This weekend, Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey network launched its third annual “Rip Your Heart Out Valentine’s Day Marathon” hosted by the one and only Mr. Robert Englund. For the entire weekend, fans of Freddy Krueger will be treated to A Nightmare on Elm Street 1-5 and select episodes of the cult favorite TV series Freddy’s Nightmares. Earlier this week, we had the opportunity to sit one-on-one with Englund and discuss the surprise passing of his friend and collaborator Wes Craven, the state of horror now, and Englund’s reinvigorated respect for genre entertainment.
Englund has played Freddy Krueger in eight films, not to mention countless television and public appearances. Over decades of wearing the glove, it goes without saying that a character would change. Some fans loved Freddy’s transition to a slightly more comedic tone throughout the franchise while others liked it less. Since he played the character for so many years, I asked Englund to weigh in on the evolution of the monster next door. “God rest his soul, but Wes always believed that we took it too far, and I thought we jumped the shark a bit in part six, but we did it intentionally. I’m not using that as an excuse but we thought Freddy’s Dead was the last, so we thought we could get a little pop culture comedy going by doing aspects of it like a Warner Brothers cartoon by bringing in people like Alice Cooper and Rosanne Barr and Tom Arnold, commenting on the culture of the time but still having fun with it. And there’s some great stuff in that film, but we did sort of jump the shark in it.”
Self-aware but passionate about the franchise, Englund elaborated, “What that did over the period of several films is it made Freddy much more the cruel clown than just the scary serial killer. But we were responding to fans and the fans loved this sense of humor because I think aside from us being the first fangirl horror movie – Sigourney Weaver’s sci-fi Aliens not withstanding – I think we were also the first film to have a villain, a serial killer, a monster with a personality. And that could be argued–Karloff was pretty wonderful–but I think we can say that was the case there.”
There are many stories that have circulated about where the idea of a Freddy Krueger-type character first came, but I felt the need to ask about Rodney Ascher’s 2015 documentary about sleep paralysis, The Nightmare. While the film explores common images that people who suffer the sleep disorder “see” when dreaming or having these next-level nightmares, one of the archetypes is the silhouette of Krueger almost exactly. Did Englund and Craven discuss these specific images claimed to be experienced during sleep paralysis when it came to Freddy? “It was talked about intellectually… it wasn’t discussed, though, it was mentioned. Wes Craven [was a] brilliant guy and there’s no reason not to suspect that Wes knows what you know about this archetype… There’s also an East Indian deity that has a claw hand [and] there’s a famous English fairy tale that Jonathan Rhys Meyers did a BBC film of that’s got a little bit of Freddy to it, so there’s no reason to suspect that Wes didn’t exploit that when he described it [in the script].”
Englund went on to recount the true life origin story of the design of Freddy Krueger, a tale that fans might be more familiar with. “Wes also has an incredible memory as a child of being home alone with his brother, and getting ready for bed and looking out the window and seeing what used to be called a ‘hobo’ or a ‘bum,’ perhaps a homeless man, on the street below, lit by a street light, catching his eye and the man had grime on his face. It could have been a burn, but it was probably grime, and the man had a hat on, a fedora, and the man had an old sweater on and so some of that comes from a real organic experience that Wes had.” He continued, remembering his friend fondly, concluding by saying, “I think that Wes was using all of that. I think he’s too smart and too much of an intellectual and an academic and I say that in the best sense of the word, not to have known that and not to have exploited that a little bit.”
The “Rip Your Heart Out Valentine’s Day Marathon” is currently airing on the El Rey network. Want to tune in 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, Gravitas Ventures