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True Terror With Robert Englund S01 E01 Main

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ROBERT ENGLUND INTERVIEW

Interview conducted by Stuart D. Monroe

When it comes to good old-fashioned American horror, you have your pick of murderers and madmen. You can flee in pants-wetting terror from the silent doom of Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers. You can dare to invoke the name (and the wrath) of the Candyman. You can fight your way through a horde of the flesh-eating undead. Perhaps you’ll play a game with Jigsaw that you’re sure to lose. Maybe you’ll even battle Pazuzu for your very soul…

For my money, however, there’s one nightmare that symbolizes the ethos of the stars and stripes better than any other: Freddy Kreuger. He’s THE homegrown horror icon recognized the world over. Sinister, charismatic, and purely evil (with a wonderfully warped sense of humor for good measure), Freddy is America’s boogeyman.

The man who wears the gloves and bears the burns is Robert Englund. He’s a classically trained actor of criminally underappreciated skill with numerous TV and stage credits to go with his extensive filmography. His signature voice and the rhythm of his speech are unmistakable, and it was only a matter of time before someone got wise and decided to seek him out for a job as a TV host. It’s the perfect fit for an American icon and horror’s elder statesman.

True Terror with Robert Englund airs on Wednesdays at 10/9c on the Travel Channel. Robert Englund ditches the glove and sweater (though he’s still exceedingly creepy and oddly inviting) to guide you through tales of horror and the unexplained pulled from the newspapers of previous centuries. If you were the kid who held your breath during Unsolved Mysteries waiting for the “Unexplained” segment (like me), then True Terror with Robert Englund is (if you’ll pardon the in-joke) your nightmare come true.

I had the unbelievable privilege of speaking with him for Horror DNA prior to the show’s premiere, so sit back and enjoy Robert’s look at show and the nature of fear itself. This time you won’t have to worry about falling asleep!

Unknown Speaker: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining the press conference to promote True Terror with Robert Englund. The show premieres next Wednesday at 10/9 central on Travel Channel. We are delighted today to share this call with the master of macabre himself, Robert Englund, who will lead us on a nightmarish journey through horrors in this new series. Robert, welcome to the call.

Robert Englund: You’re all my children now.

Unknown Speaker: So, to get us rolling here, Robert, can you please let us know what True Terror is in your own words? And maybe explain to us what drew you to this project.

Robert Englund in A Nightmare on Elm StreetRobert Englund: Yeah. Well, I look at True Terror as a kind of formula comfort food from the dark side. It’s sort of equal parts Rod Serling Twilight Zone with some of the aspects of that great Robert Stack series, Unsolved Mysteries, and then just a dash of Dateline. I think it sort of has the – I like the comfort food aspect that it has this structure and this formula that we recap, and we have the three segments per episode. And it’s something you can tune into and learn something dark from the sort of underbelly of the American psyche.

But, all of the stories began as journalism. They began as newspaper articles. And that’s what I think distinguishes it from two guys in a Louisiana swamp seeing a UFO. I think, for me, what drew me to it, I would say, is the challenge of being an on host camera personalist or an aspect of my personality, of Robert Englund, with all the baggage that I bring from horror movies and then blending that into the narration, which I’m also responsible for and trying to find at what point to make it conversational to the viewer and at what point to make it a little theatrical perhaps.

Unknown Speaker: Awesome.

Waylon Jordan: First of all, it’s a great series, really entertaining. I was wondering if there were any stories or episodes that were particularly intriguing or compelling to you.

Robert Englund: Well, I – the one that I didn’t realize – and, again, this is the underbelly of the American psyche. But, I knew that there had been a yellow fever and that there had been a smallpox epidemic and the influenza epidemic in America. But, in the New Orleans case, which I believe was smallpox, I had no idea that there was some scam between coroners and the guys that drove the charity wagons to the cemetery, coffin makers, and the last buck getting – the last buck stopping with the gravedigger. That, in fact people were literally being buried alive for profit. And this is as recently as late last century. So, stuff like that, I’d been telling people, we all have things in American history or dark interesting; serial killer stories that kind of go over our head or astounding facts of nature that we’ve missed somehow. We’ve been preoccupied with something else.

I just picked up that book, The Devil in the White City, about the Chicago exposition in 1893 and the serial killer who exploited it. And yet, I’d never heard of that, and I think what’s great about True Terror is that there’s – we have a lot of the ones that I haven’t heard of. Now, we’ve – because I’m who I am and because I have my ear close to the ground for this, some of the urban legends or some of the myths or some of the stories I had heard before. But, a lot of them I had never heard of. And I think that the – you know, the smallpox one – the buried alive, particularly, really disturbed me. I’ve heard one of two of the ghost stories before because I’ve traveled to Salem, Massachusetts, and places like that, and I’ve – some of those stories are reiterated. They began as a newspaper article, and now they’re the stuff of urban legends, at least for the small towns or the second cities that they are near, just like the man with the hook on Lover’s Lane exists on every Lover’s Lane in America. That story has mutated. But, these are different. These are very site specific, and that really intrigued me.

