Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares: The Robert Englund Story - New Release Review
Director: Christopher Griffiths, Gary Smart
Starring: Robert Englund, Nancy Englund, Heather Langenkamp, Kane Hodder, Mick Garris, Lance Henriksen, Tony Todd, Lin Shaye
Written by: Neil Morris, Gary Smart
Produced by: Adam Evans, Eastwood Allen, Michael Leavy, Michael Perez, Hank Starrs, Christopher Griffiths, Gary Smart
Cinematography by: Richard Jackson
Original Score by: Sean Schafer Hennessy
A unique and intimate documentary about the classically trained actor and director Robert Englund, the man who rose to stardom as the supernatural serial killer Freddy Krueger from the 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' franchise.
The lads from Dead Mouse Productions and Cult Screenings UK Ltd have only gone and done it again. Hot off the amazing response from their 2021 documentary 'Pennywise: The Story of It', which we called "an astonishingly remarkable deep dive into one of the most beloved cult horror films of the last few decades and an amazing celebration of one of the horror genre's most iconic villains", the team have returned with yet another blistering enjoyable, comprehensive documentary that not only delves into one of cinema's most decorated horror characters but also, and maybe more importantly, the man behind the burned face and razor sharp glove, the icon Robert Englund.
Robert Englund achieved legendary status many decades ago and this documentary celebrates his life and career through in-depth interviews with the man himself, his wife Nancy and his closest friends and colleagues. It would have been so easy to just make another 'Elm Street' documentary but with 'Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares' we get a proper look into Robert's childhood, his upbringing, his formative years as a young actor on stage, his early days in front of the camera and his notable big break which eventually led to him being an icon. It wasn't always easy but what a life he has led.
After an inevitable quick montage of Englund as Freddy Krueger we go back in time with Robert who opens up about his childhood and the heavy expectations that his Father had of have him to grow up to be a doctor or lawyer. Robert, of course, had other ideas.
"There are horror icons. There's Freddy. There's Jason. There's Pinhead. There's Chucky. But then there are iconic horror actors." - Eli Roth
While some of this may already be known to a lot of horror fans or even die hard Englund fans, there's still plenty in here that will make your eyebrows rise up. If you've ever met Robert at a convention or saw him do a panel or interview over the years you're probably already aware of a story he likes to tell about an old roommate who he persuaded to audition for a small science fiction film. That roommate was none other than Mark Hamill and the film was a little space opera called 'Star Wars'. But did you also know that Robert was one of the people, whilst in between acting jobs back in 1978, who was hired to fill refuse sacks with fallen autumnal leaves for an upcoming low-budget horror film about a masked killer who stalks babysitters? And did you also know that he auditioned for 'Kill Bill' in the role as the orderly who sexually abuses Uma Thurman's Bride character whilst she is recovering in hospital? Sadly he didn't get that role citing his age as a roadblock but the character was named Buck (who likes to fuck) after Englund's character from his first ever horror film 'Death Trap' (1976) formerly 'Eaten Alive' directed by the late, great Tobe Hooper.
If like us you are a huge 'Elm Street' fanatic then you'll already be aware of how and why he got the iconic role of Freddy Krueger and what he did to make that character so memorable but what I love about this documentary is that, whilst it obviously mentions Krueger at various stages throughout and dedicates a large section in the middle to the franchise itself, it allots plenty of time to delve into Robert's earlier films and the relationships he made in those early days that helped him get into the industry.
I adored hearing stories about 'Death Trap', 'Dead and Buried' and 'Galaxy of Terror'. Both latter films were made and released in 1981. And an extended section of the film covers his time as Willie on the science fiction television series 'V' which was the project that made him almost an overnight star. There's also a bit of time dedicated to his version of 'The Phantom of the Opera' which he is very proud of even though it was sadly not very well received. I especially enjoyed hearing Robert talk about his non-horror roles on films like the 1978 surfing drama 'Big Wednesday' in which he starred as the narrator. There's some great anecdotes from co-star William Katt who jestingly blames Robert for him missing out on the role of a lifetime as Luke Skywalker. Thankfully the two continued to be friends afterwards.
"He's Robert Fucking Englund for God's sake!" - Mick Garris
Perhaps one of the most enjoyable aspects of the entire documentary is just how eloquently Robert speaks of his peers, his work colleagues, his friends and his beloved wife Nancy, who he met on '976 Evil', his first ever directing role. Nancy was a set director and the two hit it off instantly. They are practically inseparable now.
For all intents and purposes Englund's humility and generosity seem to be his most endearing qualities and it is a constant when people talk about him. His willingness to give back to a new generation of filmmakers, actors and other folk in the industry, something that is greatly highlighted here in this film, might be his lasting legacy outside of his role as Krueger. And his indisputable influence on the genre simply cannot be matched.
Full of never before seen photographs, super quirky editing and brand new talking head interviews with industry experts and the people Robert is closest to, 'Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares' really is a must see for any horror fan or anyone who has shown any appreciation for Robert's work. It's well structured and paced. My only gripe with the film is that it's just too damn short. I didn't want it to end. I would've loved even more stories. Let's hope there's a Directors Cut available when it hits Blu-ray. We can't wait for what's next from Chris and Gary and the whole team. PS: It's 'RoboDoc: The Creation of RoboCop', but in the meantime make sure to check out this primetime documentary when it slashes onto ScreamBox this June...Bitch!
- Gavin Logan
'Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares: The Robert Englund Story' is available to stream exclusively on ScreamBox 6th June