I’ll grant this much to the sixth instalment of A Nightmare on Elm Street: the perfunctory sequel does what it says on the tin. By the time we reach the end of Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, Freddy (Robert Englund) is indeed dead, not just as a boogeyman who murders children in their dreams but as a franchise onto himself. Yes, I realise the property spawned two more films, excluding the remake. I’d argue, though, that Freddy Vs Jason (2003) draws more from nostalgia than either of its title characters and that Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) features a different monster altogether, albeit one closer to the phantasmal ghoul who captured our morbid imagination in the original film.
For all its references to the wider mythology, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare plays rather fast and loose with what’s come before. Take, for instance, the flashbacks revealing Freddy’s family life at 1428 Elm. Do the filmmakers expect us to believe that Nancy’s parents murdered a serial killer and then immediately moved into his house to raise their daughter? As long as we’re nitpicking, I also find it dubious that the Springwood High memorial would include victims from the seventies, seeing as our baddie died around 1966 and only resurfaced as a dream demon in 1984. Amusingly, one character exclaims that the deaths “are all in a ten year period”, even though the dates in front of her range from 1975 to 1989.
I’m getting ahead of myself though. Set “ten years from now” (which is to say in 2001), the plot goes thus: Freddy has slaughtered every teen in town save for one (Shon Greenblatt), who comes to believe the villain is his father (even though the latter died twenty years before his birth). The boy ends up in the care of a social worker (Lisa Zane) in the next county, who drags him back to Springwood with a few new friends because, uh, reasons. If you’re wondering why Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare takes place in the “future”, I’m told the original script focused on a teen version of the embryo in A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child (1989), though Jacob strikes me as an odd fit with the likes of Roseanne Barr and the Nintendo Power Glove: “Now you’re playing with power! Har! Har! Har!”
I’m not sure A Nightmare on Elm Street lends itself to screwball comedy the way the Evil Dead series does. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare forgoes any sense of tension by giving its villain complete dominion over his prey, as if director Rachel Talalay expected us to delight at the child killer’s creativity rather than squirm at his interminable torture sequences. Granted, Freddy was already prone to cracking wise, inspired by a schoolyard bully from Wes Craven’s youth, but his original antics served to evoke cruelty, not charming wit. This strikes me as a fundamental aspect of the franchise.
In fairness, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare does grasp, pursue, and escalate one of the principal tropes of the series: awful parenting. The cynic in me thinks that’s got less to do with screenwriter Michael De Luca concerning himself with thematic consistency than New Line Cinema catering to frustrated youths for a quick buck. Nevertheless, it’s no coincidence that our cast of victims consists entirely of abused children and that Freddy turns out to have a kid of his own, for whom he’s been killing all along.
No, the latter revelation doesn’t make a lick of sense. For one, it requires Freddy to have waited thirty-five years before reclaiming his precious child, who doesn’t look a day over thirty despite being born in the early sixties. It also means the creepy six-year-old (Cassandra Rachel Friel) issuing dire warnings throughout the first half of Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare is actually the ghost of a live 41-year-old, who’s apparently never looked at a mirror or class photo as a kid, lest she might recognise herself.
More to the point, the Springwood Slasher didn’t need a motivation for his murders other than being a serial killer. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare makes a habit of explaining things that don’t need explaining, cluttering the narrative with clunky exposition all the while watering down the overall myth. Take, for example, the introduction of the three sperm-like dream gods that granted our baddie his powers. Okay, so now we know how Freddy controls nightmares, but doesn’t that just raise more questions like, what the heck is a dream god?
I know: I’m taking this stuff too seriously. Given the disappointing performance of A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child (1989), I understand the producers wanting to change tact and go broad. However, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare was advertised as the culmination of a saga that started as a unique cerebral experience and that’s maintained a strong average since. Surely, we deserved a better resolution than the final girl donning cardboard 3D shades and suddenly shouting, “Freddy’s dead!” when Freddy’s come back from a similar demise in almost every instalment.
Then again, perhaps Talalay needed to acknowledge Freddy’s evolution in the mainstream from dark embodiment of our id to the Bugs Bunny of slasher cinema. As such, your appreciation of Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare may depend on whether you can find humour in a serial killer gutting helpless children or, like me, would rather such horrific subject matter be treated with reverence. Consider the film’s opening, which follows the usual quote from classic literature with a crass one-liner from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987): “Welcome to prime time, bitch!” That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?