But, I’m also – there’s a bigfoot – we have a bigfoot segment in one – and we’ve been able to sort of design the episodes now thematically so that the segments all kind of correlate. And we have one about a sasquatch. And what blew my mind about this one is I’ve always thought the bigfoot thing was a little cheesy. I remember being on a double date at the drive in movies with my buddy, a couple of surfers, you know, and their girlfriends watching The Legend of Boggy Creek or some cheesy bigfoot film. And later exploitations on reality T.V. But, in subsequent years, I’ve come to understand that the sasquatch was part of aboriginal and Native American folklore and that there is some  kind of historical cred to it. And then, when we did our segment – and not only was it published in newspapers, but we actually have a president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, as one of our sources. And I just love that aspect of it because that was one that, when I knew we were doing – when I saw the title to that segment, I thought, “Uh oh, here we go.” And then I got into it, and I got into the research, and I watched the episode. And they found a great actor that looks like Teddy Roosevelt.

But that kind of stuff is really intriguing to me. And, again, it’s a kind of viewing comfort food, but in a good way. I mean it in a good way. Like I love to binge, whether it’s Breaking Bad or whether I’m doing something new, Peaky Blinders, and I’ve got to have subtitles for the Irish accents. But that’s kind of an intellectual challenge sometimes because you’ve got to keep all the plots straight and the characters straight. It’s fun to turn on Deadliest Catch, or it’s going to be fun to turn on True Terror when you want a little comfort food viewing. Hello? Hello?

Patrick Cavanaugh: Thanks so much for doing the call. I was curious. There was, a few years ago, in the Internet, there started circulating that some people were thinking that your, of course, iconic, Freddy Krueger character was based on a true tale of terror, that it was rooted in, you know, a real serial killer. So, your on screen career has kind of impacted urban legends and folklore and mythology, and people start to kind of forget the difference between fact and fiction. So, I was just kind of curious how you felt about that, about how this character, you know, that was so extravagant and larger than life has now made its way into the real world almost as like a real figure.

Robert Englund: Well, Freddy’s an amalgamation of Wes Craven’s experiences. I think that there was a bully in his school named Fred Krueger. And I Robert Englund in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriorsthink when Wes chose the name for his bogeyman, he liked a Germanic aspect. Frederick Krueger, very tectonic. And I think that part of that is that Fred – that there’s always been a bit of – a kind of a dark side of the Grimm’s fairy tale to the fable of Freddy Krueger, The Nightmare on Elm Street. So, that’s part of it. The other part is that there was a point in time when Johnny Carson was doing Freddy Krueger jokes and Freddy Krueger was on the cover of MAD Magazine and Freddy Krueger was in the Sunday funnies in some of the more bizarre strips. And he was the subject of just about hundreds of rap lyrics in the nineties and the early 2000s. That he becomes – Wes doesn’t own him anymore, and I don’t own him anymore, and New Line Cinema no longer owns him anymore. He’s just part of the American vernacular. And I think that’s where it gets confusing for some people, especially a younger generation comes along, and they see an old DVD lying around or they watch it on a Halloween marathon. And they think that maybe it was based on something true like Ted Bundy, is – was a true serial killer story. But, in fact the whole concept of Nightmare on Elm Street is very symbolic. I think basically it’s loss of innocence in America. The one clue that nobody ever picks up on. Freddy has the line, “Every town has an Elm Street.” Well, every town also has a Broadway and a Main Street and an Oak Street. But, Elm Street’s also the street that JFK was assassinated on in Dallas. And that’s sort of the beginning of our loss of innocence and our distrust of government and our kind of group American paranoia. And Wes was sort of turning that around and making that also the loss of innocence for a generation and, in particular, young women because we always have a woman survivor, the survivor girl, as they say in Holly-weird. But, I think it’s an amalgamation of all of those things that sort of nightmare – a legend.

Courtney Murak: Hi. I almost said, “Thank you, Mr. Krueger.” Not what I meant.

Robert Englund: But, as long as you say “mister,” Courtney, you’re safe.

Courtney Murak: That’s funny.

Robert Englund: You have to know me. I have to terrorize you before you can call me Freddy.

Courtney Murak: He likes to get personal first. So, what about any believable ghost stories that you covered? Was there anything in the (unintelligible). I know you mentioned a couple of those stories. Was there anything that you were like, “Wow, that changed my mind.”

