Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991) *
How’s this for chutzpah? On the post-release movie posters for Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (the pre-release posters used an entirely different design), the tagline reads, “They saved the best for last!” Now I admit that Freddy’s Dead represents a marginal improvement over A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, but it’s still much worse than any other film in the series. There are a couple of superlatives that could legitimately be applied to this movie— most nonsensical, most cartoonish, and most poorly thought-out would all work— but “best” is definitely not among them.
It does at least hold to the series tradition of trying, however half-heartedly, to do something new with the story. In the year 2001 (which looks as little like most movie representations of that year as the real thing did), Springwood (which we now learn is located in Ohio) is a community in crisis. Its children and teenagers have all been exterminated save one, and the adults have gone insane from grief. Just how much the outside world knows or is willing to countenance regarding the true nature of Springwood’s unprecedented problem isn’t quite clear, but all the men and women who have lost their kids understand what really happened. And with an entire town’s worth of young souls to power him, Fred Krueger (Robert Englund, as usual) is now able to bend material reality to his will just as completely as he does dream reality— but only within Springwood’s city limits. We join the action while Krueger is tormenting the last of Springwood’s teens, a boy who will for the rest of the movie be known only as John Doe (Shon Greenblatt, of Chopper Chicks in Zombie Town). For reasons that aren’t initially apparent, Krueger seems to be going to great lengths not to kill John. His intention, evidently, is only to drive him out of town, but to deal him such psychological trauma while doing so that the boy escapes to the outside world as an amnesiac. Whatever it’s about, we may be certain that Freddy has a plan; when John finally makes it over the town line, Krueger smiles and growls, “Good doggy... Now fetch!”
John eventually makes it to some city or other, where he is picked up by the police and brought to a shelter for troubled youths. This is your usual bunch of movie do-gooders, struggling valiantly to make a difference in the kids’ lives despite institutional neglect, a decaying physical plant, and nowhere near enough money to go around. The two ace social workers in the shelter are Maggie Burroughs (Lisa Zane) and Dr. Kelly (Yaphet Kotto, from Truck Turner and The Running Man). The former takes a fairly conventional approach to her work, but Kelly is a little more eccentric; he specializes in dream therapy, and he wishes his colleague would let him work his mojo on her. Maggie, you see, is troubled by recurring dreams about a little girl who is terribly frightened of her father, and Kelly thinks his techniques could help her get to the bottom of it all. In any case, it is to Maggie that John is assigned when he arrives at the shelter, and Burroughs can’t help noticing certain hints that their inner demons are somehow connected. John claims not to have slept in at least three days because “if I do, I’m not going to wake up,” and he shows up carrying a newspaper clipping bearing a photo of a water tower that figures in Maggie’s dreams. Because the only thing her new patient remembers about his identity is that he hails from a little town called Springwood— which he describes as a Bad Place— Maggie gets it into her head that a little field trip is called for.
Two potential victims aren’t nearly enough for a slasher movie, though, so let’s see who else Krueger might be turning his knives on this time around. Among the other inmates of the shelter are two boys named Spencer (Breckin Meyer, from The Craft and Escape from L.A.) and Carlos (Ricky Dean Logan) and a girl named Tracy (Lezlie Deane, of 976-EVIL). Spencer’s big problem is his rich, overbearing dad, who is resentfully disappointed that his son hasn’t turned out as an exact duplicate of him. Tracy is Dr. Kelly’s special favorite, and her father, meanwhile, is your standard-issue daughter-groper. Carlos has the most imaginatively dysfunctional home life— his mother apparently destroyed his hearing while punishing him for not listening attentively enough. All three kids are looking to escape from the shelter and head for the open road, and their strategy for doing so is to stow away in the institution’s van the next time one of the staff takes it somewhere. That means they end up joining Maggie and John on the road to Springwood.
Somebody has obviously been watching “The Twilight Zone;” all it would take to fit Springwood into that show is a voice-over from Rod Serling. Nothing in town looks to have been maintained in years, and its few remaining inhabitants spend all of their time roaming the streets in a daze, acting as though they were interacting with children that don’t exist. Tracy, Spencer, and Carlos separate from Maggie and John after an alarming encounter with a couple who try to adopt them at the town fair. (You’d run from these two, as well— they’re Tom and Roseanne Arnold!) At Maggie’s direction, they take the van and start driving back to the city. Meanwhile, the other two go searching for clues at the run-down old high school. There they find a number of inconclusive hints about Springwood’s youth holocaust, including the rest of the article from which John’s clipping came. They learn about Freddy— though exactly what they learn and how is left maddeningly vague— and even discover the startling fact that the killer had a child of his own, who was taken away from him at some point. (Gee, I wonder why...) John jumps to the conclusion that he is Krueger’s missing offspring, and that that’s why Freddy allowed him to live while he was depopulating the town of its young people.
