Film Review: Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares: The Robert Englund Story

  • Reviews

Growing up a horror fan is always an odd experience to convey to the uninitiated. Where they grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons and idolising the happy, peppy faces that populated the pop charts, we were sneakily reading our parent’s battered Stephen King books and watching as many hockey-masked, razor-fingered monster films that we could get out hands on.

And so as adults, the images of Michael Myers, Jason Vorhees and even Freddy Kruger himself are more likely to evoke warm feelings of love and nostalgia than that of terror and horror. And it is in tapping into that rich vein of love and nostalgia that a generation has for Freddy star Robert Englund, that Hollywood Dreams and Nightmares strikes crimson splattered gold.

Robert Englund in his Freddy face makeup holding up two Jason masks.

From the same creative team who brought us last year’s wonderful Pennywise: The Story of It (the most comprehensive guide to the mini-series that scarred a generation), Hollywood Dreams and Nightmares adopts a similarly complete look at the subject in question.

The documentary leaves no stone unturned in the career of horror icon Robert Englund and is refreshingly content not to rush the audience to the role that made him a household name. The documentary clocks in at just over two hours in length and it is to the credit of directors Christopher Griffiths and Gary Smart and their wonderful interviewees that it absolutely flies by.

Populated by some of horror’s biggest names, the film is an outpouring of love from Englund’s peers and the generation of filmmakers and actors that he has influenced. Fellow horror icons Kane Hodder (Jason), Tony Todd (Candyman) and Doug Bradley (Pinhead) all line up to espouse their fondness and respect for Englund and the work he has done in the horror industry over the last forty years.

Tony Todd being interviewed.

The opening forty minutes exploring Englund’s childhood and early roles is terrific, really helping to explore the range of this talented character actor and spending time seeing how those early roles would help him craft one of cinema’s signature bad guys. I have added about ten classic films to my ‘must-see’ list alone.

The real joy at the heart of the documentary is Robert Englund himself. The filmmakers have been granted a longform interview with him which spans the entirety of the documentary, and Englund is a very warm, funny and giving presence on screen. Always ready with a great anecdote (like the time he almost blew Burt Reynolds toupee off his head…) and very intelligent and articulate thoughts on the legacy of his career, Englund is just as engaging as himself as he ever was as Freddy.

Robert Englund in the Freddy costume holding up and Italian newspaper with him on the cover.

Listening to Englund speaking about his role as Freddy Krueger is a treat for a lifelong fan like myself. Discussing the motivations he would use to get inside Freddy’s head, with the idea that the demon we meet in the dream world is much bigger than the man that died to create him is fascinating stuff.

Englund describing how he pulled on the comedic roots from some of his early roles to give Freddy an added off-kilter edge shows the level of thought that went into that performance and really made him stand apart from his contemporaries.

A black and white photo of young Robert Englund smiling at the camera.

It is refreshing too to see that Englund is not resentful of Freddy; he acknowledges the challenges that being typecast and playing the same role for so long had brought him (such as missing out on other roles as he was busy filming the latest Nightmare film), but also leans into the success and opportunities playing such a famous character has given him. He comes across as a man satisfied with his place in film history and is confident and content with what his legacy will be.

The documentary explores Englund’s career in the ‘post-Freddy’ years (if such a thing truly exists for Englund) and the low budget fare that he has been increasingly drawn to in the last decade or so. Englund seems to revel this latter-day revival, getting to work with young up and coming directors and actors who have been inspired by his work over the last five decades.

Robert Englund stood next to George Romero, both smiling at the camera.

Late in the film, director Eli Roth talks about his admiration for Englund and his ability to utterly inhabit any role that he takes on. Roth mentions him in the same breath as Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing; when confronted with the Englund’s body of work across this documentary it is difficult to argue otherwise.

Hollywood Dreams and Nightmares is a fantastic deep dive into the career of one of horror cinema’s true greats. A lovingly put together look at a remarkable life, this is an absolute must-see for horror fans of all ages and from all eras.

Never before have I felt more like one of Freddy’s children…

Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares: The Robert Englund Story will be available on the Icon Film Channel from 2nd October and available on Blu-ray and Digital Download from 6th November.

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