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Robert Englund Interview
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Robert Englund is one of the legends of modern horror. The name "Freddy Krueger" is all the introduction he really needs, but his contributions to the genre extend far beyond that, not only as an actor, but as an enthusiast. We caught up with him at San Diego Comic-Con International while he was promoting Adam Green's upcoming slasher film Hatchet, in which he has a small role.
Classic-Horror: Tell me a bit about your role in Hatchet.
Robert Englund: Well, I’m kind of like a combination of a red herring and a fake-out, because in the opening of the film, in the teaser, it’s so obviously (redneck accent) backwoods bayou “Swamp Thing” environs. We want the audience to think at that point… Because Adam has favored all the camera angles around the water and the mist, that maybe it’s a giant alligator movie, maybe it’s gonna be a new take on a killer alligator film.
C-H: Like Eaten Alive?
Englund: Not like Eaten Alive, more like Anaconda. Maybe that’s what you think is coming. A kind of Loch Ness swamp movie. Then you see me and you see the gentleman from Blair Witch [Joshua Leonard]. Now you know you’re in genre territory. We want to kind of fake you out for the first couple of kills, which are not coming from beneath the water. The idea is that’s what we’re trying to do. Cause we’re like “gator baiters.” So that’s why I’m in there. It’s just to get that audience going, because in a great horror movie, you’ve gotta have some character development and you’ve gotta set some of your people up and you’ve gotta have a little back story going. You’ve gotta take that time for exposition. If you don’t invest in the characters, you don’t care if they get killed. It’s more fun if you know them. So by getting the audience’s blood rushing with me in the beginning, I think the audience is willing to spend a little time with the exposition to set them up for the incredible relentless pace that Adam comes through with Victor Crowley [the killer in the film] terrorizing everybody. So I think that’s sort of what my purpose is in the script.
C-H: To sort of set them up a little, but do a misdirect?
Englund: Yeah, a little bit of a misdirect – that’s the perfect word that I was looking for – a little red herring. Maybe I’ve done something wrong. Maybe because I’ve killed so many alligators, I’m responsible for this. You know, like the one that got away, the big one, the catfish nobody can catch. Maybe that’s what we’re – maybe we’re watching that kind of a movie, so it really pulls the rug out from under the audience.C-H: What was Adam Green like to work with?
Englund: You know it’s strange, I did a little check Adam, before I worked with him. I wanted to work with Tony Todd and Kane [Hodder] again, love both those guys. I knew it was a possible franchise for Kane and I was happy for Kane. I asked Eli Roth and a couple other people. They knew that Adam was this hot young director coming up, y’know, and really a force to be reckoned with. So that really sealed the deal for me. And I showed up on this set, and I gotta tell you, it was great. It was… the art direction, the Spanish Moss, the mist, the lighting, the fog. I just knew I was in good hands the moment I stepped out of my car, could just tell we were on to something. Of course, then I saw Kane, poor Kane getting his makeup on, and I saw that back prosthetic, you know, his spine is sticking out all down his back. And it was like, “Oh-oh, here we go.” Kane was in full prosthetic makeup from the top of his head to his asshole. And I knew he was going through some s**t, because he was also coordinating [stunts] and playing his father in it, too. He’s really playing triple duty. But I saw the makeup and it was great. My original thought was that there was a slight echo to the great Charles Laughton makeup from Hunchback of Notre Dame. You know, I saw a bit of an echo to that.C-H: That’s what I was thinking when I saw that clip…
Englund: Which is a nice collective subconscious, because we’ve all seen that at some point or another. In a still, or a website, or in a coffee table book, and it’s nice to echo to that, to recall that little bit.
C-H: You feature in both Hatchet and Behind the Mask, which both take nostalgic approaches to the genre but in slightly different ways.
Englund: I think [Hatchet is] really a horror film in the old-school slasher way, but reprocessed through everything we know since those. Whereas Behind the Mask is a deconstructed, almost intellectual horror film, that eventually devolves into a full-on slasher movie and delivers the goods. But it has this strange Blair Witch, docudrama aspect of -- it tells you what it’s going to do and then dares you to see how smart it is, going to pull the rug out from under you and change the rules. And scare you as well.
C-H: It does everything it promises to do, but then it does it in a way you didn’t expect.
