Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare

Lie to me
But do it with sincerity.
- Depeche Mode[1]

Human beings insist upon being lied to (does my arse look big in this?). The most perpetual lies are spoken by loved ones, politicians and the Hollywood machine. The Final Nightmare 1991 stated its lie in the title.

Audiences had tired of the (home video assisted) horror surge of the 80s[2]. It was a boom that precipitated its own bust. Despite the initial originality (Halloween 1978, Basket Case 1982, A Nightmare on Elm Street 1984) the period was rife with sequels and copycats (My Bloody Valentine 1981, Shocker 1989). The horror obituary was written in box office receipts. In 1989 A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child was the least performing (to that date) in the franchise.

In 1991 The Silence of the Lambs was a phenomenon and the studios turned their genre expectations to serial killers. New Line Cinema decided to close the book on Freddy Krueger – until it was time to revive him[3].

The film opens with two epigrams – possibly to make up for the lack of one in The Dream Child. This device is only useful when pertinent. To quote Nietzsche and then quote ‘Freddy Krueger’ is a display of illiteracy. The accompanying soft rock soundtrack over the opening credits is a reminder of The Dream Master’s (financial) success. This film is commercial. Freddy is to die with a bang.

Rachel Talalay[4][5] produced The Dream Master 1988 – the franchises biggest box office success (to that date). Freddy’s Dead is her directorial debut. Her subsequent resume attests she has no business directing features. Furthermore she penned the story. The screenplay is by Michael De Luca[6] – one of the producers. To wit this film is written and directed by the studio execs.

End Story

A title card proclaims the proceedings take place “ten years from now” in Springwood Ohio:

Mysterious killings and suicides wipe out entire population of children and teenagers.

The inspiration for A Nightmare on Elm Street [7] is factual[8][9]. Wes Craven created a mythology rooted in reality. Before her first shot Talalay sabotages that myth. She turns the core of reality into ludicrousness: sometime in the future in a town where all the young people have been slaughtered in Springwood Ohio.

Since she wanted to change location (for the hell of it) why not Boise Springwood Idaho?

The customary curtain raiser has John Doe in a Freddy plagued nightmare. He wakes in a house falling from the sky. This device – waking from a dream into a dream – is a real phenomenon. I’ve experienced it myself. In film it is used as a swerve; something to off balance the audience. In this film it is a cheap gimmick. The next cheap shot is of Freddy on a broomstick. The Simpsons are famous for parodying movies because they’re good at it. The effect of referencing The Wizard of Oz 1939 is to highlight that the wicked witch of the west is now scarier than Freddy Krueger.

John Doe crash lands and stumbles up to 1428 Elm Street. He turns on his heel and runs (it’s a novelty to see the common sense approach applied in a horror film). It is to no avail. Freddy throws him out of the dreamscape to “go fetch”.

In the context of the story the curtain raiser has a purpose.

Movie making by committee

Everyone sings in the shower. Some people sing karaoke. Some try out for American Idol. The problem is the moment you open your mouth the whole world hears you sound like a stray cat at a dog pound. Writing is different. No one will tell you to your face that texting does not constitute an essay. No one told Talalay. This story has no rhythm. It makes no sense. That it was filmed is evidence that New Line was past caring.

Hollywood parlance for motion pictures is ‘a piece of shit(sic)’ [10]. That’s the level of respect the industry has for its own product - which is more than they have for their audience.

There is a cynical attempt at furthering the mythology: Freddy had a daughter. He was married. He killed his wife but was not (tried? or) convicted. However his daughter was taken from him. Thus he turned into a child killer. This is cynical because it rewrites history. Krueger was a child killer because he was evil not because he was aggrieved[11].

However there is a retro scene where Freddy is bullied by his classmates. They chant “son of a hundred maniacs” after he bludgeoned the class hamster. That scene alone could suggest his hatred for children that followed him into adulthood. Alas that is not the only flashback scene and the others clutter the effect.

Lisa Zane plays den mother to a house of troubled teens. Clearly this is a rip off Dream Warriors 1988. Zane is no Heather Lagenkamp. She’s best known in Britain for being Billy Zane’s sister. Who’s best known in Britain for stealing the no-talent Kelly Brook from Jason Statham[12] who’s best known for being this generation’s Jean Claude Van Damme. Zane’s performance is so wooden Ikea is listed as an endangered species.

The pleasant surprise casting is Yaphet Kotto. He’s an esteemed actor of gravitas and he delivers a grounding performance. Alas his role is too small and not pivotal enough to disguise the film’s shortcomings. Lezlie Deane has a larger role as Tracy – a copycat of Taryn (Dream Warriors). She delivers in scowls punches and kicks – and is always watchable. She also handles the dramatic scenes well. Witness when she confronts her father in her dreams.

Tom and Roseanne Arnold have an enjoyable comic cameo as does Johnny Depp. He’s the best thing in this flick. Look closely and you can’t even see the gun that had to be held to his head.


To accept this story has plot is to accept a bikini model at a black tie event. In Dream Warriors Kristen had a unique power to pull people into her dreams. She (somehow) passed that power onto Alice in The Dream Master. In this film both John Doe and Tracy stroll into Spencer’s dream like gate crashers. Talalay’s direction of the actors has them shout at each other in mid-conversation (presumably to wake up the audience). The editing ignores reaction shots thus negating the already risible dialogue.

New Line did not self sabotage. De Luca had a trick up his sleeve. Today that trick is the advent of a new frontier and the reason for the biggest box office in history[13]. 3D sold Avatar 2009. It also sold Freddy’s Dead (though 3D in 1991 was hardly different to 3D in the 1950s). Film was the third most successful at the box office of the 6 released (to that date).

No one cried at the end of this movie. At this point I was done with the franchise. Robert Englund’s performance was caricature. He was one film away from becoming embarrassing. Though like professional wrestling we all knew he’d be back. James Bond has been revamped on more than one occasion.

Freddy is not dead. He never was. He’s part of folklore.

TFi: You've got to read Reznor's take on this movie over at Koopaskeep[14]. I do.

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