Hey folks, Harry here with the beginning of a great interview that Capone did with Robert Englund. If you ever get a chance to check out the Henry Fonda film mentioned below, do so... absolutely wonderful... it has some very bizarre characters in it! I very much look forward to the rest of this interview. ALSO - Coming very soon expect details on the special AICN / Alamo Drafthouse / Rolling Roadshow Outdoor FREDDY VS JASON screening we'll be doing later in the summer and it looks like we're getting both Freddy and Jason for that screening... Details are still coming together, but man... out in the woods - with Freddy Krueger and Jason Vorhees! What horror fan wouldn't be up for that? Well, unless you're chicken...
Hey, Harry. Capone in Chicago here. I don’t do too many interviews as AICN’s Windy City representative, but when circumstances made it possible to speak to Robert Englund recently I jumped at the chance. I wanted to accomplish two things with this conversation: to promote Robert’s upcoming appearance at the Chicago-area Flashback Weekend Horror and Sci-fi Convention, June 13-15. (Go to FlashBackWeekEnd.Com for details.), and to have Robert go step-by-step through his career and life as a horror film icon. (Number 40 on the recent AFI’s 50 Best Villains list, anyone?)
When I interviewed Robert about two weeks, he had just received word that he had to go do some blue screen reshoots for FREDDY VS. JASON. “We shot the movie in Vancouver,” he said. “We had a terrific effects and makeup crew up there; we shot next door to X-MEN 2, so I really don’t have any right complaining about how long it takes to put my makeup on. I was hoping we’d get the makeup people who did my work in Vancouver to come down to Hollywood to do these pick-up shots. We want to make sure the color and style of the makeup matches the footage we shot in the fall.”
Capone: Let me be one of the first to congratulate you on the AFI ranking, and you may not realize that Maxim magazine named Freddy Krueger the Sixth Best Movie Villain of all time.
Capone: Let me be one of the first to congratulate you on the AFI ranking, and you may not realize that Maxim magazine named Freddy Krueger the Sixth Best Movie Villain of all time.
Robert Englund: Thanks. Yeah, I sat down and talked to the AFI people for a while for the television special. Did you know that except for the actress that played Blondie in the Dagwood and Blondie films, I’ve actually a single actor who has done the most sequels playing the same character. More than anybody else.
Capone: Just for the record, Maxim referred to Freddy in the article as “the second scariest, one-gloved, child abuser with bad skin.”
R.E.: There is something to that glove thing, isn’t there? It transcends heavy metal, Michael Jackson, and Freddy Krueger. And without pointing any pointed fingers at anyone, there are a few characters in movie out right now with sharp claws. X-MEN 2 comes to mind, but I’ll see anything with Wolverine in it; I’m a big Hugh Jackman fan.
Capone: I think Wolverine predates Freddy by a few years.
R.E.: But not in films. There are quite a few characters in movies over the last 20 years or so that have borrowed the voice and even the claws of Freddy Krueger.
Capone: How would you rate yourself as a fan of the horror genre?
R.E.: As a child, I was a huge fan. I can remember getting to school early and having argument on the playground about the L.A. Dodgers and last night’s episode or “The Twilight Zone.” Or the Late Show on Friday nights. We’d come to school Monday morning to discuss the unedited, uncensored FRANKENSTEIN. In those days on television, nothing was censored because they needed to fill huge blocks of time. So you would see Frankenstein’s monster throw the little girl in the lake, or King Kong sniff his fingers after fondling Fay Wray. I remember some of the trash too: FORBIDDEN PLANET being way up there. We talked at length about the state-of-the-art special effects, especially that great monster from the Id that was sort of an animated outline of a giant sabretooth tiger. For kids back then, we had to see that movie three or four times just to figure out what that creature was.
I even liked the dark, low-rent stuff. I remember a nasty one called HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM (1959), which was sort of a litmus test for macho in the fourth grade. And one time, when I was about nine years old, I went to see a cowboy movie and a matinee for a birthday party with cartoons. At some point, the mother who dropped us off didn’t check to see that the matinee had changed at 3 p.m., so we watched Patty McCormack in THE BAD SEED (1956) take her tap shoes off and beat that little boy to death. It was that little moment of time as a child when you can relate to “adult scary” or psychological scary, and you would have never seen five more scared nine-year-old boys in your life and we all walked out with stained t-shirts from spilling our popcorn and ice cream. It totally freaked us out and took me off horror for a while, while raising the bar for me about starting to prefer psychological horror. At some point I became an overzealous snob about horror films, probably as a result of academic drama teachers and the fact that I studied acting in London. But eventually I got back into horror. I think it was the film ASYLUM (1972) or ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) that got me back to thinking about horror intellectually. I was a huge fan of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN and his remake of THE THING. I spent a lot of time after making NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET rediscovering a lot of great low-rent ‘70s and ‘80s stuff. A lot of that had escaped me when it was new and I wanted to be able to discuss those types of films with fans, films like TERROR TRAIN.
