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Tuesday, February 20, 2024 | Exclusives, Interviews


The word “iconic” has lost much of its meaning. In modern media, overuse (and just plain careless use) has found the word applied to fleeting moments and disposable characters, especially, it seems, in the horror genre. However, when it comes to true living legends, actors, writers and directors whose work places them in the company of horror’s titans, one name stands tall. Forever synonymous with his portrayal of sadistic child murderer turned dream-stalking demon, Freddy Krueger, in the A Nightmare on Elm Street movies, Robert Englund, over the course of his long career, has risen from cult figure to pop-culture fixture to genre elder statesman. And Englund will be the first to tell you that respectability comes hard in Hollywood – and perhaps even harder in horror movies.

Recognizing the 76-year-old actor’s well-earned gravitas, genre giant Blumhouse has recruited Englund as the voice and guiding spirit of its new documentary series, Blumhouse’s Compendium of Horror, a comprehensive, five-part journey through horror history from the silent era to the 21st century that serves as a detailed primer for new horror fans and an exhaustive refresher course for the genre faithful. Exploring the genre’s evolution and meaning, the series explores horror film as a reflection of culture’s overarching fears and obsessions. Featuring in-depth interviews with horror’s top creators and scholars, Blumhouse’s Compendium of Horror treats the genre with a level of respect and seriousness rarely seen in the mainstream, all while maintaining a sense of fun that is far from pedantic or pretentious. 

For Englund, Blumhouse’s Compendium of Horror is not just another voice-over gig. It’s a reflection of his lifelong love of movie magic and monsters. RUE MORGUE recently caught up with the 1980s slasher icon (used here with its full weight and meaning) to discuss the series, the films that haunted his dreams and the state of the genre.

We have some catching up to do. It’s been nearly 20 years since we last spoke, and that was at a little fan convention in Knoxville, Tennessee. Back then, you said something to the effect that we need to get back to a real “punk rock” attitude about horror – that genre creators needed to push the envelope again and go for broke. With nearly 20 years of hindsight and horror experiencing something of a mainstream renaissance, do you think we got there? 

Robert Englund, horror icon.

Here’s the thing. I think there’s room for that. I think that needs to be part of it. I think that we really need to respect that. There’s been some [horror movies] recently… I’m trying to think of the one last year that was a big hit, and maybe you can help me out here, where that girl goes under the house, down, down, down. And this maniac’s been holding his hostages [there for years].


Yes! Barbarian. I actually met the producer of that film. That was not an expensive film. It was a great hit, a great success. And I loved it. And I think that the idea should be that we encourage those films – the Barbarians – as much as we do big expensive remakes within the horror genre. I think there’s got to be room for both. And, when I talk about the budget of Barbarian, that’s what I’m referring to – the sort of punk-rock end of the budget within the genre. We don’t all need to be super groups, you know, and a little less imaginative because we’re relying on the safety of familiarity … So, I think it’s fair to reboot and continue to reboot characters that we love. we need to just sort of leave room at both ends of the dynamic. I’m happy to see a big-budget horror film, but I’d like it to be maybe not as safe as some of the more recent ones have been. 

And, you know, I love what we can do now with visual effects. If that can save money on a big-budget film, and we are allowed to go back in time, I would like to milk some historical horror using the new techniques we have digitally and otherwise, you know, to really go back that way. Perhaps, you know, a vampire or maybe really finding a great Wolf Man. I’m not sure the best Wolfman [movie] has been made yet. I think there’s probably a definitive one yet to be made. I think there’s a lot going on in the proposition of that film that needs to be explored.

Let’s talk about what we’re here to talk about, Blumhouse’s Compendium of Horror. How did you get involved with this series?

Well, the Blumhouse reputation had preceded itself in Hollywood. And I knew how devoted they were to the horror genre. And I knew that they had great respect for it. When they approached me, it was a very easy yes. The difficulty for me, just as an actor, was I knew there were tons and tons of interviews with people who have contributed to the horror genre over the years. They would be speaking very conversationally, and there were going to be a lot of clips and a lot of images and a lot of overlap between the interviews and the narration and the images and sequences. So, I was helped by the content of the copy and the style it was written in to kind of link it all together. 

I had to be kind of like a theatrical narrator to differentiate my voice from the sort of conversational interviewee voices that would be intermingling with my narration and with the images that we were sharing with the audience. That was a bit of a challenge.

