TFW 2011: Interview with Robert Englund

Genre legend Robert Englund will be appearing this weekend at TFW 2011
Genre legend Robert Englund will be appearing this weekend at TFW 2011

In addition to being a genre legend, Texas Frightmare Weekend guest Robert Englund is a man of irrepressible energy and took time out from his schedule to sit down with us to talk about coming back to Dallas, rednecks and just what exactly he tweets about.


TerrorScribe: Are you excited to be coming to Texas Frightmare Weekend?

Robert Englund: I’m looking forward… I’ve worked in Dallas as an actor many times. I’ve done a great TV movie with Lea Thompson and of course all of us actors eventually have to show up and get kicked between the legs by Chuck Norris as a bad guy. But I’ve worked there many times and I’ve done publicity there and I’ve opened big giant amusement parks for Halloween. I love coming there and meeting the fans because I’ve done so many movies in the South and in Texas. I always get a little bonus, sort of, one on one with fans that remember my early career when I was always playing rednecks and best friends and good ol’ boys in the South. They remember all my movies with Jeff Bridges and Sally Fields and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jan Michael Vincent and Pamela Sue Martin and Henry Fonda and Susan Sarandon when we were all running around with our CB radios and our baseball hats and just being good ol’ boys. It’s fun because people will come up to me, not only with the great horror memorabilia that I love to see and sign but also they’ll bring some of that stuff around which is always a hoot.

TS: Do you miss playing those redneck roles?

RE: Y’know, I’ve got a movie this weekend that’s playing at the Newport Beach Film Festival and I’m one of Lance Henriksen’s gang. The great Lance Henriksen’s from “Aliens”and we go after Robert Patrick. Hal Holbrook’s the star of the movie, so I got to kinda go back to my old ways again which was kinda fun. I kinda did a rustic character on “Bones” last year. I starred on “Bones” and that was kinda fun to do. I’m up for another one right now. It’s fun. I’m getting to play them occasionally again. Funnily, now, I’m so old instead of being the young, tough, kick-ass redneck sidekick now, I’m kinda turning into Gabby Hayes here or Dub Taylor or one of those old guys on “The Dukes of Hazzard”. That’s the kind of parts I’m playing when I’m not playing mad scientists or mad doctors or bad stepfathers. Those are the kinds I’m playing.

TS: You still have some scary roles though. You did “Inkubus”.

RE: “Inkubus” is coming out soon. Yeah, “Inkubus” is great. I’ve been trying to think of a way to really crystalize how to describe it, but it’s sorta like that old John Carpenter movie, “Assault on Precinct 13”. It’s actually contemporary but it’s this old, beat-to-shit 70’s police station and they’re all moving over to the new high-tech facility. It’s the last day at the police station and it’s midnight and it’s this skeleton crew and in I walk.

I confess to, like, a hundred years of crimes – serial killer crimes and everything else –almost like I had my hand into Jack the Ripper, maybe even Jeffery Dahmer. You never quite know. What I think in fact is happening is that my character really needs a new host body and he’s sort of amusing himself. It’s great because he’s a little bit timeless. He’s probably been around for a hundred years. He wears a vest that’s maybe from the 1880’s or the turn of the century. He has an old jacket that could’ve been around in the 20’s and his language is a little bit stilted and it’s kinda interesting and he toys with the people.

I got to work with the great character actor, William Forsythe and Jonathan Silverman from “Single Man” playing against type as an East Coast cop with a five-o’clock shadow and all scruffy, slightly overweight and eating greasy sandwiches in the office. So, it’s real fun. We shot it with that new Canon 151 digital camera which is like the size of a snapshot camera and it’s just great. It can go anywhere. We actually had it on a skateboard for one shot, just pulling this skateboard across this desk while I sat there and they were cross-examining me. This little camera was just being dragged across the front of this desk by the newspaper and my handcuffs and this cup of coffee. It was really cool.

But I do keep my finger in the horror world. I was working on some sci-fi kids cartoons for a while you know – “The Spectacular Spider Man”, I was the Vulture on that and I was The Riddler on the new Batman. I just did a new Cartoon Network show yesterday called “the Regulars” and the Green Lantern show.

I’m busy. I’ve been doing a lot of stuff. There’s one I can’t talk about but I’ve been paired up with some of the biggest names in the genre – men and women – and were going to be sort of the characters in a new phenomenal game that’s going to be coming out. So, this has been great for me to work in that world this year for me because it’s all a new vocabulary and new technology for me with motion capture and everything. I can’t really be more specific than that except to say that it’s gonna be huge and it’s amazing and it’s very complex and fabulous.

