“Hollywood Dreams and Nightmares” is a beautiful, must-see documentary that makes it clear why Robert Englund is something more than iconic.
The term horror icon gets thrown around a lot. However, when it comes to Robert Englund, he most certainly sits amongst the pantheon of iconic horror actors, right alongside the greats like Vincent Price, Lon Chaney, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushion.
His body of work currently stands at one hundred and sixty-seven credits as an actor, director, and producer. Despite this vast body of work, one character looms large, a certain Mr. Freddy Krueger, the bastard son of one hundred maniacs.
Like most people in the UK, Robert Englund came to my young attention in V, the mini-series (1984), playing the friendly alien Willie. However, not too far into the future, that same lovable alien reptile would go on to conquer the world — but in a far more terrifying guise — and in doing so, give cinema one of its greatest monsters.
Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares: The Robert Englund Story (2022) falls very much into the vein of an expository documentary.
Traditionally, expository documentaries can be pretty boring as they tend to rely heavily on information gathered through interviews and research. They can be quite dry in comparison to some of the other styles of documentary filmmaking. But what sets this aside from your standard documentary is that, visually, Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares is very lovely to look at. We, the audience, are treated to childhood and private photos, all mixed in with some behind-the-scenes footage.
Everything is edited slickly together but not at the expense of being intrusive.
Directors Christopher Griffiths and Gary Smart, alongside writer Neil Morris, craft a well-researched and loving film that manages to be both a love letter and a fascinating insight into Robert Englund, the actor, and person.
Impressively, Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares manages to stay clear of sappy sentimentality.
The filmmakers have gathered a who’s who of the horror world —ranging from Eli Roth, Lance Henriksen, Tony Todd, Kane Hodder, and one of my personal heroes, Mick Garris. However, the key to this entire film is that Robert Englund is front and center, and we get his story from his own mouth.
At nearly two hours long, Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares is a film that never stops moving.
At no point did I find myself looking at my watch, thinking, “Come on, get to the good stuff.” The film moves swiftly but not so fast that sections are skipped over. The filmmakers give you just enough time to absorb the information.
Another major strength is Englund himself.
A brilliant raconteur who comes across as honest and playful, it’s clear he loves his craft to which he has dedicated his life. Throughout the film, we are treated to some delightful anecdotes about how he helped gather leaves for John Carpenter to use on set for Halloween. We also learn he auditioned for Han Solo and gave Mark Hamill part of the script for Star Wars and told him he needed to audition for the part of Luke Skywalker.
The film takes us on a chronological journey through Englund’s career through the 70s, 80s, and 90s right up to the present day.
For me, this is the most interesting part of the documentary as it focuses on the early part of Englund’s career, providing wonderful insight into those foundational years in the theatre and his steady rise as a character actor. To see him work with several Hollywood legends like Burt Reynolds and director John Milius is fascinating, and it’s impressive to see the hard yards he had to put in long before he donned the striped jumper and razor glove.
We also get a glimpse into the process of how Englund found that evil core that would allow him to be able to tap into Freddy.
For anyone who has an interest in acting or directing, this is where you should sit up and take note.
Long before Freddy became the pun-spouting anti-hero, Robert Englund used his substantial skill as a character actor to build, sculpt, and develop a creation that would go on and become part of popular culture. This may indeed be one of the strongest elements of the entire film.
The documentary also touches on the double-edged sword of playing such an iconic character like Freddy and the difficulties faced when trying to step out from the monster’s shadow.
It’s true, for most diehard Elm Street fans, there may not be anything new here. We are treated to some interesting behind-the-scenes footage. Still, if you have sat and poured over the extras on most of the Elm Steet releases, then there isn’t anything you haven’t seen before.
One thing that is clear throughout is the respect that Englund has garnered in the industry.
Throughout Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares, actors, directors, writers, and SFX artists talk about his commitment to his craft and the love he holds for his fans.
We also get a glimpse of the unfolding of the next stage in his career. How he is now working with the next generation of horror filmmakers, lending his considerable knowledge and understanding and indeed his name to independent projects that otherwise might not have seen the light of day.
Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares is a joyous retrospective of a beloved character actor. It is certainly a must-see for any fans of Robert Englund, indeed for any fans of filmmaking and acting.
The film will be released to coincide with Robert Englund’s 75th birthday.