Throughout the 70s and 80s, there were a lot of movie monsters, but only one of them really had a consistent face. Robert Englund was the face of Freddy Krueger through eight Nightmare on Elm Street films, a couple of music videos and a TV series called Freddy’s Nightmares, and this year Freddy Krueger turns 30 years old. Freddy’s portrayer, Englund, has worked consistently since his twin breakthroughs in 1984, Nightmare and the TV series V, building up an impressive resume of over 100 different film and TV projects. But with three decades now come and gone, more than ever, Englund is most closely associated with the burnt, disfigured “bastard son of a hundred maniacs.”
In an recent interview with Nerd Bastards, looking forward to Englund’s pending appearance at the National Fan Expo in Downtown Toronto, the actor discussed his enduring appeal as a horror icon, his recent flirtation with putting Freddy’s face on again, and his actually quite impressive knowledge of the geography of Canada’s largest city.
Nerd Bastards: How are you, Robert?
Robert Englund: Hey Adam. My God, it sounds like you’re a front man for a punk band playing somewhere in a dive bar on lower-Bloor. The Nerd Bastards tonight!
Nerd Bastards: I’ll take that as a compliment.
Robert Englund: It was meant as a compliment. I’ve got my call sheet here and it says Adam Donaldson and the Nerd Bastards. Tonight! At Toronto’s famous punk bar!
Nerd Bastards: Well that’s a great place to open because you’ve been to Fan Expo before, so what makes the Toronto fans different from fans in other places?
Robert Englund: Well I have this theory, and I love Toronto and have shot many movies there and I’ve been going there since I was a stage actor, and I think there’s a thing with the weather. I think that Toronto, along with New York, and maybe Paris, and of course L.A., is one of the most serious film fan towns in the world. Whenever I’m in Toronto, whether I’m staying upscale at the Four Seasons up in Yorkville near whatever that wonderful cinema is, or if I’m further down across the street from Bistro 99 and some of the downtown theaters, I always can find whatever movie I wanted to see that’s brand new. Plus, there’s always some great rivals. I think Toronto has a great through-and-through love more movies. It’s a movie town.
Toronto’s a great city. When I was doing Urban Legend I learned the town, I used the university as my Central Park and I found Little Italy and everything. But I think Toronto has a great long winter, and I think that contributes to the fact that you have a rabid movie-going audience there. So it’s always fun for me when I’m at Fan Expo, or when I’m doing a gig for Rue Morgue, or if I’m there for a screening or the Toronto Film Festival, it’s always fun for me because I can reference Sam Peckinpah, Brian DePalma, Howard Hawks, film noir, films that I love in the history of movies, and the Toronto critics and fans know what I’m f**king talking about, and I love that. I love that they really get the frame of reference and that the history of film doesn’t began with Lord of the Rings.
Nerd Bastards: Speaking of history, this is the 30th anniversary of A Nightmare on Elm Street, so what are your feelings on that? It’s been 30 years of Freddy.
Robert Englund: Well aside from feeling f**king old, really, I’m happy. There’s a great technological accident that I have to kind of tip my hat to that I think that has contributed to the longevity of the Nightmare phenomenon as our fanbase has continued to grow, and grow, and grow… And that is A Nightmare on Elm Street came of age at the same time as MTV, early cable, and then VHS generation, and the DVD generation, and then Blu-ray and Netflix. So I’m probably on my third generation of fans by now, and it’s really interesting. I now have fathers who dressed like the Ramones who saw me in a s***ty dorm room in New Jersey, and now they come up to me with their 12 and 14 year old sons with their box sets.
What you have to understand is that for a selective, opinionated, technological 12 or 13 year old, they’re snobby about their technology. But if you pop in Freddy Vs Jason, or Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, or Stephen Hopkins’ Part 5, or even parts 3 and 4, on a 50” flat screen in pristine Blu-ray DVD digital remaster, the movies look better now than when they did when they came out. So there’s a great advantage I have and the younger generation’s discovered the films and they’ll watch them, unlike the kids that won’t go and watch a black and white movie.
Nerd Bastards: What do you think drives that appeal? Is it Freddy and how over-the-top he is…
Robert Englund: Oh no, I don’t think its Freddy. Freddy’s a logo, a logo for the experience. And Freddy’s a cool character and he’s unabashedly politically incorrect, and [in a creepy voice] he likes his work. And he’s fun. But it’s the hook of the violation of the most personal and private thing that you have which is your fantasies and your dreams, and that someone can get in their and monkey with your fears, and secrets, and desires, and fantasies, and twist them all around on you. That’s just a great, primal, psychological gimmick that Wes Craven blessed us with.
