Robert Englund knows a thing or two about terror. The man who haunted teenagers dreams as Freddy Krueger throughout the 1980s and 90’s has a knack for knowing what scares us and he will bring this sensibility to Travel Channel’s latest program, True Terror with Robert Englund (which debuts Wednesday March 18 at 10 pm).
Englund will serve as the host True Terror and described his new venture (during a phone conference with a number of reports, including yours truly) “…as as a kind of formula comfort food from the dark side. You know, it’s sort of equal parts Rod Serling Twilight Zone with some of the aspects of that great Robert Stack series, Unsolved Mysteries, you know, and then, just a dash of Dateline.”
Each episode of the series will consist of “…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, you know, 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 personality 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.”
According to Englund, the episodes will run the gamut from tales of corrupt gravediggers in New Orleans, to more fantastic accounts that hit news papers across America at one time or another involving UFOs, ghosts, and bigfoot encounters. England said that he “… knew that there had been a yellow fever and that there had been a smallpox epidemic and the influenza epidemic in America. But, in the New Orleans case, which I believe was smallpox, I had no idea that there was some scam between coroners and the guys that drove the charity wagons to the cemetery, coffin makers, and the last buck getting–the last buck stopping with the gravedigger. That, in fact–there–people were literally being buried alive for profit. And this is as recently as late last century. So, stuff like that–you know, I’d been telling people–I–things–we all have things in American history or dark interesting, you know, serial killer stories that kind of go over our head or astounding facts of nature that we’ve missed somehow.”
” You know, we’ve been preoccupied with something else. I just picked up that book,The Devil in the White City about the Chicago exposition in 1893 and the serial killer who exploited it. And yet, I’d never heard of that, and I think what’s great about True Terror is that there’s–we have a lot of the ones that I haven’t heard of. Now, we’ve–because I’m who I am and because I have my ear close to the ground for this, some of the urban legends or some of the myths or some of the stories I had heard before. But, a lot of them, I had never heard of. And I think that the–you know, the smallpox one–the buried alive, particularly, really disturbed me. I’ve heard one of two of the ghost stories before because I’ve traveled to, you know, Salem, Massachusetts and places like that, and I’ve–some of those stories are reiterated. You know, they began as a newspaper article, and now, they’re the stuff of urban legends, at least for the small towns or the second cities that they are near, you know, just like the, you know, the man with the hook on Lover’s Lane exists on every Lover’s Lane in America. You know, that story has mutated. But, these are different.”
Englund also touched on the real life inspiration that became the basis of the character he portrayed that dominated horror films for over a decade, stating that “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 Teutonic. And I think that part of that is that Fred–that there’s always been a bit of–a kind of a dark side of the Grimm’s fairy tale to the fable of Freddy Krueger, The 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 nineties and the early 2000s. That he becomes, you know–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, you know, marathon. And they think that maybe it was based on something true like Ted Bundy, you know, is–was a true serial killer story. But, in fact, you know, 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, you know–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 Holly-weird. But, I think it’s an amalgamation of all of those things that sort of, you know, nightmare–a legend.”
And just in case you ever wondered about what scares (or rather scared) Englund himself (naturally, this was HNN’s question), it’s snakes. Englund detailed a story from his childhood that set up the fear, saying that “…as a child–I went to–I was down here, in fact, in the very town I live in now, Laguna Beach, California. And we had a wonderful old movie theater, and I, you know, spent the morning body surfing and eating hot dogs on the boardwalk. And those little beachside village–and 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, The Man from Durango or something. And I got there late because I’d been out in the ocean, and I–you know, I had to change my clothes. And I guess I walked into the movie theater at 3:30 and paid my matinee–I 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. And I sat there, and like most kids of my generation, I like WWII movies. And it was a WWII movie. And I thought, “Okay.” And 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 unbelievable Technicolor death, the–you know, the poison from the snake foams out of his nose and his ears and his mouth, and it freaked me. 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, you know, looking under, you know, my bed and my drawers for snakes. And it really kind of freaked me out for a long, long time.”
Englund did get over his fears however, ironically through his work in a horror film. This occurred when Englund “…did this movie called Python, which was the low budget follow up to Anaconda with Ice-T 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 to–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. You know, here I’ve got this live snake coiling around my–this little thin baby, you know, 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. So, that’s how I got over my–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.”
True Terror will air on Wednesdays on the Travel Channel starting on March 18. Check out the trailer below to see just the type of terror Englund has in store for “all of his children”.