“I’ll see you in Hell!”
“Tell ’em Freddy sent ya!”
It’s Renny Harlin’s turn. Welcome to Action Freddy!
Patricia Arquette declined to return for this entry into the series. Tuesday Knight takes over the role of Kristen Parker, the former asylum resident who helped tromp all over the Bastard Son of a Hundred Maniacs in the last film. But Joey and Kincaid are back and reluctantly dragged into a new struggle against the man with the knives. But what’s interesting about this episode is that none of those three turns out to be the hero of our story.
Enter mousy wallflower Alice Johnson (Lisa Wilcox) whose flat hair and drab clothing say, “Hello, I’ve got room to change as a character.” But you know what? I like that about this movie. Someone actually bothered to bring us a little character growth. During the course of the story, Alice goes from simpering house-daughter with pent up emotions and a mirror covered with photos of her best friends to a full-fledged, bona fide action hero. But not right away. For the first forty minutes Kristen takes center. And that’s one of the things I like about this version. It’s a note of complexity in a genre that’s notoriously brain-dead.
Credit Brian Helgeland, who gets co-story and co-screenplay credit and then goes on to write 976-EVIL, Highway To Hell and L.A. Confidential. See a theme here? I don’t.
At minute sixteen begins the most outrageous Freddy resurrection sequence of the series. Kincaid, dreaming in a junkyard, watches as his dog pisses fire onto the place where, in the last film, Freddy’s earthly remains were buried. Pisses fire. I mean, who dreamed this up?
Oh wait. That’d be Brian.
Anyway, in short order, Freddy wastes Kincaid and Joey. Kristen isn’t far behind. And then we’re all out of old characters. Time to fuck with some new ones. And the new ones run the gamut. There’s the bug-hating beautiful one, whose hair threatens to take over the world. There’s the spunky brainy one, whose glasses are as big as the other one’s hair. There’s the brother, who’s the balanced, martial arts one. And there’s the hunky jock. A little of everything. Facets of the whole split up into parts.
“It’s his fucking banquet. And I’m the last course!” says Kristen, upon realizing that her mother has spiked her drink with sleeping pills.
“Kristen, we went over this in therapy!” protests Mom.
“No mother. You just murdered me. Take that to your god damn therapy!”
The dreams are starting to get kinda ridiculous now. Kristen’s death dream begins on a sunny beach where, somehow, sunlight robs Freddy of his menace. It ends in a boiler room lit up like Cirque du Soleil. But what’s cool about the sequence is that Kristen’s gone and Alice takes over. We’ve swapped heroes. And it becomes a new game.
At minute fifty three it’s Alice’s brother’s turn. Remember him? He’s the martial arts kid. He finds himself fighting for his life against an invisible Freddy Krueger. There’s a lot of kicking and punching and going “Ki-yaa!” But there’s no horror. It’s not scary. And this is the point where it becomes clear that we’re not actually dealing with a horror movie at all. This is Renny Harlin. It’s an action flick.
At minute 63 Alice finds herself in an move theater showing an old black and white film. What is she doing there? Why did she sneak out of the house to go see Sherlock Jr.? Oh, we get it. She’s dreaming! No, no, there’s no surprise. there’s none of that dread that Craven pulled off with such expertise in the first film. It’s just a showcase. Not a bad one, really, but just another in a string of clever sequences pinned together by the most flimsy of plots.
And then we’re treated to my all time least favorite Nightmare sequence. The pizza bit. Alice winds up at the counter of a diner, where she meets Freddy. The waitress (who happens to also be Alice – long story, don’t ask) brings them a pizza. The meatballs on the pizza are screaming. Yes, screaming, because they’re the heads of the kids he’s slain.
Can I repeat that?
The meatballs on the pizza are the heads of the kids he’s slain.
Sigh… Oh well. We suffer through that bit and then move on to the spectacular death of Debbie Stevens. Yes indeed, this is where the money we saved with the invisible martial arts sequence was actually spent. Poor Debbie, played by Brooke Theiss, is pressing bench in her workout garage. Enter Freddy, who breaks her arms. In a most repulsive fashion, Debbie becomes a cockroach. There’s slime and mucous and blood and a roach motel. This is what we’ve been waiting for. It’s still stupid at its heart, but what a show!
Minute seventy-five. Alice’s transformation is complete. You see, as Alice’s friends have been dying off, she’s been absorbing them. Not like in a spongy way, but more like… well, yeah, I guess in a spongy way. She gains their powers when they go splat. And as they die, she’s been removing their photos from the mirror in her bedroom. The more photos she removes, the more of herself she sees, until the mirror is clear and she stands before us. Action Alice.
“Fuckin’ A,” she says, perfectly capturing the subtle nuance of character and the deep mythological importance of the moment.
Hmm, and it’s now that I’m realizing that what I’d originally called character development is actually more of a clever plot device. Alice’s growth is something that comes to her almost by chance. As her friends die, she grows stronger. She’s not gaining this awareness or skill or talent through any difficult choices of her own. It’s all happenstance.
But I like it anyway. And I love the visual motif of the mirror. Alice’s mirror is covered with pictures of her friends. As she removes them one by one she reveals her own face, a piece at a time, until Action Alice stands before the mirror.
She goes on to kick Freddy’s ass in a church. There’s a nifty sequence where the souls of his victims reach out of his body and pull him apart like a french roll and then we’re off to the typical, sun-drenched yet ambiguous ending and a bad theme song or two.
This was the biggest money-maker of the Nightmare films. Released in August of 1988 (I had just moved to California from New Mexico and was trying to figure out how this whole “life” thing worked) it cost $13 million to make and raked in almost fifty million on its initial release. Renny Harlin went on to direct a series of ultra-budget actioners like Cliffhanger , Long Kiss Goodnight and Cutthroat Island, returning to apply his delicate touch to the horror genre in last year’s Exorcist: The Beginning.
Next up: The Dream Child. Hold on to your lunch.