Thursday, 11 October 2012

Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare

1991
Dir. Rachel Talalay

Freddy Krueger finally succeeds in killing all the children of his hometown by invading their dreams and slaughtering them while they sleep. By tracking down his estranged daughter, a tough youth councillor, he plans to escape the confines of Springwood to claim fresh victims. When she discovers who he is, and his demonic past, she vows to put a stop to his reign of terror once and for all. Will Krueger finally be defeated in the climactic (3D!) showdown between father and daughter?

"Do you know the terror of he who falls asleep? To the very toes he is terrified, because the ground gives way under him, and the dream begins..." - Friedrich Nietzsche

"No screaming while the bus is in motion!" - Freddy Krueger

Despite its decline in returns, and its lacklustre reception, The Dream Child still earned enough money at the box office to convince New Line that a further instalment of the Elm Street series might be a hit. The studio had noted the waning interest in Part 5 though, and decided that the next film should probably be the last; therefore, it needed to be big enough to give Freddy the explosive send off his fans would expect. The original idea featured Alice (Lisa Wilcox) and her son again, who, some years after defeating Krueger must face him again with the help of spectral Dream Warriors. Even Peter Jackson allegedly submitted a screenplay! The studio were taking no chances, and they threw everything they could at it, including cameo appearances by the likes of Johnny Depp, Rosanne and Alice Cooper, and an all singing-all dancing 3D finale that takes places within the mind of Krueger himself, as it's revealed he obtained his immortality from dream demons who’d been plaguing him since childhood. The original ending of the shooting script, which featured the dream demons corrupting another child, was dropped as New Line didn’t want to set up another sequel; they wanted to push Freddy’s Dead as the last film. Who the hell were they kidding?



Directed by Rachel Talalay, who’d been involved with the series since Craven’s original hit, it moves away from the gothic atmosphere of its predecessor, as well as the on-going storyline involving Alice and her son Jacob. A whole new set of characters were created with the revelation that Krueger has finally succeeded in slaughtering all the teenagers in Springwood. He uses the dreams of the last remaining teen, who is on the run and trying to stay awake, to relocate and begin his killing spree over again elsewhere. So far, things seem promising, with a daring new plot and promise of an unforgettable finale. From Dream Warriors on, the plots of the Elm Street films had essentially been hung around elaborate set pieces and fantastical death scenes. While Freddy’s Dead delves into the past of the titular killer, depicting his childhood and development into a killer, its plot is as draped around bombastic set pieces as its predecessors. It also reveals that Freddy has a daughter, who until this film had never been mentioned. It wasn’t unusual for ongoing horror franchises to introduce previously unheard of siblings who came out of the woodwork to put a stop to the bloody antics of their serial killing relative. Friday the 13th did the same thing in Part 9 of its series, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. FYI, there was nothing final about it, either! You just can’t keep a popular slasher franchise down.




Opening with a bravura scene that plays on the fear of heights, Freddy’s Dead starts as it means to go on, with an overtly cartoonish feel and plethora of big budget effects. An Acrophobic teen – who is revealed to be the last one of Springwood - finds himself falling out of a plane (accompanied by Mussorgsky’s A Night on Bald Mountain on the soundtrack) and down into his bedroom, only for his house to be swept back up into the air in a twister, with Krueger flying around it on a broomstick as the witch from The Wizard of Oz. He awakens at the side of the road with amnesia, and winds up in a youth shelter for troubled teens and runaways. The on going themes of generational conflict, familial dysfunction and the depiction of parents as weak and ineffectual takes on a much more grotesque emphasis in this film, with the teens all coming from broken, abusive homes. The use of troubled teens as the main characters has shades of Dream Warriors; only on a much grittier, exaggerated scale. Indeed, the character of youth worker Maggie (Lisa Zane) is akin to Nancy in Part 3; she’s the only one who sides with the youths, while the parentally abused Tracy (Lezlie Deane) emerges as one of the series’ more proactive Final Girls. Tough female characters are common place throughout the Elm Street movies, and the series never had the misogynistic reputation some of its peers did. Freddy Krueger really was an equal opportunities kinda killer. Interestingly, as they were in Part 2, all the victims in Freddy’s Dead are male.

The depiction of Springwood throughout the series, particularly in the first film, was that of a white picket-fenced suburbia, completely at odds with the violence taking place in the dreams of its teenage inhabitants, ensuring the horror was unexpected and shocking. In Freddy’s Dead, Springwood is a ghost town, with childless parents wandering around in a daze, or playing at an abandoned funfair. It’s twisted and off and when the teens from the shelter arrive there one of them quips, ‘We’re in Twin Peaks!’ Whereas the dreams from Part 3 onwards played out in elaborate dreamscapes and gothic churches, the boiler room from the early films reappears here, adding to the grimy urban feel, which is totally at odds with the overblown comedic violence. The most disturbing scene unfolds as Tracy has a nightmarish encounter with her abusive father who morphs into Krueger. The underlying issues of domestic abuse, rape and incest are genuinely unsettling.



References to the first film abound when the gang realise they can defeat Krueger by pulling him out of their dreams and into reality. Maggie volunteers to fall asleep and track him down, donning a pair of 3D glasses to help her in her quest. Entering Krueger’s memories she sees the origins of the ‘Bastard son of a hundred maniacs’, his troubled childhood, abusive father (Alice Cooper!) and the Elm Street parents torching him in his boiler room. She also realises that her recurring dream is a repressed childhood memory; turns out she saw her father – Freddy Krueger! – killing her mother. Bombarding the audience with 3D demons and all manner of slap-stick violence, the film simply can’t manage to build any tension, despite its interesting central concept, and the final showdown is rather anti-climactic, with Maggie simply blowing up Krueger in the basement of the youth shelter.

Freddy’s Dead was designed to bid farewell to one of contemporary horror cinema’s most iconic bogeymen. While it certainly aims for an epic feel, it just can’t pull it off, and emerges as one of the weakest titles in the series. Talalay’s attempts to give it a darker, grittier edge are lost under the clownish Freddy shenanigans and ridiculous death scenes; one of which features a techy geek being sucked into a computer game and battered to death by a crudely animated Krueger. The film was a hit, unsurprisingly, and despite promising to kill off Freddy Krueger, the temptation to bring him back proved too much for New Line. What was most unexpected in the eventual follow up, however, was the involvement of the series’ original creator Wes Craven, and the genuinely intelligent, creepy and post-modern approach he would utilise to resurrect Freddy ‘One last time…’

4 comments:

Kelvin Green said...

Is there any specific reason why A Nightmare on Elm Street isn't part of the title of this film? Was it just a choice, or was it a rights issue, as with Friday the 13th?

James Gracey said...

I don't think so, no. I reckon it's because New Line REALLY wanted to sell this as the last film.

Emily said...

Love this series of yours James! This is one that I know is bad, but I still get a lot of enjoyment out of rewatches. I think they were ambitious in trying to capture a sort of John Waters as a horror movie tone, but it pretty much fails miserably. Still, it's so seeped in the '90s (Roseanne ARNOLD cameos!) that it will always have a soft spot in my heart. Although when I tried to watch it with the 3D glasses in my boxed set, I had a headache for three days.

James Gracey said...

I appreciated the attempts to really open out the story here, though given Mr Kreuger's popular status at the time, it's hardly surprising the filmmakers did nothing subversive with it. I've only seen this one a couple of times, but, like Part 4, I kind of enjoy its dumbness. Perfect viewing if you're not in the mood to think and just want to switch off.
I love your comparison of this one to a John Waters film. That is very true now that I think about it, especially the scenes with the childless Springwood parents. Smacks of Waters.