Episode 45: Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991, Rachel Talalay) / Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994, Wes Craven)

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With the remake of A Nightmare On Elm Street upon us, we take a look back this week on An Alan Smithee Podcast to praise Freddy and bury him. The remake is taking care of the latter while spitting on his grave, unfortunately. We can’t believe that there’s a nightmare on our street and this time staying awake won’t save us. So are you ready for Freddy?

New Line Cinema was known as “The House That Freddy Built” after the monumental success of the original A Nightmare On Elm Street(1984, Wes Craven) and the hastily produced, homoerotic sequel catapulted the company into the black. After the second and third sequels, the series’ increasingly budgeted elaborate special effects showcases had turned a sadistic and disfigured child murderer from an object of fear into simply the villain of a fantasy-adventure film franchise and an international pop culture phenomenon. The spectacle took the edge off Freddy Krueger’s scariness, and by the time of the 6th film Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare he’s reached a crescendo of corniness even in spite of his final outing, the wisecracking Master of Ceremonies on the last night of his own Las Vegas variety show. Special guest stars! 3D! A highlights reel from the previous films! More Robert Englund out of his Freddy makeup!

Freddy’s Dead is the slightest trifle that anyone ever funneled a lot of money into out of ceremonial obligation while leaving the details to take care of themselves. The film’s story is so convoluted and idiotic as to be rivaled only by Marvel and DC comic book specials in terms of requiring previous familiarity with a series to attempt comprehension. The special effects are perfunctory and the scares are not even attempted, in some weird acknowledgment that no one was seriously expecting them from the series by this point. Directed by Rachel Talalay, who started as a Production Assistant on the first film and worked her way up through each successive Elm Street film until Robert Shaye could one day finally say “She’s earned it, and what the hell, it’s the last one anyway. I’ll write the script to make sure it works.”

Three short years after writing the supposed final chapter of his cash cow, Robert Shaye would be playing himself and explaining to Heather Lagenkamp (the star of the original film, also playing herself) that the public’s insatiable appetite for Freddy is what actually keeps him coming back to life. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is the least successful Nightmare On Elm Street film ever, and also the most intelligent, which is a shame.

Craven actually wanted to tell the postmodern tale of a real life Freddy coming after the people who made him seven years earlier. Had the film been made then it would have at least made a lot of money and been critically ignored. Instead the opposite happened, not that Roger Ebert’s 3 star thumbs-up review got anyone to see it who wouldn’t have otherwise. Had the film been made a few years later, after the snark milestone Scream made ironic self-reflexiveness in horror trendy, New Nightmare might have been too sincere in its considerations of what Freddy means to our cultural consciousness to catch on with anyone, but it would have gotten a lot more attention initially.

The real discovery of New Nightmare is actually a rediscovery of Lagenkamp, who proves herself a more than capable actress in selling concern for her child, Miko Hughes – better known as the creepy little kid in Pet Semetary and running on all cylinders for creepiness here as well. Craven actually wrote the events of Lagenkamp’s life into her self-portrayal so much – stalkers, special effects artist husband, et all – that it’s almost a method performance. However she and Craven arrived at her postmodern persona, this film remains all the better even after Freddymania has faded for telling the story of a scream queen whose work literally comes back to haunt her. New Nightmare is more than just a Freddy film, it’s one of the best horror films ever made about horror films.

Over the closing credits montage of Freddy’s Dead, Iggy Pop rhetorically asks us: Do you really think…Freddy’s….dead..?” One unfairly forgotten pseudo-sequel, one delightfully shlocky franchise crossover and one soulless Michael Bay remake later, we all know the answer to Iggy’s world weary query.

NEXT WEEK: GEORGE ROMERO SPECIAL! THE DARK HALF (1993, GEORGE A. ROMERO) & DAY OF THE DEAD (1985, GEORGE A. ROMERO)

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