Robert Englund is easily one of our biggest living horror legends. He gained legions of fans playing Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street films, a character he helped turn into a cultural icon. But people tend to forget that Englund was acting long before he got the part of Freddy and had already had a breakout hit with the TV series V. Still, he became synonymous with the character and never turned down an opportunity to play the dream stalker in anything from sequels to a TV series to music videos.
Being best known as the bastard son of a hundred maniacs leads to a career in horror, whether you want it or not. Englund has never resented his place in the genre, far from it, in fact. He’s embraced it on a level that’s amazing to see. Standing in the center of horror for so long, Englund has developed a deep appreciation for it. If you discuss the genre with him, he can rattle off classic favorites and obscure hidden gems in the same breath.
The man is a legend who has worked with just about everyone in the industry and has a story to tell about every single one of them. He’s probably the biggest horror icon we have, the closest thing to a modern day Vincent Price. Robert Englund embodies all of the class and style of old Hollywood, with a fresh wit and deep appreciation for the genre and—especially—its fans.
I’d like to wish him a happy birthday on behalf of everyone here at Wicked Horror. He’s simply the best, and here are our top five picks to watch today to honor the man and his legacy.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
Of course Freddy had to make an appearance on the list, so I want to get him out of the way right off the bat. I’m listing The Dream Master because Englund cites it as his favorite of his performances as the character. I think there’s a good reason for that, too. While I prefer the slicker, crueler wit of Dream Warriors, Dream Master was the Elm Street that made the most money. This was the height of Freddy’s time as a pop culture figurehead. If you’re going to watch one Nightmare today to celebrate Mr. Englund, this is the one it should be.
Robert Englund doesn’t appear anywhere in this film, but if you want to watch a Robert Englund movie, this is it. To this day, 976-EVIL remains the only feature film he has ever directed. And you know what? It’s a hell of a lot of fun. He takes the simple idea of a 900-number that either kills you or forces you to kill depending on its mood and turns it into a teenage possession/slasher/revenge story. It’s Carrie by way of John Waters. It’s delightfully over-the-top and Fright Night star Stephen Geoffreys gives a top-notch lead performance.
The Phantom of the Opera
We’re talking about the 1989 Phantom, not the Lon Chaney classic or the modern musical. This is the Phantom that not everyone has seen, despite its amazing Blu-ray treatment from Scream Factory. But it’s absolutely worth checking out. This is Englund cementing his place as a modern day horror star by taking on one of the classic, centerpiece horror roles. Watching his suave, sardonic performance you can’t help but wonder what he would have done with Dracula or—especially—the Frankenstein monster.
This was the first picture I had ever seen Englund appear in, outside of the Nightmare films and I remember being really excited to watch him play something else, seeing the man under the makeup for pretty much the first time. He does a great job as the college professor who may or may not be crazy and I think it was smart to give us Englund as the obvious red herring when the story sets up the professor as the number one suspect for the first act, because everyone was so used to seeing him be the bad guy.
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
I’ve written quite a bit recently about how much I love this film. Englund only has a few scenes, but he fits perfectly into the story, referencing his own legacy as a horror villain by playing the noble Doc Halloran. He’s totally aping Donald Pleasance’s performance as Loomis in Halloween and clearly having a blast while doing it. In general, this is just one of the best horror movies Englund has appeared in within the past decade.