The A Nightmare on Elm Street panel was clearly one of the most highly-anticipated panels on Friday evening at Rhode Island Comic Con. Fans lined up early for a chance to get up close and personal with Robert Englund and Lisa Wilcox at the massive “Ballroom A” auditorium. For about an hour, the two performers reminisced about their memories of making A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master and A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, and they discussed the highlights of their respective careers beyond the Nightmare franchise. Horror News Network was present at the event to deliver you all of the juicy tidbits and front row photos from this exciting panel!
Local horror aficionado Lisa Pasonelli hosted the panel, and she jumped right into the kinds of questions which piqued fans’ interest and got the stars of the show thinking and talking. Her first question was about how the performers prepared to take on their roles. Robert Englund said he didn’t have the idea of Freddy in his minds eye as he typically does before he approaches a new character. He said the character really came together in make-up artist David Miller’s garage during pre-production on the first film. Englund described this early moment in Nightmare history as him sitting in a barber’s chair and listening to heavy metal music on a boom box as Miller applied latex to his face to capture the grotesque visages found in photos of burn victims they had sourced as the inspiration for Freddy’s look. This was in the middle of the summer of 1984, and Englund was feeling itchy and irritated under the latex. As he describes it, those frustrations helped him to find Freddy: “I caught myself in the mirror being angry and I found the voice!” It turns out, an off-handed grimace and swear word was just what Englund needed in order to discover Freddy Krueger!
According to Englund, the remainder of Freddy’s personality developed early on while shooting the first movie. The way he tells it, the summer heat and his grueling make-up process came to a head when he looked over one day and saw young Johnny Depp and Heather Langenkamp- who he says, “required no make-up because they were that handsome and beautiful”- lounging peacefully before a shoot while holding little plastic fans up to their faces, which were given to them by the production staff. As Englund sat there sweating under layers of thick latex, he says he discovered the “psychological truth” of Freddy… the character embodies the “envy and jealousy of youth and beauty.”
Lisa Wilcox explained that the was always a fan of horror, even before her famous role as Alice. She said that her scenes were not filmed in the order of the script, and her character was meant to take on the characteristics of other characters as they die in the film; so it was a challenge to keep track of the characteristics she needed to exhibit for each scene, and the different levels of intensity she needed to deliver. She quipped that she was prepared to take on such a challenge because, “That was totally me in junior high!” This wouldn’t be the only time the audience erupted with laughter during the panel!
Robert Englund remarked that he felt that one of the most interesting elements of Lisa Wilcox’s performance as Alice was that she hid a lot of her physical beauty for her portrayal of the character. He shared an anecdote that he had never seen Wilcox out of costume until she arrived at his wedding in a gorgeous black dress, and he then realized how different she appeared in real life than in the film itself. Englund said the greatest compliment one can pay a performer is to say that he or she approaches a role with “no vanity,” and he said that phrase completely describes Wilcox… it’s all about character for her.
The topic of the conversation shifted to early cinematic influences, and Englund shared his love for the true legends of Hollywood. He said he vividly remembers being blown away by Marlon Brando’s performance in On the Waterfront when he was fortunate enough to sit in the audience on opening day at the cinema. He explained that he is an only child, and it afforded him many opportunities to observe culture with his parents out on the town. He named several performers of the English New Wave, such as Cary Grant, Alan Bates, and Albert Finney as key inspirations early on in his career.
Englund said that even at this point in his career, he is still inspired by contemporary performers and filmmakers. He said he was recently blown away by both Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, which he described as “a filmmaker’s imagination captured perfectly on screen,” and Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, which he says he admires how the film takes its time to present its ideas instead of being “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang! Like a Michael Bay movie.”
Later in the discussion, Lisa Wilcox reflected on what she felt makes Alice such an important character in the Nightmare franchise. She said that the films she appears in tackle “serious social issues,” and issues such as bulimia and alcohol abuse. Beyond her performance in Nightmare, Wilcox said she is also very proud of her performance as Yuta in Star Trek: The Next Generation. She added that she is proud of the fact that the character led to her having her very own rare Monopoly piece!
Since the discussion moved beyond A Nightmare on Elm Street, Englund discussed some of his favorite personal performances. He said that of all of his performances as Freddy, he believes that his number one appearance as the character is in A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. He said that the director, Renny Harlin, was busy juggling a massive script and a gigantic cast for the film, and he sort of left Englund alone to do his own thing with the character. He said that while the great majority of Freddy’s classic quips are the result of excellent writers such as Frank Darabont (who wrote A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors), he was able to draw from his experiences with the character and his knowledge of “old theater tricks such as ‘passive mask versus active mask'” to bring Freddy to life.
Beyond the Nightmare franchise, Englund cited his early performance in 1976’s Stay Hungry as one of his personal favorites. He said he is very proud of the “two great fight scenes” he has in the movie, and he really enjoyed working with the likes of Jeff Bridges, Scatman Crothers, Sally Field, and Arnold Schwarzenegger on set. More recently, Englund said he is most proud of his new picture titled The Last Showing. He referred to it as a “retro Brian De Palma-style film” about a movie projectionist who is “laid off and forced to work in a theater lobby during the midnight showings, who decided to make my own horror movie.” Englund is clearly inspired by the classic and modern auteurs of Hollywood, and it seems that the content of The Last Showing struck that similar kind of nerve with him.
As the panel came to a close, both performers discussed some of their upcoming projects. Englund said that he provided the voice for Scarecrow in the video game Injustice 2, and that he recently completed such projects as Nightworld and The Midnight Man. He also described an upcoming project entitled Abruptio, which will feature puppets in very real-life settings and situations. He said the film will explore whether “puppets can be scary, or violent.”
Lisa Wilcox said she also has projects coming out that she’s excited about. She will be appearing in a true crime film set in the 1940s entitled The Mansfield Killings. She said she will also appear in an Independence Day-esque movie called Kecksburg. For that one, she’s excited to begin production because she, “gets to play an agent and be one of the bad guys for once!”
By the end of the panel, it was clear to fans that Englund and Wilcox have a very friendly and comfortable working relationship. They described meeting up for conventions and having glasses of wine together all around the world, and it is clear that they have such a strong bond and mutual respect for each other. Their walk down memory lane was so enjoyable to listen to because they are engaging speakers who were excited to talk about it. The panel concluded to thunderous applause, and the two performers returned to the show floor to sign autographs and take photos with fans.
Stay tuned to Horror News Network for more coverage of Rhode Island Comic Con, and more news on A Nightmare on Elm Street as soon as it breaks!