Nerd Bastards: I was going to ask you about the experience in putting on the make-up again for the fundraiser for Midway. How was that different now as opposed to 30 years ago? Has the process changed at all?
Robert Englund: I did a charity thing for Robert Kurtzman of K.N.B., the Oscar-winning effects group, and of course Robert directed Wishmaster and worked on make-up for all the Robert Rodriguez movies, and a million other great films. And Robert now has a school in Ohio outside Columbus and Cleveland for special effects make-up.
So I went by and when I heard this thing about Midway. I had never considered putting the make-up on again, but I love that very homemade, wonderful, old festival and convention for horror/science fiction/fantasy, and it’s kind of family run by this wonderful couple, Mike and Mia. I really liked them and they do this great VIP thing where you table hop with VIP fans, which is the best organized way I’ve eve done that. It’s really fun because you have a cocktail at every table and you get drunker, and you can share stories with the fans, and then you go to the screenings, do signings, Q&As and everything else. So I really wanted to help them out because they save old movie theaters in Chicago and they save drive-ins, and I had just seen Bob Kurtzman, and I thought he could drive right up to the film festival, he lives so close, and we were able to make it all work.
The make-up was a little bit of a hybrid of 2 and 4. I think he combined some of his favorite aspects of Kevin Yagher’s make-up for 2 and 4. I was a little worried about the lighting and the photographer, but they did a good job. The lighting was a little brighter than I would have liked, and the make-up was a tad redder, but you know, it’s digital now. It would have been nicer to shoot with film, because then we could have used film lighting, but I was happy with it, and I think it came out alright.
And it’s me in the Freddy make-up and not an impersonator, even though there are people who are great Freddy impersonators out there. I wore the commemorative t-shirt, and I wore my own jeans. I didn’t wear the hat because the lighting would have been difficult with the hat on, but it’s obviously me. It’s Robert clowning around in the make-up, with the fans, to celebrate the 30th anniversary, and I’m really happy, I think it came out great.
Nerd Bastards: It’s interesting to hear you talk about the vintage of the make-up, that this aspect of the make-up reminds you of this film, and so on…
Robert Englund: And I can say that about some of the gloves too. I’m not such a specialist on that as you might think. Since 2003 I’ve done a lot more comic cons, and film festivals, and fan expos, than I normally would have, but especially this year being the 30th anniversary [of Nightmare] and I have two new movies that I’m trying to get the word out on because they’re both low budget, and I want to piggyback on the free publicity I get by attending these comic cons et cetera.
But I hear a lot from fans about their favorite make-up and they ask which make-up is mine, and I see a lot of old memorabilia, and I see the delineation between some of the make-ups, and a lot of it has to do with the stills or the movie poster I’m signing. It’s that particular capture of the image that I like. But yeah, there is a distinction, and little differences, and hardcore fans really love knowing that stuff.
Nerd Bastards: Before I let you go, I wanted to ask about New Nightmare, because after the first one, I think that one’s my favorite of the Nightmare films…
Robert Englund: It’s one of my favorites too. It’s one of those films that you can watch over and over again and find new stuff.
Nerd Bastards: Is there any memory that sticks out in your mind from working on that.
Robert Englund: This isn’t too fresh, but we all had some money in our pockets by the time we did that one in ’94, and it was a reunion too with Heather [Langenkamp], John [Saxon], Wes [Craven] and myself. And on top of that, I had a lot of lunches during the filming of that with John Saxon.
Now John is one of the great Hollywood actors, but he crosses as real interesting line between old Hollywood and new Hollywood. He starred with Marlon Brando in The Appaloosa, he starred with Robert Redford in The Electric Horseman, he starred in an episode of CSI directed by Quentin Tarantino, and he starred with Bruce Lee. He was a leading man who hung out with James Dean and Elvis in the 50s and dated Natalie Wood and Sandra Dee. And he starred with Audrey Hepburn and for John Huston, and he knew Burt Lancaster… He’s just this remarkable, remarkable actor. So you get a glass of wine in John at lunch and you get one of these stories.
Now I have that same oral history that I can pass on. Now John is still with us, so don’t get me wrong, but I love that. I did that with Henry Fonda and I’ve done that with other actors. I did that in Toronto with the great John Neville, who I had lunch with when I was doing Urban Legend and I asked him about doing Othello with Richard Burton. So I have this oral history that I can pass on through gossip or to journalists like yourself, so that was the best thing to me about doing Wes Craven’s New Nightmare: the lunches with John Saxon.
Robert Englund will be at the National Fan Expo in Toronto this weekend, appearing with Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon from the original Nightmare on Elm Street. For more information, go to fanexpocanada.com