TS: So, how are you enjoying the new technology?

RE: Well, you know I’ve worked low-budget with special effects and high-budget as far back as “V” in 1982. We had John Dykstra, if you remember. “V’ brought John Dykstra to network television. “V” was the show that really raised the bar as far as special effects goes on prime time television. Before that, it was just this girl running around in green makeup trying to get William Shatner. It was kinda cheesoid. Even after us I think early shows like “X-files” was a little below us in terms of effects for the first couple seasons.

So, we really, really raised the bar in early CGI and everything else with John Dykstra from “Star Wars”. So, I’ve been around that stuff for a long time, but I gotta tell you this new stuff – the motion capture they were using… vocabulary on the new game I’m working on – they were just using extraordinary… vocabulary that I didn’t know and it was just great learning it. And then once you did you could begin to just second guess what they wanted from you and enhance your performance. It’s a new world. It’s a brave new world and it’s interesting. It’s fascinating.

TS: I see you’re on Twitter as well. Are you embracing the new technology on a personal level as well?

RE: It’s not like I live there. No, I travel a lot and I’m a fan so what I do is I’m trying to be real positive at this stage of my life about everything. Like, I just got back from New York and I had to see a show that I’ve been asked to do and I caught some of their shows while I was there so I caught two extraordinary shows so I talked about them to my fans. And I try to be specific to my fans: I just saw a great little movie on InDemand called “In Her Skin” starring Miranda Otto from “Lord of the Rings” and Guy Pierce from “Memento” – two of my favorite actors – and there’s an actress in it, I believe she’s an Irish immigrant to Australia – it’s an Australian film and she plays the villainess in it. She’s sort of equal parts Anthony Hopkins and Jennifer Jason Leigh in “Single White Female” and she’s just brilliant. Her name is Ruth Bradley, I think. She’s just remarkable. I think that’s one of my most recent twitters.

I also just saw the great show, a great kind of dark, creepy ghoulish old-fashioned one man show, produced and conceived of by Teller with his friend Todd Phillips, who plays the host character in it. It’s got magic in it and mentalism and gold ol’ gore and scares and cheap thrills in it and it’s playing on Broadway. It’s called Play Dead and it’s wonderful so I just tweeted about that recently. So, I do play with it. I play with the technology. My wife leads me through.

I’ve had a website forever and my website’s a little creaky now and old school, but only a couple of years ago it was really the coolest spot and I have my calendar on there and people can get my remaindered autobiography on the website. But I also let people know where I’m going, like I’m off this weekend at the Frightmare or “Robert’s on location shooting “Inkubus”” or “Robert’s off to Europe to shoot a horror movie in Italy” or “Robert’s shooting a TV show up in Vancouver.” Whatever I’m up to, I try to let my fans know because they can also look forward to the project as well. So, I’m fine with the new technology but being my age and my generation, it doesn’t run my life.

I have been around long enough to know what I want to do whether it’s going out for sushi or walking the dog on the beach or reading a new good book. We all have limited time. I just recently caught up with the Joe Hill book, so I tweeted about that a little bit. But I also like the time just to lie down in my backyard and read my Joe Hill book. I’m a couple of years behind on that but it was great stuff so I told the fans that it is as good as everybody says. I’m very well read and I’m a huge fan of contemporary literature and I just thought that was an extraordinary piece of work.

I also like having room in my life. I’m like anyone else, I like to go see a good movie when it comes out, I like to try a new Italian restaurant, and I like to walk the dog on the beach. I gotta do the laundry and pick up my wife and water the lawn and mow the lawn and all that kinda stuff too. And go on interviews. I live down south of Los Angeles so that’s always a big… you know, I’m not a kid anymore, I gotta schlepp up to L.A. in rush hour traffic to do a cartoon voice for some new show on the Cartoon Network or an audition or a meeting or a pitch, that takes up a day of my life going up there and coming back. Or I might go up the night before and stay because you want to be fresh so that takes some time out of that so I don’t want to come back after doing that and sit in front of the computer and work and not get paid for it.

I think people tend to forget that as well organized as that can help you be that’s also a lot of work to take home that you aren’t getting paid for. Unless you’re a writer, like you are or a journalist, you’re not really getting paid for that work at home. I so try to keep it separate.