Robert Englund: Well, here’s the thing. We were able to finally thematically group some of our stories. It wasn’t necessarily that way when I was doing my voiceover narration work or even when I was doing my on person hosting segments. And when they got into the editing bay, they realized they had segments about animals, and they had segments about ghosts and premonitions, and they had segments about disease or – and things like that. So, they began to shape some of the episodes that way. There is – I love premonition stories more than just a straight on ghost stories. My mother was a chain smoking liberal, martini drinking liberal who helped run the Adlai Stevenson campaign back in the fifties in California. But, she used to tell a story about the great flood of the 1930s in Los Angeles when she was at a sorority house. And she was the one – she was the new girl, and my mom was assigned doing all the dishes. They’d all been up smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee because there had been this great flood, and they’d been listening to the radio. And she was all cleaned up and ready to go to bed, and there was a loud knocking at the door. And she opened it up, and one of the sorority girls came in all wet and her –  very wet, and her hair was wet. And she took off her jacket and came in, and my mom made her a cup of coffee. And they talked for a while. And she said she was going to go back to the boarding house further up the hill and stay with a friend. And she left. And the next morning, the police came to the sorority house, and they told them that they had found this girl’s body. But, they had found it like 36 hours before, which would have been about 12 to 15 hours before my mother made a cup of coffee for her. And my mother said that she went back and found the coffee cup, and it had lipstick on it. And that’s her kind of ghost premonition story. But, I love those stories of things that hadn’t quite happened yet or they’re going to happen or they’re – it’s one last reach from purgatory.

Madge Canton: The – I was impressed with the production values of the episode that I did watch. You go on locations when you’re – do you visit the locations, and where are the locations shot and – ?

Robert Englund: – Well, I had trepidations. That was one of my big trepidations because I read, I think – when they asked me to do it, I read like six shows. And most of these shows are 19th century. A few are early 20th century. And I know reenactments on reality T.V. And some are good, and some are a little cheesy. And I was worried about the attention to period detail. But, what they did – I think they – it was the – first of all, they found this great area all around Richmond in Virginia and I think even into Maryland a bit. And that’s real “George Washington slept here” country. You know, it’s just full of American history, and the people there are very proud about that. And so, lots of historical buildings and old churches and old barns are preserved. A lot of the fencing in that area is still done in the 19th and 18th century style, split rail fences and open fields.

And so, they scouted this great area. And the interiors – they dress them. But, they did a really good job, and they got – they key – trying to key on faces, I think, as well as the talent of the actors. They’re looking for people who have faces that lend themselves to sort of a period reenactment. And I was really pleased when I first started seeing some of the film coming in from the location. I haven’t been there yet. I mean, I’ve been there for other movies, and I’ve been there for publicity purposes – but – and pleasure. But, I haven’t been on location yet with them. I’m hoping that what we will do next season is occasionally, if a show is particularly great on the page or they find a particularly great location, something really dark and macabre or just something really terrific like a great cave with stalactites in it or cavern or something, I’m hoping they’ll bring me, they throw me on a plane and fly me there, and we can do that old trick that they used to do in the later seasons of Twilight Zone.

You’re young. You may not remember this. But, an episode would end, and you’d be looking at like a telltale prop from the episode, a crushed pair of reading glasses on the floor or maybe an old tea kettle or a pair of binoculars or an old car or something. And then, the camera would hinge and pan over away from the sort of significant ending image. And you’d find in the corner – there would be Rod Serling leaning up against the wall of this set. And he would do the wrap up. And I’m hoping maybe they can bring me out to do that once in a while or at least bring some significant prop, an old sword that maybe figures into one of our segments or something, an old Civil War sword or something, and so that, when they come back to me in the studio, I could be handling it. I think that link between –  besides the baggage I bring as Robert Englund, a guy who has worked in a lot of dark stuff over the years, but also that I am intrigued by it. It legitimately – you know, I am. And I think it would be nice to have that visual link of having me perhaps on the location sometimes. Maybe it’s a tree where I am – they tried to hang a man, and they couldn’t hang him. He wouldn’t die. And now, you see me under that tree or something like that. I think it would be great to do that, plus (unintelligible) – 

Justin Young: For me, True Terror definitely conjures those vibes such as – from shows such as Beyond Belief, Fact or Fiction, and Unsolved Mysteries and then like Robert Stack and Jonathan Frakes.

Robert Englund: I think one of our producer/writers – that show, that Unsolved Mysteries was really a kind of – I don’t want to say benchmark. There’s a better word for it. But, it’s really one of those moments of his youth that he held dear. It was sort of just this thing he looked forward to. And it was a place to rest. It was something he liked. He liked having it part of his life. And he wanted to get something like that back again, with more of that feel.

