Hold the Cutting Words, Please, for Robert Englund, the Friendly Cuss Who Plays Elm Street's Nightmare Stalker

updated 03/23/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/23/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

High in the Hollywood hills at the end of a washed-out road, Robert Englund's house sits perched on a steep slope. Inside, on the living room wall, a neon skull with a red-tongued serpent coiled around it casts a zombie pallor on Englund's face. On almost every shelf and even in some closets, skeletons, literally, are rattling. But don't blame Englund for the creepy contents of his home. Roxanne Rogers, the actor's girlfriend (and the sister of playwright Sam Shepard) is the decorator of their quaint chamber of horrors. Her forays into L.A.'s punk scene in the 70s helped create a penchant for macabre decor. "It's gotten to the point," claims Englund, "where I say, 'Please, baby, no more bones.' "

Look who's talking. This guy plays Freddy Krueger, madman of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies. In the latest installment—Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors—Freddy turns up again to murder small-town teens by the dozens. Too violent? Definitely, but Elm's opening overtook Oscar favorite Platoon as the nation's No. 1 hit.

Englund, 39, a classically trained actor, spends four hours in makeup to get the grotesque Freddy look that freaks out audiences. "At one time I was doing Shakespeare, and now I'm running around looking like a pizza face," he says. Thugs have invaded the Elm Street set in an effort to steal a piece of Freddy's mask, and more than a few visitors have been captivated by Freddy's favorite weapon, a razor-blade-studded glove. Says Englund: "I've had girls beg to pose with it for pornographic pictures."

In the original 1984 Elm Street, it's explained that Krueger was a janitor at a small-town high school who massacred adolescents and incinerated them in the school furnace. Freddy then met a fiery death at the hands of his victims' parents. "We thought we had a nice little horror film, not a cottage industry," recalls producer Robert Shaye. But the film, which cost $1.8 million, earned $24 million. And so Freddy was revived again for the second and third pictures.

It was not a role Englund was born to play. An only child, he was raised in Hollywood by non-showbiz parents. (His father, an engineer, helped develop the U-2 spy plane.) A dropout from UCLA in 1968, Robert studied acting in Detroit and later acted and directed in various U.S. theaters. He also got married, at 19. "I wasn't even grown," he says. "I was mostly an out-of-work actor, and she was a registered nurse. Different worlds. We divorced in 1972."

By then he had moved up to films {Stay Hungry) and TV (Hobson's Choice). A living, sure, but not household name status. In 1982 he met Roxanne, now 31, in San Francisco, when she was acting in a play he was directing. The next year they were living in his Malibu house. Though Roxanne is a triple threat as actor-director-writer, they keep career friction to a minimum. They are equipping their home with two offices so that Roxanne "can go in hers and write, and I can make calls and do business from mine."

A year after meeting Roxanne, Englund tried out for Elm Street, showing up for the audition with smeared-on circles under his eyes. Though he was also co-starring as the gentle lizard Willy in the TV series V, Englund quickly found out who his public liked best. At a sci-fi convention to promote V, he was surrounded by "hard-core horror and heavy metal fans asking me to sign their girlfriends' cleavage, 'Die now. Love, Freddy.' "

Roxanne has never seen an Elm flick, which Robert figures is not an insult, just self-defense: "If she and I have an argument, I don't think she wants to face seeing a flash of Freddy in my eyes." Not that she sees Robert as a Milquetoast. "Freddy and Robert both have that push-button anger. And all that sexuality, too. Robert's not Mel Gibson, but the sexuality is there."

Englund would like to put the Freddy role behind him for a while—or at least until the time comes for the inevitable Nightmare 4. He does play a normal best friend role in Infidelity, an ABC movie with Lee Horsley. But Englund knows he'll always be haunted by Freddy. So far Roxanne's famous brother hasn't made any comment. "I don't think Sam has any clue about Elm Street," says Englund. "When he's not working, he's playing polo." But Robert's friends are another matter. "I get razzed," he sighs. Worse are the phone calls. "I used to be listed in the book," says Englund. "Then, after Nightmare 2 came out, I'd get calls: 'One, two, I'm coming for you...Three, four, better lock your door.' I'm not listed anymore."

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