[Interview] Robert Englund On El Rey's 45 Hour 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' Marathon, the Passing of Wes Craven, and the Current State of the Slasher Genre - Bloody Disgusting
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[Interview] Robert Englund On El Rey’s 45 Hour ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ Marathon, the Passing of Wes Craven, and the Current State of the Slasher Genre



Image courtesy of New Line Cinema

If Freddy Krueger taught us genre fans anything, it’s that staying up late is the best way to stay alive. Keeping this idea in mind, it’s easy to see why El Rey Network would schedule a forty-five hour long marathon of some of Freddy’s best work in the iconic horror franchise A Nightmare on Elm Street. Starting on Saturday the 13th, not only will El Rey show Nightmares 1-5, but it will also air various episodes from the scarcely seen television program, Freddy’s Nightmares. As if these announcements weren’t sweet enough by themselves, the whole Valentine’s Day weekend event will be hosted by the dirty sweater wearing, nightmare haunting, pun-savvy legend himself, Robert Englund.

Before the studio realized what they had, New Line Cinema figured that any old actor could easily fill in as a villain for Englund. During the beginning stages of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, producers tried and failed to substitute Englund with a stunt man, but quickly found that they had underestimated the prowess of Robert’s performance. Englund brings the wit and the sass to the beloved role, but the pizzazz also lies in his physicality; his sharp but confident movements that suggest that not only is he a monster from the dream world, but that he is completely inescapable. From the haunting echo of his wicked laugh, to the sinister smile streaked across his burned face, to the speedy slashes of his finger knives, Robert Englund has come to encompass every facet of the character of Freddy Kreuger. Even if New Line may not realized it at first, they quickly grew wise, as they epiphany set in that Freddy isn’t a part of the Nightmare franchise — Freddy is the Nightmare franchise, and there’s no one that can play Freddy like Robert Englund.

Acting on behalf of Bloody Disgusting, I was lucky enough to speak with Englund about his exciting upcoming marathon. Together, we chatted about the uncredited push Freddy’s Nightmares gave to what is allowed on modern day television, the everlasting reliability of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, the unparalleled legacy of the horror master Wes Craven, and Englund’s own ideas to breathe new life into the somewhat stale state of the slasher sub genre.

Bloody Disgusting: You are hosting El Rey Network’s 45 Hour “Nightmare on Elm Street Marathon” —

Robert Englund: (in his best Freddy Krueger voice) For all of those whimps out there who are watching The Notebook, this is a chance to be badass and man up! It’s gonna be our alternative, our rip-your-heart-out Valentine marathon.

Bloody Disgusting: It’s a really cool take on Valentine’s Day, and they’re showing Nightmare 1-5 and episodes from Freddy’s Nightmares, but I was wondering what you personally are the most excited about to broadcast and share with everyone again?

Robert Englund: Well I don’t think Freddy’s Nightmares has been broadcast in the States for a very, very long time. I certainly don’t remember the residuals (laughs) and I know that when I’m at film festivals or conventions or even on the street, I get approached by people, because there’s a certain cult classic aspect to Freddy’s Nightmares now, that’s been growing over the years, A. because it hasn’t been available, and B. because many of the directors and many of the stars of that show have gone on to become huge stars. Brad Pitt’s in one of the episodes, and my co-star from an old television series I did, who’s now been on the air forever, Mariska Hargitay, from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Lori Petty from Tank Girl, but it’s become a kind of cult classic. I know that it has a certain cult status now and it hasn’t been available. So, now, on Valentine’s Day weekend, you can really binge Freddy, and what are the Nightmare on Elm Street movies a kind of twisted love story?

Bloody Disgusting: I’m glad the marathon is showing Freddy’s Nightmares, not only because it gives people a chance to see it, who might not have seen it before, but also because I think people don’t realize how much it pushed the envelope, as to what was allowed on television. that show had on genre shows that came after it. So, how do you feel it has like paved the way for shows today to show more graphic content?