Robert Englund in PythonAnd I really do think that there’s...it’s difficult for me because sometimes I’m trying to go from being a kind of a version of Robert Englund that the fans expect. I’m a little darker, and I’m a little darker, and I list this stuff a little more than perhaps I really do. And then, when I go into the narration, sometimes it goes right from my on screen hosting duties and it’s tricky because I want to sometimes be conversational. The wonderful host of Dateline does a great job with that in his narration where sometimes he’s just very offhand and conversational and matter of fact, and then, sometimes because of the way the writing goes and it’s – it gets poetic or especially because most of our shows are period, there’s a hint of the old time to the writing, old timey journalism. And I want to embrace that as well.

So, it’s kind of a challenge because you’re going from your image on screen to now it’s your same voice. But now, you’re narrating. It might be a really gothic image. It might be something violent. It might be something lyrical and elegiac, and so, you want to kind – you have to make that transition and make those decisions. It’s kind of a challenge.

But, I like it. But, it’s new for me. I’ve done on screen hosting before, but not since – I don’t think since the nineties. And to combine that with the narration duties – and I don’t always see all of the images that they’re shooting because we’re working different schedules at different times, and they’re not always shooting them in the same sync as I’m doing the narration – and it’s great when they have the footage available because when we’re working with the timing of the narration or when I’m – that helps me pick the mood a little bit better because many times the images are darker than I think. And so, I can afford to go a little theatrical with my narration choices.

Jessica Peralata: So, do you have any legends on your wish list for next season that you’d like to explore?

Robert Englund: This is my favorite question so far. I’ll tell you why. Right after I finished my last narration duties and it took longer than we thought. It wasn’t that long ago because they are always rewriting and changing and trying to combine a bit of the old time feel, a little bit of theatricality, and we want to have kind of fun with the darkness of the show. So, I go home, and I’m done. I’m done schlepping up to LA and going to the little studio with my guys and doing this. And one of my wife’s guest – I think it might have been my sister in law – left a book here. And it’s one of those books that I somehow missed in the last couple of years. I think it won a bunch of awards. It was called The Devil in the White City, and it’s about the 1893 Chicago exposition World’s Fair, the Columbian Exposition, and simultaneously America’s first serial killer who exploited the growth of the fair and the growth in the population in Chicago and the country girls coming to town for the fair. And there’s some estimates that he may have killed up to 200 people. I’m not sure – I don’t know. But, they never found all the bodies. So, I’m reading this book, and it’s just phenomenal. And it’s all public domain. It’s all for everybody because it really happened, and it’s part of history. And I’m – I just can’t wait to get together with my producers again when we get ready for the next season, hopefully, and tell them about this book because I think there’s so many interesting stories to mine from it that we could get at least one episode of three segments, if not more, out of that. But, that’s one of my hopes. I’d also like us to look into a little bit more of Native American folklore. We touch on it in a couple of segments. But, there’s some interesting stuff with that, even with Native Americans and sasquatch or Native Americans and their own ghost stories. I think that would be fun to do as well and maybe even tie those into like maybe some Bureau of Land Management Indian agents in the 1860s or something, had heard about them and reported them. Maybe they can find something like that in the archives. But, I always think stuff like that’s interesting too.

Achay I: So, you talked about your mom having a supernatural experience. But, have you had any of your own?

Robert Englund: I have had – the only ones I’ve had are déjà vu. I’ve had a couple of really strong déjà vu experiences. And it’s mostly – in fact, I think all of them that I can – I’m going to say that 90 percent of them – I’ve had three – I’ve had – no, I’ve had about four of them, four or five. They’ve all been in rooms. They’ve all been about rooms. I’ve walked into rooms that I’ve dreamed of before I entered them. And it’s happened a couple of times, which is really strange. I mean, I literally can go down – walk down – I’m looking up at a painting on the wall, and I’ve seen that painting in a dream. And that’s happened to me two or three times, I think.

And then, I’ve had a couple of déjà vu experiences with the combined auditory and olfactory – it’ll be sound and smell and – that just really – it’s not just a sort of Marcel Proust, bite the biscuit thing where you – it’s like remembering like your mom’s cooking or something. You really have – it’s – you’ve actually been in that spot before where those things combined, and yet, you’ve never been there, not even in your childhood – it’s – those are the things that always make me wonder a little bit about other dimensions and things like that.

I’ve never – I don’t really have a ghost story. But, I have been in rooms where terrible things have occurred, murders or prolonged illness. And I think there’s something to the idea of contained energy, energy of – from someone who suffered perhaps or a group of people that suffered, perhaps, in one place. I know many people that go to the concentration camps to see the concentration camps in Europe have experienced that sense. I’ve experienced it in just neutral places.

I worked in a prison morgue once, and it was very disturbing. And I’ve been in a bedroom once where a woman was confined to bed for like 50 years and slowly died and never left the room. And you could definitely feel some residue in there of energy. And, of course, we’re all – we have – electricity is part of what we are. And so, that can be – it could be explained that way. But – so, I do kind of respect that. I don’t know if I – to say I believe. But, I do respect those that do feel that’s part of our reality.

Alex Stevenson: With the popularity of both horror movies and true crime seemingly at an all-time high right now, why do you think viewers are drawn to these dark stories, and what attracts you to it personally?

Robert Englund: Well, when we all used to go to the movies before – back in the day, I think that the horror movie originally – it’s almost like a kind of church. As we go to church less and less and less, there is this time for us to experience things together now. It can be a rock 'n roll concert. It can be a drum circle. It can be a flashmob. But, for many years, I think people loved sitting in the dark together and being frightened together, especially younger people because the younger people think they’re going to live forever. The only time they really confront death – they used to confront it in church.

But, the only time you really confront death now, unless you have a sick relative or a friend, is in a horror movie or the thriller or the serial killer film because we have an identification with the potential victim, the person in jeopardy. We’re emotionally involved. We have empathy and catharsis with that, and we sit in the dark together and respond to that in the old movie theaters. And I think it was multiplied. Of course, now that multiplication is diminished because now we’re in front of a flat screen, and we can pause it, and we can run and get a slice of cold pizza. But, still, we’re there on the couch with the lights dimmed down, sitting by the glow of the flat screen. And we do surrender to that identification with the jeopardy of whatever person is being threatened in a horror film. And I think we kind of need that. I think it’s just our way of kind of a substitution for dealing with our own mortality.

Derek Anderson: You mentioned previously you have done some hosting, and, of course, you – it was a little bit of a different show. But, you hosted Freddy’s Nightmares as Freddy Krueger where you kind of claim –

Robert Englund: – Yeah –

Derek Anderson:So, I was just curious. Did that show come to mind at all when hosting True Terror, or did you use anything that you learned from that show on this one?

Robert Englund: No. You know what I use is I do a lot of Comic Cons and film festivals.Robert Englund in 2001 Maniacs

I go to a lot of film festivals, and I’m often asked to speak. So, I borrow a little because when I’m at a film festival and perhaps I’m asked to be on – one of the judges with Christopher Lee or someone, Sam Raimi or Cary Elwes somebody, and we’re there because we’re judging usually a genre film or it’s a genre film festival or we are the judges for the genre entries. Me and John Landis did one, for instance. And we’re asked to talk oftentimes, and the fans are there as fans of us. And so, I work it a little bit.

I’ve been in the theater, and I work that aspect of my personality, something that people expect me to be like as opposed to maybe what I really am. And so, I took a little bit of that and a little bit of the fact that I’m – a little bit of my Vincent Price persona, a little bit of Klaus Kinski, a little bit of Rod Serling, a little bit of Unsolved Mysteries, the work the host did on that. It’s not a lot.

I’m – it’s still me. But, I’m also trying to just live up a bit to the expectation that a lot of fans have of what I might really be like. So, it is True Terror with Robert Englund. It’s not True Terror with Robert Englund Pretending to be Somebody Else. But, I do – there’s a bit – I don’t want to say an embellishment, but a little dusting of all of those influences on my choices when I host.

Derek Anderson: Excellent. I can see the Rod Serling [unintelligible] minus the cigarettes, of course [unintelligible].

Robert Englund: Well, it’s also – I mean, I have to depend on my writers too. But, every once in a while, you feel that Rod Serling rhythm in the writing, and you sort of have to respond to it.

Chris Denny: I’m a journalist myself, and I was curious about how much journalism time did you put into the research of a lot of these crazy and unbelievable stories and what was the research like for you.

Robert Englund: Well, what you have to understand is – and – is that most of these stories are 19th century, some in the early 20th centuries. And as a journalist, you’ve heard terms like yellow journalism, and you understand the difference between journalism and tabloid. And yet, tabloid has always been part of journalism as have the – what we call the human interest story. And so, what we have to remember is all these were reported. Now, science has matured and changed, and so, a lot of this can be discounted by science. And the other thing is that we were a much more superstitious country in the 19th century.

But, still, the idea that these were reported and taken seriously – what I love about that is it’s – it explains something to us about who we were, about the American psyche, the American predilection for that kind of story. And I like that. I think that’s interesting. And I also think it separates us, and when I say us, I mean True Terror. It separates us from two rednecks in a swamp in Louisiana seeing a UFO. We’re not that – I think some of these stories on True Terror have become urban legends. They’ve become urban myths. They become stories we share around a campfire, especially in the small towns or the second cities that these tales occurred in. So, they have evolved to that. But, they began as something that was reported in a newspaper at one time.

