Friday, October 30, 2020

Elm St. Binge: Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)

Of all the original Nightmare on Elm Street films, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991) is the worst.

The film’s setting -- a decimated Springwood ten years in the future -- is actually quite inventive, and, in a way, quite logical in nature, but Freddy’s Dead nonetheless plays more like a cartoon than a movie featuring human beings.  

There’s a campy tone to the whole enterprise that is heightened to ridiculous and unpalatable levels by the (unnecessary) presence of movie star cameos.  

And the Freddy background story -- which reveals he has a daughter -- plays as two-dimensional at best.

Even the film’s conclusion -- which sees Freddy brought into the real world and executed there -- plays as a weak-kneed imitation of Nancy Thompson’s final strategy in the 1984 original.  

The film’s genuinely lousy special effects -- which look even worse in 3-D -- don’t do anything to enhance the script’s better qualities.  

In this case, Freddy’s Dead best quality is the script’s focus on the tragedy of child abuse. Virtually every important character in the proceedings can be considered in regards to this (troubling) paradigm, even Freddy himself.

Somewhere, buried underneath all the campy jokes, there is a good movie waiting to get out. It’s just too bad that Freddy’s Dead is executed so poorly, and without any sense of or grounding in reality.

The tag-line promised that the filmmakers saved the best for last.  

But the opposite true. Freddy’s Dead kills Freddy all right, but not because he had to go; but because the filmmakers did such a lousy job dramatizing this story.

“One of these days, you’re going to have to face your father.”

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Springwood is down to its last surviving teenager, John Doe (Shon Greenblat), thanks to Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund).  Freddy sends the amnesiac Doe to a nearby town on a fishing expedition of sorts, hoping he will bring back more victims for Freddy, including his long lost daughter.

John ends up at a half-way house with other teens including Tracy (Lezlie Deane), Carlos (Ricky Dean Logan) and Spencer (Brecking Meyer).  Their counselor is Maggie (Lisa Zane), a woman who is also struggling with gaps in her memory.

Maggie takes John on a field trip back to Springwood, to learn about his past, unaware that the other teens have stowed away in the van for the trip.  She is also unaware that she is leading them all into a trap set by Freddy.

“He’s fucking with the lines between dreams and reality.”

There are three big problems with Freddy’s Dead, I guess one might conclude.  

The first is that space has been made -- too much space, actually -- for celebrity cameos.  Thus the movie shoehorns in appearances by Roseanne Barr, Tom Arnold, Johnny Depp and Alice Cooper.  

Barr and Arnold are the absolute pits in their roles as psychotic Springwood parents, and they don’t take their performances seriously.  Instead, this duo grants the film a camp quality that makes it all seem like a big joke.

Secondly, the film’s climax proves a grievous disappointment. To start off, we learn that Freddy is inhabited by three Ancient Greek Gods called “dream demons.”  

One wonders: does this mean he’s not the protector of the Dream Gate, as established by “The Dream Master?” 

Why do we get another revisionist explanation for his dream abilities at all?  It's unnecessary, and worse than that, contradictory to information we have already received in previous franchise entries.

No matter, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

During the denouement, Maggie pulls Freddy into reality (just as Nancy did in A Nightmare on Elm Street), and then blows him up with dynamite, ending his reign of terror permanently. 

Writing for Sight and Sound Film Review (May 1991-April 1992, page 227), Nigel Floyd pointed out the problem with this straightforward solution: “Here we are asked to believe that a monster – who has survived myriad deaths and been resurrected countless times could be disposed of with sticks of dynamite.”

Yep. The problem is that this film was marketed on the premise of the studio finally killing off Freddy.  You would think, then, that the writers and director would come up with a pretty ingenious, or at least fresh way to kill off the brute.  Instead, they just pick the franchise's first and earliest way to kill him, from Craven’s original.  

It’s a huge disappointment, and not believable for even a second.   

The questions here that the audience might rightly ask, but the filmmakers don't consider are the following.

Why does this death promise to keep Freddy at bay permanently when Nancy turning her back on him failed?

When burying his bones in consecrated bones failed. 

When showing him his evil reflection failed.  

When being captured and absorbed by his mother, the nun, failed?

But this is going to do it?!

Well, Yaphet Kotto says so...

Third, but not least importantly, Freddy’s Dead represents the first time since before the arrival of Dream Warriors, that Freddy’s rules are inconsistent.  

Now, for example, Springwood seems to exist in its own bubble dimension, and Freddy is trying to reach out of it.  

How does he own his own dimension?  I’m not talking about dreams here, importantly,  We actually see the glass-like membrane between dimensions as it is shattered. 

Since when did Freddy get real estate in the waking world?

More dramatically, the movie makes a point of noting that Krueger reqquires John Doe to go fetch victims and bring them back to his dimension, because he can’t affect the world outside Springwood.  

Yet when Maggie and John return to the outside world, reality there has shifted dramatically.  No one any longer possesses memories of Carl or Spencer.  They’ve been erased from the time line.

Again, this is hardly the purview of a dream demon, and it makes no sense that Freddy should be able to re-shape reality from afar when he goes to all the trouble of bringing victims to him in Springwood.

I could go on and on with the internal inconsistencies, because there are many.

In terms of visuals, Freddy is over-lit throughout the movie so you can get a good look at every burn and pock-mark on his face. As I wrote in Horror Films of the 1990s, he’s about as terrifying-looking here as Lt Worf  was on Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994).

Yet despite these flaws, I believe that Freddy’s Dead could have succeeded, with better execution, and a rewrite (or seven, perhaps).  For example, I like the idea of Springwood as a ghost town.  That’s a valid notion, given the rate at which Freddy is murdering teenagers in the other films. It only makes sense that, at some point, the town is decimated…and nobody’s moving in anymore, either.

Secondly, I can see that the filmmakers were attempting to make some (no doubt sincere) commentary about abused children and abused parents. 

Tracy is an abused child, as we see in her dream sequence, which features her brutish, hulking father.  
Carlos is deaf in one ear, we learn, because -- similarly -- his mother injured him.  

Maggie, the daughter of Freddy is certainly verbally and emotionally abused by Freddy in the film.

And Freddy himself, we learn from the film’s flashbacks, is also an abused child.  

But Freddy’s Dead doesn’t do much with this idea, or draw any important or original conclusions about what it means that such violence exists in American families.  Accordingly, the flashbacks featuring Freddy are absolutely horrible.  

Basically, young Freddy begs his dad (Cooper) to whip him some more, again utilizing the approach that Freddy is seemingly bad by nature, evil from birth.  I think this does the character an extreme disservice, as I’ve written before.

I believe, instead, that Freddy is a coward. Or at least he was in life. Why else pick a job where he could hurt children in secret?  Why keep in the shadows, or live in a boiler room?  

Clearly, he is a sick individual who operates on the fringes of society. 

But the Elm Street sequels turn Freddy into this two-dimensional, cackling “EVIL” thing who kills schoolroom animals, begs to be beaten by his dad, and roughs up his wife and (possibly his daughter too).  A guy like this draws a lot of attention --  he doesn’t hide -- and so it doesn’t seem to fit with Wes Craven’s conception of the character.  Can you imagine the Freddy seen in this film's flashbacks ever getting a job at an elementary school?  Ever being beloved by the students there?

I know I can't.

With such a dramatic rewrite of the original character, I would suggest that it is the filmmakers, not Maggie and John, who actually need a refresher course in “Freddy 101.”

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