Since 1984, Robert Englund has made a good living off his continued roles as deformed serial killer and dream demon, Freddy Krueger. In fact, Krueger and his infamous claw glove have become a permanent symbol of the American horror movie, along with, of course, the hockey mask of Jason Voorhees and the blades of Michael Myers. In Freddy Vs. Jason, Englund reprises his role as Freddy to confront Jason Voorhees himself in a winner-kills-all brawl. I recently braved an interview with Englund on behalf of Freddy Vs. Jason. And even though he has haunted my nightmares for years as Krueger, surprisingly, Englund turned out to be a pretty cool guy in person.
Q: When A Nightmare on Elm Street came out back in 1984, did you ever see it becoming as successful as it has been?
A: Toward the end of the movie, we knew we were making a good little monster movie. But I don’t think any of us realized it was going to be a phenomenon, and none of us certainly thought it was going to be around this long and touch this international horror in people. Now that I look back, I realize we were a little naïve because the idea of the bad dream-and of somebody being a dream demon and knowing your most private thoughts and fears and exploiting them — is such a great hook and so universal in its concept what we probably should have realized we were onto something. The horror movie, like the action movie, is very international in its appeal. It’s not culturally specific like a Jay Leno joke. It translates. It travels well internationally. And the Nightmare on Elm Street movies travel even better because the hook is the bad dream, which everybody in the world has.
Q: When you found out they were making a Freddy Vs. Jason, what was your first reaction?
A: Well, I didn’t want it to be ludicrous. I didn’t want it to be Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The fans have been talking about this since 1984-that great classic male adolescent ‘what if,’ what if Freddy and Jason went head to head? It’s sort of what fans do with too much time on their hands. So, I’ve been hearing this from the fans since 1984, but I really only thought that we were going to do it seriously since 1999. But I thought we were going to do it in the year 2000, kind of a millennium fun movie, a Freddy Vs. Jason 2000. Then I think we got into some difficulties with the script, and then we went through a couple of directors. Finally, they were happy with Ronny Yu, so the green light was on again, and we made it last September.
Q: What kinds of things were you looking for in the script?
A: Well, I don’t really have that much power. I don’t want you to think the people at New Line Cinema are sitting around, waiting for Robert Englund’s script approval. But the one thing I kept saying, both to the media and to anyone who would listen at New Line, was that I really wanted there to be a Jason nightmare — a Jason dream sequence. I thought it was imperative that we went inside Jason’s twisted mind and see what made his mind demented. And they did that. Not only did the writers do a great Jason nightmare sequence where Freddy got in there and really saw what makes this guy tick, but it also served as a great excuse to do exposition and a backstory on the Friday the 13th films and on Jason himself.
Q: What goes into a scary performance, and why do you think Freddy has achieved what he has in the horror movie industry?
A: With the movie itself, it’s the nightmare, and it’s the bad dreams — everybody can identify with that. With Freddy specifically, I think it’s that he’s the first horror monster villain with a personality. I mean, Dracula has one, and there are a couple of others, but Freddy really has a personality. Also, for the first couple of Freddy movies, there was no hype or press junkets. The first fans were heavy metal/punk rock kids, and they discovered this little movie called A Nightmare on Elm Street, and they made it their own. As they say, it wasn’t you parents’ horror movie. And I think there’s certain nostalgia in discovering it and calling it their own. It wasn’t jammed down their throats and hyped to them. Even though we do a lot of publicity and attendance merchandising now for the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, originally its roots were discovered by word of mouth. There’s a certain memory a certain generational fan base that remembers that. With Freddy, he’s on a mission-he’s on a mission from hell. He’s got this agenda, and he’s got to do it, and he’s not apologizing, he enjoys his work. I think the fans like that. So, I think it’s a combination of a great hook, and a great glove a great claw.
Q: Do you scare anyone outside of the Freddy costume?
A: (Laughs) When I first started, I’d go out to lunch with the makeup, or I’d roll the window down and scare people in the car. But I have to be careful with that because you can really scare people. My agent had me over for a barbecue once, and I wore the makeup because it was really close to where I was working. And I saw a bunch of girls there, and I just stood up outside a kitchen window, and the patio light was underneath me, and these poor girls, I scared them to death.
Q: What about the makeup? I imagine it’s just an excruciating process.
A: Well, it’s not that bad. The technology is great and the latex breathes, it has pores. But what happened to me on Freddy Vs. Jason was, because I’m on Jason’s turf a lot, which is Camp Crystal Lake out in the water they had to double and triple glue me — they didn’t want me to leak while I was doing the water stuff. They used so much glue for the first two weeks that when they would clean me up at the end of the day, it took longer to get off. So they really rubbed me raw the first two weeks. For the rest of the movie, every time they were putting the glue on, they were putting it on already damaged skin. So it was a tough shoot.
Q: Do you have any favorite scary movies yourself?
A: I’m glad you asked that question, because I have a great new one called May. I just think it’s terrific. It’s smart, it’s sexy, it’s scary, it’s gory, and it has everything in it that a good, true horror movie should have. It’s just a really good, nasty film. I also liked The Devil’s Backbone. The Spanish film — the original Vanilla Sky — Open Your Eyes. And I also love the English film that was out last year; it should be on DVD and video by now, called Dog Soldiers, which is a wonderful, imaginative film, and great writing, too. And then oldies – I love Brian de Palma’s early movie, Sisters. An unedited version of that is certainly worth a look.
Q: Where do you think the Freddy and Jason series fit in with the whole horror movie pop culture?
A: What we have going here is an echo. This is nothing new. I think we are referring back to a simpler, more fun time. It goes all the way back to Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, and back to those great classic comic books from the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s that combined superheroes, and combined super villains. We’re flashing back and revisiting those and using all the special effects and techniques that we have. And also having fun with popular culture.
Q: Now for the inevitable, most frequently asked question. Is this the final Freddy Krueger film?
A: I don’t know whether New Line did this movie because everybody’s been asking about it since 1984, or whether they’re trying to rejuvenate the separate franchises: the Friday the 13th films and the Nightmare on Elm Street films. I don’t see us fighting again — maybe we will. I don’t know if it’s going to stand alone or not. The only rumor — and believe me, it’s only a rumor — I’ve heard, is that there may be a prequel to the original A Nightmare on Elm Street.