The Series Project: Freddy & Jason (Part 4)

 

Well, we’ve final come down to the final installments of the series. I mean, neither the makers of the Friday the 13th franchise nor the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise would possibly continue their respective series once they had definitively killed their respective monsters, right? You make a film called Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, and surely he’ll stay dead, right? Ditto with a movie that is called Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. Surely – surely! – the franchises are going to end, and this will be the final week in this particular installment of The Series Project, right?

Wrong. There’s a week after this.

Yes, just as the fourth film in the (currently) 12-film Friday the 13th series was called The Final Chapter, so too have the other “finals chapters” in both the Freddy and Jason series proved to be impermanent and non-final. Each series extended two films and a remake beyond their announced “final chapters.” I’d cry foul, but that has been done by countless horror fans over the last 15 or so years, and griped about endlessly in the letters column of Fangoria magazine, excoriated in infinite message boards and chat rooms, and even talked about with a touch of embarrassment by the people actually involved in both series.

But I’ll say this: When they were released back in 1991 and 1993 respectively, the final chapters in both of these series felt like real events. I grew up in the 1980s, you see, when slashers and endless slasher sequels were common and expected. There was a time when it seemed like there was a slasher movie in theaters once a month, and these sequels came yearly, like clockwork. Reliable like the tides, supernatural mass murderers would appear in theaters and kill teenagers. Indeed, the franchises would end when the ‘90s rolled around, so you can say that slasher movies defined a generation. So when their studios decided to put the kibosh on both of these now-legendary monsters and call it a day, a lot of fans were struck melancholy. It was all me and my peers could talk about for a while. Jason, who had only killed 79 people up to this point (if my calculations are correct; I have been keeping track), may never live to murder again. Freddy would never come up with another totally off-the-wall death scenario for his victims. There was a familiar tear of farewell in the eyes of all horror fans. Adieu, guys.

Or maybe au revoir.

Would the actual "final" movies prove to be any good? Well, we’ll see, as this week in The Series Project, I’ll be walking us through the fifth of the Freddy movies, the sixth and “final” of the same, the ninth and “final” of the Jason movies, and the seventh “resurrection” of the Nightmare series, which contains the cleverest resurrection plot I’ve seen in any film, and will actually prove to be one of the best movies in either series. Three Freddys and a Jason.

To start with, let’s take a look at…

 

A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child

Director: Stephen Hopkins

Release Date: 11th August, 1989

Body Count: A mere 3

Best Kill: The scene where a model is overfed to death with her own entrails (see below)

Number of Breasts: 2

On the cover of the video, the title has a “5” in it, although the actual title card of the movie has none. I’ll leave it up to you whether or not it belongs in there. I’m going to err on the side of the title card.

So I rewatched the DVD of Nightmare 5 for the purposes of this article, and I found it to be a different film than the one I recall from back in the early 1990s when I first saw it. It turns out (as I have learned from some cursory internet research) that the VHS version was an unrated cut with gorier deaths. All the DVD versions to date have been the R-rated version. As such, my favorite kill, as listed above, is actually different from the readily available one on DVD, or any other more current home video version. You see one character, Greta (Erika Anderson), constantly pressured by her mother to stay thin and to become a successful model. As such, Greta has a Freddy nightmare wherein he (still Robert Englund) overfeeds her (using a special bladed spoon attachment on his infamous glove), distending her face and making her fat, ultimately killing her. In the DVD version, that’s all that happens. In the old VHS version, however, you see that Freddy is not merely overfeeding her, but is actually scooping out her own entrails to feed her. I would call an instance of forced auto-cannibalism a much better kill than merely overfeeding.

Indeed, this film only has three kills, and each, I seem to recall, was bloodier the last time. Perhaps someday an unrated version will be re-released on home video. If you still have the VHS or the Laserdisc of this film, though (and I know there are some of you out there), cherish it. It’s the only way to see the blood anymore.

