Freddy Krueger and the Elm Street franchise are horror royalty. Wes Craven’s ‘boogeyman’ sits with Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers as part of the contemporary ‘holy trinity’ of horror. Across four decades, the Elm Street movies have grossed approximately $370 million. But like most horror franchises, each successive sequel generally saw a drop in quality. In the Elm Street series, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare is the sequel equivalent of Jason Goes to Hell and Halloween: Resurrection. Simply put, the movie was generally loathed by critics and fans alike. But critical appraisals change. After all, time is the ultimate barometer of quality. After nearly 30 years, has Freddy’s Dead earned critical redemption?
Freddy’s Dead More Self-Parody Than Sequel
Right off the bat, critics and fans can’t blame director Rachel Talalay and Freddy’s Dead for turning Freddy Krueger into a punchline. Following Dream Warriors, each sequel increasingly put Krueger front row and centre while leaning on comedy. If you watch Freddy’s Dead as a serious series entry, it’s an utter failure. Nothing about this sequel approaches scary or disturbing. In fact, Freddy’s Dead is as far removed from Wes Craven’s original vision as you can imagine. Freddy’s Dead was the sixth movie in the franchise and, at this point, Freddy Krueger was less ‘boogeyman’, more comedian.
…Freddy’s Dead almost works if watched as intentional comedy.
Whether Talalay intended her sequel to be self-parody or not, Freddy’s Dead almost works if watched as intentional comedy. There’s actually some inventive, fun bits in this sequel if you take them for what they’re worth. Whether it’s Freddy as ‘The Wicked Witch of the West’ or Talalay riffing on Nintendo, Freddy’s Dead approaches a clever satire of horror. Freddy’s taunting of the hearing-impaired Carlos is wickedly fun, stylish, and subversive of everything Elm Street movies previously represented. And Johnny Depp’s cameo is genuinely ‘laugh-out-loud’. If only Talalay had stayed the course for the whole movie.
The Franchise Retconning is the Scariest Part of this Sequel
Though Freddy’s Dead may work as intentional self-parody, Talalay’s sequel derails once it takes itself too seriously. As the movie careens into the back half, it starts taking itself too seriously. That is, Talalay seems to be trying to make a horror movie near the end. And as a genuine horror movie, Freddy’s Dead does not work. Horror sequels in the 80’s and 90’s weren’t very attentive to continuity. Certainly, continuity was not as much of an issue as it is for film fans today.
While retconning still happens, it was extremely common in horror sequels of yesterday. In this regard, Freddy’s Dead buckles under the weight of its fast and loose re-imagining of Freddy Krueger. Like Jason Goes to Hell, Freddy’s Dead adds a previous ‘never heard of’ family member and, as a result, unnecessarily convolutes the series’ mythology. Most importantly, none of the horror elements work. Talalay then adds insult to injury by reminding how great the series was with footage from the better sequels during the end credits.
In the 1990’s, 3D Really Sucked
Aside from its increasingly laboured story, Freddy’s Dead is insanely dated by its terrible 3D effects. In the years since this Elm Street sequel was released, 3D has come a long way. And horror is the perfect platform for 3D. Look no further than the My Bloody Valentine remake as proof. Sadly, in 1991, 3D technology was still pretty rudimentary. Moreover, when filmmakers used 3D, they seemed to think it was necessary to build in some lame story element that justified the 3D. In Freddy’s Dead, a character needs to wear special glasses in the dream dimension. Yes, it’s as lame as it sounds. Similar to most 80’s and 90’s use of 3D, Freddy’s Dead finds increasingly asinine and obvious ways to add the technology into the movie. Not surprisingly, it adds nothing to the story and looks horribly outdated.
Freddy’s Dead Still a DOA Sequel
Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare occupies a strange place in the franchise. On one hand, it’s never as generic or dull as The Dream Child. Talalay is a talented filmmaker and, for at least part of the movie, Freddy’s Dead borders on inspired parody. Nevertheless, Freddy’s Dead quickly sinks beyond the point of redemption once it aspires to be a real horror movie. Nothing in the final act works. And the 3D is laughable. This should have marked the end of the series. Fortunately, Wes Craven stepped in and redeemed Freddy with Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. All this good will was then subsequently undone by an unnecessary 2010 remake.