Film Review: Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare

Freddy's_Dead-The_Final_Nightmare_-US_poster
The movie poster for Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. Cliche tagline aside, is this the best movie poster of the franchise? It is for me. I think it’s great.

I can’t say I’m excited about this one, folks. I come into everything with an open mind, but my Halloweenies podcast has been warning me (not me specifically) with each prior installment about how bad Freddy’s Dead is, but here we are with Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. To be fair, I did like Freddy’s Revenge more than most.

Doing my pre-watch research, one positive I noticed: This film came out a little over two years after the previous installment, A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. That’s a change of pace from the previous installments’ gaps. The first to second film had a less than one year gap, and then the third to four was a year, and fourth to fifth was less than a year.

This also marks the first Nightmare film to come out in the 1990s. Since it’s 1991, though, I’m going to guess (and I may be proven wrong, we’ll see) that it still has that ’80s feel because decade changes take a little longer to reflect in the culture.

We have another new director in the chair, this time Rachel Talalay, who is also the first woman to direct a Nightmare film. Also, it’s her first debut as a director. Whoa. That’s quite the feat, to have to come in on a fifth sequel in a franchise and do something new and interesting with it. However, she wasn’t unfamiliar with the franchise, as she was already working on the prior films, utilizing her “computer skills and finding ways to create better special effects while still keeping costs low,” according to a Chicago Sun-Times write-up at the time.

“There are kids who love these movies and kids who are terrified, and I was one of the latter,” says Talalay, in the Chicago Sun-Times, 1991.

I love that story. Someone who was terrified of horror movies goes on to participate in, and direct, one of the most iconic horror movie franchises. That’s quite the arc.

But, unfortunately, the good story turns ugly. Also from a 1991 article, this time from The New York Times, “Are Women Directors an Endangered Species?”

Talalay was told through internal memos, “Don’t be too girly; don’t be too sensitive.”

That’s frustrating, to say the least. In my lifetime, women were still being seen as less-than when it came to traditional male-dominated roles within a male-dominated industry. Gah, I could spend the rest of the post ranting about this. She already worked on the other films! She worked on the special effects, perhaps the most talked about aspect of this franchise besides Robert Englund’s Freddy Krueger! Get the heck out of here with those memos.

The only other item I’m familiar with from her directing career is that she did episode 10, “Hunted,” of the second season of Supernatural! That’s cool.

Talalay is also credited with the story, but Michael De Luca has the screenwriting credit. I haven’t heard of De Luca before, but he seems to be more known for producing than writing. Apparently that’s because he’s only written three other films, one of which was a short film. So he didn’t do much in the realm of script-writing, and it’s worth pointing out, he was only 26-years-old here. That’s wild. But he seems to have had a relationship with Robert Shaye, the producer behind the franchise.

It’s too bad Peter Jackson’s (yes, that Peter Jackson) screenplay wasn’t used. According to Wikipedia, a police officer would take a pill to put himself into a comatose state to permanently be in Freddy’s realm. That sounds fun. I can’t compare it yet to what I’m about to watch … because I haven’t watched it.

LEslie Deane
Lezlie Deane, who plays Tracy Swan in the film.

In front of the screen, again, Robert Englund is of course back as Freddy Krueger. As far as I can tell, the rest of the cast are all fresh faces, but we do have an interesting return, of sorts: Johnny Depp. “Introducing Johnny Depp” was the credit on the first Nightmare film back in 1984. So seven years later, they somehow got Johnny Depp to come back, as his character Glen Lantz, but I’m curious how this will work since his character died in that film.

The year prior in 1990, Johnny Depp already played Edward Scissorhands in the movie of the same name, so he was starting to make a real name for himself at that point. That feels like a big “get” from New Line Cinema (which produces the Nightmare films) to get him back, even if in a cameo role.

Also notable cameos include Tom Arnold (playing Childless man, but still credited as Tom Arnold) and Roseanne Barr (playing Ethel, but also credited as Mrs. Tom Arnold). That’s another surprising get since the latter’s hit show, Roseanne, had already been running for three years by that point. Finally, Alice Cooper, the musician, is here as Edward Underwood.