And some of them still carry even what I consider, for my own tastes one of my least favorite – not episodes – but one of my least favorite subjects, bigfoot. But, even our so-called bigfoot, sasquatch story – our source is Teddy Roosevelt, president of the United States, on a hunting party in Montana with Native American guides. And those guys are the ones that have the most clear folklore about the sasquatch legend of anyone. And when you look at their stories, maybe there is just a smidge of credibility there, certainly more than The Legend of Boggy Creek. That’s how I was introduced to all that stuff at the drive in movie as a kid, on a double date, watching cheesy – 

Chris Denny: – that old movie –

Robert Englund: – yeah, cheesy 16 millimeter film of a guy in a gorilla suit. But then you’re hanging out with somebody in the eighties, as I was, who had been to several really remote Native American reservations because of some field study they were doing, and they actually were told some sasquatch or sasquatch like legends.

So, it didn’t start with some cheesy movie in the mid-sixties. It’s actually much more ancient than that, and so, you’ve got to have that little bit of cred. That’s what I love about the sasquatch story because it’s –  it just has that – a little more reasonable reportage surrounding it that just – it just gives it a little more of what I call the “what if.” What if that’s real? What if that happened? You know?

Stuart Monroe: Thank you very much. Hi, Robert. How are you doing? Thank you for the time, sir.

Robert Englund: I’m okay. Thank you.

Stuart Monroe: So, the spirit of the show is definitely pure horror. How important was that horror aspect of the show to you, or what it – I mean, would it have been as interesting to you if it were outside the genre and been something more along the lines of a straight Unsolved Mysteries?

Robert Englund, Kane Hodder, and Tony Todd in WishmasterRobert Englund: Well, I think the reason I’m on this show is because we definitely defer to the dark side. And I bring a lot of baggage being a horror, science fiction, and fantasy genre actor; not only movies, but television and games, things like that. So, that’s why I’m on this show. I’m sure that’s why they wanted me.

But, yeah. I would have done it if it had been just straight crime or – because I’m a big fan of true crime stuff.

I love my comfort food episodes of Dateline that I still haven’t caught up with. And I used to read that – in the magazine in the New York Times, on a Sunday New York Times – they used to have great crime reporting every week in that. And I’d sit there with my Sunday brunch and read a whole article about some Sopranos-like crime that had happened in New Jersey or something. I love that stuff.

But what – I like the fact that, after the fact of being asked – I like the darkness of ours because there’s still that separation of ours. We’re not really the urban legends. We’re not really the campfire stories show. We’re not really the ghost stories show. We’re the – these are things reported in American newspapers.

Now, obviously, we’re more sophisticated now. Science is better. We’re not as superstitious. Things have been explained. We can explain certain phenomena now. But, still, there’s many of our shows that are just unbelievably frightening. I mean, I was telling one of the journalists earlier, how much the one about being buried alive – the smallpox epidemic in New Orleans, how much that show affected me because it’s so primal.

We all have that fear or the fear of flying or falling and the fear of drowning. These are all shared by the entire human race, these primal fears, suffocating. And that’s all true. I mean, coroners and coffin makers and the driver that took the coffin in the charity carriage to the cemetery and the gravediggers – these guys were all in cahoots. And they were all getting paid. They were burying people alive, A, because they needed the money, B, because they were – people were afraid of the smallpox, but also, that’s how many people were dying. That – what’s going on now with the coronavirus – that’s how out of control it got, and that’s what happened to human nature. That’s how twisted human nature got. They were burying people alive and splitting money.

And that’s just crazy stuff, not only in a refraction on our time right this minute, but just as part of this sort of underside of the American psyche. Kind of one of the things that makes up this – our crazy, wonderful, strange, outlaw, frontier nation that with all of our flaws and blemishes and as well as all our heroics. But we – oh yeah. And, by the way, we were burying people alive. You know?

Stuart Monroe: Yes. Pay attention to your history, or you’re doomed to repeat it. Right?

Robert Englund: Yeah, exactly, exactly. That – you see where – not a flaw in the system, but a break in morality like that can just go off the rails, as insane as that is.

Stuart Monroe: Very relevant. Thank you, sir. Appreciate the time.

Robert Englund: Thank you. Thanks for the great question.

Stuart Monroe: Yes, sir.

Nick Banks: Hi, Robert. You’re certainly known for scaring all of us for all these years. And we appreciate that actually. But, I heard that – I heard many years ago that, as far as a personal fear, that you had, at one time, a fear of snakes and that you got over it through an experience on a film set. I don’t know if you could speak about that a little bit.

