Freddy Krueger: The Once (and Future?) Slasher King Returns

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2018-10-31 01:31
Before this past week, I had never watched an entire episode of The Goldbergs, and yet the ABC sitcom immediately became appointment viewing when series creator Adam Goldberg announced that he’d convinced Robert Englund to appear as Freddy Krueger for this year’s Halloween show. Such is the power the Springwood Slasher holds over myself and legions of other horror fans, who, at least if my Twitter feed is any indication, tuned in to witness something they thought they’d never see: the return of the true Freddy Krueger. Sure, Englund has donned the makeup for some convention appearances in recent years, but, for most fans, this was the first time we’d seen the icon in over fifteen years, an astounding (and, quite frankly, stupid) amount of time for such a genre titan to be consigned to the shelf.

Of course, some other caveats were in order: considering the brisk nature of the 23-minute episode, it seemed likely that Englund’s appearance would be a glorified cameo at best, plus there were some lingering questions about that layoff. At 71 years old, did Englund still have it in him to reprise his most famous role? Would this feel like gratuitous nostalgia porn? For the most part, this episode—dubbed “Mr. Knifey-Hands”—answered the bell fairly well: yes, Freddy only appears for a brief few minutes towards the end of the episode, but his presence guides the entire story. The hook here involves youngest son Adam (Sean Giambrone) renting an absolutely gorgeous stack of VHS tapes (shout out to the production designers here) for a movie marathon with his girlfriend Jackie (Alexis G. Zall).

According to Jackie, however, something is pointedly missing from the stack: Nightmare on Elm Street, a film that had already become legendary amongst the young video store crowd by this point. Adam is not among them. In fact, he’s too scared of Freddy to even entertain the notion of renting it. Luckily, though, Jackie’s wisdom wins out, and the experience scars Adam. Now unable to sleep, he’s at the mercy of his doting mother Beverly (Wendi Mclendon-Covey), whose overbearing approach only drives her son to Jackie’s unconventional parents, touching off a parental war between the two families.

There’s also a subplot involving Adam’s sister (Hayley Orrantia)—now returned home after flunking out of college—hanging around her old high school stomping grounds, much to the dismay of her embarrassed boyfriend (Sam Lerner). But let’s be real: for anyone just tuning for Freddy, this was filler—admittedly amusing filler, but filler nonetheless, essentially serving to build anticipation for everyone’s favorite dream demon. Towards the end of the episode, it finally delivered Englund in all his glory: stalking poor Bev in a cornfield during a nightmare, complete with children reprising the infamous Freddy rhyme. If not for being in the midst of my first year of being a parent, I might have said it was the most blissful 30 seconds or so of the year; however, I think I’m contractually obligated to slot it a little bit lower.

Seriously, though, by the end of this all-too-brief appearance, Englund silenced any doubts about his ability to play Freddy once again. With the exception of the make-up looking a tad off (I chalk this up to the TV budget and Englund’s natural aging), this was the same Freddy we’ve known and loved for over 30 years. Obviously, the nature of this show steers the performance towards a comedic bent, but it’s clear Englund was having an absolute blast cranking out Freddy’s dialogue. Welcome back to prime time, indeed.

But even more than that, Englund’s appearance functioned as a genuine love letter to horror fans everywhere. Part of the show's shtick is that it’s a reflection of its creator’s childhood, in which vast amounts of pop culture doubled as formative experiences. Appropriately enough, this episode is Goldberg’s shout out to his horror fandom: as if bringing Englund back as Freddy weren’t enough to seal the deal, he also champions Fangoria magazine and ends the episode with a dedication to horror fans everywhere. Even if this sort of nostalgia pandering isn’t your thing, you have to admit this was a sincere as hell tribute, especially for those of us hailing from pretty much the same generation. While my experience wasn’t exactly like Adam’s here (I was delighted by Freddy, not terrified), the episode did capture the general sense that horror was somehow forbidden at this age—which just made it all the more appealing, of course.

And if Goldberg’s Twitter feed is any indication, he had ulterior motives here: not only did he want to prove Englund still had it in him, but he’s actively called out Warner Brothers to finish what he’s started by producing one more Nightmare on Elm Street sequel. It goes without saying that I completely endorse this message, and it even looks like Englund himself might be up for it. After years of insisting on his retirement, he recently stated he might have one more Nightmare left in him, a revelation that damn well better have someone at WB picking up a phone. With New Line once again back in the business of being a genre imprint, who’s better qualified to fortify the new foundation of “The House that Freddy Built” than the man himself?

It goes without saying that time is of the essence at this point in more ways than one: not only is Englund’s age a consideration, but so too are the whims of an audience currently primed for an Elm Street revival in the wake of Halloween’s runaway success. Michael Myers’s triumphant return is proof that these icons still have some life left in them, and, if done right, I would dare say Freddy’s return might be an even bigger occasion. Some will rightfully point out that Myers preceded Krueger in the slasher canon, but there’s little doubt that Freddy ruled supreme among these ranks during the 80s in terms of pop culture consciousness, having conquered movies, TV, an even the radio. He was the king, and it’s about time he returned to reclaim his rightful throne.

In the years following Freddy vs. Jason, Englund insisted in interviews that “the glove still fit,” and, now, over a decade later, he’s finally proved as much. Maybe it won’t lead to one final sequel—after all, we are talking about the same studio that punted on a potential Freddy vs. Jason 2 after the first one was a smash hit. If that’s the case, then at least we’ll always have this episode as a nice little epilogue: even this scant few minutes of footage is still more than I thought I’d ever see of Freddy again.

But if it does lead to more? I think Freddy himself said it best once before:

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