Freddy Krueger, Robert Englund, and the Prison of Nostalgia

How extreme “Nightmare on Elm Street” fanaticism could kill the franchise.

 

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When New Line Cinema announced their intentions to reboot the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise in early August, it quickly became a hotly debated issue in online horror communities. While some fans expressed excitement, most seemed adamantly opposed to the prospect. At the core of these dissenters’ argument: A belief that no one besides Robert Englund can ever play Freddy Krueger. One sentiment I heard ad nauseam was: “Robert Englund IS Freddy Krueger.”

Robert Englund was absolutely integral to the development of Freddy Krueger. As anyone who has seen Never Sleep Again, the definitive Nightmare on Elm Street documentary, knows, producers considered replacing Englund in the franchise’s first sequel. But even after just one film, the actor’s mannerisms had thoroughly permeated the role—so much so that replacing him was impossible. Over the years and following sequels, even more of Englund’s personality became hallmarks of Freddy’s persona.

All this said, Robert Englund certainly IS NOT Freddy Krueger: He didn’t conceive the character, didn’t write his own dialog, never directed himself on set, and didn’t create his own special FX. Robert Englund may be synonymous with the “Springwood Slasher” in our collective mainstream psyche, but Freddy Krueger is bigger than any one man, and giving an actor (even an amazing actor) all the credit is disrespectful to the legions behind the scenes who were just as vital to Krueger’s creation and development. Just off the top of my head, I think Wes Craven (R.I.P.) might deserve some of the credit as well.

Wes Craven: Rest in Peace.

Wes Craven: Rest in Peace.

There seems to be a knee-jerk aversion to horror remakes these days—and it’s understandable. Over the past few years, we’ve been subjected to some truly abominable re-adaptations of beloved classics; The Wicker Man, Fright Night, and The Thing prequel spring to mind. But what horror fans seem to forget too easily is that for every abomination, there’s a remake that knocks it out of the park, like: 2004’s Dawn on the Dead, 2013’s Evil Dead, and 2014’s Maniac.

Of course, Nightmare fans have reason to be especially gun-shy, considering the franchise already attempted a reboot back in 2010—with disastrous results. So while resistance is understandable, it’s hardly constructive. And what’s the alternative? The way I see it, we can take a “wait and see” attitude regarding any future Nightmare remake, or the series can just end as is. While purists seem to support the latter option, it really amounts to a death sentence for Freddy and A Nightmare on Elm Street—which would be goddamn shame.

When examining cinematic horror history in its entirety, we find examples of characters who transcend specific actors and movies, becoming something more than a mere fictional creation. Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Wolfman are some of the most beloved and enduring entities in horror—and all of them have been played by multiple actors. Sure, some played their parts better than others, but the end result is a lasting, inter-generational, cultural icon. Freddy Krueger has a chance to become one of these mythic characters, more than just a major player in one particular era, rather something even bigger and more important—but only if we accept that he will need to evolve.

If you are adamant in your stance that the franchise should never continue without Englund, you might think you’re preserving Nightmare’s legacy or integrity—but you’re actually killing it. Sure, millennials love Robert Englund’s Freddy Krueger, but not like those of us who came of age in the 1980’s. If Freddy ends with Robert England, the character will not endure; he will be replaced and eventually forgotten. And if you’re okay with participating in the death of a potential myth, well—then you’re a selfish mothafucka.

Nostalgia is like a drug, producing the elation of time-travel and stimulating positive emotional recollections; it’s a great, temporary escape from reality. But like any drug, nostalgia should be indulged in with moderation; excessive use or abuse can have negative consequences. The desire to keep things exactly as we remember them may seem like a form of tribute and/or devotion—and sometimes it is. But it can also be an impediment to natural progress and evolution. In this case, I’d advise fans not to let their love of Freddy and A Nightmare on Elm Street turn into something ultimately destructive. Nostalgia can be a prison.