Robert Englund in CheersRobert Englund: Well, yeah. I, as a child – I went to – I was down here, in fact, in the very town I live in now, Laguna Beach, California. And we had a wonderful old movie theater, and I spent the morning body surfing and eating hot dogs on the boardwalk. And those little beachside village – and I had saved up some of my allowance from mowing lawns, and I would go to see the matinees. And I went to see a matinee. I forget what it was. I think it was a cowboy movie with Anthony Quinn, The Man from Durango or something. And I got there late because I’d been out in the ocean, and I had to change my clothes. And I guess I walked into the movie theater at 3:30 and paid my matinee – I paid my matinee price because I couldn’t afford the evening price. But, what happened was they started the grownup movie at like 3:45 or something in the afternoon. That was the beginning of the grownup double bill, not the matinee for kids.

And I sat there, and like most kids of my generation, I like WWII movies. And it was a WWII movie. And I thought, “Okay.” And I’m watching it. And it was The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer, this Army war, South Pacific. And at some point, a guy gets bitten by a tropical snake, one of our boys, on this South Pacific island. And unbelievable Technicolor death, the – the poison from the snake foams out of his nose and his ears and his mouth, and it freaked me. It’s just one of those things, as a kid, that stays with you. Freaked me out. So, I spent the rest of that summer looking under my bed and my drawers for snakes. And it really kind of freaked me out for a long, long time.

And then, I did – we – were there these guys that were really amazing special effects guys in LA. And they would go to any A movie, any big A-list movie, and they could see the big expensive special effect by George Lucas or by James Cameron or by Stanley Kubrick. And then, they could do it for like one tenth the price and better. These guys were really great. They just hadn’t created the effect. Some of the guys from my Nightmare on Elm Street movies were like that. But, this was a different team of special effects guys.

So, I did this movie called Python, which was the low budget follow up to Anaconda with Ice-T and Jennifer Lopez. So, I did this movie called Python with Casper Van Dien. And it was one of those direct-to-DVD horror movies, science fiction movies. Casper was doing a lot of those because he was such a big success with Starship Troopers. And they gave me a baby python, an albino baby python in that movie to – for my character. I was the herpetologist, who was an expert on snakes. And they actually put a shoestring through a tube sock and put the little female python, albino white python, little tiny python around my shoulder. They tied it around my shoulder and let the tube sock hang in my armpit. And then, I would pull her out, and she would coil around my fingers and coil around my wrist and hand and do scenes. And I knew it looked cool on camera. Here I’ve got this live snake coiling around my – this little thin baby white python.

And that’s how I got over my fear of snakes because the snake was so small. She’s not poisonous. And I worked with her for six weeks on the movie, and she was in my armpit for five of those weeks. So, that’s how I got over my – that’s the irony of being a horror movie actor is the horror movie actor got over his fear of snakes doing a horror movie about snakes.

Omar Ufman: I’ve enjoyed all the episodes, watched as many as I could. And you mentioned at the start that you were responsible for the narration. So, I wanted to know what kind of story do you find most challenging to narrate, the monster stories, the paranormal stories?

Robert Englund: Well, the challenge for me is not so much the subject. The challenge for me is the blending from my on screen talking and my recaps and my introductions and then into the images of the reenactments because I haven’t always seen those. And so, you want to keep the energy blendable. And then, when you start doing the narration, the actual narration, we don’t always have the images. Sometimes we do. But, we don’t always have them. So, it’s that choice of when to be conversational and just matter of fact and just talking about, “In 1895, Owen Clive (sp) was walking down a,” and then, you also have to make that shift about when to be extra dark, how theatrical to be.

“It was a quiet midnight in the village of Cambridge in 1895.” You have to make those selections and how to blend them back and forth. That’s the real challenge for me. I never had to kind of combine on screen, talking with my narration. And it’s still got to be me. You should know that it’s still me. It’s Robert Englund, your host, narrating. But, I can go – I have to sometimes be theatrical and sometimes dramatic and sometimes dark and sometimes conversational, and sometimes I’ve just got to kind of welcome you back to the plot or refresh the plot. That was the real challenge for me. You know, they’re all – whether they’re paranormal or whether it’s like ghost story or something – some Native American legend – whatever it is still has to be Robert Englund, your friendly neighborhood host talking to you and reassuring you and keeping you up to date on the plot that you’re seeing in the reenactment. So, I don’t really distinguish between the content. I will say that if it’s a ghost story or if it’s something particularly dark, a serial killer or something, I tend to embrace the theatrical more on that. And if it’s more just historical and “what if,” I’m a little more – I don’t want to say natural. But, I’m a little more like – kind of like – the attitude is, “What do you think, viewer? What do you think, Mr. and Mrs. Audience? What do you think about this?” And so, these are sort of my little codewords for the different kind of tacks I take when I’m doing it. But, it’s fun because I’ve done all kinds of narration. I go all the way back to the seventies narrating an IMAX film, To Fly, and also the John Milius surfing epic for Warner Brothers, Big Wednesday. I’ve narrated those. And I’ve done lots and lots of voiceover. I’m the Riddler. I’m the vulture. I’m in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons. But, this is different. This is really different for me. So, it was a challenge, a challenge that I looked forward to.

