Freddy’s Fright Fatigue: Part One
Robert Englund doesn’t mind haunting our dreams forever. All he wants is an occasional night off.
By: Marc Shapiro
Published in Fanorgia #86.
Robert Englund and his wife were running around town the other night when they decided to catch an evening double bill of 976-EVIL and Child’s Play at a local Hollywood theater. At that point, the actor made a big blunder: Instead of buying the tickets, he checked his answering machine.
“Yeah, that was a mistake,” laments Englund. “There was a message that said, ‘Report in early.’ So the movies were out.”
In the makeup chair on the set of A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, Robert Englund holds court. While makeup jockey David Miller tucks Englund into his Freddy face, the actor, only half joking, continues to grumble about missing the aforementioned flicks, and a few other things.
“Sure, I complain too much,” the semi-Freddified thespian quips, “because guys like you only want to do interviews when I’m getting into makeup. And speaking of makeup, I’d sure like to give my skin a rest. I’ve really had it up to here with makeup.” His bitching is easily forgiven; you’d be short-fused, too, if you’d been hidden behind prosthetics since June 1988. First it was Freddy in Nightmare 4. Then it was Freddy in Freddy’s Nightmares, and a quick hop across the Atlantic to don more latex for the title role in Phantom of the Opera. Now it’s more Freddy follies in Nightmare 5 and a possible second season of Freddy’s Nightmares to contend with.
“I’m not in any danger of burning out,” sidesteps Englund, who, the previous day, was impaled on a baby carriage in a Nightmare 5 sequence. “In fact, this whole business didn’t really turn into an athletic event until the Phantom project. Going from Freddy’s Nightmares to Phantom and back to Nightmare 5 was tough. I was disappointed about the projects I had to turn down because of the tight schedule. I don’t think, at least at this stage, that I’m suffering from combat fatigue. But ask me that question when Nightmare 5 ends, and you might get a different answer.”
Englund shifts slightly to allow Miller to touch up Krueger’s double chin. Returning to a straight sitting position, he points to the conclusion of A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master as the point where exhaustion became a factor.
“A radio-controlled Freddy head that was built for the film’s final sequence somehow was destroyed before they had finished the shots building up to that last scene,” grimaces Englund. “With the head gone, yours truly had to step in after principal photography and sell the whole ending. Except for one frame of film, it’s all me with those arms and legs coming out of my head. I was in the makeup behind those armatures for an additional two days, eight hours at a clip.
“I was dead after that, and I had to jump right into the Freddy’s Nightmares pilot, which was also pretty rough,” he adds. “Fortunately, for the remainder of the Freddy’s Nightmares episodes, I was only in makeup one day a week.”
That let-up put Englund in pretty good shape when the time came to wing his way to Hungary for Phantom of the Opera. “I was really nervous about this role,” divulges Englund. “The Phantom in this movie has a Ripper-like, skulking quality that’s a lot different from what I do as Freddy. I felt I needed some preparation. Coincidentally, I had to stop over in England to do some publicity for Nightmare 4 on the way to Hungary. I was able to use the time to work on my accent—the movie takes place partly in 1880s England—and to hang out and develop the idea of skulking around.
“When I got to England, I was jet-lagged in the worst way, so I was getting up at 4:00 a.m., and walking along the Thames and other places,” he enthuses. “The sound of my shoes hitting those streets with nobody else around put me in the proper Phantom state of mind.”
In Phantom of the Opera, directed by Dwight (Halloween 4) Little, a girl (Jill Shoelen) discovers the original Phantom’s musical composition in modern times and uses it in an audition. She falls during the audition and suffers a concussion. While unconscious, she travels back in time to 19th-century London, where she encounters the Phantom and finds clues that the composer may still be alive in the 1990s.
“It’s a tricky concept,” admits Englund. “This film doesn’t have a lot of special effects. It’s sort of like an updated Hammer film. We’re dealing with a Phantom with Jack the Ripper tendencies.” Reluctant to go into too many story specifics, the actor offers, “There’s this scene where my character is sewing pieces of human skin together to form a mask. It’s totally bizarre.”
Equally unusual is the fact that, despite very good ratings, the fate of Freddy’s Nightmares’ second season is still up in the air. Englund is at a loss as to why there’s been a delay in making a decision.