The Dream Child picks up about a year after The Dream Master left off, and still focuses on Alice (still Lisa Wilcox), the girl with the power to pull other sleeping people into her dreams, who is graduating high school. She is dating the hunky Dan (still Danny Hassel), and is friends with Greta and Yvonne (Kelly Jo Minter). Freddy is pretty much dead. Although, as established in the last film, Freddy can be resurrected merely by dreaming about him. The only way to truly kill him, I suppose, is to forget him. That notion is not discussed in this film, but it will prove to be fertile ground for the seventh and eighth Freddy movies. So, yes, Alice dreams of Freddy being born, instigating his return, and his ability to kill teenagers in their sleep. Indeed, the film’s intro shows how Freddy was conceived, and gives a dramatization of his birth. As explained in dialogue in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, a nun named Amanda Krueger was accidentally locked in an insane asylum with hundreds of evil psychopaths who repeatedly raped her, making her son, Frederick, “the bastard son of a hundred maniacs.” Robert Englund plays one of the maniacs.

My least favorite conceit from The Dream Master is still in play here, and will indeed be in play in the next film as well. Freddy, it turns out, eats souls to survive, and “grows stronger” the more souls he eats. He seems plenty strong to me right at the outset, so I don’t know why the soul-eating conceit is still in place. Indeed, there are a few scenes wherein Freddy seems to absorb souls into his chest. Sure, Dream Warriors recast Freddy less as a ghostly boogieman, and more of an action villain, so surely the filmmakers must have felt the need to give him a goal or an appetite. He was originally out for revenge. Now he just wants to kill teens to sustain himself. I mean, after your goal of revenge is done (as it was in The Dream Master), what do you do to live on?

The film is centered on a few notable elaborate dream sequences that feel like surrealist experiments more than actual dreams. There’s the force-feeding one. There’s a bizarre cartoon sequence wherein a character (who fulfills our Rockapella quota) is sucked into a comic book, where Freddy becomes a superhero, turns the boy into paper, and rips him to shreds. I was particularly disturbed by the sequence wherein Dan’s body is invaded by the motorcycle he was riding, to the point where he doesn’t really have a body anymore. It’s reminiscent of Tetsuo: The Iron Man.

And that’s it on the kills. The dream sequences are so long, Freddy doesn’t slash through a great number of people. Of course, a high body count is something Jason is better known for. Freddy has quality, Jason has quantity.

As I stated in my coverage of Dream Warriors, there is something mildly dispiriting about how mechanical horror franchises had become by this point. The mystical and spooky elements are so well-known by the fans, the series can’t help but make quick assumptions about supernatural things that were previously scary and now just an expected elements. In The Dream Child, this means popping in and out of dreams to have conversations with Freddy is an easy and everyday occurrence. There is some talk about staying awake, and how afraid these kids are, but mostly, sleeping is just incidental. Indeed, I don’t think anyone sleeps in a bed in this film, and certainly no one wears jammies or nightgowns. When we enter the dream world, with oh so much ease, it just seems like another part of the day. Having dinner, having dinner, Freddy forcefeeds you to death, the end.

Oh yeah, the actual plot. It turns out that Alice was not the one dreaming for Freddy, but her unborn child, begat by Dan. Freddy had been, in turn, feeding souls to the fetus in an attempt to, I dunno, be reborn himself? I think he just wanted a child. In the dream world, the child, Jacob, is played by Whitby Hertford, 10 at the time of filming. Freddy is killed. Again. Yes, we see it coming.

The effects in the film look pretty awesome, and it’s still spooky throughout. There’s even a cool-looking chase scene through an MC Escher drawing. It’s not bad. It’s just a bit silly. The song over the closing credits is performed by Schoolly D.

Of course, if it’s silly you want, let’s look at the series finale.


 

Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare

Directed by: Rachel Talalay

Release Date: 13th September, 1991

Body Count: 4, plus one hamster, plus Freddy

Best Kill: I guess when Freddy throttled his wife in a flashback

Number of Breasts: An unfortunate zero.

