Saturday, October 18, 2014

Review: Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)

Day 6 of Nightmare Week, and they saved the worst for last. Yep, it's the one with the Power Glove.

Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)

Rated R for horror violence, and for language and drug content

Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare is, without a doubt, the original Nightmare series' darkest hour. There are actually one or two interesting ideas here, but they're buried under the weight of incompetent execution -- a tone that's all over the place, awful acting, a lack of kills (tied with the last film for the series' lowest body count), poor special effects, no scares, you name it, it's here. The only part that I can call genuinely good was the end credits sequence, not only because the movie was over, but because it played a "greatest hits" montage of all of Freddy Krueger's best kills and scares from past films. On its own merits, this is easily the worst in the series. And yet, as bad as it was, as much as I was dreading it... I actually couldn't bring myself to hate it. I was just having too much fun watching the film just go completely insane. Freddy's Dead is the Sharknado of the series, the entry that's so bad it loops back around and becomes enjoyable again, as a movie to laugh at as opposed to with. It killed the series, and rightly so I might add, but it went out in such a blast of self-immolation that it's like watching a train wreck -- I just could not look away from it.

The film takes place ten years after the last one, where we find out that all the efforts of Alice, Nancy,  Jesse, Dan, and all the series' other heroes added up to naught. Freddy has come back and killed every last child and teenager in Springwood... save for one, who shows up in a nearby town with no memory of who he is. "John Doe" is taken to a youth shelter, where he meets a case worker named Maggie who seeks to learn who he is. Her quest leads her and John (and three kids -- the hearing-impaired "bad boy" Carlos, the street-wise tough chick Tracy, and the pot-smoking slacker Spencer -- who tagged along hoping to escape the shelter) to Springwood, where the adults have gone insane as a result of Freddy taking their children from them. There, Maggie learns that she is really Katherine Krueger, Freddy's long-lost daughter who was taken from him and given to a foster family after his crimes were exposed -- a character who'd not only never even been referenced in prior films, but who would surely have recalled her father being a serial killer, given that she looked like she was grade-school age in the flashbacks. (Yes, this film came out back when "recovered memories" were the pop psychology du jour, but that's still no excuse.) Oh, and as Freddy kills Carlos and Spencer (in the series' most hilariously awful death scenes yet), they are somehow erased from everyone else's memories, except for Tracy and John, because they watched them die in the dreamworld. Oh, and when the angry parents killed Freddy, he made a deal with three demons to come back as a dream spirit, something that is never explained.

I'll admit, an origin story that looked at Freddy back when he was still alive and murdering children would've been interesting. Watching little Katherine slowly learn about who her father really was, and then watching him kill her mother right before her eyes for trying to go to the police, was interesting stuff. Unfortunately, this film throws on a ton of unnecessary bloat that defies all logic (again, Maggie/Katherine was more than old enough to remember that), as well as stuff that doesn't make sense even within the series' continuity. So you're saying that him being the "bastard son of a hundred maniacs" now has nothing to do with how he got his powers, even though you spent two of the last three films talking about that, and you even reference it here? He got his powers by making a deal with demons as he died? I'd say it reminded me of a bad fanfic, but that would be a disservice to the many talented fanfiction writers out there. Seriously, I could go into the Nightmare on Elm Street section of, pick out any story at random, and there's a good chance it would still operate on a more coherent internal logic than this film, an official installment in the series.

The cast of characters aren't much better than the plot. Lisa Zane was passable, but unspectacular as the final girl Maggie, as was a young Breckin Meyer as Spencer, which made them the best actors in this film by default. The worst of all was the girl playing Tracy, a character whose legitimately depressing and interesting (if cliched) backstory was ruined by her terrible overacting, but all of the other side characters in this film do very poor work here. Robert Englund, as usual, gave the only performance that I can genuinely call good. When he wasn't being made to spew terrible one-liners, he was the only scary thing in the film, and he had the good wisdom to recognize when his lines were outright irredeemable and ham it up like crazy for them. It's the culmination of the "Freddy as comedian" trend that had been building for four films now, but at the same time, the film showed us a new side of Freddy in the flashbacks, one that Englund had no problem taking in some terrifying directions. And while I'm on the subject of the cast, we also get cameos from the likes of Roseanne Barr and Tom Arnold as a crazy couple, Johnny Depp (credited as "Oprah Noodlemantra") doing a parody of the "this is your brain on drugs" PSA, and Alice Cooper as Freddy's dad. They were funny, but they're not in the film anywhere near long enough.

The kills in this are just impossible to take seriously. While every film in the series, even the second and fifth entries (the worst before this one), had one standout death sequence, the kills in Freddy's Dead are memorable for the exact opposite reason. These were the moments when Englund went full ham-and-cheese, and I don't blame him; how else can you play a guy who blows up a guy's head by scratching his nails on a chalkboard, or who sucks another guy into a video game and kills him with the power of the Power Glove? I give the writers props for creativity alone, because the concepts behind these kills were not the work of a sane person, but the execution leaves much to be desired. This is the least-bloody Nightmare yet, and it shows that the special effects department wasn't even trying. And don't even get me started on the 3-D scene in the last fifteen minutes, which was pretty much an excuse to throw random crap at the screen. Even watching the 2-D version, I was laughing my ass off at what I still think is the best possible use of 3-D effects. Let this be a lesson to modern Hollywood, which spent the last several years doing terrible 3-D conversions just to pad their box office receipts: if you're gonna use the gimmick, at least exploit it! (This is why I still count the remake of My Bloody Valentine up there with Avatar and Gravity as one of the greatest 3-D films ever made.)

Score: 1 out of 5 (on its own merits), 3 out of 5 (as an unintentional comedy)

The series hits rock bottom, but I still enjoyed it, if not for the reasons they were likely intending. This is the one you watch with your friends gathered around a big bowl (popcorn or pot, your choice), as it is just nuts. Yes, it's a disgrace, but so is Miley Cyrus trying to prove she's a "big girl" now -- it's the sort of disgrace that demands that you pay attention to it, and you wind up nodding your head rather than getting bored.

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