“If we do get a second season, I think there’s some major overhauling that’s going to have to be done to the series,” Englund candidly remarks. “A major problem was that we rushed into a formula and a set of rules that nobody really believed in. I’m convinced that everybody connected with the show was so desperate to find a formula and get the show going that we jumped at the first thing that came along. Some elements of that ‘first thing’ were totally wrong.”
Number one on Englund’s gripe list was the emphasis on teen bait when it came to casting the show. “We fell into that trap early on. It was determined that Freddy’s Nightmares’ audience had to center largely in the teen market, so you had to have teen actors and actresses all the time,” Englund feels. “The problem was that, because this was an anthology show without regular characters, the teen actors were basically faced with the responsibility of carrying the entire show. In many episodes, the kids just couldn’t carry it off.
“If there is a second season, we can afford to have older characters dealing with Freddy, as well as teen bait victims,” he reasons. “There were a couple of stories in the first season which were never done that would have introduced a heavy metal chick as a recurring Freddy accomplice. If we get a second season, we’re going to have to come up with at least one regular.”
Still, Englund points out that the best moments of the first season indicate the program still has something to offer. “There’s at least a half dozen episodes that I’m very proud of,” he stipulates. “‘Safe Sex’ [scripted by Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 screenwriter David Schow] is probably the most amazing show in the series, but at this point I don’t know if it’s even going to get on the air. The first season finished strong, and there’s a lot we can still do, if we get picked up.”
The conversation returns to the topic of Nightmare 5. Englund judges that Freddy’s latest frollic will be a “camera-scary, William Castle sort of film” that will reinforce the things we’ve grown to love about the Krueger character.
“Freddy’s all the things we love to hate,” he explains. “He’s the ghost story told around the campfire, which just isn’t being told anymore. Let’s face it, the way I killed Alice’s boyfriend the other day is something you don’t see in real life or in the movies. It’s the constant dose of something we don’t normally get that makes Freddy Krueger popular.”
This famous Freddy faces a test of sorts when Nightmare 5 and Friday the 13th, Part VIII go glove-to-machete this month. Englund, with no small measure of pride, welcomes the competition.
“I don’t fear Jason, whether or not there’s going to be competition between the two films,” he playfully sneers. “Let Jason take Manhattan. I know how good Nightmare 5 is going to be, so if there is going to be competition, I welcome it.”
Englund also recently welcomed his 41st birthday. Not old by dream killer standards, but with the prospect of the Nightmare series continuing ad infinitum, questioning the actor about playing the big K as a senior citizen seems logical.
“I don’t know if I’m getting too old to play Freddy,” he ponders. “I’m in pretty good shape, so I can never see it getting to the point where I’m playing Freddy in a wheelchair. I feel like I could, in a physical sense, play Freddy forever.”
A runner from the set arrives to inquire how long it will take Englund to get ready for this day’s round of Krueger mayhem; satisfied that it will only be another 20 minutes, he departs. Englund, between swabs of highlight powder, expands upon the notion of playing Freddy indefinitely.
“I’ve got no problems with continuing to play Freddy,” the actor clarifies. “It’s not a matter of throwing millions of dollars in my face to keep me doing the Nightmare films. What it will take is for somebody—either New Line or somebody else—to give me opportunities to act outside this makeup. A part in Hairspray would have been nice. So would a role in Torch Song Trilogy.
“Unfortunately, neither of those possibilities happened,” Englund frowns. “At one time I said that I would like to see us take three years before the next Nightmare film; now I realize that a year off is more realistic.”
Though he’s spent almost the entire year behind one makeup or another, it hasn’t gotten in the way of his being pursued for just plain Robert Englund opportunities. There’s talk of a weekly television series with Englund playing a Pee-wee Herman/David Letterman talk show host. The actor is also being courted to direct an already-scripted sequel to 976-EVIL that would involve a possessed crisis hotline. All of this depends on “how my weird schedule turns out,” according to Englund.
Miller adds the final touch-up. Englund stands, stretches, puts his trademark glove on and flexes his fingers. He’s prepared to hit those mean Elm Streets.
“What I really need to do is rest,” he concludes. “I think I’ll stay up late tonight, eat Chinese food and watch David Letterman on television… unless I get another call to report in early.”
…continue on to Part Two: The Phantom of the Opera Reborn.