The conceit of this film is, just as the title says, that it’s the final nightmare, although there would be an additional film only three years later (Wes Craven’s New Nightmare), but that’s non-canonical. For all intents and purposes, this was the final nightmare for 12 years until 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason. As I mentioned in my previous review of the fifth installment, New Line saw that as a failure, and I guess decided they wanted to end the series by killing off Freddy.

The synopsis of the film doesn’t tell us much. From Amazon Prime, “In this sixth return to the horrifying world of Nightmare on Elm Street, the town of Springwood decides to forever end Freddy Krueger’s deadly hold on their dreams.”

Actually, as I’ve mentioned previously, all of the premises of the films in this franchise are smart (the execution is a different story). And this is no different. The original mythos of Freddy Krueger is that the parents of Springwood, Ohio got together after he was freed on a technicality as a child murderer, burned him, and killed him. So to bring it back full circle that they would get fed up with his crap and try to kill him again is great.

freddy6
The “nursery rhyme” never gets old.

At the open, at least we’re back with quotes. I missed that in the previous installment. In this one, we get a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche, “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…”

My only issue? Goo Goo Dolls’ “I’m Awake Now” is playing over that quote and through the opening. Rock and horror can work in some limited ways, but for my horror movie tastes, give me instrumental, orchestra and synthetics, aka, mood and atmosphere-setting music. I don’t need lyrics. And I don’t need rock music that’s a bit too … happy’s not the word, but it’s not scary, I’ll say.

Oh. My. God. Not to be too dramatic, but … Oh. My. God. Remember in the previous reviews how I’ve said, okay, the, “Welcome to primetime, bitch!” line was iconic in the third film, but then they started playing into that too much later with Freddy Krueger adding “bitch” to his quips? After the Nietzsche quote, they literally quote Freddy Krueger’s primetime bitch line! What the heck are we doing here? That almost made me think I’m about to watch a Nightmare parody film. Wow.

But, to be positive, I will give “kudos” to the opening scene being on a plane. That’s different, and not something we’ve seen from prior installments. Heck, it’s not something you normally see in horror movies not named Final Destination. And the effects, not surprisingly given what I’ve mentioned with Talalay, look fantastic.

Seriously, that plane effect where John Doe (yes, John Doe) played by Shon Greenblatt gets dropped out of plane (after his passenger get sucked up) looks great, and might be one of the better special effects of the entire series.

But then it all gets ruined when FREDDY KRUEGER COMES FLYING BY ON A BROOM LIKE THE WICKED WITCH OF THE WEST FROM THE WIZARD OF OZ AND QUIPS, “I’LL GET YOU MY PRETTY AND YOUR LITTLE SOUL, TOO!”

Oh. My. God.

Also, just like with the previous installments, we see too much of Freddy Krueger’s face in the light, and now that I’m thinking about it, I suspect I know why this is: They paid these special effects companies a lot of money for that look and Robert Englund sat in makeup for hours for that look, they ain’t going to keep relegating it to the shadows like the first two (maybe three) films did. That’s why he’s in the light so much, and I guess it works with the more humorous (lol) direction that the franchise went with, but if you’re looking for scarier Freddy Krueger, the well-lit Freddy Krueger is not it.

Krueger

To circle back to my, will this have an ’80s vibe still or have that ’90s flavor, question; this does have that early ’90s feel. So that’s neat to see as a juxtaposition to the ’80s films.

This film is set 10 years into the future, and Springwood apparently has no more children left because Freddy Krueger killed them all, and the adults left over, like the one Roseanne plays, are a bit kooky. Again, I love the premise of this film.

Another fun element they bring back from the fourth one: The kids go further into town, and keep going in circles, like the looping dream element from the fourth film. I love it.

We’re back to gross out: Freddy Krueger attacks Carlos Rodriguez (played by Ricky Dean Logan) and sticks a Q-tip through his ear and out through the other ear. Carlos then pulls it back out, but is rendered deaf. That grosses me out and makes my skin crawl. The thought of anything probing too deep into my ear … yuck.

