Thursday, October 11, 2012

Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare Movie Review

This was released at a point when I was growing out of that childhood phase of being fascinated by the way horror films could make your spine tingle, scare the hell out of you, and make you peak around dark corners in your home and even check under your bed before going to sleep. The things I heard about it were so awful, I didn't have much interest in it, but at some point as an early teen or sometime in middle school I rented it. Watching it for this horror series nearly all of it was familiar and I knew what was going to happen.

Click here for a list of all other films reviewed and considered for this October 2012 series of horror reviews.

Time has truly not been kind to Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, the sixth and intended final chapter in the Nightmare on Elm Street series. It is remarkably dated, which is quite a feat considering the climax of the film was made in 3D, a format that has finally made a big splash in the film industry after several failed attempts over the decades. It also fails to find a settled tone, shifting clumsily from traditional horror conventions to slapstick comedy. The juxtaposition of comedy and horror is incongruous in this particular film and would be much better handled several years later by Wes Craven, the man who not so incidentally created the series and its antagonist Freddy Krueger. Do I need to even mention that Robert Englund returns to play Freddy, hopefully reaping a sizable paycheck for his efforts?

The opening titles tell us the time is ten years after the events of last film and all the children of Elm Street have disappeared. The one remaining would-be victim, John (Shon Greenblatt), wanders around suffering from amnesia, but continues to be tormented in his dreams by Freddy, who sends him to Springwood, Ohio, for reasons that remain a poorly shrouded mystery. That producer Michael De Luca, who also wrote the screenplay, decided to give Elm Street a definitive location removes its sense of being everywhere. Elm Street could be in your town. He skirts around this little problem of universality by giving Freddy the line, “Every town has an Elm Street.” Thanks, we didn’t quite get the symbolism in the previous films.

John takes up residence at a kind of halfway house for teenagers struggling to overcome tough circumstances like parental abuse, a repeated motif throughout the film. Their therapist Maggie (Lisa Zane) has had dreams about a little girl with ribbons in her hair, as has John. Three new teens who represent new potential victims are Tracy, Carlos, and Spencer (Breckin Meyer in his film debut). As per the traditions of the series, Carlos’s lack of hearing and Spencer’s fondness for psychotropic drugs figure heavily in their death nightmares.

The other three teens become hapless victims by stowing away in the back of a van that Maggie uses to drive John to Springwood, the location having some significance for him thanks to a newspaper clipping he carries around about a woman named Krueger who went missing. Upon arriving in Springwood, they find nothing but a town full of insane adults with no kids to be found anywhere. A carnival is run by people who could have filled out the cast of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and a teacher in the local school continues to give local history lessons to empty chairs. The woman running the orphanage dotes on imaginary children. It’s all like something out of an episode of “The Twilight Zone” more than it is like a scene from a horror film, a fact driven home by the film’s opening on an airplane flying through a storm reminiscent of the classic episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” starring William Shatner.

The presence of Roseanne and Tom Arnold as lunatic childless parents helps sell the film as comedy. They are an uncomfortable fit and wildly out of place. Then again, so is a nightmare scenario that finds Spencer acting the part of hero in a Mario Bros. style video game that has his sleeping body in the real world hopping around and punching walls like a cartoon. These tonal shifts are the result of the uneven direction of Rachel Talalay. They are jarring and off-putting. Any good horror movie, for my money, should be unsettling. But that feeling is best created through texture, sound and lighting design, and skilled direction and not, as it were, by keeping the audience guessing as to what kind of experiences they should expect with each new scene.

As if this weren’t enough, the story (also by Talalay) makes so little sense that the action is nearly incomprehensible. Characters buy wholeheartedly into the Freddy mythos without anyone filling in the back story. The one character with any Freddy knowledge at the start of the film has a Swiss cheese memory at best, yet is able to impart enough fragments to the other kids that within minutes they’re urging each other not to fall asleep and to watch out for Freddy. Additionally, watching the characters try to unravel a feeble mystery that is see-through from the moment it’s laid out is an exercise in tedium. This chapter is an embarrassment to a series that was always able to pride itself at least on putting a new spin on a tired genre.

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