects on Freddy and the power of Nightmares
Robert Englund can rightly boast having featured in many a teen's dream since shooting to fame in the early 1980s. The only problem is those dreams turn out to be nightmares.Spend a little time speaking with the man, and you realise, Englund is perfectly comfortable with the fact.
Now considered a legend of the horror genre, Englund's break came after accepting the role of razor-gloved, burnt, dream-stalking child killer Freddy Krueger in Wes Craven's 1984 feature A Nightmare on Elm Street.
An instant hit, the film went on to spawn seven sequels, and earned Englund a place alongside classic genre names as Vincent Price and Christopher Lee.
While many other actors intentionally stray away from it, Englund is perfectly at home in horror.
"I'm very lucky," said Englund. "I've just done my 80th movie – that's 8 0 – and I've done hundreds and hundreds of hours of television and voiceover, but here's where I'm lucky, my celebrity came of age at the exact moment – now, I'd done 15 movies and I'd starred in two TV series, one which was very very big, V – but the great happy accident is that simultaneous with the Nightmare on Elm Street movie we began the video generation, so I was one of the first video generation movie stars, I was even a DJ on MTV.
"And then cable became very popular and they ran the movies. And I did those movies over 20 years, so every couple of years a Nightmare on Elm Street movie would come out and it would go to video and it would go to cable. Then there would be box sets, these beautiful box sets merchandised for the specific horror fans, and then those became very collectible. So now we're talking about a generation-and-a-half of fans.
"Then DVDs came out, and along with DVDs we get the big beautiful flat screen TVs. So what you have to understand is, when I was a kid and we wanted to see a horror movie on TV or a movie that had been recommended to us at the Saturday matinee, you only saw it once. There was no pause button, there was no rewind button, there was no "making of" King Kong or Forbidden Planet, or whatever it was, there wasn't anything like that.
"Now, young kids can get on their dad's flat screen, pop in Freddy Vs. Jason, which we did in 2004, on a 50-inch flat screen and can watch it in digitally remastered Blu-ray and it looks as good as any movie out right now."
While Craven's Krueger was essentially an evil character, he was adored by horror fans. Englund says the injection of humour in the franchise helped assure the outcome.
"Wes established that in the original," he said. "He's got my tongue coming out of the phone saying: 'I'm you're boyfriend now'; he's got me taking off Tina's face and wearing it like a mask and quoting her lines ... that humour was always there, very dark, cruel humour but it was humour nonetheless.
"We probably jumped the shark a little by the time we got to Nightmare on Elm Street part six [Freddy's Dead] – that was practically a Warner Brothers cartoon – but we really did react to the fans. They loved the humour and the one-liners so much, that kind of consistent Freddy insult that he would use, that kind of dirty subtext that came out of Freddy, especially with the girls, that sort of beauty and the beast sexual innuendo and I think fans they really gobbled that up and that did become part of the franchise."
Englund says another aspect of then character fans appreciate is his ruthlessness.
"I think people do kind of like him for being unapologetically evil," he said. "He likes his work and he certainly is not politically correct. There's a great way he takes the teen culture – the culture of his young victims, the children of the people that wronged him, that burned him and sent him to his firey purgatory of revenge – there's something about them taking their own culture and their innocence and their own private thoughts and their own secrets and then taking those secrets and those fears and then throwing them right back in their face. I think that that's just a great thing that Wes Craven came up with that audiences respond to."
As for his own longevity in the industry, Englund says it all comes down to breaks created by taking on the Nightmare role.
"Here's the great thing that happened to me too," he said. "I did those movies for 20 years and I did other movies and I was kind of popular in the make-up for a while – I did Phantom of the Opera and Stephen King's Mangler and I wore extensive make-up in that and I wore a bit of make-up in other films – but when I was all done with Freddy and I came out of the make-up in 2004, which is 10-12 years ago, the great thing was I had aged.
"When I went into the make-up I was a very young man and I had a baby face to begin with but when I came out I had matured and I was starting to look like a young George C Scott back then.
"I had a little bit of Klaus Kinski going for me, now I have some bags under my eyes, so I'm a little more Klaus Kinski, even the long sharp features of Vincent Price, so I sort of inherited the Vincent Price and Kluas Kinski roles ... somebody has to do those roles, they're part of the pantheon of the kind of roles that are written, and I find myself now playing the wise old doctor and the mad scientist and the old Van Helsing character and the redneck white trash stepfather, but its fun for me; the old poacher, the old professor."
The Nightmare on Elm Street's first six instalments are screening as part of a Halloween pop-up channel on Sky Movies, which runs from October 28 to 31.
- Fairfax Media Australia