In a time when almost every entertainer has either a biographical movie outlining their rise to stardom or a documentary, deep diving into their trials and tribulations as starved performers, comes a movie for horror fans and cinephiles alike. From the makers of Pennywise: The Story of IT comes an all-new documentary, celebrating the legacy and career of one of our generation’s most beloved horror icons.
Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares: The Robert Englund Story is a documentary about famed actor, Robert Englund, best known for his portrayal as the knifed-glove-wearing baddie, Freddy Krueger, in the ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ saga. It looks at Englund’s entire repertoire of movies, TV shows, and early onstage productions throughout his seven decades as a performer on screen and stage, as well as dissecting his acceptance as a genre-defining icon, which potentially cost him his freedom as a diverse character actor going forward.
Unlike some other documentary-style films following the life of an entertainer, Dreams and Nightmares is told primarily first-hand by Robert himself, through memories and tales, and it’s this intimacy and involvement from Englund that garners intrigue and attention throughout its rather lengthy screen time of just over two hours.
Starting when Robert was a young boy launching himself into acting as an unexpected but respected stage performer in the ’60s, we learn how this craft wasn’t always his intended lifelong dream, but rather blossomed from a natural ability to make people laugh. Comedy and comedic timing are something many know Robert for, and it is spoken about frequently by the many guest interviewees.
Movie stars such as co-star Heather Langenkamp (A Nightmare on Elm Street) and Lin Shaye (Insidious) give burning praise for Englund’s craft and capacity to make each and every scene memorable for audiences and comfortable for them as performers. As well as discussing their collective experiences on set, we gain some insightful titbits into the actor’s personality off-screen. These interviews work well by adding glances at the other guests smiling or laughing in agreement with one another, almost as if they were in the room together recalling fond memories.
As well as numerous exclusive video recordings of interviews with Robert and guests, audiences are treated to both animated depictions of the tales being told as well as photos taken of the actor during his time off camera. The former is possibly the most interestingly done, as it strengthens the exploration into one of the actor’s most prolific genres, body horror, by twisting and pulsating images of people’s faces. Often, I found myself feeling uncomfortable due to the unusual movement of the photo’s foreground or focal point (often Robert in some kind of disfigured makeup).
What doesn’t work quite as well as the image manipulation however is the loud soundtrack, which is regularly playing underneath whilst the interviewees are talking. Often used to add suspense or excitement to the dialog, the talking is merely lost underneath the brash music track, which is a shame when every bit of dialogue is as valuable as the next in understanding Robert’s career choices and personality traits.
The biggest takeaway from the documentary is the argument that Robert’s talent as an actor was possibly squandered when he became such a worldwide iconic movie character thus becoming typecast as such. Although Robert and fans acknowledge and appreciate his success it is debated at what cost, a quote from within the documentary perfectly summarises his difficult career following the Elm Street franchise well – ‘Does KISS get sick of playing rock and roll every night? Probably. But that’s what everyone is there to see’.