Capone: What I like best about just the idea of FREDDY VS. JASON is that it’s a return to pairing two great horror villains in one film. Universal in particular used to do that sort of thing all the time in the ‘30s and ‘40s.
R.E.: And I realize that we’re suffering from sequelitis this summer, but someone once put it into perspective for me that without sequels we would never have ALIENS, THE MATRIX RELOADED, some of the more interesting sequels to NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, which introduced some great directors like Stephen Hopkins, Renny Harlin, Chuck Russell. I’m something of a poster boy for sequels, obviously. But I fell in love with the character. And sometimes you make movies so you can make other movies, not just the sequels. And the ELM STREET movies and the TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES movies are essentially responsible for Fine Line Cinema, which along with Miramax basically invented the modern independent film. So the idea of FREDDY VS. JASON and the PREDATOR VS. ALIEN and possibly SUPERMAN VS. BATMAN is nothing new, as you said. It’s also been done and done and done in comic books forever. It’s great natural pop culture recipe soup mix that been done by great animators and illustrators and movie makers for the last 70 years. You sometimes have to remind the younger generation that this isn’t just a ploy by New Line or whoever to exploit their franchises; it’s a tried and true cultural phenomenon.
Capone: But it really hasn’t been done in film for a while.
R.E.: True, but there’s been a natural progression for a while. There’s a certain common popcorn element in the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET films and the FRIDAY THE 13TH movies, and New Line and Wes Craven are still able to keep the 14-year-old boy alive in some of us.
Capone: You mentioned your acting training earlier...
R.E.: I started acting way before that. I was in a professional children’s theatre in Southern California in the pre-1970 Golden Era, when we had the best public education system in the country. I remember every kid I went to school with carrying home a band or orchestra instrument. We took classes in lighting, scenery, drama in junior high school. I went to college in California, went briefly to London, and went back to the Royal Academy branch in Detroit with all English tutors and coaches all day. Across the street, there was a professional theatre company where I’d spend the evenings sweeping the stage or understudying or play small parts. By the time I was done, I was doing featured supporting roles in the company and touring and doing the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival and in Chicago professionally. It was a really great moment in time for me to gain my confidence; that was 1968 through 1972.
Capone: So it wasn’t too long after that that you came back to Hollywood, right?
R.E.: I remember in Detroit seeing a Roger Corman movie on T.V., right around the time Scorsese’s BOXCAR BERTHA. And it seemed like everybody I had known from my UCLA days was working behind the scenes with Roger Corman, and I really got jealous. That happened around the time when some bad theatre politics were going on, so I went back to California and moved back in with my parents. Shortly after that I got my own place right north of the Santa Monica pier on the beach, and I spent about six months just learning to love movies again, old movies, new movies. I got an agent and got an interview and got a starring role in a Daniel Petrie film [BUSTER AND BILLIE, 1974] and I haven’t stopped working since. I spent a lot of time shedding the trappings of theatrical acting and learning a new acting vocabulary in acting. I loved being a part of 1970s cinema.
Capone: You worked with Henry Fonda during that time...
R.E.: Yeah. I was typed in the early 1970s I played almost all Southerner roles. They were starring roles, so I wasn’t about to fight it. STAY HUNGRY (1976) with Arnold Schwartzenegger in his first role, some television work, and a film called THE LAST OF THE COWBOYS (1976), which was one of those trucker movies like CONVOY. This was actually sort of Henry Fonda’s answer film to John Wayne’s THE SHOOTIST. He was an aging trucker with a terminal disease doing one last run to pay off his truck to an old madam played by Eileen Brennan. It was an amazing cast: Melanie Mayron, a young newcomer named Susan Sanandon, Austin Pendleton. It was based on a Greek legend. I played a sort of white trash character. Ninety percent of my scenes were with Fonda, so it couldn’t have been a better experience.
He didn’t really like to talk about films that much, but when he found out I was a theatre actor, he began to share all of his Broadway stories. He told me stories about working with Bette Davis, Josh Logan in “Mr. Roberts,” Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau. These were the kind of stories you can only get with months of research, but I was sharing a trailer with Henry Fonda.
