On Robert Englund’s birthday, we encourage you to explore his genre deep cuts and some of his most memorable roles outside of “Elm Street”.
Robert Englund will forever be one of the most beloved and well-known icons in all of horror history, but the man known for his ultimate slasher status is also a classically trained actor out of England’s prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Because he embodies the character of Freddy Krueger so well and is forever ingrained in our cultural conscience, it’s sometimes difficult to see him as anything other than the infamous nightmare-stalking butcher. But he’s had an impressive career, in and out of the genre. Sure, he’s been in some far less-than-stellar and utterly forgettable flops. But one thing about Englund is that he makes everything he is in infinitely better. You may not like a film he appears in, but I defy you not to eat up every second this icon appears on the screen.
In honor of his birthday, the Morbidly Beautiful team celebrates some of our favorite non-Elm Street roles from Englund, hopefully turning you on to some must-see performances you may have missed.
1. Doc Halloran in Behind the Mask
Recommend by Kelly Mintzer
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is one hell of a movie. A sharp, wicked blend of mockumentary, metatextual analysis, insider quips, and genuinely frightening sequences built on careful character development, the film has an awful lot up the sleeve of its filthy henley.
Intending not a moment of disrespect towards the clever writing, the careful plotting, and the well-conceived setting, Behind the Mask’s most satisfying coupe is its casting, particularly its use of one Robert Englund. Englund’s character is a variation of Loomis. He plays the grizzled good attempting to defeat slasher Leslie’s charismatic evil. And honestly, he’s fucking great.
Englund became so closely bound to his most famous role in the popular consciousness it can be hard to remember that he is not, in fact, Freddy Krueger. His turn as Doc Halloran (a nod to Dick Hallorann in The Shining? Probably!) is sly and rather tricksy; the film knows that we know and that we are very damn aware of just who this man is. However, Englund rises above our preconceived notions. He plays Halloran as flawed but determined. He brings a spark of pure, unadulterated joyful fun with him into every scene.
I have so few complaints about Behind the Mask — I probably recommend it to people more than any movie besides Phantom of the Paradise. But I could have used a hell of a lot more of Halloran and Englund, stealing the movie and chewing the scenery.
Recommend by Donnie Smith Jr
When discussing meta-horror, Scream is usually crowned king. However, one movie that deserves far more recognition in the meta genre is Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006). The film follows a news crew as they document the days leading up to an aspiring serial killer’s first big massacre. The killer, named Leslie Vernon, has everything a growing psycho needs: a tragic backstory, a freaky mask, and an Ahab. An Ahab is the arch nemesis of the killer. Myers has Loomis, and Voorhees has Jarvis. Vernon has Doc Halloran.
Robert Englund plays Halloran in one of his horror roles, where he is actually a protagonist. Englund doesn’t appear frequently in the film, but when he does, he is always a highlight. Seeing his serve against the threat in a horror climax is something many fans may not be used to seeing, but he fits right into the role perfectly.
2. Mayor Buckman in 2001 Maniacs
Recommend by The Angry Princess
A reboot of the 1964 splatter fest Two Thousand Maniacs, directed by “The Godfather of Gore” Herschell Gordon Lewis, 2001 Maniacs is about a group of college kids from the North who get lost while on a Spring Break road trip in the deep South. They end up in an old southern town lost in time, Pleasant Valley, where the locals still wave the confederate flag proudly. They are greeted by the overzealous mayor (Robert Englund), and it appears at first they are welcomed with warm, Southern hospitality. They are invited to spend the night and attend the town’s annual celebration and barbecue feast. Of course, things aren’t quite what they seem, and the students end up victims of the town’s vengeful vendetta against liberal Yanks — finding themselves on the twisted menu.
This masterful blend of horror and comedy features solid gore and some creative torture sequences, which is not surprising given the fact that Eli Roth served as executive producer. Besides the legend that is Englund, this tasty genre treat also boasts icons like Lin Shaye (who starred with Englund in Elm Street) and Friday the 13th‘s Kane Hodder.
The role of Mayor Buckman was explicitly written for Robert Englund, who had befriended director Tim Sullivan at the New Line Cinema Christmas parties. Englund’s involvement helped get development and funding rolling. He’s also, as you might expect, one of the best parts of this memorable slice of genre fare. This is a gleefully over-the-top production, and no one is better suited to deliver full ham while still remaining equally creepy and charming than Englund. He revels in B-movie camp without ever letting us forget he’s actually quite a gifted thespian.
