Being associated with an iconic role can be a blessing and a curse for an actor. A blessing in that it means you’ve done something that has connected powerfully with audiences and will give you a form of immortality. A curse in that people only tend to see you in one way. Robert Englund knows this quite well. The documentary Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares: The Robert Englund Story compellingly argues that the A Nightmare on Elm Street star could have played literally anything yet got pigeonholed in horror after playing Freddy Krueger. If you think he’s upset about that, think again. He seems to have found a great deal of pleasure in his specific style of fame. The doc will be available on Screambox and digital on June 6, 2023.
Directors Christopher Griffith and Gary Smart briefly touch on England’s childhood, where he received a nod of approval from show business legend Steve Allen after an adolescent portrayal of Pinocchio at a children’s theater. His early days on the stage are similarly summarized, as are early roles in Bob Rafelson’s Stay Hungry, Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive, and Daniel Petrie’s Buster and Billie. A role playing fan favorite Willie in the massively popular ‘80s miniseries V really brought him to the public’s attention. Colleagues and collaborators – including Lance Henriksen, Lin Shaye, and Nightmare co-star Heather Langenkamp - discuss the wide variety of characters he skillfully brought to life.
Then came Freddy. Almost overnight, Englund became a household name, associated with the scarred child molester/murderer he chillingly portrayed in Wes Craven’s 1984 classic. Multiple sequels followed, as did a television series. Freddy turned into a pop culture icon, recognizable to everyone, whether they’d seen any of the movies or not. After that, the actor worked almost exclusively in horror, even making his directorial debut with 976-EVIL. The commentators make it clear that, rather than feeling limited by this career path, Englund embraced it, establishing himself as a genuine genre legend.
He confirms his happiness. Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares gives Englund plenty of screen time to tell fascinating personal stories (like how he talked pal Mark Hamill into auditioning for Star Wars), relay professional anecdotes (including frustration when friend/Jason Voorhees actor Kane Hodder was inexplicably replaced for Freddy vs. Jason), and offer overall reminiscences about the projects he’s been part of. Englund is a natural storyteller, capable of sharing his memories in a way where you hang on every word. He provides humor and urgency in the telling of them, which makes the documentary consistently entertaining to watch.
I can’t say there are any particularly major revelations about Robert Englund here. The movie is simply a tribute to an immensely talented actor who started off wanting to do it all, then found a niche where he could thrive to an uncommon degree. Listening to him reflect on his career and hearing his admirers expound on what makes him special is enough to make Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares must-see viewing for fans of the man who was Freddy and so much more.
out of four
Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares: The Robert Englund Story is unrated, but contains adult language and violent movie clips. The running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes.