Synopsis: Robert Englund, a classically trained actor and director, has become one of our generation’s most revolutionary horror icons. This unique and intimate portrait captures the man behind the glove.
Stars: Robert Englund, Lance Henriksen, Lin Shaye, Tony Todd, Bill Moseley, Eli Roth, Heather Langenkamp, Monica Keena, Miko Hughes, Amanda Wyss, Dennis Christopher, Tammy Lauren, Jill Schoelen, Andrew Divoff, Kane Hodder, Kelly Jo Minter, Mick Garris, Adam Green, Tuesday Knight, Dwight H. Little, Gary Sherman, Jeffrey Reddick, Kenneth Johnson, Nathan Baesel, Corey Taylor
Director: Gary Smart & Chris Griffiths
Running Length: 120 minutes
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: Certain names in the horror genre become synonymous with a singular character. Merely mentioning Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Brad Douriff, Jamie Lee Curtis, Doug Bradley, Christopher Lee, Neve Campbell, Tony Todd, or Peter Cushing will likely conjure up an image of their iconic contributions to the fight flicks that have kept audiences up at night over the decades. One name is missing from this list, and it’s one of the most recognizable and beloved of them all: Robert Englund.
The actor who brought scarred dream killer Freddy Krueger to life in eight Nightmare on Elm Street films and over fifty other appearances in separate movies and television programs has amassed a bevy of additional credits in his six-decade career. Yet his freaky villain remains his calling card and most known-for work. In a new documentary, Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares: The Robert Englund Story, directors Gary Smart and Chris Griffiths crack open Englund’s history, going above and beyond to show new shades of the classically trained, well-respected actor behind the prosthetic make-up.
Before making his film debut in 1974’s Buster and Billie, Englund had already spent much time exploring a full range of characters on stages nationwide. Playing summer stock and professional theaters in traveling troupes allowed the actor without the typical leading man looks to get experience creating different personas from the ground up. As he began to get minor roles in grindhouse films and more familiarity in the movie industry, Englund proved to be a dedicated professional that impressed his co-stars and important figures within studios, many of whom would go on to their own celebrated careers.
Movies like 1978’s Big Wednesday showed solid dramatic chops, but it was his ability to turn small supporting/cameo roles in weekly television series (or movies like 1981’s Dead & Buried) that were early indicators of Englund’s talent for standing out in a crowd. Securing a pivotal role in the landmark 1983 miniseries V was his first solid step on the ladder to mainstream success, and it was also what led him to an audition for Wes Craven’s tiny horror film A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984. That film and its numerous sequels would keep Englund busy (and wealthy) for a decade, allowing him to play Freddy almost yearly while making various other genre offerings that capitalized on his Nightmare on Elm Street success.
With his Freddy days behind him, Englund has taken a page from the horror actors of the past and became a valued salt-of-the-earth performer, appearing in films from major studios and established directors down to low-budget productions with first-time filmmakers. This provided breathing room for the actor to continue to work and offer his unique presence while sharing his bounty of history within the business. Not every project is top-tier, but no one expected much from A Nightmare on Elm Street when it was in production either.
As a documentary on Englund’s life and career, Smart & Griffiths’s movie is standard and straightforward as an examination of the trajectory of how Englund has gotten to where he is now. Interviews with family, friends, and co-workers offer the expected insights and platitudes without much conflict, and the star himself is shown at length to be a gregarious and friendly subject. There is a strange edge to the film at times, though, where it can feel like it’s out to prove that Englund has somehow been overlooked or undervalued throughout his career, and that starts to become more evident as things progress.
Coming in at a solid two hours, there is room for the doc to be cut down, and it wanders around a bit early on, delaying as much as possible before getting to the Freddy of it all. That’s understandable, in a way. Most audiences will likely be tuning in to get tidbits on A Nightmare on Elm Street, and there’s a palpable impression that those involved want to keep a balance between Freddy and the rest of Englund’s career. I enjoyed learning about Englund’s early life on the stage quite a bit, but even I thought it started to drag as 1984 on the timeline drew closer.
Every horror icon deserves their day in the sun, or the full moon if you will, and I’m glad we now have a complete picture of Robert Englund’s life before, during, and after Freddy. Fans will find joy in Englund’s recollections of making A Nightmare on Elm Street and its sequels and will likely spark to other discoveries found in Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares: The Robert Englund Story.
HOLLYWOOD DREAMS & NIGHTMARES: THE ROBERT ENGLUND STORY
will be On Screambox and Digital on June 6, 2023.