“I’ll get you, my pretty! And your little soul, too!” — Freddy Krueger as the Wicked Witch of the West, complete with broom
Where I found it
Same four-disc set as Nightmare 5: Dream Child from 1989. It’s the final film in the original Nightmare canon, wrapping a neat lil bloody bow on: the 1984 original, the sappy 1985 sequel, the badass 1987 sequel and the kinda badass 1988 sequel.
Next up, New Nightmare, when Wes Craven returns to clean up the mess everyone created. Stoked!
Why it caught my eye
Right there in the title they promise this is the final Freddy film. How cute! Also, pretty sure it was on in the background at a bar for Halloween once. I saw Brecken Meyer as Mario fighting an 8-bit Freddy Krueger and had to know more.
After years and years, we’ve arrived here: the Final Nightmare. I can’t think of a single person who cites this 1991 release as their favorite Freddy flick, and I’d honestly never seen it before catching it at Motherloaded that one Halloween. I think it’s what launched my hunt for latter-day Nightmare movies. I’m glad I did, but I can see why this one only gets wheeled out once a year for an AMC marathon.
Everyone knows you can’t keep a good boogeyman down, especially one with finger knives who’s powered by the souls of children, but Nancy Thompson (Nightmares 1, 3), Jesse Walsh (Nightmare 2) and poor Alice (Nightmares 3, 4, 5) thought they could. So why not let someone new try? And why not suggest Fred Krueger had a kid while we’re at it?
The film opens with the most boring five minutes of any Nightmare, ever. I won’t even bother, but it involves a map made for Carmen San Diego. When that goes away, we’re back on Elm Street with a generic ’90s heartthrob guy, played by Shon Greenblatt. He looks like John Stamos Lite.
This Uncle Jesse goes by John Doe the rest of the film, and life is not pleasant for John Doe. He’s stuck in a Freddy dream that includes a 747 a la “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and a floating home a la Wizard of Oz. There’s even direct homage to that trippy musical with Fred Krueger riding a broom a la Wicked Witch of the West.
If nothing else, writer-director Rachel Talalay (she of 1991’s Tank Girl and a ton of great geeky TV) knows her cinema classics, and I can respect that. She’s also the first and only woman to direct a Freddy film. No wonder the Dr. Who people wanted her.
When John Doe’s home comes crashing down in this film’s version of Kansas, we meet Maggie Burroughs, a kind-hearted soul who works at a nameless inner-city homeless shelter. It’s populated by kids who ran away from nightmares at home: Carlos from an abusive mother, Tracy from a rapist father, Spencer from absentee millionaires who probably pop pills or something. Always with the runaway rich kid in ’90s movies (that old “Prince and the Pauper” thing, I guess). John Doe fits in nicely, seeing as how he shares the same dream as everyone else, the one with a child-murdering psycopath who’s got knives for fingers. Funny how these people always manage to find each other, amirite?
Maggie’s a disgruntled mom to all of them, but they want to run away anyway. Screw the man and his clean beds, Meyer’s stoner rich boy thinks while smoking a joint, and screw free psychological help with motherfucking Parker from Alien (aka Yaphet Kotto, the only name in this Nightmare other than Meyer). Kotto plays Doc, and like every doctor in these films he’s intro dreams. Way intro dreams. It’s about the only thing his character talks about before disappearing for the entire second act and most of the third. Like a lot of stuff in this movie, Doc starts out fine enough, but gets lost in a mix of so much stuff. So much.
John Doe tells Maggie about his dream. In it, he saw a sign for somewhere called Springwood, and whaddaya know, Springwood is right down the street from this unnamed big city. John Doe’s convinced he’s got ties to that town, because goddammit, he can’t remember anything, it’s called amnesia!
He actually says that to Maggie at some point, and John Doe overacts his way to a horror Oscar early on. Later on, he just kind of turns into… a generic ’90s guy. It feels like I’m being a dick to John Doe, but he just wasn’t my favorite, and the film shoehorns a backstory for him that’s more of a rude carpet-pulling than a real twist. He’s probably my least-favorite Nightmare character, and this series had a douche bag like Rod from the original.
