Friday, October 30, 2015

Nightmare Week: 'Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare' (1991)

After the third, fourth and fifth movies in the Nightmare on Elm Street series followed more or less directly from one another, the big finale jumps ahead 10 years and features none of the familiar characters from previous films (other than Freddy, of course). Instead of feeling like the culmination of the entire story, Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare comes off like a rushed, cheap wrap-up, with a story that's equally dissatisfying whether it actually is the conclusion of the Freddy Krueger saga or just a fake-out ending (as turned out to be the case, of course). Apparently at one point the movie was meant to star a grown-up version of Jacob, Alice's son from The Dream Child, as well as some of the characters from Dream Warriors (although I'm pretty sure almost all of them are dead at this point), but that was scrapped in favor of retconning a whole new family for Freddy, as well as tacking on some poorly thought-out elements to his mythology.

The ostensible main character of the first half turns out to be a red herring, and not a very interesting one, either. The nameless teenager dubbed John Doe (Shon Greenblatt) is possibly the last teenager left in Freddy's hometown of Springwood, Ohio, since by now Freddy has killed all the children and teenagers. It's never quite clear why John loses his memory, or why he's been allowed to survive when Freddy has killed everyone else, or what his actual background is (and Greenblatt is terrible at conveying his emotional distress). He ends up in a generic city with no memory and no identity, and is picked up by the police and placed in a shelter for troubled teens. There he meets social worker Maggie (Lisa Zane), the movie's actual main character, who decides that the best way to jog his memory is to take him back to Springwood, because his only possession is a newspaper article that mentions it. A trio of generic teen rebels from the shelter stow away on the trip, because Freddy needs more victims.

I was disappointed that the movie didn't spend more time exploring the idea of the quasi-post-apocalyptic Springwood, which is its only intriguing addition to the mythology. I like when horror series take their premises to the extreme logical end, and I think an entire movie could have been made about the large-scale effects of Freddy's killing spree, if the producers weren't going to bother following up on characters the audience actually cares about. But instead it's an excuse for a distracting cameo from Roseanne Barr and Tom Arnold and a couple of surreal scenes, then back to Nancy's boarded-up house (again) and Freddy killing teenagers in moronic ways. The video game-themed death of one of the characters in this movie has to be the dumbest Freddy kill in the entire series.

In addition to giving Freddy an entirely new family tree (a wife he killed, a daughter taken away from him), this movie also modifies the mystical explanation for Freddy's existence, replacing the "dream gate" stuff from The Dream Master with "dream demons," which manage to be even cheesier. The three ancient demons that supposedly granted Freddy his powers look like flying sperm with skull faces, and it doesn't help that they're presented (along with the entire climax of the movie) in super-chintzy 3D. After markedly improved effects and set pieces in the fourth and fifth movies, Freddy's Dead looks like it was produced at bargain rates.

Director Rachel Talalay (who worked her way up from assistant production manager on the first movie, which is kind of heartwarming) and screenwriter Michael De Luca attempt to delve into Freddy's psychology with the revelation that Maggie is his long-lost daughter, and flashes of his messed-up childhood. But Freddy's connection to his supposed child is weaker than his connection to his previous opponents, and the flashbacks are full of cliches about the tortured upbringings of serial killers. Englund gets a chance to emote, playing Freddy without makeup, but it's hard to find emotional resonance in a movie that's more concerned with dumb jokes. When Maggie finally vanquishes Freddy, it ends the entire series in an anticlimax. "Freddy's dead," she says in the movie's final line, which is meant to sound triumphant but comes off more like surrender.

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