I just wish next time, when our budget and our schedules coalesce a little more, I’d like to have – I’d just like to do more narration to image because it’s – I can sometimes I can tell by the looks on the actors’ faces or the mood of the actors or the sort of poetry of an establishing shot of like an old wooden covered bridge or something. That gives a sense of mood more, which sort of signals you, as an actor, on how you should narrate it. But, it’s fun. It’s a lot of fun because you can narrate in your pajamas. You don’t have to worry about your bald spot or drinking the night before and having puffy eyes.

Patrick Cavanaugh: Throughout your career, between the various movies you’ve been in, now hosting a T.V. series. You’ve been in T.V. series. You’re doing these conventions. You know, you’ve talked about your brushes with all these various like franchises and stuff. Is there still a bucket list item, a dream career goal that you are still hoping one day, you know, comes together?

Robert Englund: Well, what happens is you have these little dreams or roles, certain parts you want to play. And, of course, when actors say that their favorite part is the next one, they’re really telling you that we never know. It might literally be our favorite role.

I did a role – I think it was 2016, 2017 – in London. I did a film with a misfortunate – the title is unfortunate. It’s called The Last Showing. But, I starred with Finn Jones from Game of Thrones. And it’s some of the best work I’ve ever done. But, the title kind of hurt it in America. I got great reviews, and it was somewhat of a hit in Australia because they call the last screening of a movie at the movie theater – they call it the last showing also. But, we call it the midnight movie or the last screening or the midnight screening or the late show. When you say the last showing, it sounds like a Project Runway fashion thing or something. So, it was the wrong title. But, this is a part I would never have thought of paying an English projectionist at a suburban mall. But, it’s one of my favorite roles.

Robert Englund in The Last Showing

But, my bucket list role – I did understudy it years ago. That’s why it’s on my bucket list. I got to understudy the role of Othello at Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival. This is just before Tom Hanks got there, I think. And there was a magnificent actor playing Othello, Roger Robinson. And I think he has Tony awards for an August Wilson play. Roger was wonderful. And I look back now and realize just how amazing his interpretation was and how strong a performance it was.

But, I never got to do it with Roger. I got to rehearse it with him, I think, once, and then, I had to sit backstage every night in case the guy playing Iago got hurt because that’s the role I wanted to do. And then, I could have probably played Iago until I was 60. But I’m truly too old now to play Iago. And it’s unfortunate because that was the one role I really – I think I really had a fix on. I used to use it for my auditions in the theater, and every time I auditioned with that part, I got the part. I mean, I auditioned with Iago from Othello, I got the role. So, that’s a bit of a disappointment that I never got to play that one.

But now, my response is what I always say – I mean, not what I always say, but what actors always say, which is my favorite role is the next one I do because you never know when that’s going to be something as fulfilling as, for instance, the one I did called The Last Showing a couple of years ago, which was just a little low budget English film shot outside of London. But, I got to work with Finn Jones, who’s terrific in the movie and Emily Barrington from Humans. She’s one of the power to the robots girls. Emily Barrington is a delightful actress too. And the wonderful director Phil Hawkins. And I never would have guessed in a million years that that would have been a challenge and that would have been – that I would have been proud of that role. But, I am. So, it’s that kind of surprise that actors get every time they get a role.

I’ve got something coming up that I’m going to be shooting later this month. And I’m not allowed to talk about it. But, it also is very challenging – on a show that’s terribly, terribly popular. And I’m looking forward to the fan reaction to that as well. Hello?

About The Author
Stuart D. Monroe
Staff Writer
Stuart D. Monroe is a man of many faces – father, husband, movie reviewer, published author of short horror, unsuccessful screenwriter (for now), rabid Clemson Tiger, Southern gentleman, and one hell of a model American who goes by the handle "Big Daddy Stu" or "Sir". He's also highly disturbed and wears that fact like a badge of honor. He is a lover of all things horror with a particular taste for the fare of the Italians and the British. He sometimes gets aroused watching the hardcore stuff, but doesn't bother worrying about whether he was a serial killer in a past life as worrying is for the weak. He was raised in the video stores of the '80s and '90s. The movie theater is his cathedral. He worships H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Clive Barker. When he writes, he listens obsessively to either classical music or the works of Goblin to stimulate the neural pathways. His favorite movie is Dawn of the Dead. His favorite book is IT. His favorite TV show is LOST.
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