Maggie and John Doe load the shelter’s panel van for a field trip to Springwood. Doc told them to, for some reason I can’t remember, and for another reason I can’t remember, our intrepid trio of runaways is riding in the back. Maggie’s pissed, John Doe’s scared, they drive away, there’s a crash, and everyone falls into a clever, Inception-style dream. Soon enough, we learn even Maggie is haunted by disturbing dreams that look more like flashbacks than anything. Flashbacks of a father she never knew. Flashbacks of a ratty red sweater. Wonder what that means…?
The group spends most of the rest of the movie in a shared dream, without the hassle of actually being special, like the kids in Dream Warriors. Remember when Nancy was the only person who knew how to pull Freddy into the real world, or when Alice was cursed with the gift? Doc reminds us it can be done, but everyone in Nightmare 6 does it anyway. So much for a gift.
It’s kind of hard to tell the difference between dream and reality in this one, so after a while, I gave up all hope of tracking the stakes. I didn’t bother getting invested. I counted the beats between death sequences. It was like being on a bad date at Olive Garden, with exhilarating moments of inventive terror between every bite of bottomless bread sticks and boring conversation. Same old, same old, but still delicious.
I even kind of gave up on the plot. It’s a rehashed “only THIS can kill Freddy!” storyline the series has regurgitated since Dream Warriors, with just one lame twist from John Doe. Let’s just say Freddy is searching for his child, and if you’re paying minimal attention, you’ll know who his real child is way before the characters on screen do. I’m not accusing them of being dumb, exactly. I’m just accusing them of being horror-film dumb — the kind of dumb you see coming from a mile away, just like their deaths.
That’s cool and all, but I get why this film killed Freddy. The series needed a rest.
The vivid bizarre-o world of a Freddy nightmare never gets old. The extended dream that eats up most of the film’s middle feels different than anywhere we’ve been before, even though we get locations like Nancy’s home on Elm Street, the high school and good ol’ Elm Street itself. The characters spend time exploring the weird world of Springwood, including a visit to a dead professor who re-explains the myth of Fred Krueger. Is he dream or reality? That’s never explained, but whatever. It’s one of the films few creepy moments.
None of the deaths are taken seriously. None are even dramatic, or tense. Sometimes, they’re played for honest-to-god laughs, and you see the end coming from a mile away. Even the fake-out deaths are inevitable. But it’s still fun to see a stoner get sucked into a Mario vs. Freddy-style video game, complete with arcade “bewp-bewp-bewp”-ing and Krueger as an 8-bit graphic. There’s death by finger knives on a chalkboard — who hasn’t imagined how heinous it would sound? — and death by Atari. Pretty sure that makes four characters killed by televisions in the Nightmare series. Gotta be some kind of horror-film record.
You can’t beat the cameos in Nightmare 6 either. Koto counts as one, since he’s hardly in the film, and even Johnny Depp makes an appearance. Then, in one of the strangest fucking cameos I’ve ever seen, Roseanne Barr and John Goodman appear in Springwood as parents searching for their children. So strange. Oh, and also Iggy Pop wails the closing song, “Freddy’s Dead,” over a tongue-in-cheek photo of Freddy with R.I.P scrawled across the corner.
Call me a sap, but I felt a tear or two well up when Iggy Pop sang, “Do you really think Freddy’s dead?” No I don’t, Iggy. No I don’t.
Like I said, it’s easy to see why this film has slipped through the cracks of the Nightmare canon. It takes the same ideas as every film before it, mixes them around a bit, adds completely new characters, and somehow comes out with a movie that feels the same as the fifth Freddy, and the fourth, and the third. Only not as satisfying.
Maybe that’s why Nightmare 6 feels off: I don’t recognize a single character, other than Freddy. It’s too late in the series to invest in new characters. I think it’s why Dream Warriors is so damn good: Nancy, the godmother, returns to train a whole little crew of Freddy-fighting ninjas. The old and the new! I want the same characters in wholly new situations — it works for Star Wars dude — but this film does the opposite. The old AND the unfamiliar isn’t a good combination for sequel six.
And I’d say Maggie is fine, only that’s not true. The idea behind Maggie is fine, but the way she fits into things feels as shoehorned as John Doe. And the actress who plays Maggie, Lisa Zane, is meh. Same goes for generic ’90s guy. But on the bright side, a lack of stars means Robert Englund gets top billing on the opening credits. Good for Freddy.
It’s been a good, long ride for one of the best horror franchises this side of Halloween. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare reminds us why horror junkies love the creativity and mythology of Elm Street, without doing a single thing to make us forget the original.