The man responsible for giving nightmares to generations of moviegoers is now inviting viewers to experience True Terror with Robert Englund. Hosted and narrated by Robert Englund, True Terror features eerie reenactments of some of the most bizarre newspaper stories to ever be printed, and with the series premiering tonight at 10:00pm ET on the Travel Channel, Daily Dead recently had the pleasure of joining other journalists in a roundtable conference call with the legendary actor to discuss how viewers can expect the new series to be like "comfort food from the dark side," the Twilight Zone influence on True Terror, the series' unique approach to Sasquatch stories, and what he'd like to explore in a potential second season of the show.
Englund also discussed fascinating details from his own life, including his mother's encounter with a ghostly premonition, his experiences with déjà vu, and the cultural impact of his ever-iconic Nightmare on Elm Street character, Freddy Krueger.
Check out highlights from the conference call with Englund below, and keep an eye out for True Terror with Robert Englund when the first episode of the six-part series premieres tonight at 10:00pm ET on the Travel Channel.
Robert Englund on what viewers can expect from True Terror:
I look at True Terror as a kind of formula comfort food from the dark side. It’s sort of equal parts Rod Serling's 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 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, 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.
Englund on the real-life roots, impact, and perception of Freddy Krueger:
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. There’s always been a bit of a dark side of the Grimms' fairy tale to the fable of Freddy Krueger, [A] 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 ’90s and the early 2000s. 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 marathon. And they think that maybe it was based on something true like Ted Bundy, you know, was a true serial killer story. But, in fact, the whole concept of Nightmare on Elm Street is very symbolic. I think basically it’s loss of innocence in America. The one clue that nobody ever picks up on, 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 Hollyweird. But, I think it’s an amalgamation of all of those things, [a] nightmare—a legend.
Englund on his love of premonition stories and a ghostly premonition that his mother experienced:
Well, you know, here’s the thing. We were able to 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 on-person 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 disease and things like that. So, they began to shape some of the episodes that way. I love premonition stories more than just straight-on ghost stories.
You know, my mother was a chain smoking, martini-drinking liberal who helped run the Adlai Stevenson [II] campaign back in the ’50s 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 new girl, and my mom was assigned doing all the dishes. They’d all been up smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, 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 hair was wet. 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 was going to go back to 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 went back and found the coffee cup, and it had lipstick on it. And that’s her 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 it’s one last reach, you know, from purgatory.
Englund on what stories he'd like to explore in a second season of True Terror:
This is my favorite question so far. I’ll tell you why. Right after I finished my last narration duties, it took longer than we thought. It wasn’t that long ago because they are always rewriting and changing and 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 L.A. 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 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. There’s 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, 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. 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’s 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 maybe some Bureau of Land Management agents, you know, in the 1860s or something, [who] 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.
Englund on whether or not he's had any supernatural experiences:
The only ones I’ve had are déjà vu. I’ve had a couple of really strong déjà vu experiences. I’ve had about four of them, four or five. They’ve all been in rooms. They’ve all been about rooms. I’ve walked into rooms that I’ve dreamed of before I entered them. And it’s happened a couple of times, which is really strange. I mean, I literally can go down, walk down, I’m looking up at a painting on the wall, and I’ve seen that painting in a dream. And that’s happened to me two or three times, I think. And then I’ve had a couple of déjà vu experiences with the combined auditory and olfactory, you know, it’ll be sound and smell and it’s not just a sort of Marcel Proust, bite the biscuit thing where it’s like remembering your mom’s cooking or something. You’ve actually been in that spot before where those things combined, and yet you’ve never been there, not even in your childhood.
Those are the things that always make me wonder a little bit about other dimensions and things like that. I don’t really have a ghost story. But, I have been in rooms where terrible things have occurred, murders or prolonged illness. And I think there’s something to the idea of contained energy, energy from someone who suffered perhaps or a group of people that suffered, perhaps, in one place. I know many people that go to the concentration camps to see the concentration camps in Europe have experienced that sense. I’ve experienced it in just neutral places. I worked in a prison morgue once, and it was very disturbing. And I’ve been in a bedroom once where a woman was confined to bed for like 50 years and slowly died and never left the room. And you could definitely feel some residue in there of energy. And, of course, electricity is part of what we are. And so, it could be explained that way. But I do kind of respect that. I don’t know if I—to say I believe. But, I do respect those that do feel that’s part of our reality.
