A photo of a young Robert Englund aka “Freddy Krueger” from the ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ film series giving Paul Newman a run for his money sometime in the early 1970s.
You may not always agree with everything I write about here on DM but one thing is for sure—actor Robert Englund was a super-fit surfer/actor back in the in the 1970s who appeared in films alongside Jeff Bridges, Charles Bronson, Richard Gere, Sally Field, and Henry Fonda. Now let that sink in for a few minutes before you say the words “no fucking way.”
It’s actually pretty easy to express disbelief about this revelation. Mostly because Englund—an experienced and classicly trained actor—spent so much time in front of the camera in heavy makeup and prosthetics as “Freddy Krueger.” Englund was only 37 when he took on the iconic character in 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, and he was still quite the looker when he embarked on the career-defining role that would make him a massive star. But most people don’t really think about that kind of thing when it comes to Robert Englund because for nearly twenty years he spent most of his time looking like his face was melting off while slicing up sleep-deprived teenagers on the big screen. However, during his days doing theater in the 60s, and the films he appeared in during the 1970s, we got to see a much different version of Englund, sometimes shirtless and gorgeously brooding in early publicity stills where he looks remarkably like a young version of the late Layne Staley of Alice in Chains. Once I got to digging around for images of Englund in his younger days, I couldn’t stop because the more I searched, the more I found and the more fascinated I became with Englund’s pre-Freddy Krueger life.
Robert Englund or Layne Staley of Seattle band Alice in Chains? It’s hard to tell but this is, in fact, one of Robert Englund’s head shots taken during his regional theater days in the late 1960s.
Englund honed his acting chops doing regional theater around California as a child, something he continued to pursue all through high school. After three years as a student at UCLA, he left California to study at the Meadow Brook Theater in Michigan where he would perform in classic stage productions written by Shakespeare and Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw. In 1974 Englund would appear in his first big Hollywood role in the film Buster and Billie with actor Jan-Michael Vincent. A few years later and with nine films already under his belt, Englund would audition for the role of “Lance B. Johnson,” the reluctant soldier and LSD-dropping surfer in Apocalypse Now. According to Englund, who was born in 1947, he was told that he was “too old” for the role and the casting crew sent him across the hall to read for the role of Han Solo in Star Wars where he was told he was “too young looking.” Englund headed home and after drinking a bunch of beer he got in touch with his friend Mark Hamill and ended up being one of a few of Hamill’s young actor friends who suggested that he go try out for the park of Luke Skywalker. The rest is history as they say. Englund has done more than his fair share of films (almost 50) and it is that kind of rigor that helps separate the wolves from the pack in this game.
Full disclosure: I’m an unabashed fan of Englund’s, and bonafide horror film junkie to the core and this discovery was sort of like winning the horror-nerd lottery for me. I mean, the images of Englund, a native of Glendale, California, waiting for a wave along with fellow surfer and screenwriter Dennis Aaberg during some downtime on location for the 1978 film Big Wednesday (which is fantastic in case you’ve never seen it) is everything. As are images of Englund from his appearance in director Tobe Hooper’s 1976 film Eaten Alive (which is also pretty great), where he plays a womanizing lothario named “Buck” with a tanned, chiseled physique. Zowie. If all this sounds awesome and unbelievable to you then I’m sure you’re going to enjoy this unexpected trip down memory lane by way of Elm Street.
Englund (pictured first in this photo with the baseball hat on) headed out to catch some waves during a break in shooting the film ‘Big Wednesday’ in 1978.
FREDDY CAN SURF!
Waiting for a wave with screenwriter Dennis Aaberg on location for the 1978 film ‘Big Wednesday.’
Another shot of Englund in character as “The Mute” in a regional theater production of ‘The Fantasticks’ early 1970s.
Opposite actor Jan Michael Vincent in his first film ‘Buster and Billie’ 1974.
Englund (pictured to the left) in the 1976 film ‘St. Ives’ staring Charles Bronson.
A still of a shirtless Englund as the sex-crazed character “Buck” in ‘Eaten Alive.’
Englund getting direction from ‘Stay Hungry’ director Bob Raffelson and the first AD Mike Haley.
A regional theater producting staring Englund in the role of “Clarence” in ‘Life With Father’ 1969.
Englund in high school.
A scene from ‘Eaten Alive.’
Englund as the disco dancing “Mott” in the 1978 film ‘Bloodbrothers’ staring Richard Gere.
On stage in the Shakespeare play, ‘As You Like It’ 1969.
Englund as “Smiley” from the 1990 film ‘The Adventures of Ford Fairlane’ because black leather of course.
A fan-made clip of scenes featuring Englund in various stages of sexy times from ‘Eaten Alive.’ Set to the song “Glory Box” by Portishead.
Englund speaking insightfully about the “arrogance, swaggar and self-confidence” of Freddy Krueger.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Killer silhouettes of 80s VHS horror movie box art
The most f*cked-up, underrated, 80s slasher horror movie: ‘10 To Midnight’
The Mutilator: Long-lost 80s slasher rediscovered, returns bloodier than ever
‘Black Christmas’: The groundbreaking 1974 slasher film that paved the way for ‘Halloween’
Special FX horror makeup god Tom Savini profiled in new documentary