Illustration by Richard Hunt.        FREDDY'S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE

Ed Cooper

Talking Pictures alias






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It took one writer/director with one vision to create the original and great A Nightmare on Elm Street. Five sequels later and it is inevitable that that focus has been redirected with eyes of a different aim. 

Wes Craven's Nightmare was one of Oedipality and Krueger's presumption to take the place of Nancy's unit-absent father. Craven studied his heroine's shattering of her own Mirror Phase ("this is just a dream. He isn't real..."), her physical, parental fights to gain her place in the Symbolic Order, the gaining of her separate sexual identity (discard of the rose trellis) and the interaction upon regression to her own Primal Scene (Nancy attempts to distract Krueger's attentions away from attacking her mother on the bed). 

But the reason that A Nightmare on Elm Street became the most important genre movie in terms of generic representation and analysis was that Craven recognized that femininity - so-called passivity - provided a more positive force than the aggression of masculinity. For after all Nancy's use of 'booby traps and improvised anti-personnel devices', she finally understands that to escape the ensnarement of Freudian nightmares, one has to turn one's back and deny existence. It is somewhat curious that it took a male director to make this most feminist of movies whilst all over Hollywood, Final Girl's were grasping their knives with misunderstood fervour. 

The studio-forced ending to Craven's movie turned Fred to Freddie to the eminently more infantile Freddy and the sequel became likewise. The chasm between these two films may now be seen as the largest between any of the sequels and Krueger never disappeared into the darkness again. One had to be re- introduced to this new Freddy and now in the light and hence a lot less dangerous, he had to do something. So he started telling jokes. 

Along with this new-found status as gagster came the one particular joke that encapsulated his image: Freddy's Revenge (1985). Jack Sholder, given directorial reigns after the sub-Craven Alone In The Dark, brought a similar amount of style- starved tepidity to this sequel. And amidst the plethora of party-going teens who screamed satisfactorily but sadly did not die and the soon-to-become-a-trait effects with no raison d'etre (Freddy jumping through a French window and disappearing in flight, dogs with babies' faces) lay the subversive allegory of adolescent angst. This time it was a 'Jesse' who struggled against Freddy's penetration of his soul and thereby was depicted the protagonist's confrontation of his inherent homosexuality. The conflict between Lisa and Freddy's possession of Jesse became a bitchy love triangle with our supposed hero fleeing from tongue-lolling embraces with his girlfriend upon the arousal of the Burned One inside him. 

This text, of course, jarred with the farce around it and whilst fetishism and leather bars provided a certain interest, elsewhere exploding parakeets, disarming Meryl Streep lookalikes and vindictive tennis balls became, unfortunately, far more memorable. 

The final arrival of Chuck Russell's Dream Warriors (1987) from across the Atlantic, brought with it curses from the Samaritans condemning it as an advertisement and promotion for teenage suicide. Requests that the movie be removed from distribution were considered briefly by the BBFC but gently brushed aside illuminating the fact that there were no suicides in the film. The plot that involved Freddy's use of each victim's motif of fear to portray their apparent self- annihilation had been misinterpreted itself: instead of being recognized as cynical perception of the huge scale of teenage suicide in America, Nightmare 3 had become a scapegoat for it. 

Such a disappointment must have been experienced by those Samaritans who sneaked into cinemas to see what had given them overtime in recent weeks, for they saw a movie as far removed from it's two predecessors as it was from the real world. Wes Craven's script outline had been used very much as a foundation in creating a new scale for Krueger, but now there was a new star: Death. After the controlled killings in the original and the distinctly minimal and lame unimaginations of the first sequel, the 'set-piece' was accessorised. Here, elaborate effects dominate dreams in which the character sleeps, awakens and explores their new environment before Freddy appears (with suitable flamboyance), torments and/or gives chase, wisecracks and kills. The difference from Tina, Rod and Glen s deaths in Craven's original was fundamentally that a lesser intensity, less caring but more calculated and higher budgeted punctuation had been created. This self-consciousness suitably played precursor to the bigger-is-better mentality that came to masculinise and commercialise the series. 

The perspective that these five minute set-pieces threw upon the rest of Dream Warriors gave an altogether new outlook to the progress of the series. The viewer began to look to these deaths with anticipation and Freddy's appearance became desired and not dreaded which thereby exalted the original villain to hero status. Contributing to this in Renny Harlin's The Dream Master (1988) was the fact that not only were the set pieces of huge ingenuity and production cost but, and because of this, the victims had no time or lines to emote anything remotely near empathy in between. And this was apparently what audiences wanted for Nightmare 4 became the most successful independent movie of all time (before PG-rated Turtles high- kicked themselves onto the screen). Ironically, the more the audiences wanted, the less they got, for now his very persona was as a red and green unfaltering special effect. 

Unfortunately, Freddy died so well (and so temporarily) in surreal and slightly tedious Dream Master it was quite clear that his regular expiration wouldn't be getting better. This was on it's way to confirmation in Stephen H. Jopkins' The Dream Child (1989) upon the anatomical emptying of some rather clumsy rubber heads that climactically dragged the youth from Freddy's soul. It was such obscurity of imagery that clouded Craven's original vision from each sequel. Whereas he had offered psychologically sound images pared primal, the writers and directors in their squabbling skulks had become so cunning, so eager and so blindingly overwhelmed by production that they lost themselves. Of the two victims of such confusion (parts 4 and 5), The Dream Child managed to win over artistically due to Hopkins' intriguingly tricksy direction and a script that endeavoured to deal with the paternity - and now maternity - so integral to Freddy's existence. 