Robert Englund: That was the whole reason I did it. The whole reason I chose to do Freddy’s Nightmares, because I was exhausted. I just wrapped A Nightmare on Elm Street: Part 4, the Renny Harlin film, The Dream Master, and I was beat up, and I had just done Ford Fairline before that, so I did two movies back-to-back, and then I was into the series. We assembled this great crack crew from A Nightmare on Elm Street: Part 4, and Gil Adler, who went on to save Tales From the Crypt and many, many other wonderful projects. But we were promised, and this promise was broken, we were promised that we could be on late at night, so that we could push the envelope, so that we could do a little extra nastiness and push the violence a little bit, or at least the innuendo. And what happened was, when you’re syndicated, you don’t really have control over, the people who are syndicating you out there, so, we accidentally got put on prime time and early evening in the bible belt, and that kind of came back and bit us in the ass. I think that’s really the reason for the show’s demise, because I have in my office in Laguna Beach, I have the ratings for the big markets – New York, Chicago, L.A., San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta. But we were on late at night, at eleven-o-clock at night, and we really were doing something new on American television then, and I’m proud of that, and playing with what we could get away with, and how far we could kind of push it, in terms of horror comedy, in terms of gore, in terms of violence, in terms of innuendo. We got in trouble because we were on at four in the afternoon when kids were getting home from school in Dallas or somewhere, and that’s just bad programming. And I remember being disappointed, because the show never got to the amount of episodes where we could be syndicated successfully. You need like, a hundred shows or something like that, and we just did forty-four, I think. Never quite hit that magic number. So, I just think it’s really special now, that they’re showing it on El Rey, so that another generation, or a generation that’s nostalgic, will get to see what those were like.

Bloody Disgusting: Like you said before, the Nightmare franchise is kind of a twisted love story, and I think it’s very fitting that this marathon is happening on Valentine’s Day weekend, because there was always been something between Freddy and Nancy —

Robert Englund: It’s just a good fit. There’s something you know, some of the Nightmares have a little bit of grindhouse in them, and I know that that’s part of the ethos of Robert Rodriguez, El Rey, Quentin Tarantino, and all of them, and they love that. I, even from my generation, you know I was a Saturday matinee kid, and I remember the double bills, and I remember the Hammer films that we loved, and the drive-in movie and what that meant for a sexually-charged teenager on a double date with Barbara Steele up there being tormented by Christopher Lee, and this was just a sort of a great mix of fun and hormones and rock and roll. I love that that’s part of the sort of siren call of El Rey, and I think the Nightmare movies fit in that, and I think Freddy’s Nightmares fit in that.

Bloody Disgusting: I really feel like the relationship between Freedy and Nancy is more suggestive at being romantic than maybe any other franchise between the villain and the final girl, but, how would you define their relationship? Are they in love? Is it a platonic love? Is it romantic?

Robert Englund: Well, I think there’s a certain respect, you know? She’s a worthy adversary, and I’m really proud that I think we opened the door for the fan girl. I think with A Nightmare on Elm Street, I think so many girls were dragged to the movies by a date, by their boyfriends, hoping they’d be scared and the guy would get lucky in the backseat, or, so many older brothers tormented their younger sister, you know when mom and dad were out for dinner, and popped a video in the VCR and forced their eyes open like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange to watch it. But, what happened instead was I think those young teenage girls, they looked through the cracks in their fingers and realized, “This is about me”. The Nightmare on Elm Street movies are about the survivor girl. They’re about strong young women finding themselves and finding a strength in themselves, I mean obviously Freddy is the the logo for the experience, Freddy is the nemesis, but it’s about her. I think with Freddy and Nancy, it’s a bit of Beauty and the Beast, and it’s also a bit of worthy adversary. There’s a certain respect he has, she’s like a notch he just can’t seem to get in his gun belt, and he really wants it. I think there’s also something hinted at the fact that maybe her parents, the cop father and this alcoholic mother were maybe the leading flawed suburban American exponents of the vigilante mob, and Wes is sort of saying something about the disintegration of the American dream. I mean, I talk about this a lot, but Elm Street, that’s the street JFK was assassinated on. Also, Freddy has this line (does the voice), “Every town has an Elm Street” but that’s true, too. Every town has a Broadway, or a Main Street.

Robert Englund Freddy vs Jason A Nightmare On Elm Street Freddy Krueger

Bloody Disgusting: Wes Craven was such a master of horror. We use that term a lot, but it really applies with him. There has been such an outpouring of love from fans since his passing. How do you feel about the positive reactions to Craven’s legacy?

Robert Englund: Well I just like to remind people you know my Wes Craven, when I first went to work for him, I thought he was going to be a David Lynch kind of, I don’t know, goth guy, and he wasn’t. He’s this erudite humanities professor uh who respected this genre. You know, he wasn’t allowed to watch a lot of TV and film as a child and he was a little bit Johnny-come-lately to it, but Wes reconfigured horror three times, with Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, then A Nightmare on Elm Street, changing it with that franchise, and then again with the Scream films, so he really is this important, bigger than a footnote, this important aspect of American film culture. You know, the cowboy movies is not our go-to programmer anymore, here’s a horror film, and I’m sure that Wes Craven is the man responsible for that. We have many other purveyors of that now: Guillermo del Toro, wonderful other people that are working, and doing great work now, like Sam Raimi, but you know Wes made that part and parcel of popular film-going culture and I think it’s going to be with us for a long, long time.

Bloody Disgusting: I agree, and I feel like today, we’re in such a drought for slashers, compared to like, the ’70s and ’80s and ’90s.

Robert Englund: There’s a lot of dark horror, and a lot of sci-fi fantasy that’s great, but what gets hyped a lot the big stuff. The most expensive stuff gets hyped a lot, and I love it, don’t get me wrong, but there’s things that fall through the cracks. I mean, I’m so happy for Ex Machina, but I’m disappointed that nobody went to see Crimson Peak. But there’s great stuff out there, and it’s not all that easy, some of it doesn’t get seen, but it does get discovered on all the new platforms. I mean I’ve been telling everybody they have to see Blue Ruin, and they have to see It Follows. I mean these are two terrific films, playing with the genre, uh, revenge and sex and dark and there’s a lot of great stuff out there. Some it’s now on, you know, strangely enough, some of it’s on television. I mean my god, did anyone but me watch the last season of Hannibal? Whoa! It turned into absolute kaleidoscopic, hallucinogenic, visual, poetic William Blake horror! I mean I was just astounded! Homoerotic horror! I mean, I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. Network television! Ten o clock at night! And I scold the kids at the cons and I scold the kids at the film festivals if they’re not seeing it, so you just have to seek it out. I mean Penny Dreadful, talk about your graphic novel mashup, and great writing at the same time and you get your gore too, and some stand-up Eva Green sex, hey! Let’s hear it for that! You know? But there’s plenty of great stuff out there. I think it’s just what we do is we all spend our allowance on the thing that we’re told is going to be the big event, and sometimes the big event is disappointing. Not all big events are disappointing either, I mean I don’t want to live in a world without Guardians of the Galaxy, I had a great time! But then sometimes we spend our money on something we think is gonna be great, and the titles shall remain nameless, but they’re just a little disappointing, or, been-there-done-that, but then we don’t see the Blue Ruin.

Bloody Disgusting: What do you think we can do to put a spin on the slasher sub genre and breathe new life into it?