Englund: But then it also has this great kind of fun academic argument about the nature of the serial killer in the slasher film. It’s sort of like, in a consolidated way, the old serial killer is telling the young one, “Oh you kids today, it’s so much easier. When I was a boy, we had to walk in the snow 20 miles before we pulled our machete out and decapitated the entire fifth grade.” And that’s Scott Wilson’s character. I’m exaggerating it and making a caricature of it, but there’s a wonderful use of that, which takes you, makes you laugh and entertains you, and makes you wonder and makes you also contemplate the fact of -- What if? Could they be? Are there fans that are that obsessed? Is this preoccupation dangerous? Is it wrong to make rock stars out of serial killers? Or is, in fact, this just a twisted boy and we’re going to get stuck. I mean, I remember seeing at a film festival in Europe, a midnight screening of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. And I had no idea what I was in for, where John McNaughton co-opted the docudrama style of TV movies on the chick channel. “Oh, my wife’s having breast cancer, but she’ll be cured in the next 90 minutes.” “Oh, my son has AIDS but everything will be okay in the next 90 minutes.” That sort of the disease-of-the-week mentality, using this great form called the docudrama. Steadicam handheld, rough, lot of low stock. I love how Scotty Glosserman returned it and John McNaughton returned it, y’know, to its rightful place. You can also use it in a fictional narrative and a stylized narrative.
C-H: There was such strong critical reception for both Hatchet and Behind the Mask and they both obviously play with our notions of the slasher genre a bit. Do you think there might be a revival coming with these two films?
Englund: I don’t think there’s a revival. I think that if there was any backlash, there was a bit of a backlash in the last months here towards the extremely violent, y’know… Saw, Hostel, Captivity. The controversy with the [Captivity] billboard, y’know, in L.A., etc. I actually have friends in those movies, and actors I love like Tobin Bell, and have always liked. And friends, late friends, that were producers of the original Saw. And Eli Roth is, I consider, a friend. And I like those films. And I understand, if you look at them as you look at music, what they are, whether they’re techno-punk, or whether they’re garage punk, or whether they’re extreme industrial rock of horror. And probably a reaction to the misuse of technology with some rather bloated films in the late 90s, early millennial that didn’t deliver the goods that we wanted to, that we all showed up to with our 10 bucks. I’m not talking about everything now, but there were some films that were disappointing, where they neglected story and casting and character development and scares for just the technology. So you see why these reactions happen; you can see how they happen in popular music; you can see how they happen in film. I think that what’s happened is that there’s been a rediscovery of some good old-school films and a realization that there’s always a place for them. We don’t have to outgrow them with the new technology and we can do them with it and we can do them without it. We shouldn’t always have the demands made on us to do it. It’s like, Victor Crowley doesn’t need to fly and morph 100 times, it’s just enough that he catches you… And you can look at it detached, you can laugh at it at times, it’s perfectly alright, it’s built into the form to laugh at it and with it.C-H: You’ve gotta have that release.
Englund: There also contrived comedy and there’s also accidental, but it’s still part of it. We always do that, it’s the organic nervous laughter.
C-H: One thing you said in the [Hatchet] panel that I found really interesting is that you’re still scared by horror films, do you think that’s important? Is the ability to become afraid by horror films, is that important to creating fear in audiences?
Englund: I think if there’s not something that’s creepy or scary – and I’m not just talking about the “ew, gross” factor, I’m talking about really creepy. I remember, and I still talk about, Lucky McKee’s film May. It’s sad and creepy and strange and sexy and titillating and ultimately horrifically sad, because there’s something about the fact that she’s been sitting in that rental, stitching together this big doll out of the body parts of everybody we’ve met in the movie, and that it’s taken her some time, and that that’s her hobby, and it’s all the result of having a lazy eye and having a bitch of a mother. And it really did freak me out, just like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, which is an exercise in style in the serial killer movie, but really did freak me out. And then there’s some sequences – I remember the sequence in Children of Men where they shoot – and I’d love to talk to [director Alfonso] Cuarón and ask him if he ever covered the scene where Michael Caine gets his fingers shot off. I’d like to know if he ever shot it up-close or if he always shot it up on the hill, from Clive Owen’s point of view, like it is in the movie, because it’s so wonderful to be detached like that. It’s even more horrific and it really freaked me out that he was getting killed a finger at a time.
Classic-Horror would like to thank Mr. Englund for taking the time to speak with us. Look for him in Hatchet, which opens in all major cities on September 7th, 2007.