You mention the name Robert Englund and people might find it familiar. You mention Freddy Kreuger, however and instantly, the image of the severely burned, striped jumper favouring serial killer pops into your head. In town for Oz Comic Con, the legendary horror actor sits down to talk about his popular appearance at fan conventions around the globe and the longevity the Nightmare on Elm Street films continue to successfully prove.
“What happened is a happy accident of events,” he explains of the franchise’s success and his now iconic role in it all. “The first being Wes Craven‘s great gimmick of the nightmare. Now, the nightmare’s been exploited in movies before, but mostly in MGM musicals and in film noir – very rarely in horror, if at all. To use that surreal landscape of the mind as a place to place the horror movie was a great, great idea. What else? It’s universal. Every culture has the nightmare and they deal with it differently. In fact, the original idea Wes had, part of his inspiration were Cambodian immigrants and refugees being put up by very kind religious people in the Mid-West of America, but they were making some mistakes. They’d left their humid, sticky, green, wonderful environment and their diet, their ‘Siam’, their Thailand, and they had come to flat, dry, prairie America and they were staying with baptists. They had this celebration like the Balinese, the Cambodians would wake up from a nightmare and write it down or paint it, or turn it into song lyrics or a tune, or a poem. They were unable to do that, so disorientated they were in the American Mid-West, they started dying in their sleep. So that inspired Wes, but that’s also a reason why these movies live forever, because every culture, even cultures that are catching up a bit with Western culture, they’re discovering it’s a universal thing.”
“Horror movies and fantasy movies, even some science fiction movies, speak the language of cinema and the language of film. They translate much better to other cultures. You can drop me and one of the big talk show hosts from America at a fountain in Paris or Italy and no one knows who they are, everyone know who I am. My movies speak to a younger generation and to a generation that’s now, as they’ve gotten older, embraced them as a memory.”
With the franchise celebrating 30th years of scaring the shit out of horror movie fans in 2014, as Englund notes, there are always new waves of Nightmare… fans being introduced to the films with every re-release, each remake and each anniversary-driven promotional release. But what is it about these movies and horror as a genre in modern cinema, that keeps people coming back?
“The other great happy accident of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies,” he says. “Is that they came of age right with the emerging technologies. For my fans, it was the first time anyone could discover the movie, rent the movie on video, then rent the movie on DVD, then see the movie on primitive cable TV, then see the movie on phenomenal cable TV, then stream it, then Netflix it, then download it. I’m onto my third generation of fans now! If you take a 12 year old boy who is having a sleepover with his mates at his step-father’s house – Dad doesn’t care what they watch – they go into the man cave and there’s a 50” Samsung on the wall and the have a box set, Blu-Ray, digitally remastered DVD kit of the entire franchise…if those boys pop of parts three and four, or they pop on part seven: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, or they pop on Freddy vs. Jason, it looks better now in that dark man cave with that cold pizza on the coffee table, than it did when you saw them all in cinema. This is another reason why it’s become a generational event, as well as the name ‘Freddy Krueger’ now. People could say, ‘Oh it’s a nightmare on Gouger Street’ or they could say, ‘It’s a nightmare playing the All Blacks’ or, ‘There was a pretty sketchy guy in that alley, he looked like Freddy Krueger’. I’m part of the lexicon now, I’ve seen cartoons, I’ve seen talk show hosts all over the world reference Freddy Krueger and it’s that happy accident, along with the technologies, along with Wes Craven’s great gimmick, have made this a classic for the ages.”
A meeting of two icons: Freddy vs. Jason.
“It’s also a great empowering thing.” Englund adds, noting the prominence of the strong female characters that have become so important within the genre, especially in the last 20 or so years. “I only know this with hindsight, this is not me being terribly wise, but I think these movies opened the door for the ‘fangirl’. I think we’re really the movie that opened the door for the fangirl back in 1984, because a lot of girlfriends were dragged to see that movie with the hope that they would be scared, jump in their boyfriend’s laps and somebody was going to get laid. A lot of kids’ sisters were dragged in to watch that after mum and dad had gone to sleep, with the hope that they would be terrified.”
