HOLLYWOOD DREAMS & NIGHTMARES: THE ROBERT ENGLUND STORY -- A Love Letter to Horror, a Man, and a Legend
Reviewed by Jonathan Berk
Gary Smart and Christopher Griffiths have directed a marvelous love letter to Robert Englund and the horror genre in their new documentary, Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares: The Robert Englund Story. Of course, movie fans will know Robert Englund’s most iconic character — Freddy Krueger — but some may not know him outside of that horror franchise. This documentary showcases the talent Englund possesses — as well as the man he was when the cameras were off — and will likely lead fans of Krueger to be cemented as fans of the man himself.
Much like his legendary horror icon largely overshadows the actor's career, the movie opens with the knifed hand sitting in a chair lit in red. This is a wise framing device, as it is necessary for the film to begin with the elephant in the room before backing up to how Englund gets that role, and what happens afterward. The focus here lies more in the professional life of Englund, as his love of acting starts young. It is clear early in the talking head interviews that Englund loves the craft of acting and is grateful for the career he’s had.
There are tons of actors, directors, and writers who speak about their experiences with Englund, which make the man feel as large as his iconic character. Included in these interviews are Kane Hodder, Tony Todd, Lin Shaye, Heather Langenkamp, Eli Roth, Lance Henriksen, Adam Green, Corey Taylor, and his wife, Nancy Englund. Each adds something to the actor's legacy, which ultimately makes him feel like the horror genre’s Mr. Rogers. The stories imply that he was a constant professional and always willing to give himself to the movie, no matter how big or small. These stories become all the more believable every time the movie cuts back to Englund’s interviews. He has a charm that pulls the audience in, as he lulls you into a trance with his voice.
To illustrate the content of the interviews, the film mostly uses footage from the movies being discussed, mixed with photos or behind-the-scenes footage. There is a cool early sequence that uses a mix of reenactments, photographs, and cartoonish drawings to illustrate his early love of performance. It was a little disappointing that this style isn’t used more, as it was engaging visual storytelling. While the traditional documentary archival footage is great here, the modern, more innovative recreations allow for more creativity in the storytelling.
The last section of the film is arguably the strongest. It ends on a sheer sentimental note and ultimately signs this love letter as “thank you for all you’ve given us,” while Englund expresses gratitude for the world he loved. This, coupled with a reevaluation of “typecasting” as a negative thing — and the actors embracing their fans — eventually led to a shedding of a few tears on my part. Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares: The Robert Englund Story is a great documentary that is informative, while clearly wearing its admiration on its sleeve.
Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares: The Robert Englund Story will be available on Screambox and VOD on June 6.