In most press materials, this film is referred to as a “horror comedy.” This should show you how the Nightmare series has evolved over the years. Freddy did indeed start out as a ghostly boogieman, and quickly became a quip machine. Indeed, the monster was the main character. You’d be hard pressed to name any of the people who took him down, unless you were a close adherent to the series. Nancy from the first, maybe, but name four other victims of Freddy from any of the sequels. His victims no longer matter. We just need warm bodies to be dispatched, and dispatched in a cool way while Freddy laughs and jokes about it. I know that the humor is a kind of a vital part of the series, but when watching Freddy’s Dead, you’ll likely be longing for something scary.

Which is not to say that Freddy’s Dead is bad. Well, actually it kind of is. But it has a bonkers quality that I enjoy. They knew they were going to end the series (I refer you to the title), so they swung for the walls on this one. As such, the film is loaded with celebrity cameos, cute references, and a lot of filmmaking gimmicks. Indeed, the film’s finale (the last 10 minutes or so) was filmed and released in 3-D, which actually plays into the plot. Indeed, I wish I had seen Freddy’s Dead in theaters back in 1991, as it would have been a wonderful event picture. Mythic, yet cheesy. In its more whacked-out sequences, Freddy’s Dead almost approaches the communal filmgoing joy of a William Castle film.

In order to kill Freddy in a mythic way (he can’t simply be done in the way he was in any of the previous films), Freddy’s Dead had to introduce new conceits about the character, as well as look back on the past films in a meaningful way. Hence, the film introduces us to Freddy’s life as a human, before he was killed, as played by Robert Englund without any FX makeup. All we knew about Freddy previously was that he was a child murderer. Now we see that he was a killer as a kid (we see him kill a hamster with a hammer in the middle of class), that he was raised by an abusive foster father (played, oddly, by Alice Cooper), that he taught himself to endure large amounts of pain by cutting himself, and that, most shockingly, he was married and had a kid. As such, the only way to kill him was by the hands of a family member no one previously knew about. This is a conceit that will be repeated in Jason Goes to Hell.

The film’s director, Rachel Talalay (Tank Girl) has actually been involved with the Nightmare series since film #1, having produced or acted as production manager. I like that she’s directing, as it seems her stature has grown, and she’s finally taking control for the finale.

Freddy’s Dead is nutty like crazy. It has all the iconography of a horror film, but it feels like a dizzying live-action version of a Bob Clampett cartoon. For one, the film opens with a scrawl that explains that, ten years in the future, all the children in Springwood, OH (where, evidently, all the Freddy films take place) are either dead or gone. As such, none of the adults have bothered to spawn, and the town has been reduced to shambles. A wacky, post-apocalyptic tone creeps in. In a Freddy movie. Odd.

There are only four deaths, and two of them will make your jaw drop. In one, a deaf character, outfitted with a hearing aid (when he removes it, the film’s soundtrack goes silent; there are those gimmicks again), is implanted with a super-powerful hearing aid by Freddy. Freddy scrapes his claws across a chalkboard, and the victim’s head explodes. Well, I suppose that’s a new one on me. Also, since Nintendo was taking over the world in 1991, there is a sequence wherein Freddy traps Breckin Meyer in a video game, and uses his video game avatar to torture and kill him. Freddy actually says “Now I’m playing with power!” and whips out a Nintendo Power Glove. That may seem corny and dated now, but in 1991, it was merely corny and stupid. And it was clearly the most pandering form of product placement.

The plot is staged as a mystery. A teenage boy (Shon Greenblatt) suffering from amnesia has wandered into a big city in Ohio, where he meets with a shrink named Maggie, played by Lisa Zane. Maggie wants to treat him in the usual way, but a colleague, played by Yaphet Kotto, wants to help him through his dreams using a revolutionary form of dream therapy. Somehow, they figure that this John Doe is from the nearby Springwood, OH, so they travel there, and encounter the desperate adults, half of which have been driven mad by its childlessness and fear of Freddy. Cue cameos from Roseanna Barr and Tom Arnold. Oh yes, there’s also a cameo by Johnny Depp (from the first Nightmare, if you’ll recall), as the “This is your brain on drugs” PSA. He is credited as Oprah Noodlemantra. That Johnny Depp is a classy guy.

