Say Goodbye to Horrorwood
Robert Englund is happy that his latest turn as Freddy is The Final Nightmare. But can his heart now be set on—gasp!—a sitcom?
By: Marc Shapiro
Published in Fanorgia #108.
“This is what we call the hero glove,” says Robert Englund as he flexes his hand inside Freddy Krueger’s best-known prop. “It’s our equivalent of the Magnum Clint Eastwood uses in the Dirty Harry movies.”
Englund clicks the razor fingers together a couple of times, producing a rusty-sounding scratch that is picked up by the microphone attached to his shirt collar. “How’s that?” he asks.
“That’s fine,” says the interviewer standing behind an E! Entertainment camera. Englund unhooks the mike, does some minor gladhanding with the crew and producer and wanders over to where Entertainment Tonight is setting up shop.
“OK,” laughs Englund as he settles into a chair. “Who’s next?”
For Englund, this is a rare day off in the grueling production schedule of Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. It’s a chance to stroll with his wife and dog at the outdoor location where Roseanne Barr and Tom Arnold are shooting their cameo. It’s also his time to run the television celebrity magazine gauntlet and assure people in TV-land that his latest film is indeed The Final Nightmare, at least as far as he believes.
But away from the grind of delivering TV sound bites and back in the familiar range of Fango’s inquiring mind (and more probing questions), Englund addresses whether Freddy is truly dead.
“I’m signed to do a seventh one,” he admits, “But I don’t think New Line would have gone to all the trouble of promoting this as The Final Nightmare if they were planning another one. I’ve heard the rumor that a further Nightmare on Elm Street could contain a new central character. But as far as I’m concerned, this is the finale.”
Englund admits to having mixed emotions regarding his Final Nightmare outing. He knew it was coming, and greased the wheels of a career beyond Freddy by appearing as a different kind of heavy in the unsuccessful Andrew Dice Clay film The Adventures of Ford Fairlane. But now that the end is definitely at hand, the actor is looking forward to exploring different kinds of roles.
“Freddy’s been real good to me, and I’m going to miss playing him,” Englund confirms. “But to a certain extent, I’m also tired of playing Freddy and am ready to move on. I don’t think I should do another horror character over and over again. Otherwise, I’m open to whatever comes my way.”
The actor is candid as he describes the price that playing Krueger has ultimately exacted on his profession. “I’ve had to turn down another whole career’s worth of work because of Freddy,” he reveals. “That’s one of the main reasons I’ll be glad to see Freddy go. Certain seasons are better for making movies than others and, unfortunately, the periods when we made the Nightmare movies were also the times when a lot of other films were being made. I was basically trapped by time.
“I missed a directing gig in France two years ago because of Nightmare 4,” he continues. “I would have loved to have tested myself that way. At one point, the Freddy’s Dead start time was pushed back and I was offered the role of a KGB agent opposite one of my favorite actors, Rip Torn. But then they changed the schedule again, and I wasn’t able to do it. Those were the kinds of missed opportunities I used to kick myself in the butt over. It was frustrating.”
Four months later, Freddy’s Dead is long completed, and Englund has wasted little time in getting a non-Freddy career going. The actor recently returned from Leningrad, where he starred as demented, disfigured choreographer Anthony Wagner in the thriller Dance with Death. Formerly titled Terror of Manhattan and likely to undergo a further name change, the film finds Englund portraying two characters; the main plot involves Wagner tutoring and becoming obsessed with a young American dancer, resulting in a series of bizarre murders.
“I get to do a lot of my best Anthony Perkins twitching in this film,” chuckles Englund. “I’m really damaged goods. I won’t blow the surprise by telling you the mystery role I play, but I liked the other part because it allowed me to be neurotic without wearing makeup.
“This movie is kind of a slasher-level version of Ten Little Indians,” he continues. “It’s more of a thriller than a horror film. There’s a little bit of Phantom of the Opera in the storyline, but not in the character.”
According to Englund, shooting Dance with Death was an adventure, much of which involved working with a largely Russian production team. “The crew was very talented, but they work very differently,” he observes. “When they move to a new location, that means there’s no more working that day. Whenever a character dies in a film, the crew has to drink shots of vodka. They are very superstitious people. They’re also not used to working long hours, and they probably never worked as hard as we worked them.”
Under the direction of Greydon (Without Warning) Clark, Englund toiled on Dance With Death shortly after shooting the pilot for Wes Craven’s new NBC television series Nightmare Cafe. At presstime, the show has been slotted as a mid-season replacement, and Englund is set to return to Vancouver to shoot six additional episodes.