And I may be the only one, but I love the pin-dropping scene. So Carlos gets his hearing back, but Freddy Krueger made it super hearing, so then he literally drops pins to mess with Carlos. It looked great and is creative! Then Freddy Krueger literally does the “nails on a chalkboard” bit to continue messing with him until Carlos’ head explodes. It makes your skin crawl!

Spencer Lewis’ (played by Breckin Meyer) nightmare was fun, too, since it was a play on him being high from smoking marijuana, and I’m always going to be a sucker for Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gaddad-Da-Vida” playing. But as with some of the other bits, it gets ruined by Freddy Krueger playing a quasi-Nintendo game with Spencer inside the game. It makes Freddy Krueger look like a parody.

Also, the Amazon synopsis was a bit misleading. It’s not the town’s residents who take it to Freddy Krueger. It’s Maggie Burroughs (also known as Katherine Krueger, his daughter, played by Lisa Zane), and the other kids from the shelter, along with Doc (played by Yaphet Kotto) who take it to Freddy Krueger.

In fact, we get more mythos building when Maggie goes into Freddy Krueger’s memories, and we see a young Freddy Krueger, and the other kids chanting, “Son of a hundred maniacs.”

A big aside here, but I just realized something related to pro wrestling. Backstory: In an Extreme Championship Wrestling (a gorilla underground sort of wrestling company, a purveyor of extreme violence) match a few years after this film, on Aug. 13, 1994, Tommy Dreamer had a match against (interestingly enough) The Sandman at Hardcore Heaven, and when Dreamer lost the match, he had to take 10 Singapore cane shots to the back. At one point he goes, “Thank you, sir, may I have another?”

In this movie, we get to see teenager Freddy Krueger (played by Tobe Sexton) get slapped with a belt by his dad and respond, “Thank you, sir, may I have another?” I wonder if that’s where Tommy Dreamer got it from? But whoa.

We then see a slightly older Freddy Krueger beating his wife and talking to a younger version of Maggie. Man, Englund by himself without the Freddy Krueger makeup also just looks freaky to me. He’s creepy!

Maggie kills Freddy Krueger at the end with his own knives glove and then he explodes (not before quipping, “Kids”), and then, to go along with the 3D element of the film (Maggie even literally wore 3D glasses at one point), Freddy Krueger’s head came flying at the screen. Then Maggie closes off the franchise with, “Freddy’s dead.”

Yes, I’ve complained about seeing too much of Freddy Krueger, and honestly, a lot of the movie is ruined by taking the nightmares an extra ludicrous step too far. There’s nightmares that work for me, if only they reined themselves in a bit. And yes, I want scarier Freddy Krueger. But! The positives:

  • Lisa Zane as Maggie is easily the best character and best acted protagonist of the entire franchise. I’m sorry, and this might be a hot take, but give me Lisa Zane and the Maggie character over Heather Langenkamp as Nancy Thompson, Mark Patton as Jesse Walsh, Patricia Arquette and/or Tuesday Knight as Kristen Parker and certainly, Lisa Wilcox as Alice Johnson. Zane is fantastic, and the most believable when going toe-to-toe with Freddie Krueger.
  • But also, I think this might be the best acted film of the franchise since at least Dream Warriors? Overall, I had no problem with any of the actors, and the three main ones aside from Zane, Greenblatt, Logan and Meyer all did well.
  • Despite having to deal with sexist BS, Talalay’s directing (and story) is well-done here, and it might have some of the best-looking special effects of any of the films in the franchise. I was gushing over that plane scene at the beginning and it holds up nearly 30 years later.
  • The overall story idea is well-done; I like that Springwood is in tatters because of Freddy Krueger, and it’s up to Maggie, who learns she’s his daughter, to kill him. And she does. Even the extra mythos of seeing younger versions of Freddy Krueger is fine with me.

Also, probably because they were advertising it as Freddy Krueger being killed off, the film was a smash hit, with the highest opening of the series at the time, the biggest September opening at the time, and it also had two weekends at #1. I’m shocked they didn’t canonically continue the series, to be honest.

Overall, dare I freakin’ say, that despite the issues I had with this film, that it’s better than the prior two installments? It’s still not better than the first three films, but I’ll take it over those prior two. Yep, I sure said it. I’m shocked, too.

Freddy's dead

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