This is, no doubt, one of Englund’s best performances, even rivaling his much-loved Freddy. It’s deliciously boisterous, and he delivers his ridiculous but memorable dialogue with sizzling, Southern savoir-faire. He illuminates the screen every time he appears, and he has such electric chemistry with the equally chaotic Lin Shaye.
3. Sampson Dunston in Hatchet
Recommend by Laura Sloan
Regretfully, I haven’t watched many films outside Robert Englund’s lineage of nightmares depicting Freddy Kreuger. But when it comes to cameos, Englund as Louisiana gator hunter Sampson Dunston in Adam Green’s Hatchet (2006) is an iconic and memorable one.
You can tell Englund is having fun in his grumpy southern pursuit to catch an alligator with the help of his incompetent son, Ainsley (Joshua Leonard), who needs to urinate at great length. Comedic and short, this opener is bathed in gore and kicks off the velocity of the film. Englund has always come across as humble, intelligent, and precise in his work. Most importantly, he saw the importance of the genre outside of the Nightmares realm. With an eye for superb writing, he happily supported the old-school American slasher spirit found within Hatchet.
Even though Kane Hodder (Victor Crowley) didn’t get to collaborate with Englund in Freddy vs. Jason (2003), it’s touching to see two faithful friends still champion one another. Hatchet is also very special in that it reunites Englund, Hodder, and Tony Todd (Reverend Zombie) from Wishmaster (1997).
There’s always been a great comfort in Englund’s love and devotion to the genre of Horror.
4. Stuart in The Last Showing
Recommend by The Angry Princess
Unfortunately, outside of Englund’s magnum opus as Krueger, he doesn’t get nearly enough opportunities to really flex his impressive acting chops and carry a film. He’s often cast in small or cameo roles designed to draw audiences in with the strength of his name, even if they’re often disappointed to find that he’s given precious little screen time. When it comes to the little-seen genre gem The Last Showing (2014), however, he’s far and away the main attraction and the reason the film works as well as it does.
The film boasts a delicious premise and some great meta-horror aspects. It’s also set in a cinema, which automatically elevates it in my book. It tells the story of an aging projectionist named Stuart Lloyd (Englund) who finds himself sidelined by advancing technology and disappointed by what he views as an unappreciative younger audience that no longer values quality filmmaking. Seeking revenge on those who would toss him aside, he decides to make his own horror movie, casting a young couple attending a midnight horror screening as the unwilling leads in his twisted reality-based film.
Admittedly, The Last Showing isn’t a masterpiece by any means. But Englund is certainly masterful, and his understated but charismatic villain is more than worth the price of admission. Rather than playing the character as a one-dimensional, deranged madman, he brings an empathetic quality to Stuart, giving him real depth and making us feel for his plight. He plays a very different character from his iconic portrayal of the Elm Street terror, and it’s enchanting to see a different — subdued but still sinister — side of him.
I rarely see Englund used to his full magnificent capabilities, but he’s not squandered here, gracing the screen nearly every minute of the runtime. And he doesn’t waste the chance to prove once again why he’s a genre legend.
5. Buck in Eaten Alive
Recommend by Nathaniel Muir
Robert Englund and Tobe Hooper teaming up is a horror fan’s dream come true. Even when it’s a pre-Freddy Krueger Englund still finding himself and Hooper leaving the movie before it is finished, the chance to see the two work together for the first time seems rife with potential.
Even early in his career, Englund is overflowing with charisma. Buck is a sleazy cowboy who is a regular at a brothel, and he is rarin’ to do one thing. Quentin Tarantino may have immortalized Buck’s most infamous line in Kill Bill, but Englund brings life to a character that should be little more than a piece of trash. He is arrogant and dangerous and offers the first glimpses of what Englund would soon bring to horror.
6. Ranger in Galaxy of Terror
Recommend by Mark Young
The attention he receives for his work in Nightmare on Elm Street is well-deserved, but Robert Englund has some serious genre films to his name that are due for some reappraisal. In Galaxy Of Terror, by famed B-movie producer Roger Corman, Englund plays Ranger, a technical officer aboard the Quest. Each character has a sequence where the film’s protagonist seeks to destroy them by pitting their own fears or weaknesses against them.
In Englund’s section, he is pitted in a fight against his evil self. And here, you can really see how good he was in these early films as he displays a full range of emotional context in the scene, from the good, kind side, which we would later see in V, to the evil, where you see the early kernels of range he would later employ as everybody’s favorite razor-gloved monster. His role is not just limited to this. Several scenes are running through the film where his acting chops are fully on show, managing to elevate what are a clunky script and some not-so-special effects.
In some respects, becoming Freddy may have stifled his development as an actor, but that is another discussion. What is clear is that he had the capacity to elevate whatever role he was given, and he certainly shines here.
Galaxy of Terror may only be remembered for James Cameron and some obvious homages to Alien, and there are some questionable sequences within. But you should do what you can to check it out, especially for Englund’s brilliant work within it.
7. The MC in Dance of the Dead (Masters of Horror)
Recommend by The Angry Princess
Masters of Horror was an anthology horror series from 2005 created by horror icon Mick Garris. Influential and emerging horror directors were given a budget and virtually limitless freedom to produce their own original one-hour horror film for Showtime. One of the strangest, most original, and most memorable of the series is the third episode of season one, directed by Tobe Hooper. Hooper was in a career decline when he directed Dance of the Dead. But his stylish, nasty, boundary-pushing vision that gave us a ghastly new look at zombies helped remind horror fans why he was and would always be a true master of horror.
It also reunited Hooper with Englund, who first collaborated with the director in 1977’s Eaten Alive.
The episode was written by Richard Christian Matheson, adapting a short story by his father, the legendary author Richard Matheson (I Am Legend). It introduces us to a bleak, post-apocalyptic world in the aftermath of WWIII and a horrific chemical weapon (Blizz) attack that claimed millions of lives and decimated major cities. Peggy is a teenage waitress in a small town under the oppressively watchful eye of her mother. Peggy’s father and sister are dead, and she suffers from the traumatic memory of a Blizz attack at her birthday party as a young girl, where she witnessed the horrific death of her friends.
One night, a group of drug-addicted delinquents enters her diner. They’re loud and obnoxious, but Peggy is drawn to the handsome and dark but sensitive Jak. The chemistry between the two is instantaneous and electric. He wants to whisk her away and show her things she’s never seen, and she’s seduced by the danger and a chance to really live for the first time in her young life. After the diner clubs, she hops in the car with Jak and his friends, and they head to a seedy underground club, The Doom Room, where the sadistic MC (Englund) gives the people what they want. In this case, it’s a macabre Dance of the Dead, where the corpses of overdosed drug users are injected with a drug and temporarily reanimated long enough to perform a grotesque strip tease.
Loopers, as the dead dancers are called, originate from a zombie drug used by America in World War III to make dead soldiers stand up and keep fighting.
Englund is mesmerizing as the vile and theatrical showman, delivering an intoxicating combination of camp and sneering perversity. He seems to have a hell of a good time playing the over-the-top character to the hilt, and he makes sure the audience experiences the same intoxicating high from his antics. It’s a role he devours, chewing up every gritty, grimy line of dialogue and spitting it out with fierce style and ferocity. Reminiscent of his iconic role in 2001 Maniacs, it’s a show-stopping and scene-stealing performance that proves why he’s an incomparable master of his craft.
Bonus points for a killer score written by Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan, who makes an appearance in the film as the lead singer of The Doom Room house band.
BONUS: WILLIE IN V
It may not be a film, but Robert Englund’s performance in V is one of his best and should definitely be sought out by fans of the icon actor.
Recommend by S Michael Simms
I first saw Robert Englund as “Willie the Good Visitor” on the old sci-fi TV miniseries “V” in 1983 (along with the largest TV audience ever at that time). He was one of my favorite characters because of his shy, unassuming manner and his penchant for butchering the English language like a Russian stereotype (but without the accent). He was also my mom’s favorite character for the same reasons, but when she found out a couple of years later that he went on to do Freddy, she promised me she’d never watch V, V: The Final Battle, or V: The Series ever again.
When I met Englund at HorrorHound Cincinnati in 2022, he stopped a line of thousands to talk about the role (I’d brought along a V poster for him to pose with me holding), and he posed as Willie, hiding his glove on my back and giving a sheepish look to the camera while flashing a “V for Victory” sign at the photographer.
He said it was the role that gave him enough star power to move on to Freddy. He was an excellent character actor and one of the few to appear in all three original V projects.