It is suspected that the John Doe may be Freddy’s long-lost son, which is why he has amnesia, and why Freddy hasn’t yet killed him. But that’s a red herring. It turns out that Maggie, whose original name was Katherine, is actually Freddy’s long-lost daughter! We see some of her flashbacks to her childhood, and see that Fred Krueger really did try the suburban family thing before he murdered his wife in front of his daughter. She just blocked out the memory. In flashbacks, we also learn why Freddy wears his iconic finger knives; it turns out he had many gloves for torturing children, all with blades on nails on them. That’s pretty cool, actually.

We also learn, a little bafflingly, that Freddy was granted his dream powers by a trio of snake-like demons who, according to Yaphet Kotto, seek the world for an evil man to do just what Freddy does: kill people with nightmares. Freddy was already kind of supernatural, but the intro of the Dream Demons seems like an extra layer that was not needed.

The finale is in 3-D, and it’s actually vital to the plot, as it allows the audience to see whether or not Maggie is in a dream. When Maggie wears the glasses, so do you. If she’s still in 3-D, she’s still in Freddy’s world. Just like in the first film, Maggie manages to grab Freddy in a dream and pull him into the waking world, where she removes his glove, carves a hole in his stomach, and inserts a pipe bomb. Ouch. The last line of dialogue is “Freddy’s dead.”

Goofy, kinda bad, but completely watchable, Freddy’s Dead did feel epic at the time, and would have been a decent (if not necessarily highly regarded) closing chapter. Luckily, Wes Craven decided to come back for the next one.

Although, Jason, not to be outdone, will have his own finale in…


 

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday

Directed by: Adam Marcus

Release Date: 13th August, 1993

Body Count: An unprecedented 22, perhaps even 24.

Best Kill: The gore-gasm. See below.

Number of Breasts: 5. Plus four bare butts.

“Gore-gasm” was a word some peers of mine and I started using after this film. It’s when a person is killed in a horror film during the act of coitus. In Jason Goes to Hell, a young woman is having sex in a tent, kneeling astride her boyfriend. Right as she is climaxing, Jason stabs through the wall of the tent with a crowbar, impaling her through the torso. He then pulls the crowbar upward, effectively splitting her in half. Blood gets everywhere. It’s spectacular.

So Jason Goes to Hell, like Freddy’s Dead, introduces some last-minute facts about the killer so that their death may seem more epic. Indeed, Jason Goes to Hell completely redefines what kind of monster Jason is, just to manufacture a cool way to kill him. I have no problem with this, as the Friday the 13th movies have been so ill-defined all along, changing Jason and shifting tone drastically. As such, Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder for the third time) is now no longer a Frankenstein zombie that can be jolted back to life by electricity, but a supernatural being that is possessed by a demon, and that can switch bodies according to his needs. A demon? Wha-? When did this happen? Was it before or after he drowned in 1957? Did Mrs. Voorhees have anything to do with the demon? No! Don’t ask questions. You’ll only hurt yourself. Although if he does have a demon in him, I use it as further proof toward my cockeyed theory that Charles Lee Ray from Child’s Play was Jason’s father. Chucky gave him a voodoo curse.

So, since Jason is given the new superpower of being able to possess other people’s bodies, there’s actually very little of Jason himself in the movie. In an intro, Jason is trapped by the FBI, and shot to pieces. I guess the Crystal Lake locals were tired of dealing with the monster, and the Feds did something about it. Don’t just hit him with an axe or drown him. Shoot him about a hundred times and then blow him up. That oughtta do it. Only Jason’s heart, it now turns out, holds an unholy magic, and the coroner who performs Jason’s autopsy feels a dark drive to eat it. Which he does. Which is yucky. Jason then possesses the coroner, and continues his killing.

