#8 in my ranking of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.
Finally, one Nightmare on Elm Street film decides to dig even a little bit into Freddy Krueger into a character. However, they made the mistake of being obsessed with his past rather than his present or future. Long-term producer of the franchise and new director Rachel Talalay along with screenwriter Michael De Luca approached this intended final chapter in the franchise by digging into the unknown lore behind Freddy, trying to offer up simplistic psychological reasons for Freddy to be a child-killer in life, none of which were ever interesting questions about an immortal dream demon who keeps killing teenagers in the same small Ohio town.
I will say that the first half hour of the film actually had me interested. It wasn’t great, but it seemed to be approaching the idea of a movie in this franchise from a fresh perspective (while also obviously setting up the cannon fodder that would inevitably take over). John Doe (Shon Greenblatt) wakes up from a nightmare featuring Freddy Krueger (away from Springwood, it seems) with no memory of who he is or where he is from. All he has is a newspaper article in his pocket from years before about a “missing Krueger girl” from Springwood, Ohio. He ends up at a home for mentally disturbed teenagers in a group led by Maggie Burroughs (Lisa Zane), a social worker. She decides that the best thing to do is to take John to Springwood, which is only a couple of miles away, apparently, in the center’s van where Tracy (Lezlie Deane), Spencer (Breckin Meyer), and Carlos Ricky Dean Logan) hide away to escape from the center for at least a bit.
Instead of immediately turning around once the three stowaways are found, Maggie decides to go the rest of the way to Springwood, have them call the center, and then take the van back themselves, apparently leaving Maggie and John behind without transportation. Okay, then. Where this movie gets actually pretty interesting is in the vision of Springwood.
You see, ten years after the events of the fifth film, Springwood has simply given up. There are no children, the population is in steep decline, the people leftover seem to have gone crazy, and the place has become an unescapable maze. Where it feels like this could become something else entirely is in a small scene in the Springwood school where a lone teacher rants to an empty room about the history of Freddy, giving details that don’t make logical, literal sense (like Freddy has been terrorizing the people for centuries), but it has a real In the Mouth of Madness vibe that’s actually quite nice. I was pretty on board.
And then the cannon fodder starts dying, and we get the Freddy movie that Rachel Talalay really wanted to make. It’s bad. The entire franchise up to this point has had the saving grace of a wonderful sense of imagination in the dream sequences along with a fairly sustained sense of horror that only really began to break down in the fifth film. In this sixth film of the franchise that sense of danger is completely gone and the visions are significantly more mundane. There’s some imagination there (like the use of Carlos’ hearing aid or the idea of a psychedelic television program enveloping Spencer), but it’s more concentrated in the base concept than in any of the execution. The worst part is Spencer ending up in a video game with Freddy using a game controller. It’s silly, and I can’t think of anything worse for a horror film than sustained and abject silliness.
The final third of the film turns on the idea that Freddy had a child before he got caught and burned (also, he made a deal with floating heads to be immortal), and one of our characters is that child (trust me, it’s super easy to guess which one it is). The parent-child relationship ultimately doesn’t matter beyond giving one character a few moments against Freddy in the end that are meant to simply have greater meaning because of the relationship, but it’s all so last-second, full of unnecessary retconning, and unexplored that there’s no emotional catharsis around it. It also ends up repeating the same idea of killing Freddy as the first film (though, admittedly, it’s not like Nancy really succeeded in that one), relying heavily on Doc (Yaphet Kotto, who is in this movie for I have no idea why) who has special powers in that he…never mind that. He doesn’t have special powers, the script just needed him to remember Spencer and Carlos when everyone else forgot about them for…reasons.
Oh, and did you know that Freddy killed kids as an adult because the kids at school made fun of him? I guess. Whatever.
The series hadn’t really been that good, and the last few entries weren’t exactly what one would call masterpieces. However, they could always be relied on for some level of technical fun in their visions of the hellish dreamscape that Freddy inhabited. Freddy’s Dead doesn’t even have that, and when mixed with the fact that Freddy simply ceases to be anything close to scary, it creates a deadweight that the film can never shrug off, not that it exactly tries.