Englund on the rising popularity of the horror genre and true crime:
Well, when we all used to go to the movies back in the day, I think that the horror movie originally, it’s almost like a kind of church. 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 the 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 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 our way of kind of a substitution for dealing with our own mortality.
Englund on whether or not hosting Freddy's Nightmares as Freddy Krueger influenced him on True Terror:
No. You know what I use is I do a lot of Comic Cons and film festivals. I go to a lot of film festivals, and I’m often asked to speak. So, I borrow a little because when I’m at a film festival and perhaps I’m asked to be one of the judges with Sam Raimi or Cary Elwes or somebody, and we’re there because we’re judging usually a genre film or it’s a genre film festival or we are the judges for the genre entries. Me and John Landis did one, for instance. And we’re asked to talk oftentimes, and the fans are there, you know, as fans of us. And so, I work it a little bit. You know, I’ve been in the theater, and I work that aspect of my personality, something that people expect me to be as opposed to maybe what I really am. And so, I took a little bit of that and a little bit of my Vincent Price persona, you know, a little bit of Klaus Kinski, a little bit of Rod Serling, a little bit of Unsolved Mysteries, the work the host [Robert Stack] did on that. It’s not a lot. It’s still me. But, I’m also trying to just live up a bit to the expectation that a lot of fans have of what I might really be like. So, it is True Terror with Robert Englund. It’s not True Terror with Robert Englund pretending to be somebody else. But, there’s a bit—I don’t want to say an embellishment, but a little dusting of all of those influences on my choices when I host. I have to depend on my writers too. But, every once in a while, you feel that Rod Serling rhythm in the writing, and you sort of have to respond to it.
Englund on the journalism origins of every story in True Terror:
Well, what you have to understand is that most of these stories are 19th century, some in the early 20th century. And as a journalist, you’ve heard terms like "yellow journalism," and you understand the difference between journalism and tabloid. And yet, tabloid has always been part of journalism as has what we call the human interest story. And so, what we have to remember is all these were reported. Now, science has matured and changed, and so a lot of this can be discounted by science. And the other thing is that we were a much more superstitious country in the 19th century.
But, still, the idea that these were reported and taken seriously, what I love about that is it explains something to us about who we were, about the American psyche, the American predilection for that kind of story. And I like that. I think that’s interesting. And I also think it separates us, and when I say "us," I mean True Terror. I think some of these stories on True Terror have become urban legends. They’ve become urban myths. They become stories we share around a campfire, especially in the small towns or the second cities that these tales occurred in. So, they have evolved to that. But, they began as something that was reported in a newspaper at one time.
And some of them still carry even what I consider—for my own tastes, you know, one of my least favorite subjects, Bigfoot. But, even our so-called Bigfoot, Sasquatch story, our source is Teddy Roosevelt, president of the United States, on a hunting party in Montana with Native American guides. And those guys are the ones that have the most clear folklore about the Sasquatch legend of anyone. And when you look at their stories, maybe there is just a smidge of credibility there, certainly more than The Legend of Boggy Creek. That’s how I was introduced to all that stuff at the drive-in movies as a kid, on a double date, watching cheesy 16 millimeter film of a guy in a gorilla suit. But then, you’re hanging out with somebody in the ’80s, as I was, who had been to several really remote Native American reservations because of some field study they were doing, and they actually were told some Sasquatch or Sasquatch-like legends. So, it didn’t start with some cheesy movie. It’s actually much more ancient than that, and so you’ve got to have that little bit of cred. That’s what I love about our Sasquatch story because it’s a little more reasonable reportage surrounding it that just gives it a little more of what I call the “what if.” What if that’s real? What if that happened?
Englund on getting over his fear of snakes:
As a child, I was down here in the very town I live in now, Laguna Beach, California. And we had a wonderful old movie theater, and I spent the morning body surfing and eating hot dogs on the boardwalk. I had saved up some of my allowance from mowing lawns, and I would go to see the matinees. And I went to see a matinee. I forget what it was. I think it was a cowboy movie with Anthony Quinn or something. And I got there late because I’d been out in the ocean, and I had to change my clothes. And I guess I walked into the movie theater at 3:30 and paid my matinee price because I couldn’t afford the evening price. But, what happened was they started the grownup movie at like 3:45 or something in the afternoon. That was the beginning of the grownup double bill, not the matinee for kids. I sat there, and like most kids of my generation, I like WWII movies. And it was a WWII movie. And I thought, “Okay.” I’m watching it, and it was The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer, this Army war, South Pacific. And at some point, a guy gets bitten by a tropical snake, one of our boys, on this South Pacific island. And [in] unbelievable Technicolor death, the poison from the snake foams out of his nose and his ears and his mouth, and it freaked me [out]. It’s just one of those things, as a kid, that stays with you. Freaked me out. So, I spent the rest of that summer looking under my bed and my drawers for snakes. And it really kind of freaked me out for a long, long time.