Robert Englund

Robert Englund

Before movies, there were plays—and plays, by necessity, rely on remakes and reinterpretations in order to propagate. Imagine if this same aversion to remakes existed in Shakespearian times: We may never have known characters like Hamlet, King Leer, or Romeo and Juliet. People who continue to patronize live theater today appreciate seeing different versions of a well-known story, finding joy in specific director’s reinterpretations and the diversity of actors who play familiar roles. While films galvanize larger audiences by allowing everyone the exact same experience (and thus, a greater sense of connection to a work of art and its corresponding community) I think we need to take a note from the past and consider our favorite characters and stories as living beings that evolve and, eventually, take on lives of their own.

Conclusion

The current Nightmare remake debates could be curtailed quickly if Robert Englund himself would weigh in on the situation. While some feel that, as long as he’s alive, the actor should automatically be cast as Freddy, do any of us truly know Englund’s stance? I’ve heard that he’s officially retired from the role, refusing even to don the make-up at future horror events—that he’s a peace with Freddy being a part of his past. I’d love to know if this is true.

To that end, I’ve been tweeting Robert Englund the same question every day for the past 2 weeks: “If you were offered the role of Freddy Krueger in the remake, would you take it?” If he ever gets back to me, I’ll let you all know.

Either way, I’m a proponent of withholding judgment on any Nightmare remake until a film is actually produced and released. And even if the result is another abomination, I’ll remember that nothing can truly damage my childhood recollections—that Englund’s Krueger, as the first, will always be considered the most important. But the past is over; time to face the future.

What’s your opinion on the future of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise? Are you adamantly opposed to any remake and/or any actor besides Robert Englund playing Freddy Krueger? Sound off in the Comments section!

Follow me on Twitter @josh_millican for quality horror articles worthy of your attention.

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Art by Deviant Artist thedarkcloak

 

 

6 Comments on this post.

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  • Matthew Myers
    9 September 2015 at 12:42 am - Reply

    Great article. Very true, I still believe casting a female lead in a reboot would not only be a great way for Freddy to live on, it would rejuvenate the franchise!

    • Will McDonald
      9 September 2015 at 2:41 am - Reply

      I love this idea beyond mere words could ever describe.

  • D. Nathan Hilliard
    9 September 2015 at 12:57 am - Reply

    I think the problem to a degree is that it’s too soon. Sometimes, when it comes to iconic characters, you need to wait a generation before rebooting them.

  • Ted Johnson
    9 September 2015 at 4:56 am - Reply

    Freddy Krueger was the creation of Wes Craven, Robert Shaye, and Robert Englund. Without all three’s input, the character would not be who he is. The character Wes Craven created in his script was “Freddie” Krueger, a hulking seven-foot-tall child molester wearing a red and yellow sweater, half-burned with a full head of hair, who had to occasionally repair his glove in the dream and was killed by Marge shooting him in the head, not by the flames that engulfed him. Freddy Krueger is none of that. And if Wes had had his way, Freddy would be wearing a paperboy hat. Englund’s interceding is what saved the fedora.

    “He didn’t conceive the character, didn’t write his own dialog, never directed himself on set”

    These are all incorrect. As mentioned above, Robert Englund is one of the three creators of the character as we know him. Englund very often improvised lines which made it into the final print (most famously, the immortal “Welcome to Prime Time, bitch!”, though that is only one of many examples). And Englund directed several episodes of the “Freddy’s Nightmares” TV series. So, yeah, he has done all that.

  • Joe P.
    9 September 2015 at 10:30 am - Reply

    I don’t have a problem with another actor portraying Freddy Krueger in future installments. Englund himself gave his blessing to Jackie Earle Haley, whatever we think of the reboot. A female Freddy doesn’t work for me, however.

  • Darius Wright
    9 September 2015 at 3:10 pm - Reply

    I absolutely love Freddy Krueger, and have had many dreams with him in them, so even though he’s a figment of my imagination in my dreams, it’s still great to see the dude. Anyways, a remake is something I’d definitely watch, at least once, because I’m a diehard fan of the franchise, even if it has its disasters. However, I want a reboot where Freddy Krueger actually kills the annoying blond hussie of a protagonist. Like seriously, the end to Freddy versus Jason just pissed me off when (spoiler alert) she shouted “welcome to my world, bitch!” and then the cliffhanger of freddy’s laughter at the end that opened the way for a part two never happened. So my point is if they reboot it, they better not abandon it, or desecrate Freddy’s gory glory.

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