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Friday, June 6, 2014

Happy Birthday, Robert Englund!

Some of you might be old enough to remember the television series V - first a pair of miniseries about an alien invasion of Earth, with lizard-like invaders wearing human skin, and a determined and growing resistance to the alien threat. It was picked up for a full season in prime time, but eventually its story became convoluted and it concluded its run. (A remake/reboot in recent memory didn't really last, either.)

But V did introduce a number of indelible characters, not the least of which was Willie, a soft-spoken member of a group of renegade aliens who's grip on English was never quite perfected, giving us malapropisms to lighten the series' mood. Considering that the series had the aliens harvesting us for food (including some memorable shots of them chowing down on rodents), the comic relief stood out, and if Willie's gags didn't always land in the writing the sweet young actor playing him nailed his innocence.







And so it came as quite a shock to some observers when the actor behind the goofy but earnest character pictured above became a horror icon overnight.


Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street brought supernatural menace to the then familiar slasher formula, placing as its antagonist Freddy Krueger, a child killer who lived on in the dreams of the youth of Elm Street, stalking them in increasingly surreal and disturbing nightmares. Though initially cloaked in mystery, over subsequent sequels Krueger's murderous attacks would become increasingly cartoonish (too cartoonish for some), with Krueger delivering one-liners with as much gusto as his killing blows. Freddy retains his iconic status even now, though we'd guess that the sequels in the long-running series all have their adherents and detractors; on this end, we'd name as our favorites Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (for its gonzoid, downright Tex Avery opening sequence alone) and Freddy vs. Jason (which, thanks to director Ronny Yu, turns out to be one of the strongest, most imaginative, and most action-packed entries in TWO franchises).

As for actor Robert Englund, who played both Willie and Freddy, he remains beloved by genre fans to this day. Despite his obvious range and talents, it is possible that his success in genre movies put more mainstream success out of his reach. And yet that range is clear to anyone who doesn't shun horror outright. In Wes Craven's New Nightmare, we see Englund as himself, as Englund-playing-Freddy, and as a new, more dangerous Freddy. A side-track in the franchise, New Nightmare played with levels of film, dream, and reality so wildly that at least one critic invoked Pirandello to describe it, and one imagines that the classically-trained Englund was hep to that comparison while making the movie.

Englund's very much a serious actor, and has embraced the genre that has given him so much success. It is always nice when strong artists don't deem genre work to be beneath them, and his ongoing work in the field, over and beyond the Elm Street franchise, continues to endear him to horror fans around the world. And by every account, he is simply one of the kindest, most generous actors working in Hollywood.

For all this and more, we are delighted to join a number of voices on line today in wishing Robert Englund a very Happy Birthday!


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