Robert Englund portrayed A Nightmare On Elm Street‘s iconically sweatered serial killer, Freddy Krueger, in eight movies (as well as a two-season TV series), and I’m here to tell you that hearing his voice over the phone is, at least initially, eerie as hell. You’ve seen what happens when Freddy calls people, right? Fortunately, the man behind the makeup is a delightful conversationalist, and he’s about to host a new series, True Terror With Robert Englund, on the Travel Channel. This show’s uniquely frightening because, as the title more than suggests, these stories are lifted from the headlines of yesteryear.
True Terror takes a nightmarish journey through the horrors of U.S. history, and Englund draws upon his ominously charismatic presence to heighten the vibe even more while narrating his way through terrors that are no mere dream. It’s a gig that was practically carved out in his likeness. And although Englund has been consistently acting for decades — yes, even before Freddy launched his franchise by turning Johnny Depp into tomato paste — this show brings him full circle while drawing not only upon his place in popular culture but his theatrical roots.
To put it simply, this show has a ball with its host, and vice versa. Spine-tingling stories unfurl, and some seem too twisted for words. Nightmares come to life and span every horror from shadowy serial killers to occult matters seemingly plaguing the living and, of course, literal bad dreams that work devastating effects. Robert was gracious enough to speak with us about this show, his own nightmares, his love for HBO’s The Outsider, and yes, some much-needed sweetness and light during these stressful times.
This show will run at 10:00 pm, which, as you know, is primetime. Has anyone else brought up a certain Freddy Krueger line? “Welcome to primetime, bitch!”
[Laughs] Well, you know, Kimberly, when I did a favor, a cameo, last year on The Goldbergs TV show, I mostly did it to work with Wendi McLendon-Covey from Bridesmaids because I’m a big fan of hers. The whole joke of the show was that, every time I spoke, they had to bleep something of my dialogue, and the bleep would be funny because the viewers would obviously know what the swear word was. The last line that I was supposed to have was looking at the camera, and saying, “Well, that’s some primetime bitch!” They didn’t use it because they had to devote more time to some characters for a spinoff. And it’s weird because I haven’t caught [this primetime joke] yet, but I’ve realized that it’s 10:00, so I’ve just made primetime, and Freddy is in primetime.
That line was originally improvised, back in the day, right?
By part three, that was Dream Warriors, written by Wes [Craven] and Bruce Wagner, really great writers, my god. But by then, I kind-of owned the character, and we were starting to really hit the stratosphere. We were international, and so I knew when things were wrong or overwritten and didn’t fit into Freddy’s mouth. The original line was something like, “Now you’re in the big time, Jennifer.” If you remember back then, like with Must See TV, the line was “Welcome to primetime.” That was the catchphrase, so it was in the vernacular, and one of the things that Freddy was famous for is tossing youth culture back in the face of his potential victims. That’s what Freddy was actually doing there. I co-oped a line and used it for the girl who wanted to be on television.
And on True Terror, do you get to improvise anything?
No, this is a first for me. I’m sort-of an extension of my own personality, like Robert Englund how you imagine him to be. A little bit Vincent Price, a little bit Rod Serling. I really like the dark stuff, but I also watch Chopped and Deadliest Catch and have my own comfort food TV and viewing habits. So this is a dark version of my personality that’s preoccupied with the occult and subversive stories that appeared in American newspapers in the last couple of hundred years. Especially in the 19th century. And so I’m hosting as a dark version of me, but I also narrate the episodes. Going back and forth between an onscreen persona and being conversational, and sometimes I have to be theatrical if a piece is particularly violent or scary. Some are ghost stories, but people were actually superstitious or believed in them when it was reported in a newspaper. These aren’t myths or legends, they’re actually reported incidents that occurred back in the history of America. Really strange, dark stuff.
Are you a big history buff, by any chance?
When I was a kid, I didn’t pay attention to history. I studied it because I had to, but now, I’m kinda fascinated by history. I guess that’s why there’s a History Channel, and that stuff does so well. I think when you get older, you find things that intrigue you, whether that’s the Civil War or Greek mythology, and what’s interesting about our show is that most of it is history. Dark, weird, strange things that happened back in time, so now, they could be considered (in some of those locales) urban legends, but when they were reported, it was just considered something that happened.
Well, the first story I watched from this show is about a man who wouldn’t sleep because he doesn’t want a dream to, you know, kill him. I have to say that reminds me of certain horror franchise!
Every once in awhile, there is a segment, and I can tell that producers have embraced the package that I bring to this show as a host, as the star of A Nightmare on Elm Street. I don’t know if they were particularly seeking those, but there’s a couple of them. Most of them deal with things that are reported, like there was a huge occult fascination in the 19th century, and a lot of it was precognitive dreams. You could call them nightmares, but people actually dreamed things that happened. Again, this is stirring into that wonderful Rod Serling, Twilight Zone thing, and our shows are kind-of like Twilight Zone reenactments that are historical. But it’s that American preoccupation with the occult, just like we believed in curealls, seltzers, and weird medicine at the turn of the century, America also believed in a lot of stuff, and it was just part of our society. I think that the precognitive dream was something that we accepted as true back then. Now it’s sort-of filed under A Nightmare on Elm Street.
