A Chat with Robert Englund about his new show ‘True Terror’


True Terror is amazing! I’ve already been talking about it right here on The Blood-Shed, and I hope you too will enjoy this scary yet informative adventure into historical horror. Each reenactment is based on real stories, plucked right out of a headline in the past!

 “Hidden away in the dark shadows of our nation’s history are tales so terrifying, they must be true. Now, veteran actor and legendary horror movie icon Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger of the “A Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise) scours news reports of yesteryear to bring viewers twisted tales ripped straight from the headlines in “True Terror with Robert Englund.”

In each episode, Englund uses his ominous tones and creepy charisma to masterfully weave together a trilogy of spine-tingling tales, guided by newspaper accounts and layered with commentary from historians and experts that prove that truth is always stranger than fiction. From flying monsters to creatures in the night, to evil possessions and hauntings, these twisted tales will leave viewers wishing the stories really were only in their dreams.”

Episode one will debut on March 18th, and there are some wonderfully terrifying tales to be told. Starting with “See You in Six Weeks” we have to determine if a shopkeeper simply has a terrible dream, or will he join some deceased friends a short time in the future.  “Dead Enough to Bury” really gave me the creeps, because of the implications of corruption in the business of burying people and “Graveyard Shift” examines how the repercussions of killing someone can come back to haunt you, literally.

In a recent press conference with the Master of the Macabre, Robert Englund answers some questions about these new tales of terror.

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: Well, I look at True Terror as a kind of formula comfort food from the dark side.  You know, it’s sort of equal parts Rod Serling Twilight Zone with some of the aspects of that great Robert Stack series, Unsolved Mysteries, you know, 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, you know, two guys, you know, 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.

Were there any stories or episodes that were particularly intriguing or compelling to you?

RE: Well, one that I didn’t realize–and, again, this is the underbelly of the American psyche.  But, I knew that there had been 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–there–people were literally being buried alive for profit.  And this is as recently as the late last century.  So, stuff like that you know, I’d been telling people we all have things in American history that are dark and interesting, you know, serial killer stories that kind of go over our head or astounding facts of nature that we’ve missed somehow.  You know, we’ve been preoccupied with something else.

There was a story, a few years ago that some people thought your Freddy Krueger character, was based on a true tale of terror, that it was about 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. I was just kind of curious how you felt about that, about how this character, that was so extravagant and larger than life has now made its way into the real world almost as like a real figure.

RE: Well, you know, Freddy’s an amalgamation of Wes Craven’s experiences.  I think that there was a bully in his school named Fred Krueger.  And I think 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.  You know, 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, you know, 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, you know–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, you know, marathon.  And they think that maybe it was based on something true like Ted Bundy, who you know, was a true serial killer story.  But, in fact, you know, the whole concept of Nightmare on Elm Street is very symbolic.  I think basically it’s the loss of innocence in America.  The one clue that nobody ever picks up on, you know–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, you know, the survivor girl, as they say in Holly-weird.  But, I think it’s an amalgamation of all of those things that sort of, you know, nightmare–a legend.

Were there any ghost stories in the show, that you were like, “Wow, that changed my mind.”

RE: 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 own personal 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 a disease or–and things like that.  So, they began to shape some of the episodes that way.  I love premonition stories more than just a straight-on ghost story.

You know, my mother was a chain-smoking, 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, you know, 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–you know, 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 had–you know, she was going to go back to the–a 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, you know, 12 to 15 hours before my mother made a cup of coffee for her.  And my mother, you know, said that the–it was–you know, she went back and found the coffee cup, and it had lipstick on it.  And that’s her, you know, 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 you know, it’s one last reach, you know, from purgatory.

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

RE: This is my favorite question so far. I’ll tell you why.  Right after I finished my last narration duties–and, you know, it took longer than we thought.  It wasn’t that long ago because they are always rewriting and changing and, you know, trying to combine a bit of the old-time feel, a little bit of theatricality, and, you know, 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, you know, there are 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, you know, 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 are 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, you know, 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.

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? 

RE: Well, you know, when we all used to go to the movies before, you know–back in the day, I think that the horror movie originally–it’s almost like a kind of church. You know, 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 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, you know, 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 a kind of substitution for dealing with our own mortality.

*The press conference was edited, for length, but I’d like to thank: Patrick Cavanaugh, Waylon Jordan, Courtney Murak, Jessica Peralta, Alex Stevenson and The Travel Channel for their wonderful questions! 

The six-part series “True Terror with Robert Englund” begins on Wednesday, March 18 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Travel Channel.


To learn more about the historical horrors covered in “True Terror with Robert Englund,” visit TravelChannel.com for spooky selects from the series.

Follow @TravelChannel and #TrueTerror on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for additional content and updates.

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