Robert Englund is back dealing with nightmares again. It’s not a new Freddy movie, but it’s the feature film version of the web series Fear Clinic. In the movie, out on DVD and Blu-ray February 10, Englund plays a doctor trying to cure his patients’ phobias by creating hallucinations and having them confront their fears.
I got to speak with Englund by phone for Fear Clinic and it got off to a great start with him complimenting my name. We got into some great topics like the value of horror movies and the new opportunities for small movies to be seen, as well as comparing his Freddy Krueger performances, in addition to discussing Fear Clinic.
Robert Englund: Hi Fred, I like your name.
Nuke the Fridge: Thank you very much. Thanks to you I got a lot of Freddy Krueger growing up.
Robert Englund: Well, it’s a good, strong, Germanic name. I’ve just now been autographing the new coffee table book, Never Sleep Again, which is phenomenal. It’s even better than the documentary. Polaroids of Johnny Depp and his rockabilly band, pictures of Johnny Depp with my used Freddy Krueger makeup on in his letterman jacket. One of the things they have in there is a famous S.S. office named Frederich Kruger that Wes Craven had discovered after he named his villain that. Tracing the iconography of the name Freddy is really interesting. It was also the name of the bully that tormented Wes Craven in school.
Nuke: My name is actually short for Frederick with a K.
Robert Englund: Well, Wes’s love of the teutonic background on Frederick or Fred is also that it harkens to the Brothers Grimm and dark fairy tales. That’s very subliminal in all the Nightmare movies. When the kid’s laying out the sleeping pills in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, of course that’s the pieces of bread from Hansel and Gretel. It’s all hidden in there.
Nuke: Given your storied history in horror, could you really relate to Dr. Andover’s study of how to conquer our fears in Fear Clinic?
Robert Englund: Well, I just loved the hook and the gimmick of phobias. Nightmares is such a great thing to exploit, the dream sequence on film, which Wes came up with. When I read the Aaron Drane script and the modifications, we had to truncate it for those five minute segments of the web series. It was originally a movie script and then we went back and developed a new movie script based on this kind of Columbine incident. And I just loved this hook of the phobias because it lends itself not only to a franchise, but it’s so rich visually. It’s such a rich concept to exploit visually like the dream sequence, the idea of whatever the phobia is and how it manifests when somebody is forced to hallucinate it out of their system, whether it’s hydrophobia or fear of insects or darkness or heights or whatever their fear is. I was really attracted to that.
And as I get older, I’m playing a lot more scientists and professors and old con men. It was kind of nice to get into the mad scientist mold. I’ve done a couple of scientists on the Syfy channel and it was fun for me to approach it a little differently because in the film, Dr. Andover as the film begins, he’s really damaged goods. He’s not like he was in the web seres where even though he was under the radar, even though he was probably working without a medical license, he was still curing people or attempting to. But he’s sort of given it up and the question is will Andover rise to the occasion and help his prior clients, his previous patients? I love the fact that he’s all damaged goods, that he’s probably been living on cigarettes, coffee and scotch for the last six months, sitting around and letting his hair grow and doing isolation baths and experiments trying to clear his mind and figure out what went wrong and why he lost his patient Paige which apparently triggers his demise.
Nuke: And with no makeup too, right?
Robert Englund: Well, it’s always wonderful not to wear makeup but I did have to do some masks. I had to do some prosthetic masks to use on the manifestation of fear residue which manifests itself into this blackness. The residue of fear that manifests itself in the film literally takes my face off and puts it on itself as it goes after the various patients in the clinic. So I was in Robert Hall’s shop getting the straws up my nose and all of the stuff put on me again. Back in the saddle again.
Nuke: But it wasn’t the whole movie this time.
Robert Englund: No, no, no, and then it was already done. They brought in the great Steve Johnson who I’d worked with back on my Nightmare on Elm Street days and who did the Hellboy movies. Steve’s a legend. Steve came in as an aide de camp to Robert because Robert had to spend all his time directing and rewriting and working with actors. He just didn’t have enough time to spend with makeup although he had people from his shop there. Steve Johnson came in to work as his lieutenant along with Robert Kurtzman. I knew them and worked with both of them and I’m friends with both of them, so that was kind of a reunion and made it easier for me to face the glue again.
