In 1984, a writer/director with few credits to his name created a monster who didn’t just come for you on Halloween or while you were away at camp. No, this director, the dearly departed Wes Craven, decided that his villain was going to come for you in your dreams. That film, A Nightmare on Elm Street, catapulted Craven into the big leagues, prevented a generation from sleeping, introduced Johnny Depp to the world, and reinvented character actor Robert Englund as the horrifying serial killer who lived next door.
Tomorrow, El Rey Network begins their third annual “Rip Your Heart Out Valentine’s Day Marathon” featuring the first five movies in the Nightmare franchise plus fan-favorite episodes of the anthology series Freddy’s Dead. Hosted by Englund, the marathon runs throughout the weekend, and we had the chance to speak with the man who brought the character to life about losing his friend Wes, his appreciation for the horror genre, and the historical beginnings of his iconic frightener.
“I’m still angry at Wes. Let alone, sad because none of us knew… we thought he’d had an awkward bad hip replacement,” Englund told me when we began talking about the loss of the beloved director in the late summer of 2015. “No one knew about the brain cancer… I was waiting for Wes to get better; me, Heather [Langenkamp], and Wes were all going to go out to New York and see a play or something. None of that ever got to happen.”
Indeed, it’s impossible to talk about the legacy of the Nightmare franchise and the character of Freddy Krueger without somehow circling back around to Craven. I was struck by something I had heard Englund say a few months prior about the late director, remarking that it was Craven who helped him rediscover a respect for genres like horror, science fiction, and fantasy. “I was a fanboy like everybody else and liked the same things, Twilight Zone, horror movies, the matinee. I was a different generation so some of this stuff goes over people’s heads but I loved a lot of that stuff. And I was as normal and wanted to see the next horror movie matinee as everybody else,” Englund told me. “But then at some point between actresses and girls and the theater and loving that and loving getting laughs, I actually had one foot, at least, into being an artist and I began to take theater more seriously.”
“And somehow I just sort of buried the little boy that snuck down the hall into the family den to turn on Frankenstein at midnight on channel 2, CBS, when his mother and father were asleep after a night of martinis and Sinatra, and I would watch that. So, that kid was kind of buried and at some point working with Wes, and it was probably part one – it must have been part one – Wes and I were talking or, he must have said something, that clicked me into the validity of that. He respected horror and he respected it as a genre, we weren’t allowed to use the word ‘slasher’ on our set, and I think it was something along those lines that made me reevaluate it.”
And now Englund, a major cinephile and consumer of entertainment in all forms including digital streaming, television, and theater, finds himself appreciating the creators working in the least appreciated genres even more. Echoing the sentiments of many a fan, Englund mused, “I’m not criticizing now, but we’ve had some really big budget movies recently, very recently in the last couple of months, that nobody has gone to see. Huge movies with huge stars and directed by huge stars who shall remain nameless, but our little movies like It Follows, our little horror movies, they keep coming, they keep chugging out there, they keep making money. Our cult – Guardians of the Galaxy! — I don’t want to live in a world without Guardians of the Galaxy but I don’t want to live in a world without Blue Ruin or It Follows or Freddy vs. Jason or Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.”
And fortunately, thanks to networks like El Rey, we don’t have to live in a world without access to our favorite cult classics, including the hard-to-find television series Freddy’s Nightmares, a major highlight of the marathon this weekend. The opportunity for fans to rediscover the niche series over the Valentine’s Day holiday is one that elated Englund, explaining, “What’s so great about El Rey is that you have this opportunity to binge, but you can binge Freddy’s Nightmares or just do segments. I always think that [Nightmare] 3 and 4 make a great double bill. Instead of watching the goddamn Notebook, get your girlfriend a box of chocolates, a bottle of red wine – that’s a nice high — whatever is in the grape skin is good for you in the red wine, you get that sugar from the chocolate and get a little buzz, and watch those two movies blend and weave and watch two franchises dovetail so nicely.”
The “Rip Your Heart Out Valentine’s Day Marathon” begins at 6am on Saturday, February 13 with a handful of episodes of Freddy’s Nightmares and wraps up on Monday, February 15 with A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. Excited but not sure if you get El Rey? Head over to their handy channel finder to find out! You can also visit the El Rey website for the complete schedule.
Images:New Line Cinema; El Rey Network