The moment I knew they had a sequence based on the old black-and-white sci-fi movie Them!, with the giant ants, I was so hooked. I knew that they were gonna go places that I wanted to go with this documentary because that film was a seminal kind of a gateway drug horror film for me as a young child – probably 7 years old. Them! was sort of the secret amongst my group, a group of boys, that I hung out with in school and after school. We would religiously watch that movie every time it was on TV in the afternoon or on the late show at a sleepover at somebody’s house in our sleeping bags. Now, I realize that it was up for an Oscar for special effects, that the black and white cinematography is extraordinary and it has excellent acting, with a cast headed up by James Whitmore. The special effects and that sound the ants made just really haunted us as young science fiction fans. I think it was up against 20,000 Leagues Under Sea, the Disney film with James Mason, Kirk Douglas,  Peter Lorre and everybody. It was giant squids versus giant ants! [Laughs]. 

As a child, those were two incredibly important films for me. I saw 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre with my mother. My mother loved James Mason. My mother thought James Mason was the bee’s knees. So, we all got to go to a really early preview of 20,000 Leagues Under Sea at the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, with all the footprints and autographs. I wasn’t allowed to go to Saturday matinees, and I think Them! went almost immediately to television, so I discovered it on, like, The Million Dollar Movie or the afternoon movie or the late late show on the channels that didn’t have talk shows back then. You’d go to a sleepover at your friend’s house and stay up late to watch it with the sound turned down so the parents wouldn’t discover you. Both of those experiences really kind of tweaked my interest in the genre. When I when I discovered that Blumhouse was featuring Them! I was just so excited. And I knew that they were thinking and including great choices.

Let’s go back a bit further than Them! for a moment. The first episode of Blumhouse’s Compendium of Horror is titled “American Monsters” and covers the classics like Universal’s Dracula and Frankenstein. Were you a fan of those older films when they were beginning to show up on TV? Would you describe yourself as a monster kid or horror fan back then?

I was a huge fan as a child, but I kind of grew out of it.  Part of that was because when I eventually went into theatre, and I was dealing with anti-war plays and the avant-garde and the classics, I’d never considered being a film actor. At that time, I was very sure I was going to be a serious stage actor. But, when I was very young, I can remember seeing Frankenstein for the first time again – late at night on CBS in Hollywood, in Los Angeles. It came on at 11:15 on a Friday night. And again, I was at a sleepover with my friends in our sleeping bags, with one of those big tins of popcorn. We were in somebody’s den or basement or family room watching it late at night. And I remember when Frankenstein hangs Fritz on the hook. Back then, because [TV stations] were trying to fill this huge amount of time at night, and they did have commercials for used cars and things, but the movies were uncut because the longer the better. I remember seeing Frankenstein throw the little girl in the lake. You know, “She loves me, she loves me not,” with the flowers, and he throws her in the lake. That was amazing to me. 

I think I saw King Kong around the same time, for the first time. I think it was still uncensored, like Frankenstein, and they actually showed Kong’s foot squish the little baby. Yeah, they hadn’t edited that yet to protect us all. As a child, it was rich. I remember, over and over and over again, drawing the men being shaken off the log, in King Kong, into the crevasse by Kong,  I tried to draw that over and over and over again. So, I was like really captivated by that stuff. 

Then even later on, there was sort of a childhood Saturday matinee. You’d mow a lawn in the morning, get some change and talk somebody’s mother into dropping you off at the movie theater. I can remember going and seeing Hammer films. I remember seeing, oh, gosh, this is science fiction, but I remember seeing Forbidden Planet in VistaVision with the incredible soundtrack … It was a really otherworldly soundtrack. And, of course, you get Anne Francis in hotpants, too, which doesn’t hurt! And Robbie the Robot.

We’ve been talking about the classics from Universal, and you mentioned seeing the Hammer horror films. Do you see Blumhouse as filling the shoes of Universal and Hammer for a modern audience?

Blumhouse. Yeah. Not only do they have money, but they have a true love for [horror]. I mean, they could have picked a lot of things to do. They could have done hip-hop movies, or they could have rebooted teen comedies or something, but they chose horror and sci-fi because they really respected those genres. Not that I  think horror needs reinvigorating, but it certainly can use a home. And I think Blumhouse can be the new home and the new go-to place for quality horror.