Capone: It was also around this time that you started up your relationship with Tobe Hooper.
R.E.: That was still in my redneck phase. The film I did with him was my first horror film. I walked on the sound stage and it was this magnificent set. It looked like Texas with tumbleweed and forced perspective with a windmill in the background and this old, rundown hotel with monkey skeletons and iguanas rattling around in cages. There was an old ‘67 El Dorado Cadillac with dust all over it. I thought, what a great world Tobe had created and I couldn’t wait to start it. We were working with Carolyn Jones, Stuart Whitman, Neville Brand, and a wonderful genre actor who’d working with Brian DePalma a lot, William Finley, one of the best mad scientist/crazed actors ever. What happened though, was that Tobe didn’t finish the film. I don’t know what happened, but they brought in the editor to direct the last couple of weeks on the film.
Capone: This was the movie that Tobe made right after TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Had you seen it when you made this film?
R.E.: I hadn’t, but I did shortly after we made this film.
Capone: What do you refer to that movie as? It has a lot of alternate titles.
R.E.: When I did it, it was called DEATH TRAP, and they had to change the title because of the Broadway play. I’ve seen it under three or four titles, and they’re all very lurid. I think EATEN ALIVE is one of them.
Capone: Let me read you the list: HORROR HOTEL, HORROR HOTEL MASSACRE, LEGEND OF THE BAYOU, MURDER ON THE BAYOU, and STARLIGHT SLAUGHTER.
R.E.: STARLIGHT SLAUGHTER! That’s my favorite. They all mesh together; you can see why.
Capone: What do you like about working with Tobe Hooper?
R.E.: I’ve worked with Tobe lots of times. Once you get through his cigarette smoke haze, there’s this genius there. And after with working with him, you quickly find out with the crew that’s been with him since POLTERGEIST, all of that gossip about whether he directed that film or not is ridiculous. Only Tobe Hooper would have the parents smoking marijuana. He’s really brilliant like Wes Craven. And they also manage to capture and appeal to the young adolescent male in all of us wonderfully, and take their point of view. He has the capacity to remember that sense of awe that we felt. He’s a master filmmaker. If you watch TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and put it in historical film perspective, how unrelenting it is, that’s probably one of the most ripped off films ever made. People steal entire sequences from that film; there are things that were coined in that film. I was teasing before about how many movies borrow from the Freddy character, but modern horror films owe such a debt to Tobe. That’s the nature of the game, but it’s strange how he never seems to get the credit. How he made the audience squirm and how he plays with time, is great.
Capone: I’m a big fan of THE MANGLER, based on the Stephen King short story.
R.E.: We were supposed to do THE MANGLER (1995) in Toronto with a lot of the Cronenberg people. It was always me and Tobe, but our producer was also producing a Michael Jackson post-apartheid concert in South Africa, which was then cancelled. So he had to go and pay off a lot of people in South Africa and we ended up picking up from Toronto and moving to South Africa, and we had to use South African actors. We still used me and Ted Levine, but the rest of the cast had to be recast. When you hear the dubbed American accents, it kind of removes you from the drama. I’m very pleased with what Ted and I did, and I really liked the Mangler, which Tobe designed.
Capone: And I’ve read that you’re cooking something up with Tobe currently?
R.E.: We have a thing that’s real back-burner. We have a really great script, but our title was stolen, and it was a million-dollar title, but it’s still around and Tobe is still a part of the package. We just need a new title.
Capone: The first time I remember seeing your face anywherewas in the mini-series “V.” That was really the first sci-fi mini-series that I can recall.
R.E.: That series completely raised the bar for special effects on American television. It was also one of first huge, imaginatively done television happenings. For months before it aired, there were billboards will fake graffiti on them with a big red “V” will the paint dripping. Certainly the recent Spielberg drama “Taken” borrows from “V” heavily, INDEPENDENCE DAY borrows images from it. Actually, NBC has called [original series creator] Kenneth Johnson to write another three to four hours of the series. I don’t think he’s going to tie up all the story lines because Ken left the show before it became a television series, he was just on the mini-series part of things. But he certainly may go back to that core concept of an occupied world, which was always an allusion to Nazi-occupied Europe, and play with that. I know he’s talked to me, Mark Singer, Faye Grant, so we’re hoping that’s something we can get going in the next year.
Capone: Wow! Are we talking a remake or a continuation of the storyline?
R.E.: I think he’ll pick a point in the original mini-series and go from there.
Capone: Now, in the year or so between the ”V” mini-series and the television series, you squeezed in the original NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. I’m assuming you had no idea it would take off the way it did...