Nightmare Cafe features Englund, Jack Coleman and Lindsay (Dead Heat) Frost as the ghostly denizens of an eatery where the futures of customers at the crossroads of heaven and hell are decided. Englund calls it a “cross between The Twilight Zone and The Devil and Daniel Webster, with a little bit of Angel Heart and Topper thrown in.
“It’s a weird mixture,” he remarks, adding that Craven, Jack Sholder and Phillip (Dead Calm) Noyce are among the genre pros slated to helm upcoming episodes. “It’s definitely a show that’s going to need careful handling to succeed.”
Blackie, Englund’s continuing character in the anthology, is a spooky fallen angel and a bit of a cynic. “I’m there to manage this purgatory and bet that people who come through the restaurant are all going to go to hell,” he explains. “I’m also constantly seeing elements in people that remind me of my own humanity. Nightmare Cafe is going to play with time and reality, making things interesting.”
The role is a change of pace from his part in Ford Fairlane, which was less intellectual and more physically taxing. “I had little but fight scenes in that film, but that’s nothing new,” Englund shrugs. “I’ve been beat up by some of the biggest names in the industry over the years. I had a stunt double on the movie, but we didn’t use him much and, in at least one scene, I wish we had. I was doing some kickboxing and ended up tearing a hernia, which required surgery and knocked me out for most of the summer.”
Englund is now actively seeking financing for a script called Wicked Flesh, which promises to put a new twist on a genre staple. “It’s kind of a sexual vampire thing,” he describes. “The bloodsucker movie is hot right now, so why not a vampire that sucks hormones?” In addition, he is using his time to try to entice Anthony Hopkins to appear on this fall’s second annual Horror Hall of Fame TV special and to wade through the scripts that have started to come his way.
“I have so many friends who are doing horror films that I’d love to just go do cameos and become the new Dick Miller,” Englund claims. “The only problem is that when these films are sold overseas, I would have no control about how my name would be exploited. Something like that could hurt my economic integrity if I do a film for a Dario Argento or a Clive Barker.”
After more than a decade on the big screen, the actor also expresses a desire to return to one of his best-known TV characters. “I’d love to do Willie again,” reveals Englund when the prospect of a rumored V revival comes up. “I’d work with [series producer] Ken Johnson anytime. If it were to happen, we could work things out.
“I’m serious about getting back into television,” he continues. “I’d love to do a sitcom. I could show up on Monday, eat a bagel, drink some coffee and leave at 2:00 in the afternoon. Television is really good exercise for an actor, and it would instantly remind people of the other kind of work I do.”
Before the job rush hit, Englund was planning on a leisurely post-Freddy life. “I want to be able to go to a couple of Fango conventions, pick up a couple of V lunch boxes, talk to the fans and basically let them know that while Freddy is dead, Robert is still around. I’m on a mission of sorts: to let people know that I’m going to be up to other things. But I don’t really worry about the audience losing interest in me once Freddy’s gone. Even during the Nightmare years, I would get letters from fans that indicated they were very knowledgeable about my career before A Nightmare on Elm Street. So I have no fears that people will forget about me.”
However, Englund is aware that Freddy will never really go away. The first five films are enjoying a healthy video and cable afterlife. The two seasons of Freddy’s Nightmares are hitting tape and are primed for worldwide syndication. And while he concedes that the Nightmare films’ popularity in the U.S. has reached its limit, Freddy is still going great guns in the rest of the world.
And so, while Englund insists he is “looking forward to putting some distance between myself and the whole Freddy thing,” he is philosophical in attempting to put the phenomenon in perspective.
“I’m anxious to have the time to go back and get some hindsight on what it all meant,” he affirms. “What these films have meant to horror is obvious. They’ve opened the doors to what can be done in the genre. I’m convinced that if there had not been Nightmare films, you would not have had many of the other horror movies being made.
“A whole lot of talented filmmakers have gotten together, worked from what Wes Craven created and turned it into a wonderful series of films,” he continues. “Some have been better than others but, even at their worst, they have been better than most recent horror films. It’s a wonderful legacy of filmmaking to look back on. It’s a series of movies that people will go back to in in the years to come and will hold up as something special that went on in the ’80s. These movies are a part of film history.
“But this is the time to let it go,” Englund concludes, “and go on to something else.”