Robert Englund: I’d like to see more corporate slashers and I’d like to see period. I’d like to see a slasher movie set in the depression. I remember reading a script a couple of years ago that was great. It was kind of a road movie, but with a serial killer who may or may not have been working for the devil, you know? He was taking advantage of the depression as a kind of plague on America, and using it, and hiding out in the hobo camps, you know, and exploiting that, and I loved it. It was so fresh. Based on a book, too, a great book, but I just love period stuff, and I’d love to see more stuff like that. I mean why couldn’t there be even a western slasher, or why couldn’t there be a serial killer in a kind of pirate buccaneer Caribbean, just someone that’s just doing terrible, terrible things in the ports, the sexy ports of Jamaica during the Pirate Renaissance. I remember years ago, there was a script floating around, a take on her majesty’s service. It was the first James Bond, on her majesty’s secret service, with capes and swords. What if, the movie opened with a chase scene in London between carriages, and the carriage in front was her majesty’s secret service carriage, and he let oil out on the cobble stones, and the carriage behind him spun out, and then he flicked his pipe out the window and it made the oil catch on fire and the carriage caught on fire! So it’s like a race, with the Astin martin, only it’s carriages. And he has disappearing invisible ink, and all the new technology of toys, but he’s dealing with, not politics, but serious serial killers in London in the seventeenth century, who are doing horrific things? They’re like body snatchers, and he’s after them, and we get into that world, you know, which gets a little bit Frankenstein, too, which is a little bit of what Penny Dreadful was, but this would have been a mash-up of action, and slasher, and historical context, so I’d love to see that happen a little bit. Or just, playing with stuff in the ’50s, you know? Going back, just before Boston Strangler, and doing it with that soundtrack, so we move away from the cliche of the new soundtrack. I mean, let’s kill somebody to Sinatra! Or to early Elvis! I mean, I just think that juxtaposition lends itself for a new way to be scared, where it’s really bright and pastel, and then the blood stains splash across the wallpaper, you know?

Bloody Disgusting: Those are great ideas! So, audiences today can seem jaded, like nothing scares them, nothing touches them personally anymore, but yet, this franchise that started over thirty years ago is still so relatable and still so in demand that it’s actually having a whole marathon on El Rey Network. What do you think is it about A Nightmare on Elm Street and about Freddy Krueger that audiences still relate to today?

Robert Englund: Well, I mean I would love to take some credit, and obviously Wes deserves the credit for conceiving of it, but part of that conception is this great hook. What makes the Nightmares on Elm Street universal and forever in their attraction, I think, is simply the dream. The landscape of the mind, the subconscious, the nightmare. Everybody has a nightmare, and everybody apparently has falling dreams, and everybody has the drowning dream, and everybody has certain kinds of sexual manifestation dreams, as well as our stress dreams; I didn’t study for the algebra test, I didn’t study for my driving test, you know, all those dreams. I still have those dreams, and it’s just such an interesting thing that our mind can turn against us, our own mind, you know we all have. I mean, I had a really strange dream this week when I was with my wife and my godson at a horror movie, in the audience, sitting behind me, and my wife’s head and my godson, and I don’t know why. My godson is housesitting for me right now, but I don’t know what that means. I mean I’ve been thinking about it for days now, and I think that that, there’s a depth to the nightmare, to the symbolism you can exploit, on an intellectual level, on a sexual level, on a primal, violent level, and I think all of those things together are just great. They’re the spice and ingredients in the menu of the horror movie, and I think that’s why we’ll be around for a long time. Obviously the franchise is, they’re beginning to remake it. I think the last gossip I heard is they might combine three and four, I heard they approached Tuesday Knight, who replaced Patricia Arquette who was in Part 3. I’m wondering what Tuesday could play, and I thought, maybe she’ll be playing…(Freddy voice) her own mother. “Where’s the bourbon, bitch?” Maybe they’ll make it like a in Nightmare joke for another generation. But as I’ve said before, you put a twelve year old with his divorced dad, in a man cave on Sunday, in front of a fifty inch flat screen, watching an El Rey marathon of Nightmare on Elm Street, perfectly projected, digitally re-mastered, and to that twelve year old, thirteen year old boy, that looks good, it holds up. Freddy vs. Jason looks great, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare looks great, Renny Harlin’s Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4 looks great, Stephen Hopkins’ Part 5 looks phenomenal. For that boy, at the tender age of twelve, with his dad, having a beer after the game, and, “Don’t tell mom, but we’re gonna watch a couple here on the El Rey, we’re gonna watch Nightmare 5 tonight, this is a cool one, and I watched this when I was a kid”. And not only is it father-son bond, or father-daughter bond, or mother-daughter, mother-son bond, but it looks good, and it holds up for that generation, and that’s just this great accident of quality, of concept, and the new technology being there as a platform for us.

Don’t forget to tune in to El Rey Network all Valentine’s Day weekend long to watch the Nightmare on Elm Street “Rip Your Heart Out” 45 hour long marathon, starting on Saturday the 13th at 6AM ET/PT, and ending early Monday morning on February 15th.