R.E.: I was the kind of guy in 1981 that people would buy drinks for because they recognized me in bars, not as an actor necessarily. “Did we go to high school together? I saw you in the late show last night.” etc. But no one knew my name. “V” was my first major television role, and if the network decided to make it into a series, I was asked to do it. But I started getting a lot of fan mail from “V,” and the character really took off. We negotiated and I made peace with the idea of being a television actor. But I had this little slip of time in my hiatus, and the NIGHTMARE project came up. I only knew Wes Craven’s name because I had been hanging out in the punk/goth bar and they had rigged up a monitor playing looped footage of ERASERHEAD and THE HILLS HAVE EYES and LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. I’d never seen the films in their entirety, but I knew when I went to the interview that Wes had done those films and that he was a talented guy. I was expected more of a dark, goth guy, but here was this sort of preppy guy.
Capone: What did you draw on to create the Freddy Kreuger character?
R.E.: A lot of it was on the page, I have to be honest. I’d though a little bit about the costume. They were going to change the hat at one point, and I had to fight to keep the hat. One day, Wes and I were standing in front of a big box of hats, which they kept putting on me. I was in the Freddy makeup. I convinced them that the sort of Indiana Jones fedora was the way to go. I loved the idea of a silhouette with claws, the burned bald guy with this great hat. And I saw the value of the actual prop. How I could hide under it, how I could reveal my baldness, how to hide and reveal my eyes in light.
What I brought to the character was the body language, the attitude. I remember as a child these things called Bookmobiles. I was into science fiction for a while, and I’d get these lurid sci-fi paperbacks and pocketbooks that you could check out. And I remember in one of the revolving racks, they had “The Shadow,” and I remember that image of The Shadow with the big rimmed hat and melting look, and I used that in my head. The other thing I used was...I had just seen the Klaus Kinski version of NOSFERATU, and I remember getting some ideas about body language from his performance. Those are the main influences.
Capone: When the first ELM STREET film was released the slasher film genre born in the late 1970s and continuing through the early 1980s had essentially run its course and became repetitive and redundant.
R.E.: Wes wouldn’t let us use the word slasher on the set. A lot of the critics of the film missed the fact that what Freddy does is play mind games. If you’re afraid of bugs, he turns you into a cockroach; if you have hearing problems, he turns up the sound too loud. These are his tricks he plays; he knows your central proclivities, and he messes with that. The Freddy movies are much more imaginative that your run-of-the-mill slasher films. They’re stylistic and there’s a certain punk sensibility and humor to the films that really captured a bigger audience. The humor matched that of Sam Raimi’s first films. And there’s a subtext in the films as well, of lost innocence and Freddy violates a very private place in the adolescent. He’s a child killer, child molester and all that that entails on a symbolic level. He’s killing the future. There’s a lot of mythology, some of which teenagers watching the film may not even get, but on a subconscious level, they respond to that stuff. It’s all hidden. Freddy’s in the bedroom, Freddy’s in your underwear drawer, Freddy knows where you hide your condoms and what dirty magazines you have under your bed. He’s in your head, he’s a part of you.
I remember signing autographs with William Shatner in New York, and my line was as long as his. I was there promoting “V.” But my line has changed from sci-fi fans, who are very polite and kind to girls and guys in dog collars now, who want me to sign their chests. We were getting lots of heavy metal kids at first and then it expanded from there. It was very grass roots because New Line didn’t have two dimes to spend on advertising. There was no hype machine around the first two movies. It was totally word of mouth, very organic.
Capone: Even having the killer talk and have a personality was something different at the time.
R.E.: He was unapologetic, and he liked to take youth culture of the time and jam it down your goddamn throat. Kids are the first to love that. Those are the lines the kids love the best, the ones that turn on them and punish them for listening to The Go-Go's or The Knack. That’s their world, which they know eventually they will lose. The film was also one of the first to corrupt the adults. They weren’t just stupid and dumb like in a teen comedy. The mother was an alcoholic, for example, real problems. The sins of the fathers and mothers and how these sins destroy children, Freddy is the representation of all of that.
In Part 2, Rober Englund discusses working with the likes of Wes Craven, Chuck Russell, Renny Harlin, Lawrence Fishburne and Ronny Yu on FREDDY VS. JASON; about working and not working with Kane Hodder; and more on what he’s got coming up, including a remake of 2000 MANIACS.
One, Two Capone's Coming For You... Three, Four I'll split you open on the floor... Five, Six I like that Cafe Americain of ol Rick's.... Seven, Eight You and I ought to mate.... Nine, Ten You'll never shit right again!