The eighties were a very important decade for horror, if for no other reason than because they represented the golden age of slasher flicks. Within six years of the release of John Carpenter’s Halloween, the genre gave birth to a pair of franchises that with Halloween have come to represent the holy trinity.
Friday the 13th hit theatres in 1980, while the tale of a gleeful, taunting demon who infiltrated dreams emerged from a fledgling production company called New Line Cinema four years later.
The late Wes Craven gave horror fans A Nightmare on Elm Street, and with it Freddy Krueger, whose ascent from memorable character to icon over the course of seven films was meteoric.
New Line went from failing to the “House that Freddy Built” in short order.
What set the Krueger character apart from fellow slashers Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees was not simply that Freddy spoke, it was in the fact that Robert Englund was the constant, driving force of the Nightmare franchise.
While Myers and Voorhees were portrayed by numerous actors over the course of many years and many sequels, Englund continued to man the wheel for Elm Street, and proved equally terrifying and hilarious at every turn.
At the end of the day, isn’t that what horror is all about — scaring us to the point of laughter? What performer has demonstrated greater propensity for both than Englund?
The cold reality is that the clock never stops ticking, which means we have and will continue to lose icons. Over the past year we’ve offered farewells to Craven, Christopher Lee, Gunnar Hansen and more, a fact which provides added reason to celebrate the greatness of Englund on his sixty-ninth birthday.
With apologies to George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell and Kane Hodder, Englund is more than just a mastermind, anti-hero or killer extraordinaire, he is, was and ever shall be the embodiment of perhaps the most important character the genre has ever known.
Through his portrayal of Freddy Krueger, Englund set the standard by which all other horror characters have been measured since. For that, he is more than a horror icon. Englund is a titan.
From being the immutable presence of the Nightmare franchise to his continued work in the genre and tireless devotion to the fans at conventions throughout the country and the world, Englund has truly come to be the ambassador of horror.
Incredibly cultured and nuanced, Englund is simply an advocate for the arts, and brings an analytical approach to horror. And if we’re honest with ourselves, that is not always the case in our brand of cinema.
From film and television to music, literature and theatre, Englund consumes much, offers honest takes on the vast world of entertainment and strives to provide the genre with a product worthy of the time and hard earned money of its fans.
As a result of Englund’s devotion and deft performances, Freddy is not only revered but remains a superstar nearly thirteen years since Englund last strapped on the glove in Freddy vs. Jason.
Not long ago, John Carpenter posited that the Friday the 13th franchise never rose above its cheapness as Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre had before it. Despite the camp that the Nightmare franchise would become, Englund was always worth the price of admission with a strong desire to stay true to the Krueger character.
In fact, Englund recently commented that Freddy existed in imaginations rather than the real world, and that it was through an effort to make the character too real and that audiences never saw the characters which inhabited the 2010 remake before they were damaged which contributed to its downfall.
It is that kind of sincerity and intellect that sets Englund apart from those who would challenge him as the living horror icon.
The genre that we all know and love is based upon rooting for the bad guy, and Freddy Krueger has been the enduring villain because of Robert Englund.
And we are grateful for that, as we should be, not only on Englund’s birthday, but every day.