Nuke: As a horror fan, I spend a lot of time thinking about why we need horror movies. As a kid I enjoyed Freddy, related to him and wanted to see him kill some obnoxious kids, but now that I revisit those and other movies, I feel it’s about the person who’s strong enough to resist the evil at the end. It’s maybe not the one you think, like it’s not the ninja kung fu master or the wizard, it’s usually the shy girl who has the strength to defeat the evil. Do you think that’s part of the importance of horror movies?
Robert Englund: Oh yeah, I think there’s a kernel of that in all horror movies which is the survivor. The survivor boy, the survivor girl, which is the trope we call it here in Hollywood. It’s so important. It’s confronting evil. It’s confronting the dark. It’s confronting the subconscious. If you believe in good, and I do, you have to believe in evil. You have to believe in the converse of that and we know there is evil out in the world. I think also in the last 20-25 years or so, between political correctness and mothers naturally and well-meaningly wanting to protect their kids, we’ve put kids in too much of a bubble. There’s not any more child molesters or child killers or strangers offering candy on the street today than there was 50 years ago. There’s not more now, there’s just more people and we hear about it more because of the internet and the news, the 24 hour news cycle. So it’s made people more paranoid and more fearful of that. I think the horror movie is a place for us to exorcise that, to get that out of our system, to confront it. Whether we’re watching it on a flat screen or whether we’re watching it on our laptop or whether we’re all going to the Saturday matinee and sitting in the dark with our popcorn, it’s a place to sit in the dark and to kind of purge a little bit of that fear, to identify with that survivor girl up on the screen and alleviate a little bit of our own fears through the catharsis of watching the horror movie.
Nuke: Now, Anchor Bay is putting Fear Clinic out on DVD and Blu-ray. As someone who does a lot of indie horror movies, have you been gratified by this time where it seems there’s no movie that doesn’t end up somewhere, whether it’s VOD or DVD somewhere?
Robert Englund: The great thing now is that movies have a longer shelf life. When I was a young man, a movie came out and then it disappeared after its theatrical run. Then it showed up years later on the late show on television, all cut up with commercials. Movies can come out now and they don’t necessarily find an audience. For whatever reason, it’s bad timing, it’s a bad title. Word of mouth, being discovered on one of the cable channels, being discovered on demand, digital, Netflix, Blu-ray, DVD, it’s just such a great platform for movies to have a greater shelf-life. As they say, talent will out and I think a lot of movies are discovered.
Hell, my business manager had a movie called Suicide Kings years ago. It didn’t get discovered until it was on Cinemax. They ran it on Saturday nights and a lot of people don’t go out Saturday nights or the weather’s bad or they just don’t like the crowds. It got its second wind. It got discovered on Cinemax and then it became a cult classic. Now it’s in a box set with Tarantino’s movies. It’s a certified cult classic now but it took 10 years. That happens. It has happened with me with a couple of films too. I did a film called Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon that is slowly ascending and becoming a cult classic and I’m very proud of that film. I think it’s really smart, really great, all about deconstructing the tropes of horror. I just think it’s great now that films have this afterlife from just a simple theatrical release. It gives the fans an opportunity to discover them through internet chat rooms and on all the various platforms out there that they can use.
Nuke: We got to speak for Freddy Vs. Jason and I don’t think I realized at the time, but I think that’s your most theatrical performance as Freddy. Was that film an opportunity to really push the theatricality of your physical performance?
Robert Englund: The cartoon would be Nightmare 6, the 3D one, Freddy’s Dead. That’s our cartoon. I actually prefer my performance in part four to any performance. I prefer Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is my favorite one of the franchise now. I think the fan favorite is still part three, Dream Warriors, but what I love about Freddy Vs. Jason is Ronny Yu had this vision. It reminds me of a graphic novel, and it’s so visual, and so visually conceived by Ronny. I saw a lot of the storyboards and they were kind of in the back of my head while I was doing it, that I wanted to rise to the occasion for them. That’s what we were up to with that one. I knew he wanted a really big tall Jason and a little junkyard dog wiry Freddy, so I really tried to let that manifest in my physical performance and in the nature of the repartee with Jason.