Freddy's Dead. Long Live Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare
I love when people become desperate. I’m of the opinion that you always need a little bit of desperation to create. Or at the very least, that desperation gives birth to some of the more fascinating things in life. For example, say you’ve got the rights to a horror movie franchise in the '80s, one that’s gotten so unimaginably popular that it’s been marketed to kids in the form of action figures, boardgames, lunchboxes, and so on. But the '80s are over, its star has started to fade, and you’re desperate for any fresh angle that might invigorate diminishing box office returns. So now you’re thinking about hiring that special effects wiz and aspiring director who has both a strong affinity for your franchise and a fascination for John Waters movies. Such was the case for the Nightmare on Elm Street series, when producer Bob Shaye approached Rachel Talalay to helm the sixth, supposed “final” outing for that guy who’s burnt up like a weenie and his name is Fred.
However, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare ended up not being a reigniting spark, or even inspiring much of a cult following. In fact 9 out of 10 people would very likely rank it on the lower end of their Freddy power ranking. But of course we wouldn’t be Back Row if we weren’t at least a little bit contrarian. Not just because we can, but because it’s fun to keep approaching things with zero expectations, re-evaluate established opinions, and maybe even come up with a fresh new angle. That’s right kids, I’m here to tell you that just because all your friends are saying you shouldn’t like Freddy’s Dead, it’s totally okay if you do and you are not alone.
"I'll get you my pretty, and your little soul, too!"
This so-called “Final Nightmare” opens a decade after the events of a (imhotbqh) mediocre 5th movie, which saw our pizza-faced villain father his eponymous Dream Child. Freddy’s been a busy boy and obsolescence has taken its toll on Springwood, the home of Elm Street, leaving nary a teenager left alive aside from a literal “John Doe.” When Johnny (he does look like Johnny Depp who was both in John Waters' Cry-Baby and the original Nightmare) gets confronted by Freddy in the opening minutes (which even sneaks in a quick Wizard of Oz spoof) he manages to escape by the breadth of his hair, sporting a severe case of memory loss just outside the border of Springwood and beyond the reach of Freddy’s dream magikk. John eventually winds up at a shelter for troubled youths in the next town over, where he teams up with a motley crew of future murder victims (hey, don’t look so shocked, this is still a horror movie). One of the councillors at this shelter is Maggie Burroughs, played by Lisa Zane (yep, Billy Zane’s very own sister), who, upon hearing of John Doe’s amnesia, suggests a road trip back to Springwood to try and jog his memory. You know, Springwood. Where Freddy lays dormant. I don’t need to tell you how this plays out.
"Now I'm playing with power!"
Like I mentioned before, Freddy’s Dead is very love-it or hate-it, with the scales mostly tipping toward hate-it. Why do I like this movie then, you ask? It’s that tangible desperation to re-invent a franchise that’s long past jumping the shark, still trying to take it to strange new places. I don’t even care if those places are in the realm of good taste. Like, oh I don’t know, say there's a scene where a character dreams about getting sucked into a TV set, and ends up in a video game controlled by Freddy Krueger who, just shy from winking at the camera, goes: “Great graphics!”. You bet your sweet bippy we’re far from home, Dorothy.
Look, I just don’t buy into sacred cows. Change it up, shed what’s expected of you, mess with canon just to spite that shitty producer who told you you can’t be too girly or sensitive. When your central theme is “dreams," it’s not the sky that’s the limit but your imagination. I’m not saying Freddy’s Dead is the poster child for creativity, but it definitely didn’t shy away from making mistakes. It embraced Freddy Krueger’s ascendence to a pop culture icon in the worst of ways, thus the best of ways. Just like Gremlins 2, it is not just in many ways a live-action cartoon but also a stab at deconstructing sequelitis. When Freddy's Dead came out in 1991, we were still a long ways off from the type of meta-horror Wes Craven would re-invent himself with in the Scream series, or even New Nightmare. So it’s intriguing how a little desperation enabled an eleventh-hour sequel to delve into slasher tropes and ask “What would happen if we propelled this concept of teenagers getting wiped out?” It’s not necessarily a thought that’s allowed a lot of weight within the movie, but someone did leave it out in the bushes somewhere for you to ponder over and I am all about that.
Freddy’s Dead is nothing if not an anomaly in a franchise that became too big for its britches. At the same time it’s both a deviation from, and constrained by its formula. But I love it because it’s a fascinatingly desperate attempt to re-capture some of the magic that kickstarted Freddy Mania. Of the big two horror juggernauts in the '80s, I’ve always found myself more enamoured by the Friday the 13th series due to their raw simplicity. Yet, the more I come back to Elm Street, the more I appreciate how it is by design a playground for imaginative little set pieces and an anything-goes mentality.