For exposition, Jason Goes to Hell provides us with a monster hunter named Creighton Duke (Steven Williams) who explains the demon stuff to us, how Jason can swap bodies, that Jason needs to trade bodies frequently, as the hosts die off quickly (when he leaves the host bodies, they kinda melt into puddles of fleshy goo), and that he can only become reborn (his ultimate goal) through the body of a family member. As such, Jason is also granted a sister, a niece, and a grandnephew for this film. How convenient that these “last” films in both franchises provide us with long-lost relatives for their monsters. By the way, how does Duke know all this stuff about Jason? Again, don’t ask questions.

The kills are brutal and frequent. Jason does indeed pass his soul from body to body, killing as he goes. In one weird scene, Jason shaves off a guy’s mustache before possessing him. I guess he wanted to be clean-shaven, an odd concern for a guy who was used to being a 7-foot-tall Frankenstein zombie coated in lake moss. The film is a race to protect a baby from hosting Jason, with the kid’s parents (John D. LeMay and Kari Keegan, given their own subplot about being separated for many years) protecting the tyke. The mom’s new boyfriend is a douchewaffle who steals a corpse. He doesn’t last.

Eventually Jason does possess a Voorhees woman (albeit a dead one) by turning into a little demon worm and crawling into her vagina. Read that sentence three times for its full effect. When he’s resurrected, though, he looks exactly like he did before, complete with rotting skin, mossy shirt, missing eyeball, and even the iconic hockey mask, complete with the nick it received in Friday the 13th Part 3 3-D. Jason tromps around for a few minutes before he’s stabbed by Keegan, who uses a big wicked knife. Little bits of light appear in his body, and large demonic earthy hands reach up out of the ground and drag him to Hell. That’s that.

Some cute things: In an old dusty house, one of the characters thumbs through a Necronomicon as seen in The Evil Dead. After Jason dies, we see his mask, the only thing left of him, lying in a pile of dirt. We then see Freddy Krueger’s hand burst out of the ground, grab it, and drag it underground. That’s fun. This was long before anyone thought of actually making a Freddy vs. Jason movie. I saw it, even at the time, as a cute homage to the pop culture discussions we were always having on the playground. I never thought they’d actually make Freddy vs. Jason. Join me next week, though, as it was made.

Jason Goes to Hell doesn’t have the epic (or bonkers) feeling of Freddy’s Dead, but I will declare openly that it’s a pretty darn good horror film. The kills are gory and awesome. The monster is even a little scary. As a Jason film, it might make you go a little cross-eyed, as it introduces so many new things at the last minute, but if this was your first Jason film, you’d be forgiven for loving it. It’s actually pretty dang well-made. Well, except for its score, which was done on a Casio keyboard. Had it better music, it may have been a fun minor horror classic like the second film.

So whither the two series? They both ended, right? You can’t keep a good monster down, evidently. Wes Craven, the director of the original Nightmare, and its creator, reacted to some of the outcry about Freddy’s Dead, and decided to make a seventh Nightmare film in the only way he knew how. It will prove to be, well, pretty great.


 

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

Directed by: Wes Craven

Release Date: 14th October, 1994

Body Count: 4

Best kill: A recreation of the famous kill from the first A Nightmare on Elm Street, wherein a woman is dragged across the ceiling.

Number of Breasts: Zero, but it’s not that kind of movie.

I cannot praise this film enough. It’s easily the smartest of any of these slasher films, and, aside from the first A Nightmare on Elm Street, may be the best in that series. Let me explain the conceit:

New Nightmare takes place in the real world. Freddy is the monster of a film franchise, and Robert Englund, Wes Craven, Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, and producer Robert Shaye all play themselves. We visit the offices of New Line Cinema, which produced all the Nightmare movies, we see Langenkamp and Englund on talk shows, and we see Wes Craven writing a screenplay.