I’ve completely caught up. My wife and I watched the New York feed last night. And you know what’s amazing to me? Aside from the fact that Ben Mendelsohn is one of my favorite actors, and I’ve been a fan of his since Bloodline, but Cynthia Erivo is so great in this show. I like Harriet, and she was my second choice for Best Actress. We vote for them in descending order, and you get points, and that’s why the Oscars come out strange sometimes. If everybody puts the same actor for third choice, that actor’s probably not gonna win. People get canceled out also, but Cynthia Erivo, I love. Her work on the Stephen King series is amazing because she’s sort-of a savant, and I’m addicted to that show. I love that it’s a procedural, that they literally disprove every single thing that it could be, and now you’re just left with the fact that, oh my god, it’s a doppelganger from hell, what are we gonna do? They’ve flipped it, too.
Oh yeah, The X-Files dynamic is reversed.
The man is the skeptic, and the woman is the believer! Not only that, but she’s a genius and a savant and has one foot in that voodoo shit, woohoo.
And it’s cool to have a reversal like that on TV in 2020.
Yes, and I love how slow the show is. It’s one of the great things that we’re getting from streaming and binging. Your attention spin gets bigger again, like reading a novel. We’ve been so into soundbites and emojis and our phones, but this thing that happens when you have a rainy Sunday afternoon and watch 2-3 hours of a show, whether it’s Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad or one of the new shows, what happens is that you can juggle all those plots and characters in your mind at the same time. When you return to it a day later or a week later, you are really able to hold it all in your head. I think it’s a more rewarding and a richer experience.
Well, horror can be a rich experience, and you’ve spent much of your career scaring people. What scares you the most?
The earth-bound thing is that I’ve always been intrigued by crime fiction. So I kinda like that, and that does infect you a little bit, but what scares me is that I’m not a kid anymore. It used to be that if there was something like a fire, I knew I could save myself and my wife, and my dog. I’m not scared of getting sick or dying but more about not being able to save myself. So there’s just that fear of mortality, and not being as agile and athletic as before. I used to have a great fear of snakes, but I did a little cheesy rip-off of Anaconda, with Jenny McCarthy years ago, and literally, I played the herpetologist, the reptile scientist, and I literally had a baby python that I had to hold and use in the movie. I kept him with me, and what was great about that is that I fell in love with the little, tiny python, and I put her in a tube sock under my arm because they like the heat of the body. I got over my fear of snakes, but I had a terrible fear of them for a long time that infected my nightmares.
What else haunts the nightmares of the man who portrayed Freddy Krueger?
I have an old dream from my childhood, and this came from a movie, called The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. I think it was based upon a Dr. Seuss book, but [it had] the piano teacher from hell. A little boy hates his piano lessons, and he’s falling and falling onto a grand piano. It’s like a falling nightmare, and that was a black-and-white movie that I saw as a kid, and that’s still in my brain. When I get a cold and have a fever, I get that nightmare again. I never took piano lessons, so it’s gotta be from seeing that movie. It scares me, it’s weird. I also saw The Bad Seed, which is due for a remake. The little girl is a murderer in it, and she had pigtails, and I saw that movie by accident at a Saturday matinee. They put the grown-up movie on early that day instead of it being a children’s film. I was petrified for about a year about pigtails. Freaked me out. And even to this day when I saw a movie with Nazis, like Nazi children with pigtails, it freaks me out a little extra. Hitler youth, oh no!
We’ve got time for one more question, it looks like.
Ooooooh, a final question, Kimberly!
Oh, the pressure! Here we go… you’ve done a lot of one-off appearances on TV through the years. Your Married With Children episode drew lots of attention, but do you have any favorites?
I did an episode of Charmed, and I have to tell you, it was the hottest day in the valley, I had FX makeup on, and the girls were dressed like Egyptian mummies. They had to deal with makeup, and Alyssa Milano hired a vintage, 1940s Good Humor ice cream truck to come on the lot and pull up next to the sound stage door. She had free ice cream for us all day because she just knew that it was gonna be a hot, miserable day where we all had itchy glue on us and prosthetic pieces on our face. It was one of the sweetest things that I’ve ever encountered of all the guest-starring I’ve done, all the way back to the original Charlie’s Angels and right up until this month. I’m doing a big show that I’m not allowed to talk about yet.
What treats did you have that day, can you tell me that?
I had a Drumstick and — this is really old school — a push-up pop, where you keep pushing up the orange sherbet. Oh god, that was good!
The Travel Channel’s ‘True Terror With Robert Englund’ premieres on March 18 at 10 p.m. EST.