Day 10: Female-Helmed Horror Movies For October
Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare
Story and Directed by Rachel Talalay
1 hour, 29 minutes
I watched it via my Blu-ray “Nightmare on Elm Street” collection.
We all want the ladies to be helming big–budget fare, too, so I figured I’d check out one of the few studio horrors made by a lady and probably the only one I hadn’t seen yet. Unfortunately, I hadn’t been missing anything. It’s a messy, goofy film with dated effects and zero scares. (And I’m a wimp so no scares is really saying something.) Freddy Krueger is some sacred business in the horror world. Wes Craven created a miraculous embodiment of our universal fears of nightmares and losing agency over our own minds and bodies. The knife glove and Freddy’s tossing out punning jokes while stabbing you to death while you sleep? Fuck.
But here, Talalay misses chance after chance to make this Freddy comedy have any of that essential Freddy meanness. Granted, the “made by committee” stank practically wafts off of this, so I don’t place the blame squarely on Talalay. She’s made quite a career of directing good TV so I know she’s got the chops. She was the first American (and seventh woman) to direct an episode of “Doctor Who.”
She worked on “Ally McBeal,” “Supernatural,” “Sherlock,” the cult film “Tank Girl” and on and on. She’s also a mom and is married to a mostly horror film producer, Rupert Harvey. This list will continue to make you feel lazy as Bad Ass Girlfriend also studied Applied Mathematics at Yale, worked at Johns Hopkins as a computer programmer, and then became colleagues with John Waters and then Bob Shaye, the head of New Line Cinema, “The House That Freddy Built.”
In “Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare,” we meet the very last child still alive from Freddy’s hometown of Springwood, Ohio. He ends up getting away and lands in a home for wayward teenagers. He’s got the expected case of amnesia and a real quest for any substance that will keep him awake. A well-meaning case worker named Maggie (Lisa Zane) takes him back to Springwood to try to figure out who he is and what has happened to him. Unfortunately for them and the several other teenagers from the home who stowed away in the van, they all end up stuck in Springwood, too, as Freddy works his way through the troubled batch. The idea of a town with no children left, that all of them have been murdered, and now all of the adults have gone either insane from the massive loss or are just under Freddy’s control, is terrific. It’s too bad it’s barely mined at all.
Some of the most rewarding moments in the movie come from flashbacks that show Freddy back when he was still the human, albeit serial killer, Fred Krueger. But they didn’t go with any sort of subtlety to this backstory. We learn that Freddy was a cutter and he took hammers to hamsters. This is so exactly the kind of origin story you’d expect from a legendary serial child murderer who can move past death to occupy hundreds of children’s dreams and kill them for real within them. I suppose it’d be a little odd if he’d just struggled on the baseball team like everybody else. The only genuinely creepy moment of the film comes when we see Freddy’s wife has discovered his also super obvious secret lair. The more mundane version of Freddy is the scariest one we see in this chapter. He has none of his burn scars. His clothes are clean and not torn. But he’s every abusive husband and father in that scene and it’s chilling.
But apart from that, there’s a distinct lack of brutality in this chapter. There’s even a sadly underdone video game sequence where super young Breckin Meyer (playing Spencer) is boinged into walls and ceilings, but unlike poor Tina’s fate in the original Nightmare, he spills not a drop of blood, doesn’t even have a scratch on him. Can you imagine the glorious, pitch black comedy that could have come from Spencer being pounded into the ceiling over and over, until his skull is cracked open? But instead, it’s treated like a video game, with this continual level of remove. I don’t care about anyone. Okay, maybe Yaphet Kotto. But you always care about Yaphet Kotto. That guy was amazing. The movie also thinks it sets up this big mystery of Who Was Freddy Krueger’s Kid? But it’s so super obvious straight away, that it’s just laughable as they all sit around and wonder and barely bother to throw out their theories.
“Freddy’s Dead” even looks cheap. There aren’t enough shadows. It’s like they spent all their money on too many lights. Freddy only has one good line in the whole thing: “Every town has an Elm Street,” as he just moves on to the next town he’ll destroy. Now, that’s a pretty damn nifty horror line.
“Freddy’s Dead” was a 3-D movie and it’s a shame that you can’t see it that way now, since the former 3-D moments now just look like these awkward pauses, although my husband attests it was no better in actual 3-D in the theater. But still, I have a soft spot for the gimmick and a purist spirit and would’ve liked to have seen it with that effect. My husband and I gave out 3-D glasses at our wedding for the kiss at the end of our ceremony, ya know, so they could see the “action” in 3-D. We’re dorks, but you knew that; you’re reading my horror movie blog.
Talalay was credited with the story but the screenplay credit went to Michael DeLuca, who was also the President of Production at New Line. Talalay and DeLuca attempt to link one of the teenager’s (Tracy, played with so much yelling by Lezlie Deane) abusive dad to Freddy. It’s not entirely successful as a moment but it is a nice move and definitely feels like it’s more uniquely from the female perspective. But it did lead me to notice how pervasive this storyline is.
How sad is it that so many of these movies I’ve seen from a female director involve a sexually abusive father? While this is a harsh reality for many women and it deserves a constant voice, it’s interesting that that is the horrifying subject most often explored. Something about that almost feels like an extra tragedy, like we are reducing our collective negative female experience to being raped by daddies. This is obviously a pervasive tragedy – sexual assault is a massive epidemic – and I don’t intend to belittle that. I just wonder where our other nightmares are.