“At some point with young girls, the hands dropped and they realised this movie was about them. It’s about a strong female. Every single one of them, I’m bested by a girl. Every single one of those movies. That’s a very important thing and it harkens all the way back to the female warrior in Mulan and Japanese literature, it’s a very important thing and Wes was always intentionally doing that. He was also exploiting the suburban malaise and the absent parent in suburban America that now, as we know, everything that happens in California happens everywhere else in the world. It’s not because we’re bad, we’re just ahead of the curve a bit. It happens everywhere. Whether it’s divorce, whether it’s single parenting, whether it’s alcoholism or whether it’s a bastard step-father. Wes used to call Freddy Krueger ‘The Bastard Step-Father of Us All’.”
Of course, it’s not Englund’s first time in Australia for this type of event and as we chat, he notes how busy his calendar currently is with upcoming appearances and more films still in the works. Reflecting on his earlier days on the fan convention circuit, Englund tells us about his favourite parts of the events and how this Adelaide trip has treated him so far.
“I began doing the conventions seriously after the great success of Freddy vs. Jason back in 2004.” he remembers. “Before that, I probably did one or two…I love doing film festivals and I love doing film jury work, it’s fun with Christopher Lee and Sam Raimi and people like that. The great thing I love about the cons and I was a little disappointed with this in Perth, not by the organisation or how busy it was or with the fans, but I’ve seen these Indonesian movie posters of some of my films. I’m not even talking about the Nightmare on Elm Street movies so much as one of my directing jobs; I saw this great poster on the internet and so I’ve been trying to track them down. I thought of Perth and I looked at the map and Malaysia and Indonesia are right there and that’s where these posters are from, so I thought they may have trickled down a little bit with collectors and stuff. I did see some really cool memorabilia in Perth from my movies and TV and every once in a while, someone will track something down. Somebody had, and now I’m going to date myself, somebody actually had a photoshopped download – beautifully rendered – of me and Jamie Lee Curtis on an episode of Nancy Drew Mysteries! I’m playing a biker and she’s on the back of my motorcycle and it was funny! It was great and I’d completely forgotten I’d even done that show. That was really fun to see. It’s also fun to see the packaging on some of the action figures and stuff in Australia, because there are different images from the movies and that’s always fun to see.”
“In Perth, I didn’t get much time in the town, but my wife did though. She had a really good time but she’s really been getting out here and I’ve been eating my way across Adelaide! I’m experiencing the restaurants! I’ve been to North Adelaide and down Gouger Street to three or four places. We’re in love with Concubine, that place was terrific. We went down to the beach and found a place called Sammy’s, which was wonderful. We had the two hour lunch and watched the dolphins and it was great. There was a girls’ afternoon out group next to us, so we didn’t feel bad about having a couple of extra drinks! We explored the little beach town down there, Glenelg, which was fun.”
As for where fans can be seeing Englund next, he reveals that a return to television projects is on the cards for 2016, but as to be expected, the US actor is on the road constantly attending events where he’s meeting the fans who’ve remained devoted to the films and genres for so many years.
“I’m still on the road a bit promoting Last Showing, my new movie with Finn Jones and Fear Clinic.” he says. “I just finished a movie and I’m going to have to go back and do ADR on that, it’s called Fun House. I think I have a break from personal appearances and I think I’ve got some time, I hope it’s not more than 10 or 12 days, to go to Istanbul.”
“I was supposed to do a film there last year and I couldn’t clear my schedule, it was like a kind of Exorcist film and I was supposed to play an old priest. Now, they want me to play a professor who is an expert…if you remember the opening of The Exorcist, it’s set in Iraq and it’s Max von Sydow in the desert of Iraq; he’s an archaeologist and he’s in a dig and he’s uncovering some Babylonian culture, of satanic figurines. I love it, because it’s more exotic than the Western ‘devil’ and the Western concept of evil. It’s really interesting, what this film’s about. The director is very talented and gifted; he writes in Turkish, so it has to be translated and he writes like a scroll, but he puts images all over it to keep you in his head and on the same page. On the last script, the images were magnificent, things I’d never seen before that he’d researched. I’m anxious to get back and look at that, because it’s got to be yay or nay from me, because I’m so busy this year.”
Oz Comic Con is being held down at the Royal Adelaide Showgrounds this weekend, April 18th & 19th. For further event and ticketing information, head to www.ozcomiccon.com.