Not in Your Wildest Dreams
Addressing the Gossip
Should we take those rumors that popped up a few months ago about Robert Englund returning to his role in a possible Nightmare on Elm Street reboot seriously? Everything old is new again, after all. Beetlejuice 2, a sequel to a thirty-five-year-old film, has recently been announced.
The Spiderman franchise has seen a renaissance in recent years, in some part due to a return to the past, bringing back old faces, honoring its roots. It can be argued that nostalgia is by far the most bankable current marketing strategy in the entertainment industry. Nowhere does that seem more relevant than horror, which reigned supreme in the eighties. Is it time to get excited?
Probably not, we regret to say. Springwood, Ohio can sleep with ease tonight. We’re not suggesting Jason Blum isn’t persuasive and hasn’t the cash to toss about, but at this point in Englund’s life, he seems to be more interested in relishing his elder statesman status than retreading the same plotlines. More TV gigs? Sure. Slinging on the red and green sweater and tattered fedora for a new series of feature-length films? That’s not going to happen for a number of reasons.
An Inauspicious Start
Guest spots on CHiPs, Charlie’s Angels, and Hart to Hart were great roles, and put him on the map. Though early roles on major films and TV got Robert Englund attention, it was always as second fiddle for the surfer-turned-classically-trained-thespian. Approaching his mid-thirties, Englund was facing the prospects of a career of journeyman supporting gigs, his role in the miniseries V the most significant one to a national audience. Not bad for an actor who bumbled his way into fame by a fluke of teenage hormones, but he clearly yearned for more.
When it comes to “flukes,” no one quite had the luck of Englund. Though bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the image dreamed up by writer/director Wes Craven, Englund landed the juicy role by exposing and reveling in his inner cruelty. His care in fleshing out the Freddy role and maximizing its potential is apparent, taking painstaking care not only in the choice of hat but the verbal cadence. After a decade in obscurity, Englund helped create arguably the most interesting and charming horror villain since Bela Lugosi, despite the fact his character was first conceived and written in early drafts as a homicidal child rapist. That unpleasant bit of lore was luckily swept under the rug.
He embraced the opportunity to try something new, but even he was not prepared for the role. Englund was in good hands, the make-up assignment falling to a then-up-and-comer who had previously made his bones on the 1983 Thriller music video for the Michael Jackson song. While meeting David Miller to research Freddy make-up prosthetics, Englund suffered nightmares from flipping through a medical book of burn scarring and flesh wounds. The recurring paychecks probably made him forget pretty quickly… Before the first Nightmare film debuted on screens, it was already obvious to all involved that it was destined to be something special, even if the suits at New Line Cinema probably didn’t.
The Slasher King Passes the Baton
Regardless of the consistency of the Freddy franchise, the Nightmare series cemented the actor’s place in the genre. Freddy’s popularity can be chalked up to the fact that the character allowed Englund’s charisma and extensive acting training to shine through the prosthesis. In comparison, the Jason, Leatherface, and Michael Myers actors were completely expendable, their personalities non-factors. Nightmare on Elm Street was only possible with Englund.
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With the exception of Christopher Lee, horror actors were not usually considered prized assets. Englund, an anomaly at the time, helped revive the idea of the horror villain with a sense of humor and even style. Freddy was at the top of the heap, a level of stardom the actor clearly enjoyed, never letting an opportunity pass to play up the character in public. However, that reign is over, according to Englund.
Following the recasting of the role to Jackie Earle Haley, Englund was graceful in handing off the character to another generation. He’s particularly diplomatic in attributing its failure to reshoots and “bad timing,” when the more obvious answer was simply the lack of the main actors that made the film work in the first place. For one thing, Haley doesn’t have the magnificently-exaggerated aquiline nose of Englund – sometimes it’s the small details that matter.
As Jared Leto’s Joker shows, you can’t simply slot any actor into any role and expect it to work, no matter how talented or committed they are to the project. That doesn’t faze Englund. When it comes to the business of movie-making, Englund is not delusional to the realities of remakes or reboots, gladly accepting his fate. Yes, even Freddy is expendable in the end.
“I’m too old,” the actor has expressed many times over the past decade, comparing actors to athletes. The physical strain is no longer one that he can bear, fessing up to his fair share of injuries along the way. Bringing the horror star to life over countless films hasn’t always been fun, even without taking into account all the hours in the make-up chair.
In particular, he cites a neck injury filming a fight scene. “I kind of realized then that I didn’t have the chops to do Freddy anymore.” A great irony, seeing that Craven imagined the character as a wrinkly, disheveled geezer, and initially deemed Englund too spry and non-threatening.
A Series in Limbo
Englund is not afraid to announce the series needs a shakeup. New blood if you will – no pun intended – and a new creative vision that takes advantage of advances in CGI to sell the dreamscape idea the film has toyed with since its inception in 1984. That’s not a definitive no, yet it seems to guarantee a return to the role on film is incredibly unlikely with every passing year. TV gigs aside, Englund remains content to hang up his rusty, blood-soaked glove and end his run with the meta-horror New Nightmare in 1994.
Though Blumhouse is adamant in its push to reboot the series, one wonders how much steam it really has left now that the major pieces are missing. With the real star of the franchise bowing out, no clear path is evident. Following the death of Wes Craven in 2015, the driving creative force behind the Freddy movies leaves a lot of gaping holes to fill. The rights to the characters and IP now in the hands of Wes Craven’s estate, it’s anyone’s guess what happens to this franchise, if anything.
Seeing how the industry is presently preoccupied with producing perpetual reboots, it seems a matter of time. But another retelling is not really in order. Barring a belated Freddy vs Chucky crossover, Hollywood is fresh out of ideas. Very few other remakes have captured audience attention like the originals. Perhaps a decade of silence might provide such a new reinvention.
At very least, that would give municipalities across the US time to replace all the “Elm Street” road signs stolen over the last thirty-eight years by impressionable slasher fans.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) Official Trailer
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