In honor(?) of the new A Nightmare on Elm Street, we're recapping all of the Elms so far. Find more on the Pixel Vision  blog.
By 1991, when the optimistically-titled Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare rolled around, the Elm Street series was still making money, but delivering few scares. Not like the series’ beloved hero cared, really — Freddy Krueger was as popular as ever. Just look at the opening credits of Freddy’s Dead, which equate Krueger and Nietzsche as quotable icons (“Welcome to prime time, bitch!” remains a phrase of note among philosophers, I’m sure.)
The only Nightmare film directed by a woman (Rachel Talalay, who made her directing debut; she later made 1995’s Tank Girl and has since helmed a shit-ton of TV shows), and the only to utilize 3-D (more on that later), Freddy’s Dead is set ten years in the future (so, 2001?) Freddy has slaughtered every kid in Springwood; the adults who remain are bonkers. The sole survivor is a height-phobic teen (Shon Greenblatt) we only ever know as John Doe; the film’s opening sequence pays homage to both The Twilight Zone and The Wizard of Oz (1939) as John ejects from a freaky airplane ride into a house spinning through a wind storm. Do I really have to tell you Freddy sails by on a broom stick? “I’ll get you, my pretty — and your little soul, too!”
John lives, but barely — battered and with no memory, he’s picked up by cops in Depressed Americatown, USA, and taken to a run-down shelter for troubled teens staffed by Maggie (Lisa Zane — yes, Billy’s sister!) and Doc (the Yaphet Kotto). In short order, we’re introduced to a ragtag crew of Dream Warriors 2.0: dope-smoking video game addict Spencer (future movie and TV semi-star Breckin Meyer); tough bitch Tracy (Lezlie Deane); and hearing aid-wearing Carlos (Ricky Dean Logan). In keeping with a series theme that’s especially pronounced here, all three have abusive parents.
The fact that John Doe has violent, vivid nightmares is intriguing to both Doc — who specializes in “dream therapy” — and Maggie, who suffers her own disturbing dreams. When it becomes apparent that Maggie and John are having variations on the same dream (though Maggie’s play out more like flashbacks, or sinister home movies), she hustles him into the youth center’s comically beat-up van for a visit to Springwood. Hey, maybe it’ll jog his memory — or hers.
OF COURSE, the three reckless youths with obviously identifiable weaknesses happen to stow along for the ride. Bad move. Springwood proves to be empty, save for a few insane adults (including Roseanne and Tom Arnold, at the height of their tabloid fame). While Maggie and John search for clues to their dark pasts, Spencer, Tracy, and Carlos explore an abandoned house — on Elm Street. Freddy appears and immediately begins fucking with all involved: for example, the deaf kid gets a Freddy-style hearing aid that makes everything painfully loud, and is then subjected to the sound of Freddy gleefully scratching his claws along a chalkboard. Needless to say, Carlos’ head explodes; needless to add, Freddy’s kiss-off is “Nice hearin’ from ya!”
Spencer’s death is far more humorous, and is probably the best example of how un-terrifying Freddy has become by now. As the stoner dozes, a busted TV comes to life. Johnny Depp does a rememberin’-my-roots cameo in a fake TV commercial, which is interrupted by Freddy. “Hey Spence — let’s trip out!” Droopy-eyed Spence grins as Iron Butterfly plays and psychedelic waves suck him into the set. Suddenly, he’s a character in a video game, being pounded first by his domineering father (“Be like me!”) and then Freddy himself, who’s also manning the joystick in some alternate reality to this alternate reality. As Maggie and Tracy watch in horror (and, presumably, the audience howls in delight), Spence sleepwalks all over the house, punching walls and bouncing into the ceiling. “Great graphics,” gamer Freddy murmurs in approval.
Anyway. Spence dies, and a sleeping John Doe can’t be roused to prevent his own untimely end (it involves a parachute and a bed of nails). Earlier, he and Maggie had learned from Springwood’s orphanage that Freddy Krueger’d had a kid, current whereabouts unknown. John had thought he was Krueger Jr., safe from Freddy’s wrath. But no! His last words, to Maggie: “It’s not a boy!”
So, Maggie the nightmare-having doctor realizes what we’ve known all along: Freddy Krueger is her father! ZOMG! Freddy’s Dead takes the opportunity to sketch in a backstory for our favorite child killer: he’s seen pulverizing a hamster as his eight-year-old classmates chant “Son of a hundred maniacs!”; he’s seen enjoying a beating from his stepfather (the Alice Cooper); he’s seen, through Maggie’s eyes, murdering his wife after she discovers a secret room in their Springwood house (contents: gloves, weird things in jars, cookies). Young Maggie, or Katherine, or whatever her birth name was, was sent to the orphanage soon after, giving Freddy further motivation to kill every kid in town. Or something. Apparently he was a devoted father.
Meanwhile, back at the shelter, Doc immediately understands the situation, unlike every other authority figure in the series EVER: “He’s fucking with the line between dreams and reality!” Seems Freddy is also trying to get Maggie to bring him more victims, allowing for this crowd-pleasing exchange: “But this isn’t Springwood!” “Every town [dramatic pause] has an Elm Street!”
It is soon decided that Maggie, being Freddy’s spawn, is the only one who can enter his thoughts, get ahold of him in dreamville, and bring him into the real world, where he can be killed the fuck dead. “You’ll use these,” Doc says, pulling out a pair of 3-D glasses. While it might’ve been easier for the filmmakers to just insert a title card reading “PUT ON THE GLASSES NOW Y’ALL,” I suppose this was a somewhat more subtle way to issue the same orders.
Anyway, there’s an extended tussle in shoddy 3-D. Freddy finally dies (Maggie spears him with his own glove, for maximum irony). The end credits, which offer a memorializing highlight reel of Freddy’s greatest kills, unspool over what has to be Iggy Pop’s least-popular song of all time, “Why Was I Born? (Freddy’s Dead).” And horror fans finally know the answer to the question that’d gripped their dreams for nearly a decade: how do you kill Freddy Krueger? You could believe the movie’s harebrained plot. Or you could believe the evidence presented by the movie itself: kill the monster by transforming him into a campy, cackling, comedian.
Don’t worry -- there are two more Freddy movies, plus the new flick, to go on our series. Grab a cup of coffee, kids!