And what’s the screenplay about? It turns out Freddy is not just a monster in a movie, but an ancient thing – a demon of sorts – that has taken many forms over the millennia. It’s a thing that can be held in place by, of all things, stories. It has previously been the witch in Hansel & Gretel, for instance. From 1984 until 1991, the thing was trapped in fiction in the form of Freddy Krueger. However, when Freddy “died” in the fiction, the thing got angry, and began to manifest itself in the minds and nightmares of the character’s original creators. This conceit is so clever and so much metaphysical fun. New Nightmare is pretty well-loved by all who see it.

What’s more, this new real world Freddy (credited as “himself”) is different from the one we’ve seen in the last few films. He’s not the supervillain jokester anymore. He is again the dark, evil monster interested in fear and death. He looks different. His claw is no longer a glove, but a part of his hand. He doesn’t want revenge on teenagers. He wants to kill humans. And scare them. New Nightmare is, after a long series of action-like films, a scary film.

I said of the first Nightmare film that the dream sequences felt like real dreams, like the real world was darkly twisted. That can’t be said of the surrealist action set pieces seen in most of the sequels (which featured video games, ninjas, nude nurses, wizards, and giant cockroaches). In this one, the dreams seem borne of anxiety and fear, and the outer world plays heavily into their imagery. Someone is sucked into an elongated coffin, for instance.

The film takes its time, and is all about its spooky tone. As earthquakes hit L.A. (where all the actors live), dread mounts. Heather is concerned about her young son Dylan (Miko Hughes, not based on a real person), and the recent death of her SFX technician husband Chase (David Newsom) which looks to be Freddy-inflicted. She’s also been having Freddy nightmares about the production of a new Nightmare film wherein the new glove is actually a (really wicked-looking) disembodied mechanical hand. Robert Englund admits that he is also having Freddy nightmares, although it’s not himself, and that this new Freddy is more evil. Eventually tension mounts to the point where Heather has to confront Craven himself about what’s going on, and Craven finds that his newest screenplay is for the film we’re watching right now.

Heather must eventually use the screenplay itself (!) to enter Freddy’s realm, which is not so much the dream world as it is a living fable. The film ends with Heather reading the screenplay of New Nightmare to Dylan, in order to keep the story alive, and keep the demon at bay. It’s been implied (although never stated directly) in the previous movies that Freddy would die if he was forgotten, like a murderous Ozymandias, and he stays alive by keeping people afraid in dreams. This notion is not only made explicit in New Nightmare, but taken to its logical extreme. A monster is both created and defeated by the same thing; the story that perpetuates it. Stories do have that ethereal quality. They are immortal in a way we mortals can only envy. It’s only our sort of Jungian collective mind that can perpetuate or destroy it. There’s some heady stuff in there.

While I appreciate the moody tone, the light philosophy (Craven was himself a philosophy teacher once), and dread-filled environments, there are still some awesome jump scares in the film. When I saw the film in 1994, I actually screamed twice. Once with the tongue scene, and once with the Freddy-in-the-closet scene. Craven has clearly grown as a director, and could only make a scary movie again by making his series kinda of metaphysical. Good job, sir. It’s great.

What’s more, it’s kind of like a real button on the series. Freddy’s Dead killed off Freddy, but New Nightmare killed him off while keeping him alive at the same time. Playing with the myth of Freddy (and he really does have a kind of mystique about him by now) is way more interesting than merely resurrecting him again.

 

Ah, but Freddy will return. Twice as it turns out. It will feel churlish after the brains of New Nightmare, but the 2000s saw pop culture mutate into a geek-heavy universe where remakes and mashups were expected and bankable. Both series would remain dormant until 2001 when Jason would return in his most inexplicable (and kinda fun) entry to date, and the two would finally – finally – face off in 2003. Oh yes, and then each would be remade.

Be sure to join me next week for the fifth and (really, really) final entry in The Series Project: Freddy & Jason