Director: Rachel Talalay
Cast: Robert Englund, Lisa Zane, Shon Greenblatt, Lezlie Deane, Yaphet Kotto
Screenplay: Michael De Luca
89 mins. Rated R for horror violence, and for language and drug content.
If you have ever seen Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, a lengthy documentary on the making of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, or its sister Crystal Lake Memories (the making of the Friday the 13th franchise), you will know how much work has gone into each of these films, even though the criticism by many of the uninitiated is that they are all the same. They believe that each installment is the exact same as the previous ones, a story repeated over and over until the box office receipts are too small to be worth the risk of doing it all again. In this assumption, they would be wrong. The sixth Nightmare on Elm Street film went through several drafts from several screenwriters, each trying to nail down a unique new direction to take the film. Today, let’s talk about the finished product and try to wrap our heads around how it all failed so spectacularly.
Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare opens ten years in the future, presumably in the year 1999 or 2001. In the years since Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund, Nightworld: Door of Hell, The Midnight Man) began his otherworldly murder spree, he has claimed almost all of the children of Springwood, and the town itself has become a ghost, a shell of its former self. Now, he sets his sights on a young man with no memory of who he is. This John Doe (Shon Greenblatt, Newsies, Luster), as he is lovingly referred to, finds himself at a shelter for troubled teens and, with the help of Dr. Maggie Burroughs (Lisa Zane, The Nurse, Game Day), he follows a trail of clues leading back to Springwood, Fred Krueger, and a revelation that neither is prepared for.
Of the many varied attempts to nail down the story for a sixth film, director Peter Jackson had a take where kids were purposely drugging themselves in order to enter the dreamworld and beat up a weakened and aged Freddy Krueger, and there was also an idea to bring back Jacob Johnson (Alice’s son from the previous film) as a teenager, so it both shocked and disappointed me that we got a “finale” that feels so uninspired, cheap, and forgettable. There are flashes of a genius take on Freddy Krueger here, but they are lost under the weight of all the meaningless goofiness. The tone here suggests the director, Rachel Talalay (Tank Girl, On the Farm), believed that Freddy Krueger was at his best when he is comical, silly, almost chummy with the audience. The failure here (this failure is similar to what happened with Chucky as well) is misunderstanding that Freddy’s wit should be used only to lull the audience into a sense of fun before ratcheting up the horror elements again. A well-placed piece of dialogue can convince the viewers that it’s okay, we’re having a good time, and it calms the audience after a big scare before introducing another one. Here, the horror is almost used to remind the audience that it’s okay, we’re still watching a scary movie, even if you aren’t scared.
As I’ve said, there are elements to Freddy’s Dead that could have really worked in a better movie. One of those elements is the mythology building. Other horror franchises have taken a stab at building in supernatural mythology late in the franchise with films like Jason Goes to Hell or Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, but for Freddy’s Dead, being so heavily laced with supernatural elements from the get-go really helps it here. In the case of Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, those franchises started out rather simple, with stories of serial killers that, however unlikely, “could have happened.” With the original Nightmare on Elm Street, we knew that Freddy was a monster, a demon, or something unholy from the very beginning, so the way that Springwood has been turned into a ghost town with people slowly going mad after the loss of all the children could really work. I’m also referring to the Dream Demons, a concept that seems to have some value to it in establishing Freddy’s supernatural powers without downright spoiling the mystery. Even the backstory of Freddy’s childhood, all things that could have worked in the proper context.
So what does work in the film? Well, as I said above, the origin story is an element that could have been better, but I felt it was still executed nicely in the finished product. There’s something to seeing the evil of this “Son of a Hundred Maniacs” at play from a very early period, and the sequence featuring a cameo by Alice Cooper as a foster father to Freddy is deliciously wicked and disturbing. I enjoyed the idea that Fred, as an adult, tried to suppress his darker deeds and eventually tried to hide them behind a traditional suburban façade, and I also really like his later monologue in the film where he expresses no remorse and takes no responsibility for his deeds.
There’s a standout sequence in this film featuring Carlos, one of the teenagers from the shelter who ends up in Springwood with Maggie and the John Doe, that is exemplary and stands out among the wreckage of the movie. I won’t get into specifics but the use of sound and sleight-of-hand calls back to more traditional Nightmare, with Freddy playing a supernatural cat-and-mouse game with his prey.
Bringing a real conclusion to Freddy Krueger’s tale had to be a daunting task for production, but sadly, the screenplay and plotting from Michael De Luca (In the Mouth of Madness) was seeming buried under a collection of poor ingredients. Most of the cameos in the film (besides Cooper’s) do not work. The inclusion of Roseanne and Tom Arnold as grieving parents doesn’t work as comedic or sad in a scene that should have been tragic (grieving parents going mad over their pain), and Johnny Depp appears in a dream, perhaps as himself or the still-suffering Glen from the original film, and being wasted as much as the original Ghostbusters actors who appeared in the reboot. The entire video-game/power-glove/Breckin Meyer-fights-his-father sequence is laughably Looney Tunes and out of place (this was his first role, and I can’t blame him for taking it). The 3D finale almost seems like high-art compared to the previous hour, but again, it’s a gimmick that took precedence over the conclusion to one of the most iconic franchises in horror history.
I’m not mad that Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare is easily the weakest entry in the franchise by a mile. I’m just disappointed, and maybe that hurts more than anything else, really. Here we have an example of filmmakers and crew doing what they think is best but ultimately creating a film that doesn’t honor what the fans want. I’m a big defender of the filmmaker making their vision and screw trying to make the fans happy, but I’m not entirely sure who the team behind Freddy’s Dead is trying to please, because it certainly wasn’t me. There are some elements that work at play here, but they are far and few between. It pains me to say it, but I’m guessing Freddy’s hell is probably just rewatching this finale.
-Kyle A. Goethe
For my review of Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th, click here.
For my review of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, click here.
For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part 2, click here.
For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part III, click here.
For my review of Joseph Zito’s Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, click here.
For my review of Jack Sholder’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, click here.
For my review of Danny Steinmann’s Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, click here.
For my review of Chuck Russell’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, click here.
For my review of Tom McLoughlin’s Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI, click here.
For my review of Renny Harlin’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, click here.
For my review of John Carl Buechler’s Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, click here.
For my review of Stephen Hopkins’ A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, click here.
For my review of Rob Hedden’s Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, click here.