This was meant to be the final Freddy film. Obviously that's not how things turned out, but there's still something pleasing about its willingness to do sequel-unfriendly stuff. No one else seems to like it as far as I can see, but personally I liked it a good deal and it did fine at the box office. $35m return on a $5m investment, to be precise. That's middle-of-the-road for a Nightmare on Elm Street film. Parts 1, 2 and 5 had stayed down in the twenties, while parts 3 and 4 got into the forties.
You'll see it called the worst in the series, although personally I disagree. It has structural problems and it's not even in the same solar system as the more serious-minded ones that fanboys generally seem to prefer, but you'll never mistake it for anything else. It's two movies in one. The first one is a straightforward Freddy Krueger flick, but played for laughs and equipped with one truly brilliant idea. Then that film ends with a jolt as they kill one or two people too many, whereupon suddenly the wheels are spinning in the mud as a second, completely different movie struggles to find its feet. It takes about twenty minutes to come back to life, but after that we're fine again.
However there are other problems that didn't bother me at all, but for other people could easily have been a show-stopper.
1. The protagonists. They're a pretty thin bunch. Shon Greenblatt is fine as "John Doe", but it's always a surprise when he hasn't died yet. Lisa Zane as Maggie Burroughs is fine, but her character suffers from a stealth introduction and never quite recovers. Shockingly the most interesting characters are three disturbed teenage hooligans, despite the fact that they're blatantly meat on the hoof and you're looking forward to seeing them get slaughtered. Breckin Meyer as Spencer gets a godawful first scene, but after that the three teenage allies actually work well. They're the first bad kids in the series not to be laughable, for a start. They're convincingly off the rails. One of them's into pipe bombs. The violent one's a kickboxer. They have father issues, which believe it or not is thematically relevant. You don't believe for a moment that they'll make it to the end credits, but they're lively enough characters that it'll be fun watching what happens to them in the meantime.
Whoops, nearly forgot the adults. Well, one adult. He's played by Yaphet Kotto, which astonished me despite the franchise's form with such things, e.g. Johnny Depp, Laurence Fishburne. He was in Ridley Scott's Alien! Live and Let Die! His role here isn't anything to write home about, but I was still delighted to see him.
There are also some celebrity cameos, if you count those. Johnny Depp shows up on TV doing that "this is your brain on drugs" thing I associate with the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. Alice Cooper is surprisingly good as Freddy Krueger's father. However Roseanne and Tom Arnold are so broad and fake that the only way I can explain their performances is to say that it doesn't count because the characters are mentally unstable.
2. The tone. This is one goofy movie, going so far as to do the live-action equivalent of a platform computer game with Looney Tunes sound effects. There's a running gag about the Wizard of Oz, complete with Freddy as a witch on a broomstick. If you're the kind of fan who hates the one-liners and thinks it's all been downhill since Wes Craven's original, turn away now and don't stop running. However I laughed my head off.
This film is hilarious! Freddy's tortures of poor deaf Carlos had me in hysterics, while the opening dream sequence has my all-time favourite "no, you're still dreaming" moment. Yes, it's comedy... but it's great comedy. It's also Robert Englund's best yet performance as Krueger, since for the first time he's no longer fighting against the goofiness but instead embracing his status as the horror genre's equivalent of the Joker. Being grim and one-note is easy. Here he creates something new. This was the first time Robert Englund impressed me, although he still hasn't quite ironed out those dodgy line readings. "Kung fu this, bitch."
Thus for once Krueger's one-liners are completely in tune with the movie. The notion of Freddy running his dreamscapes on Wile E. Coyote logic yields one or two moments that are both hilarious and sick. Admittedly it couldn't be said to result in a scary film, but I'm delighted that for once at last the franchise allowed itself to relax and be as silly as we knew it could be. Even the music is amazing and lots of fun. Well, except for the rubbish closing theme of course.
Freddy's make-up looks poor though, not helped by a reluctance to wear the hat. I missed the hat.
3. A big coincidence, along the lines of "Why did X run into Y?"
So, these two movies. What are they all about? There's a wonderful idea in the first one, so delicious that I was willing to forgive it almost anything. It's ten years in the future and Freddy's won! He's killed every teenager but one in Springwood, Ohio, and the adults are suffering mass psychoses. His problem is that he's about to run out of victims. This is awesome. It's something I'd never expected, yet it makes perfect sense... well, if you don't stop and ask awkward questions like "Why hasn't the rest of the world noticed?" We don't spend much time in Springwood, but those scenes we do get show us a place that's broken in the head. It's freaky, it's fascinating and it's seemingly doing its darnedest to kill off any chance of more sequels. It's just delicious. I ate it up. Worldbuilding is doubly welcome in the horror genre because you so rarely see it. The natural setting for horror movies is "here and now". Theoretically this film shows you nothing you couldn't see a million times over in SF, but horror will skew everything through its own warped perspectives.
The second movie ends up being about Freddy and fatherhood. No, really. This is explored in all kinds of ways, with most of the main characters having father issues of one kind or another. This franchise has always basically been about the relationships between adults and children, but never so clearly as in Parts 5 and 6. I didn't believe the stuff about Freddy turning into a supernatural killing machine because they took away his child, but I hope I wasn't meant to. If the filmmakers meant all that to be taken literally, they're stupider than I thought. Nevertheless it's still an interesting theme for the film, helped along by a surprising number of scenes of Robert Englund without make-up. Yup, we're going into Freddy's backstory. That includes his childhood. Believe it or not, I liked all that too.
Amazingly that's not even the only attempted explanation for Freddy's evil, with the other being flying snake skull people. They're even more contrived, but I quite liked them.
I might have thought this film was brilliant if it hadn't been for that twenty-minute transition between its two halves. "Why am I watching this?" is never a question you want to put in your audience's minds. The lack of worthwhile protagonists is also a problem and one that I'd normally be objecting to more strongly, but I think for me the story of Freddy and his world was as much of a hook as anything else. I'd hesitate to recommend it, but that's only because everyone else seems to have hated it and the law of averages might suggest that you're more likely to agree with them than me. However personally on this I think the rest of the world is wrong.
It's a brave film. It takes balls of steel to choose to be this ridiculous. It has nice continuity touches with the rest of the series and it feels oddly faithful, in its own slapstick way. It has that old house. It entertained me like a mad bastard. You'd be mad to call it flawless but I really think, without kitsch or irony, that it's a worthwhile film and deserves attention.