Robert Englund will always be best known as Freddy Krueger. There’s really no way around that. He helped to create one of the most original, most iconic villains in cinema history. But outside the fedora and sweater, he has had an impressive and wide career both in and out of the genre. Englund is a gifted actor who, like so many of the greatest performers in horror, has been so tied to a certain part that people barely want to think of him as anything else. But even just within the horror genre, he has played an impressive and wide range of eccentric characters.
A lot of these have gone overlooked, as most people know Englund for Freddy and that’s about it. Sure, most horror fans have probably seen him in Wishmaster and Urban Legend or even his brief appearance in Hatchet, but what about Galaxy of Terror or Night Terrors? I’d wager people would be less familiar with those.
But in a way, that’s what’s so great about this genre. Every actor or director who makes or stars in a horror film you love is carrying with them a whole career of other material and there is always something new to discover.
The Mangler is a bizarre Stephen King adaptation based on one of his most absurd stories: It centers on a haunted industrial laundry press. Although it works shockingly well on the page, the movie is far from great. It’s worth watching for Robert Englund alone, though, who is so bizarre as the crotchety factory owner, acting under a ton of old age makeup.
Englund reteams with A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 director Renny Harlin for his appearance in The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, an action-comedy starring Andrew Dice Clay. While Harlin began his career in horror, he wound up having a huge action career with hits like Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger and The Long Kiss Goodnight. And yes, I wish Englund would have appeared in every single one of those as well.
Boasting the confusing tagline “It’s always midnight in space,” Galaxy of Terror is a low-budget sci-fi monster movie produced by Roger Corman. It’s most notable for the fact that the art director on this Alien ripoff was none other than James Cameron, who would of course go on to direct Aliens. Englund plays the ship’s technician, Ranger. It’s nice to see him in a more heroic role, even making it to the end, two things he rarely gets to do.
Hardcore sci-fi fans may remember V, but it goes pretty overlooked by the horror crowd. V was what Englund was famous for just before his entire career changed with A Nightmare on Elm Street. In the alien invasion miniseries, he played the sympathetic alien character Willie, returning for both the sequel and the short-lived follow-up TV series.
Englund might not have been the villain in Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive, but his character was just about as despicable as any villain you can think of. Watching it, I just couldn’t wait for him to get fed to the alligators (as was the gimmick of that particular movie) even though I’m a fan of the actor’s work. But I think it’s a good thing that Englund was able to make the character that despicable. It takes talent to play a bastard that well.
The list wouldn’t be complete without Englund’s first role in Buster and Billie. Starring alongside Jan-Michael Vincent and Pamela Sue Martin, Englund plays an albino appropriately named Whitey. While it’s a romantic comedy about the titular characters, Englund’s performance definitely steals the show.
Even though horror maestros Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee are at the helm of this one, Red could easily be classified as a dark drama. It’s a cold, dark film and not the type of feature you would have expected Englund to appear in during the late 2000’s, when all of the roles he was getting required him to ham it up. That’s not what he does here and that, if anything, makes it worth watching.
I won’t lie to you, Night Terrors can be pretty tough to sit through. But there’s a lot worth watching about this 1990’s Tobe Hooper joint, most especially Englund’s performance. It’s a story about dreams and second lives, but much more than that, it’s Robert Englund playing the Marquis de Sade. How could there be a bigger selling point than that?
Somehow, there are still people out there who haven’t seen Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, despite how heavily I’ve been trying to spread its gospel ever since it was released. It’s one of the smartest horror features of the last decade. It is a total deconstruction of every slasher trope you can conceive of, smartly done in a Man Bites Dog sort of documentary style. Englund is perfectly cast as the Dr. Loomis type, Doc Halloran, and puts his best impersonation of Donald Pleasance forward.
I vividly remember my excitement when I learned that Englund, in addition to playing Freddy, had played one of the classic horror icons. Happily, I was not disappointed with the film itself. Englund’s performance as the Phantom is one of my all-time favorites and I love the Faustian plot even if it differs greatly from the novel. There’s a very stylish nature to the film that I admire, especially considering that it never bogs down the story or the performances.