And while that’s going on, the other three kids are meeting the man himself. Krueger uses his powers to keep them driving in circles all afternoon, until eventually they get sick of being lost and stop for a rest. At 1428 Elm Street, of course. Carlos falls asleep first, and is swiftly dispatched. Spencer follows when he smokes up and zones out watching “the colors” on the broken TV in the living room. Tracy, more resourceful than the boys, notices Carlos’s disappearance (for some reason, Freddy’s victims leave no corpses behind in this outing), and tracks down Maggie and John for assistance. They return to the house just as Spencer is squaring off against Freddy, and in what is only the most glaring of the many “wha...?” moments in the first half of the film, Tracy and John both decide that they have to enter Spencer’s dream in order to save him. Now never you mind that in the past three movies, rare psychic powers were required to accomplish this feat— neither John nor Tracy has the slightest difficulty getting in. (Incidentally, regarding this dream, I can only conclude that 1991 was also the year that the Nightmare on Elm Street Nintendo game came out.) Nevertheless they are still not able to rescue the boy from his fate. Hell, John can’t even rescue himself, discovering too late for it to do him any good that he isn’t Krueger’s kid after all— Maggie is! That was, in fact, the whole point of letting John escape from Springwood in the first place. Krueger somehow knew what had become of his daughter, knew that John would find his way to her place of work, and knew that Maggie would not be able to help herself from coming to Springwood after hearing the boy’s story. What Krueger wants from Maggie is a ride out of town inside her mind. Having already killed all the children of Springwood, he’s been feeling the lure of greener pastures. But just like the last two times Freddy tried to get what he wanted by fusing his mind with somebody else’s, the merger has the effect of putting into Maggie’s hands the knowledge and power she needs to destroy him. And this time, the filmmakers swear they really mean it.
Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare shares with its immediate predecessor an unfortunate eagerness to revisit ideas from earlier in the series in new and dumber forms. Krueger’s desire for access to victims that had hitherto been denied him was the driving force behind the last two movies. (Mind you, the way it plays out here is flatly contradictory to the rules established in parts 4 and 5...) The home for troubled kids presided over by a self-made dream shaman is just Dream Warriors all over again. Dr. Kelly’s plan to defeat Krueger by drawing him out into the physical world, where he’ll be bound by physical laws, is exactly the same strategy that Nancy employed in the first A Nightmare on Elm Street, only Nancy didn’t have an EEG machine to make it easier for people outside the dream to figure out when to wake her up. Even the movie’s one original contribution to the series— its in-depth examination of Freddy’s origins— borrows heavily from a rejected story idea for A Nightmare on Elm Street 3. The specific origin it arrives at, however, is much different, and is extraordinarily stupid. While I’ll agree that it’s neat to get a peek at the human Freddy, and hear at last a straight answer to the question of why none of the supposedly foolproof methods for Freddy-cide thus far employed have worked, the execution of those things leaves much to be desired. The revelation that Krueger acquired his supernatural powers by means of a last-second bargain with a trio of ancient Third-World dream demons (looking like the CGI equivalent of sock puppets, incidentally) who appeared to him while he was being burned to death by the parents of his earliest victims, was instrumental in my decision to stay away when the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise was resuscitated (contrary to all assurances from New Line's leadership, I might add) three years later.
There is one interesting point about Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare that makes its glimmer of entertainment value just a bit less faint than The Dream Child’s, however. Remember when I said this movie was the most cartoonish of the series? Well, the cartoon it feels like is something by Chuck Jones. Rather than being merely a parody of his old self, Freddy Krueger comes across this time around as a homicidal version of an old Merry Melodies character. When Krueger turned his attack on Carlos into an extended gag on the subject of the boy’s screwed-up hearing, I could easily imagine the utterly deranged Daffy Duck of the 1940’s doing exactly the same things to Elmer Fudd. Do I want to see Freddy acting like a cartoon character? No. Of course not. But if he’s going to anyway, I’ll take what I can get and appreciate the fact that he’s acting like one I enjoy watching.