Freddy’s Last Dance
After a decade stalking dreams, Robert Englund seems satisfied that his “New Nightmare” is the best and final one.
By: Marc Shapiro
Published in Fanorgia #139.
The catchphrase during the filming of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare had been “Freddy goes to Hollywood.” You heard it from cast and crew, and you saw it in star Robert Englund, who plays both himself and his scarred alter ego in the recently released film. “They had me dressed like Jack Nicholson at a Lakers game,” recalls the actor of his onscreen “real-life” persona.
Englund means the Nicholson quip to indicate how New Nightmare tackles Hollywood and particularly the moments when Robert Englund plays Robert Englund. “This film makes me out to be a little more successful than I am and a little bit bigger of a star than I am,” he admits. “In a sense, New Nightmare is kind of like The Player in that we’re having a bit of fun at Hollywood’s expense.”
Seeming much more enthused during filming than he was on the last three Nightmare movies, Englund claims that New Nightmare deals with major personal and emotional issues. However, he insists, the Tinseltown satire is never far from the story’s focus. “A lot of what we’re doing with this film is a sendup of the whole Hollywood idiom—whether Hollywood is responsible for violence,” he explains. “We’re dealing with the fans and the fanatics who follow horror films. But ultimately, we’re addressing the question of whether Hollywood is responsible for a lot of things that are going on in the real world today.
“Certain ideas and philosophical criticisms are the villains in this movie,” he continues, though he assures that his most famous character is still the key malefactor. “Freddy has been resurrected in this movie becauae there was a definite need for him to be presented this way,” Englund says. “He’s real now. He needs to live. He needs to exist. And what makes this a different kind of Freddy is that he’s alive in our real world rather than under the constraints of the previous six movies. The only real restrictions he has in this film are those imposed on him by dreams.
“And because this is a new take on Freddy, you’re going to see him in a different way,” he promises. “He does not just kill and crack a one-liner. He’s used more structurally; he’s almost like a storyboard to what is going on in the film. But the big thing about Freddy this time is that he’s more evil than ever before.”
Englund points out that Craven’s documentary style on New Nightmare forced him, as well as the other actors, to take a different approach. “I was all set to play Freddy in a fairly predictable way,” he says. “But Wes came to me early in the filming and reminded me that this is a different kind of Freddy and that I could grunt, groan and talk if I wanted to.
“Since John [Saxon], Heather [Langenkamp] and I play ourselves more than we play our characters,” he continues, “everything, in a sense, was kind of awkward and stripped away. There are scenes in this film that are real close to home. So it was both very easy and very difficult to make this movie.”
Having last worked with Craven on the short-lived television series Nightmare Café, Englund was happy to reunite with the director who helped launch him to fame. “Knowing Wes was going to do it made it easier for me to say yes,” he says. “It’s great working with him, but it can also be an exciting kind of challenge. You know Wes will come up with a great story and that things will ultimately work out, but you never know quite how all the elements will come together. There were some surprises. You never knew what new ideas Wes would bring to the set. He really made us work, but it was good work.”
According to Englund, the end result is a film that leaves an opening for the long-anticipated Freddy vs. Jason film. “I’m not sure how it will be done, but I’m convinced it will be made at some point,” he says. “New Line Cinema owns Freddy and Jason, so it kind of seems inevitable. I do know that it will not be a spoof.
“Working with Kane Hodder in a Freddy vs. Jason movie would be great,” he continues. “He’d help me a lot with the physical stuff, especially since I’m starting to become a little old for that.” The actor, who would also welcome the involvement of Friday the 13th creator Sean Cunningham, reports one rumor he has heard about a different kind of Freddy team-up. “There was talk that they would do an “Abbott and Costello Meet Freddy Krueger” kind of spoof that would feature Damon Wayans and those In Living Color guys,” he reveals. “We would play it straight, except that Daman Wayans would be dropped into the middle of it all. I don’t know if it would work, or even if Freddy should be done that way.”
Other forthcoming genre items involving Englund include Tobe Hooper’s Night Terrors (formerly Nightmare), in which he plays the Marquis de Sade as well as his twisted descendant. “That keeps having its title changed,” the actor notes, “and will have a theatrical release in Europe but may end up going straight to video in the States.” Englund is more enthusiastic about his and Hooper’s collaboration on The Mangler, based on the Stephen King story. Originally scheduled to be shot in Canada, the film ultimately went before the cameras in South Africa. Postproduction problems with miniatures have caused a delay in the film’s debut, but with New Line now set to release the movie. Englund reports that fans will get off on his role as the story’s monstrous villain.
“The Mangler is a surreal and exaggerated movie that spins totally out of control and down the rabbit hole,” he says of the film, which co-stars Ted Levine and features makeup FX by Freddy designer David Miller. “This was a great makeup performance. I look like LBJ if he had been dead for a month and shrunk. My character is like somebody who has been arrested in time. I have a blind eye, as well as a voice box and polio braces that are straight out of the 1940s.”
The actor also reveals that he is in active negotiation to play an H.P. Lovecraft/Daniel Webster-type character in a film that he claims will have solid franchise potential. “It’s real close to happening,” he says, “so close that I don’t want to jinx it by saying any more than that.”
Englund’s thoughts return to Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and, by association, his views on the Nightmare on Elm Street legacy. “The big thing is that this movie is scary,” he says. “Wes has pulled some truly frightening moments out of this one. One of the great criticisms of the Nightmare on Elm Street films is that they weren’t as scary after Wes left the series, and that’s true. A couple of the movies were great rides, and there have been some great individual moments in all of them.
“Certainly the Nightmare films have done something that no other horror film can claim,” he continues. “They’ve contributed a vast pool of talent, both in front of and behind the camera, to the film industry. Except for Kevin Bacon, who has come out of the Friday the 13th movies and made any real impact? You tend to remember the Nightmare films and the people who have come through them.”
The actor is reminded of a previous statement that the physical side of playing Freddy Krueger is beginning to take its toll. But despite the aches and pains, he says that there’s much in the Nightmare series that keeps him coming back. “Doing these films has been a great opportunity in a lot of different ways,” he declares. “I’ve had the chance to be part of a great concept and some great stories. I’ve also been able to work with some of the best directors in the business early in their careers. Sure, there have been times where I was not happy with the way a script was going or the fact that the schedules on these films always seem to be rushed. But I truly feel I’m lucky to have stumbled into this part and these films.”
Indeed, thanks to Krueger, Englund has gone from being a largely anonymous television character actor to a worldwide star, and for that reason, he’s grateful to horror. But he admits, as he nears the big 50, that his priorities have and will continue to change. “These days, I’ve always got other irons in the fire, so my focus is always a little split,” he says. “The horror genre’s always been good to me, so it’s not like, all of a sudden, I’m going to run and hide from it. The only difference now is that I’ll be a little more particular about what I do. Now I’ll only say yes to the things I really want to do.”
And what Englund really wanted to do was New Nightmare. “I knew that with Wes involved it would be really final, because there would be a nice shape to Wes beginning and ending the whole thing. This is a great little script. Nobody is out to exploit anything. We’re not making this movie because the last one was a big hit. We’re making this film because New Line got Wes back and Wes had this great idea.”