However, it becomes clear that even if one incorporates the themes of the original Nightmare and even if one has intense knowledge of Elm Street production, if one has no notion of storytelling or direction then one cannot a decent movie make. Rachel Talalay obviously felt that her role as unit production manager on Part 2 and producer of 3 and 4 had earned her a stab at directing. Sadly it seems not to have mattered to New Line that the sequel that did matter became so subjective, so incestuous, so head-up-arses and Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991) is a preposterous misjudgement. Talalay may be saluted for even attempting to break from the all too comfortable formula -let alone killing off the source of her two yearly income. What she lacks other than directorial skills, however, is the strength of her convictions and the consequences of having less teens to kill, less set-pieces and less logic is - er -  more boredom. 

The mistakes flow cheerfully from the start with the juxtaposition of Nietzsche and Krueger quotes. Bizarrely, 'Welcome to prime time, bitch" appears now to be aimed squarely not at the nostalgia of the audience but at Talalay herself, making a meal of cutting her teeth on this tripe. Not only the quote, but bounteous amounts of the movie is lifted from Dream Warriors (obviously a keen favourite of Talalay's), for instead of character-linking from any of the series as all the other sequels have, Talalay has chosen to try her hand at salutatory homage. Johnny Depp (Glen in the original, ho ho) is now the Just Say No guy and replaces Part 3's Zsa Zsa Gabor in the slice-the-TV-celebrity spot. Watching the box this time is Spencer who, like Dream Warrior Taryn, is lured through drug addiction. Outrageously, the biggest pilfering is Craven's method to kill Krueger. Previously having been used in Dream Warriors, Freddy is once again pulled into reality where he, naturally, can be physically abused himself. Why it actually works this time, one may surmise, sadly indicates the antithesis of Craven's original idea: the conquest of machismo over spirituality. 

Elsewhere, one may chortle knowingly at the other nods and winks: A brief phrase from the original Charles Bernstein score and Freddy slices his own fingers off (Part 1); Freddy as a bus driver and the computer game that features a towel-flicking athlete (Part 2); the appearance of an uncompromising brick wall (Part 3); the re-occurring nightmare (Part 4); the circling camera (Part 5)... 

But overriding it all is the complete non-sense that Talalay drums up. Freddy never seems to be known or feared or have the slightest relationship to any character despite the half-hearted tete-a-tete with his daughter. Schoolrooms of solitary gibbering teachers, carnivals of freaky cameos and living rooms of moonshine mothers are intended to signify a town bereft of children but Talalay, knowing this herself, assumes too much and fails to let us in and the meaning is lost. Similarly, as Maggie ventures into the final 3-D dreamworld and visits Freddy's past, there is simply no emphasis enlightening an audience that this is a journey through Krueger's mind itself. And if the director doesn’t care then we certainly don't. 

The 3-D is a nightmare all of it's own: neither working particularly well beyond blurr-o-vision or as a fitting climax to this wildly extravagant (both inventively and financially) series. If such a scheme with such connotations to B-movie tackiness is employed, then one might at least expect Freddy's inimitable glove in one's face - but no. Indeed, his claws are made Democratically safe serving only to slash himself for his / own misdoings and save for a small spell out of redundancy to lamely separate a plummeting teen from his parachute. Talalay throws in some bullshit theory about Dream Snakes at the last moment (which one can only treat with more scepticism than the previous dubiosities of the Dream Master) and a few damp squib sparks as Freddy's brain copes with the same headache that the 3-D is giving us. 

Robert Englund had always claimed to be interested in undertaking a movie contemplating the past of Fred Krueger and here he is given the compromise of a few flashback scenes. A few deliberate gashes of masochism and Craven's concept of a man who cared nothing for himself is all present and correct, although camped up to lack the Big Scares of the concept in it's original context. But Wes Craven's ideas had already succumbed to compromise in The Dream Child's flashbacks. Here, Krueger's mother was visualised to have been accidentally locked in the asylum instead of his far less tasteful idea that she was sold for the pleasure of the inmates by the corrupt orderlies. 

Beyond Freddy's past - and the suspicious omitting of "bastard" from the schoolkids' chant of "son of a hundred maniacs" - lies his death. To quash hollers of false advertising ("Freddy dies in 3-D Freddy Vision") 3-D is dragged illogically from dream to reality. But this is a bastard of a movie to die in and a further insult to be killed by a daughter who certainly didn't inherit any of her father's wit and invention.' Obviously Rachel Talalay injected her own directorial limits into her 'heroine'. And whilst one is trying to rid the mind of haunting memories of the finale of Jaws 3-D, the one lingering and bitter aftertaste of Freddy's Dead is just what a walkover he finally was. Hideously appropriate in a world terrorized by AIDS, Krueger faded as no more than a fragile and tragic clown in his festering and sexual persona and fed lines that simply weren't funny any more. And as his cinematic life is devoted to the credits with deserved respect, Fred Krueger's final image is vague, hazy, back in the dark. Where he belongs.
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