And then, there [were] these really amazing special effects guys in L.A. And they would go to any A movie, any big A-list movie, and they could see the big expensive special effects by George Lucas or by James Cameron or by Stanley Kubrick. And then, they could do it for like one tenth the price and better. These guys were really great. They just hadn’t created the effect. Some of the guys from my Nightmare on Elm Street movies were like that. But, this was a different team of special effects guys. So, I did this movie called Python, which was the low-budget follow-up to Anaconda with Ice Cube and Jennifer Lopez. So, I did this movie called Python with Casper Van Dien. And it was one of those direct-to-DVD horror movies, science fiction movies. Casper was doing a lot of those because he was such a big success with Starship Troopers. And they gave me a baby python, an albino baby python in that movie, for my character. I was the herpetologist, you know, who was an expert on snakes. And they actually put a shoestring through a tube sock and put the little female python, albino white python, little tiny python around my shoulder. They tied it around my shoulder and let the tube sock hang in my armpit. And then, I would pull her out, and she would coil around my fingers and coil around my wrist and hand and do scenes. And I knew it looked cool on camera. Here I’ve got this live snake coiling, this little thin baby white python. And that’s how I got over my fear of snakes because the snake was so small. She’s not poisonous. And I worked with her for six weeks on the movie, and she was in my armpit for five of those weeks. That’s the irony of being a horror movie actor, is the horror movie actor got over his fear of snakes doing a horror movie about snakes.
Englund on his bucket list role and a recent role he's very proud of:
Well, you know, what happens is you have these little dreams or roles, certain parts you want to play. And, of course, when actors say that their favorite part is the next one, they’re really telling you that we never know. It might literally be our favorite role. I did a role—I think it was 2016, 2017—in London. I did a film with a misfortunate—the title is unfortunate. It’s called The Last Showing. But, I starred with Finn Jones from Game of Thrones. And it’s some of the best work I’ve ever done. But, the title kind of hurt it in America. I got great reviews, and it was somewhat of a hit in Australia because they call the last screening of a movie at the movie theater, they call it the last showing also. But, we call it the midnight movie or the last screening or the midnight screening or the late show. When you say "the last showing," it sounds like a Project Runway fashion thing or something. So, it was the wrong title. But, this is a part I would never have thought of, you know, paying an English projectionist at a suburban mall. But, it’s one of my favorite roles.
But, my bucket list role, I did understudy it years ago. That’s why it’s on my bucket list. I got to understudy a role [Iago] for Othello at the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival. This is just before Tom Hanks got there, I think, and there was a magnificent actor playing Othello, Roger Robinson. And I think he has Tony awards for an August Wilson play. Roger was wonderful. And I look back now and realize just how amazing his interpretation was and how strong a performance it was. But, I never got to do it with Roger. I got to rehearse it with him, I think, once, and then I had to sit backstage every night in case the guy playing Iago got hurt, because that’s the role I wanted to do. And then, I could have probably played Iago until I was 60, but, I’m truly too old now to play Iago. And it’s unfortunate because that was the one role I think I really had a fix on. I used to use it for my auditions in the theater, and every time I auditioned with that part, I got the part. I auditioned with Iago from Othello, I got the role.
So, that’s a bit of a disappointment that I never got to play that one. But now my response is what actors always say, which is my favorite role is the next one I do because you never know when that’s going to be something as fulfilling as, for instance, the one I did called The Last Showing a couple of years ago, which was just a little low-budget English film shot outside of London. But, I got to work with Finn Jones, who’s terrific in the movie and Emily Berrington from Humans. She plays one of the power to the robots girls. Emily Berrington is a delightful actress, too. And the wonderful director Phil Hawkins. And I never would have guessed in a million years that that would have been a challenge and that I would have been proud of that role. But, I am. So, it’s that kind of surprise that actors get every time they get a role. I’ve got something coming up that I’m going to be shooting later this month. And I’m not allowed to talk about it. But, it also is very challenging, on a show that’s terribly, terribly popular. And I’m looking forward to the fan reaction to that as well.
— Trvl Channel (@travelchannel) March 18, 2020