Actor Robert Englund reflects on 30 years as 'Nightmare' killer
Halloween just isn't the same around Robert Englund's house -- not since the neighborhood kids left a huge wax claw on his walkway.
"It took me about six months to clean up," he said with a chuckle. "I sort of downplay Halloween a little bit here now."
That won't be the case this weekend, though, when the actor stops in Naperville and Woodridge to meet his fiendish fans and screen his 1984 breakout horror classic, "A Nightmare on Elm Street."
Englund, who immortalized the disfigured, bladed-glove-wearing, dreamland serial killer Freddy Krueger in eight films spanning 19 years, recently talked to the Daily Herald about that legacy and how horror films speak "the international language of cinema."
Q. Early on, did you ever expect Freddy would become your legacy?
A. No. I did "A Nightmare on Elm Street" because it fit my hiatus between the "V" miniseries and the NBC television series. I guess there was something from my dormant adolescence that lived inside me. I remember loving the old Lon Chaney "Man of a Thousand Faces" as far back as "Phantom of the Opera" and "Hunchback of Notre Dame." I think I kind of suppressed that love I had as a child for horror and fantasy movies, and a curiosity I had about the makeup. So when "A Nightmare on Elm Street" came along, that was the reason I did it -- it was a challenge. I'd done so much behavioral work it was very liberating to play Freddy. I got to change my voice. I got to change my physicality. I was hiding under makeup. And it was really fun. I knew we were on to something very interesting -- (director) Wes Craven was special, and we all kind of knew Johnny Depp had something special going for him -- but I just had no idea that 30 years later it would be around.
Q. What appeals to you about the horror genre?
A. To be honest, horror has been very, very good to me. I respect the genre very much. Both horror and science fiction opened doors for me to work around the world. I've done 75 movies or more now, and probably 20 of them are horror. But when things get slow for me in Hollywood -- if a pilot doesn't sell or I've had a slow year or I don't get a part or a project doesn't get its financing -- I can always go off to Europe and do a movie in Italy or Spain. This is the great gift, the happy accident of my career. Because horror movies, like science fiction and action and fantasy movies, speak the international language of cinema. Sometimes I do it just because it's been good to me, sometimes I do it for the role, and -- I'll be honest -- sometimes I do it simply for the paycheck.
Q. Do you have a favorite scary movie?
A. It's constantly changing, but I always recommend the 1974 Brian De Palma film, "Sisters," starring Margot Kidder and William Finley. I just think it's brilliant. It's sexy and there's a lot of surprises that make you jump. It has some of the best use of split screen for suspense ever done, very low-budget but great. I also love the 1961 version of "The Innocents" with Deborah Kerr and Michael Redgrave. It obviously has the Henry James' turn of the screw, and there's a really kinky follow-up with Marlon Brando that's really interesting, too.
Q. What's your favorite Freddy kill?
A. My favorite kill is my most politically incorrect kill, which is in part six, "Freddy's Dead." There's a boy with a hearing aid, and what I do is, I take away his hearing aid and then pump up the volume. I make everything extra loud, like atomic-bomb loud, and it's kind of reverse punishment for his disability. It's very politically incorrect, cruel and mean, but I love it because subsequent to that film this sea of political correctness has kind of permeated society. I don't know that I would be allowed to do that now. But I love the fact that a kid with a disability is free to be a victim of Freddy as much as anybody else, and that Freddy, in his unapologetic way, could also exploit that.
Q. Have you sustained many injuries wearing Freddy's bladed glove?
A. You have to be careful. When you have the makeup on, you're kind of itchy. I'm based in KY jelly and Vaseline, so dust and hairs and things like that stick. The makeup goes into my nose and up to the edge of my eyes. I itch there and can feel if I have dust there or if something is sticking to the foam latex, which is prophylactic thin. Every once in a while, because I'm right handed, I'll go to scratch my eye or pick my nose, and I have to remember that I've got those blades on. I always make a joke out of going to the bathroom. You've got to watch out because you can change your religion in the little boy's room.
Q. What's Halloween like at the Englund house? Do you get dressed up or is that too much like going to work?
A. The first year we lived in Laguna Beach, the kids all found out I was in town and they mounted a giant, wax paraffin claw on the brick pathway coming up to my house. It took me about six months to clean up that wax, so I sort of downplay Halloween a little bit here now. I was kind of cackling off the deck over my driveway and teasing the kids, and we had an old Freddy standup from a video store in the window. But now it's a little calmer, although my wife loves to have good peanut butter cups and loot for the kids who make the pilgrimage. I have had some adventures over the years on Halloween. One time, my driver was speeding to get me to a radio broadcast at a nightclub. We turned a corner and there in the crosswalk at the intersection was a mother dressed like Freddy Krueger in a Freddy sweater and a miniskirt. The kids were all dressed like little Freddies. We hit the brakes and all I could think was, "Oh, my God." The tabloids the next morning, you know: Freddy Krueger runs down mother of five in crosswalk.
