Throughout his career, Robert Englund has played a number of frightening characters, the most famous of which being Freddy Krueger from the A Nightmare on Elm Street series. The actor is so intrinsically linked with the horror genre, in fact, that his latest project, Travel Channel's True Terror with Robert Englund, allows him to play an exaggerated version of himself as he introduces audiences to a number of unsettling and unexplained incidents throughout history, many of which rival the horror of the fictional narratives Englund has brought to life. While the series itself might not have the thrills of his big-screen efforts, the series will surely be a hit with Unsolved Mysteries and Englund fanatics, as others will be entertained and educated.
Each episode of True Terror features a variety of stories ripped from our nation's past, all of which are introduced and narrated by Englund. The series premiere, for example, features a man who feels as though a dream has prophesized his death, making him terrified of his impending doom, while another afflicted man finds himself facing his own burial, though he doesn't have the energy to stop it from happening. Throughout each segment, dramatizations of the events are depicted alongside interviews with experts in otherworldly encounters, while headlines offer evidence to back up the bizarre occurrences.
Both in concept and in execution, True Terror serves as the heir apparent to Robert Stack's iconic Unsolved Mysteries, almost to the point that it feels as though it could have passed with the title "Unsold Mysteries: Origins." This isn't to say that this series is a lesser version of the cult classic or even an imitator, but speaks more to the legacy that Stack created.
The various stories within each episode run the gamut of ghosts to murderers to demons to monsters, as the historical premise of the series allows it to more effectively convey fantastical events that date back centuries. The drawback to the more dated material, however, means that the production value suffers slightly when attempting to recreate historical settings, yet this also allows the series to keep a playful spirit, as it never takes itself too seriously. True Terror, as evidenced by the name, isn't attempting to ground its events in reality, but instead highlights the potentially erroneous chronicling of strange events throughout history. While its many stories might be backed up by headlines, it shines more of a light on how inaccurate the research in previous time periods has been. Much like the myths of dragons have been associated with dinosaur bones, it's easy to see how a newspaper in unenlightened times could credit strange events to spirits or monsters. Conversely, the series also shows how unbiased reporting could have been, as a witness encountering what they believed to be a supernatural force was reported as such, instead of skepticism finding other explanations for the supposed incidents.
Englund makes a perfect narrator, knowing exactly when to offer a more objective recounting of the events and when to crank up the creepiness. With many of his introductions, he is highlighted by an ominous backdrop, channeling his inner Rod Serling from his time on The Twilight Zone, despite each of the episodes of that series being entirely fictional. We can only hope that a subsequent season could allow Englund to play a physical role in future episodes, whether it be to cameo as a background actor or to physically enter or exit a tableau in honor of Serling.
Where True Terror falls short of its contemporaries is that, by nature of its premise, it often lacks any interviews with the people directly involved with the events, calling the legitimacy of each event into question. Similar series can see victims expressing their disbelief and ultimate acceptance of strange encounters, with the detachment between the present day and the strange experiences in history forcing viewers to put more faith in the authorities speaking to the events, with some audiences surely being more skeptical than others.
If you're looking to have a truly terrifying experience, other programs will serve you better, but for viewers who can't resist creepily campy stories plucked from history, you're in luck with True Terror, a compilation of campfire tales made all the more compelling by Englund's charisma and gleeful malice.1comments
Rating: 3 out of 5
True Terror with Robert Englund premieres on the Travel Channel on Wednesday, March 18th at 10 p.m. ET.