Looking at the first episode of Compendium of Horror that covers the classic monster movies, is there a modern horror character from the last decade or so that fits the bill as an equivalent or an equal to Frankenstein, Dracula or the Wolfman, or even the monsters of your era, like, of course, Freddy or Jason?

Well, you know, I also like to put Hannibal Lecter in there, and at all the incarnations of Hannibal Lecter, whether it’s Brian Cox or Anthony Hopkins or Mads Mickelson. I’m just a sucker for that. So, I think he has to be included. And I think, possibly, there might be another interpretation of that monster, even though he’s mortal. 

For me, I love the idea that Jordan Peele has come up with the idea of mining folktales and folklore. Of course, Jordan Peele chose some African folklore. When I saw The Witch,  I was reminded that there’s still lots of stuff in Europe and in Eastern Europe. There’s lots of stuff left. A couple of years ago, I was involved, for almost a year of my life, it didn’t come to fruition, unfortunately, but with a Russian folktale. There’s a lot of that out there, and perhaps out of one of those will come a new creature, like the dybbuk or something like that, that will capture the imagination of the genre audience. 

There also might be a return to some period creatures. I still don’t think there’s been a definitive Wolf Man. I think that there’s room for a new Dracula interpretation. I’m very fond of the Francis Ford Coppola Dracula, but I think that there’s room for another, for others, that would be interesting to see. There might be some Stephen King’s stuff that’s been neglected or can be reinterpreted and offer us some new iconic characters, but I’m not worried about it. I’m worried more about all of the Marvel movies and stuff that gets all the attention and the publicity. I think audiences just need to do a little more due diligence when they go look for the horror section on their streamer, and just seek out some of this new stuff that’s that’s been neglected a little bit.

What do you hope that horror fans or even non-horror fans will take away from  Blumhouse’s Compendium of Horror?

What I love about Compendium of Horror is it reminds us of the stuff we all like. It reminds us of the classics, whether it’s Hannibal Lecter or Frankenstein’s Monster or Nosferatu. It reminds us of all that, but it hits other places as well. For everybody that watches, there’ll be something they may not know about, which I like, but I also like how it shows us our horror, like every other medium, has also responded to the culture and the news and historical events. It’s a reminder that horror is an art form and it reflects society and culture and what’s going on in the world. Compendium of Horrorr teaches us about those moments and about how horror is constantly changing and adapting to the culture.

What’s next for Robert Englund?

Well, you know, I’m pretty busy with voice work. You can hear me, not see me, right now on Apple TV+, on their new animated series from Dreamworks, called Curses!, which I heartily recommend for young people because the theme is just so great. [It’s} about the karma of colonist countries having stolen art over the last couple of centuries for their museums, and in the particular case of Curses!, it’s a family who derives their money from a grandfather who stole art from museums and some of the art in question is, well, it’s stuff he shouldn’t have stolen, let alone the fact that it’s art. To get rid of the curse, the family needs to return this art to the countries where it was stolen and the indigenous people that was stolen from. So, it’s got this great theme that I think we all need to address here in Western society. Anyway, that’s Curses! from DreamWorks on Apple TV+, and I play the grandfather. 

There’s that, and then I have a little horror movie out right now called Natty Knocks, directed by my Phantom of the Opera director Dwight H. Little, and I have a little retro horror movie with my old co-star, Danielle Harris. playing a mother for the first time. So, those two are out in the universe. I’m gonna go overseas and see some of my fans in Europe later this year. I’m happy about that. And there’s some stuff on the back burner, but I can’t really talk about it because I don’t want to jinx it!

Blumhouse’s Compendium of Horror is now streaming in Canada on Hollywood Suite.

“I think audiences just need to do a little more due diligence when they go look for the horror section on their streamer, and just seek out some of this new stuff that’s that’s been neglected a little bit.”

William J. Wright
William J. Wright is RUE MORGUE's online managing editor. A two-time Rondo Classic Horror Award nominee and an active member of the Horror Writers Association, William is lifelong lover of the weird and macabre. His work has appeared in many popular (and a few unpopular) publications dedicated to horror and cult film. William earned a bachelor of arts degree from East Tennessee State University in 1998, majoring in English with a minor in Film Studies. He helped establish ETSU's Film Studies minor with professor and film scholar Mary Hurd and was the program's first graduate. He currently lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with his wife, three sons and a recalcitrant cat.