TS: Was “Heart Shaped Box” your first Joe Hill book?

RE: I’ll tell you I just was blown away. And it’s weird because that book has been by the side of my bed for two years and what happened was I got hooked up with… I’ve been reading these great women writers lately and I got turned on – my best friend’s daughter is a wonderful, wonderful writer – and she just keeps turning me on to these great books. She turned me on to Jennifer Egan, so I read all the Jennifer Egan books. Then she turned me onto Julia Glass and I read all the Julia Glass books. Of course, I always want to read other ones – there’s other people I like too – whether I’m catching up on Jonathan Franzen or somebody else, or Ian McEwan, as well as Stephen King and Joe Hill.

But these are all for pleasure. I found all these within the last six months or so all these women have just really been speaking to me. I got some of these books for Christmas and it took me a while to get through them. Barbara Kingsolver’s new book about Frida Kahlo is great. Some of these women are my age and for some weird reason the reference is just so perfect for me when they reference themselves younger or they reference what they’re listening to when they’re driving in their car or what’s on their music mix or tape deck. You know what I’m saying? It makes that world alive for me.

So I’ve really been doing a lot of that and you need time for that and it’s something I really love to do., just like running out and catching a good matinee of a movie. You don’t get everything on Netflix or InDemand so every now and again I run out and check out a little foreign film, some little foreign horror movie. I want to be able to go to a little film festival in a small Tuscan hill town in Italy and hang out with the guys that did Human Centipede and turn them on to really good Italian food and see what they’re all about or see some little dark horror movie from Spain or Japan or hang out with Dario Argento a little bit. I want to be able to have that time in my life and not be sitting in front of the computer screen. I do leave space for that and come back to it, dig in and check emails or PayPal or whatever else it is I’m busy doing.

TS: One last question, you’ve obviously been doing genre work for many years, how do you feel about changes in the genre since you first started doing work in the late Seventies.

RE: I’m grateful to the loyalty of the fans because the fans and I, in fact, had to sit in sort of the back of the bus for a while. We didn’t’ get the respect. We were nerds or we were goths or we were fanboys or we were B-movie horror stars and we always sat back by the swinging door in the commissary at the movie studios. Now, those same people, the goth kids, the comic book fans, the horror fans, the horror writers and directors they’re running everything now. They’re sort of controlling popular culture now. We’re in the driver’s seat now and I just think that’s the biggest change.

I think that there’s a little bit too much reliance on digital effects as opposed to solving it first with the writing. Because of the way I was trained in my generation, it all starts with the written word and I think you always have to start with the script first and the story and if that’s not working and that’s not credible and that’s not strong. You can’t just throw images up on the screen and hope that you can keep the audience from not feeling that’s something a little empty or missing. Also, I think we should use the technology more to just enhance regular stuff, just slight enhancements using the new technology. But I’m just so happy and feel so grateful that all these fans that I discovered back in the early Eighties, that their tastes and the stuff that they were obsessed with, have all been vindicated now.

And I see it changing. I think like everything else, especially like music, it splinters. We get into sub-categories. We have horror comedy. We have period horror. You still have slasher films. You have cheap thrills. You have A-film horror. You have science fiction. You have fantasy, different kinds of fantasy. Now we’re experiencing a lot of low-budget sci-fi that’s working out pretty well going back to that South African film and even earlier. It’s great to see people exploiting low-budget sci-fi again as opposed to, for years, all sci-fi films were just these huge expensive films. I think that’s real interesting and that’s a big change and that’s going to be fun to watch how that plays out.

TS: Mr Englund, thank you very much for taking time out to talk to me.

Joe Lopez
Dubbed, "TerrorScribe" by a former editor, Joe made the conversion to horror sometime in the mid-2000s. Little did he know he'd favored the genre all of his life. When not struggling with short stories, he provided genre film reviews for local entertainment sites and later genre sites who could suffer his cynical views.

It was that same cynicism - and some might say hubris - that lead him to have a brief flirtation with filmmaking. His first two efforts, "Annotated" and "Antes Que Seja Tarde (Before It's Too Late)" both premiered at a local H.P. Lovecraft film festival. A third short, "Survivor Girl" proved to be his undoing though plans are in the works to revived the cursed project.

Born and raised in Dallas, TX., Joe now resides in a small Texas town. Statistics say more dead bodies turn up in small towns that big cities... though he claims to have NOTHING to do with that.
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