Q. How often do you make special appearances? Is it something you enjoy?
A. I do maybe three or four a year. Some years I'm busier as an actor than others. This year I was in England shooting a movie with Finn Jones, the star of "Game of Thrones," called "The Last Showing." So I've been gone this summer but generally around the Halloween time, I try to have time available if I'm not working because, to be honest, Halloween is a very lucrative time for Freddy Krueger. I usually choose a Comic Con convention or a personal appearance somewhere I like, like New York or Chicago. I love Chicago. I always try to come early or stay late and find time to see a show at the Steppenwolf (Theatre Company) or get out on the edge of town to hang out at the Green Mill. There's also a great Indian restaurant on the same street about a block away that I like to go to.
Q. What's the story behind your mid-1980s album, "Freddy's Greatest Hits?"
A. What happened was, when we did the first movie, New Line Cinema never had a hit. They hadn't had their "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" movies yet. They hadn't had "Gremlins." And they had no idea about merchandising. They sort of said "yes" to anybody who came by the office in New York. They merchandised everything too young and kind of silly. That was one of their less-than-steller ideas of how to merchandise "A Nightmare on Elm Street." Later on, they came up with some very sophisticated action figures, some of which are like almost 3 feet tall. But, no, the album was just a lark.
Q. Has Freddy ever visited you in your dreams?
A. I fell asleep during the making of the very first "Nightmare" movie while in the makeup. I was trying to protect the makeup while I took a nap. It was maybe 4 in the morning, and I rolled up a towel and laid on it on my back so I wouldn't roll over. I had a makeup mirror in my dressing room with the lights dimmed down to maybe 1/8th of their power. There was a knock on the door. The assistant director wanted me to get up and come out, and we were going to try to get a shot before sunrise. I sat up and I had this bad breath from taking a nap. I hadn't brushed my teeth and I was kind of (smacks lips) licking my teeth and looking for my mouthwash. And I looked up and there in the mirror in the dim light was this old, bald, deformed, scarred man. And I jumped. It was me, of course, but I was still semiconscious from the nap and had forgotten I was in makeup, and it was startling. It was Freddy looking back at me. It took me like five seconds to put together. It was very strange and disorienting. Now, the point is, that experience -- that moment I've sort of narrated in detail -- I do occasionally have that dream. I'm in my 60s now and I can still remember that moment. I can see my hand coming up and touching Freddy's head, and I'm touching myself going, "What?" It comes back to me sometimes in a nightmare. Especially if I have a cold or fever, the Freddy nightmare will come back to visit me. I don't know what that means.
Q. Is there anybody else on your kill list? Any plan to return as Freddy?
A. There's always people on my kill list but, no. The problem is, New Line Cinema sold the rights to "A Nightmare on Elm Street," "Friday the 13th" and "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," and those are all under the supervision now of Michael Bay and Platinum Dunes. I think they want to remake, reboot those franchises. Actors do sequels and we do prequels, but actors rarely do a remake of the same movie they've already done. They remade "A Nightmare on Elm Street" a couple years ago. I think they brought it out too soon, forgetting that these days the younger generation can rediscover older movies on DVD, Blu-ray, box sets, cable, Netflix. When I was a kid, movies had a much shorter shelf life. If you missed it at the theater, you had to wait five years and then it would show up on the late, late show, probably in black and white on a small, local channel.
Q. What's going on with your latest directing project, "The Vij"?
A. "The Vij" is no longer going to happen. The financing for that came out of Italy. When they had their economic problem, a lot of the money dried up. It's really, really disappointing to me because it was a terrific script. We were talking to Christopher Lee, Donald Sutherland and Amanda Plummer, some wonderful, wonderful talent. I think the next project I'll probably direct is actually in the mail right now. I'm anxious to look at it. It's from my director of photography in the movie I shot called "Killer Pad," a little teen comedy a couple of years ago.
Q. Anything else you want to say?
A. To my fans, keep an eye out. On DVD right now, I have a project out called "Sanitarium" hosted by Malcolm McDowell and starring John Glover from "Smallville" and Lou Diamond Phillips. It's a terrific little, old-school, three-part kind of "Chiller/Twilight Zone" film. Also coming out next year, look for "The Last Showing," which in North America might be called "Midnight Movie."
Note: Responses were edited for length and clarity.
"A Nightmare on Elm Street" with Freddy KruegerWhat: Actor Robert Englund presents "A Nightmare on Elm Street"
When: 6, 8 and 10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25, at Hollywood Blvd., 1001 W. 75th St., Woodridge; 4, 6, 8, and 10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, at Hollywood Palms, 352 Route 59, Naperville; and 3, 5, 7 and 9 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27, at Hollywood Blvd.