Role Recall: Robert Englund on Making Nightmares Come True in 8 'Elm Street' Movies

Killers come and killers go, but there’s never been a horror movie villain like Freddy Krueger, and there’s never been a horror movie star like Robert Englund. Buried under layers of gnarly makeup, Englund’s terrifying tenure as Krueger lasted for eight Nightmare on Elm Street movies over a span of 20 years. He’s made a special killing each time with his dark charisma, guttural voice, and the deliciously twisted sense of humor he brought to the teen tormenter.

Prior to landing the Krueger role, Englund, a classically trained actor, appeared in films like Stay Hungry (1976) with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Big Wednesday (1978) with Jan-Michael Vincent. He also had a major role in the popular, but short-lived 1980s sci-fi series V, which debuted two weeks before the first Elm Street movie hit theaters on Nov. 9, 1984. These days, Englund keeps busy with regular appearances at fan conventions, and his newest fright fest, The Last Showing (now on VOD), in which he plays a projectionist who loses his job because of digital technology and takes his revenge by terrorizing a pair of moviegoers.

Still, the actor is well aware that what his fans clamor for most are tales from his turns terrorizing real-life moviegoers as Freddy Krueger. In celebration of the upcoming 30th anniversary of the first Nightmare movie, we visited Englund at his Orange County, CA home to hear all about his residency on Elm Street. (Watch the interview in two parts, above and below).

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Englund admits that at first, he wasn’t sure the Wes Craven-directed movie was the right career move for him, and he didn’t fully know how he’d portray Freddy’s sinister motivations. Then one day, he was sitting in makeup when his young co-stars Heather Langenkamp and Johnny Depp (in his movie debut) entered the room for their minor touchups. “I remember being very envious of Johnny and Heather, their beauty, their youth, they had their whole careers ahead of them,” he says. “I [thought], ‘Hey I can use that. That’s a trick I can use for Freddy.… That can be my little synapse in why I resent them.” It certainly worked: Nightmare was an instant hit at the box office.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
Internet rumors commonly state that Nightmare 2 went into production with a different actor playing Freddy Krueger because Englund was holding out over a contract dispute. That’s simply not true, according to the actor: “They doubled somebody in shower sequences, and there were some still photographers on set,” he says. “I think that’s where the rumor came from that I was the big holdout on Part 2.”

He also discusses the movie’s much-dissected homoerotic undertones. “Part 2 has a really interesting bisexual, psychological thing going for it. We didn’t hit it over the head with a nail. But it was certainly there.… Not completely unlike the volleyball game in Top Gun.”

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
A young Laurence Fishburne and Patricia Arquette were among Freddy’s targets in the third installment, and it’s the Boyhood star who stirs Englund’s most vivid memory from the production. He describes a warehouse set in downtown Los Angeles (standing in for the infamous boiler room) involving Langenkamp, Arquette, and himself. The pools of dyed water and actual wet paint on the floor did not jive well under the intense lighting. “All these fumes are rising with the heat, and I think Heather and Patricia came within seconds of both blacking out and falling three stories down onto this set.”

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
Freddy Mania was in full effect by the time Part 4  — which features the classic Roach Motel sequence — hit theaters in August 1988. The series had become a cultural phenomenon, spawning spin-off merchandise like dolls, bubble gum, and board games. Part 4 would become the highest-grossing horror movie of the decade, and Englund says it’s the best work he’s done as Krueger. “It’s not my favorite film in the franchise, but it’s certainly my favorite performance.”

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)
Listen to Englund talk about the famous M.C. Escher-inspired asylum scene (where he would appear sans Freddy makeup) and you might think he’s describing a scene from Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, not a Nightmare on Elm Street movie: “It was really kind of living theater, that whole sequence,” he says. “We’re all in there just making it in there, and the camera’s just in there picking up shots.”

Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)
Englund admits that that Part 6 (which of course was not ultimately The Final Nightmare) was intended to go pretty far over-the-top, and “we thought that was going to be a way to end the franchise.” The actor says the hearing-impaired character Carlos (Ricky Dean Logan) remains one of his favorite kills. “Freddy’s an equal opportunity killer — that’s fun and fair, and as politically incorrect as it is, I think it’s also right.”

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
Part 7 is filmed docu-style and follows Freddy into the real world to stalk those who’ve worked on movies about him. “It is, to this day, my favorite of the franchise,” Englund says. “It is not only meta, deconstructed horror at its best — it looks great. It still holds up…. It’s one of the few Nightmares that you can watch over and over and over again.”

Freddy Vs. Jason (2003)
Englund would put on the glove and fedora one last time to clash with Jason Voorhees (Ken Kirzinger) in this much-anticipated monster mashup. He says there was nothing bittersweet about his last day on set in Canada as the character he’d become so famous for: “That last day, I was dog meat. I was whipped. I was beat,” he says. “I was quite happy to take that makeup off for the last time and head into Vancouver to my favorite oyster bar to tie one on.”