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‘Freddy’s Dead’ Shattered a Glass Ceiling for Female Filmmakers in Hollywood

Freddy’s Dead was released on this day in ’91. We look back at its historical importance.

When Wonder Woman was released to critical acclaim and incredible box office success earlier this year, it was nothing if not a big deal in Hollywood. Not only did the big-budget film make a female superhero the star of the show, but it was also the first major superhero movie to be directed by a woman (Patty Jenkins).

To say the very least, Wonder Woman shattered a number of glass ceilings. But so too, many years prior, did a horror movie that rarely gets credit for being so groundbreaking.

September 13, 1991 saw the release of Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, the planned end of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise that began just seven years prior. Freddy Krueger slashed up a new group of youngsters in the series’ sixth installment, which introduced us to Freddy’s long-lost daughter.

Freddy’s Dead marked the directorial debut of a then-unknown Rachel Talalay, making it the very first major franchise sequel to be helmed by a woman.

But it wasn’t Talalay’s first trip to Elm Street.

Rachel Talalay quickly rose up the ladder at New Line Cinema in the 1980s, starting off as an accountant who soon became an assistant production manager on Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. Talalay was subsequently a production manager on Freddy’s Revenge, a line producer on Dream Warriors, and producer of Dream Master.

Simply put, by the time Freddy’s Dead came around, New Line’s Bob Shaye couldn’t think of anyone who was more fit to kill off Freddy Krueger than Talalay.

I was happy to do 6 because of Rachel – Rachel getting to direct,” Robert Englund recalled in the documentary Never Sleep Again.

Being the first woman to direct such a major franchise movie was no cake walk for Talalay, as she explained to The New York Times in an article published in 1991. Within the article, titled Are Women Directors an Endangered Species?, Talalay noted that she would occasionally get internal memos on the Freddy’s Dead set that instructed her to not be “too girly” or “too sensitive.” That article, which points out how uncommon it was at the time for a female filmmaker like Talalay to find herself in such a position, sadly reads like it could’ve been written today.

As Ms. Talalay’s experience indicates, female directors still face preconceptions growing out of the longstanding Hollywood mystique of the director as tough and omniscient figure,” wrote Larry Rohter in the aforementioned article. “And to hear many of her colleagues tell it, they must also confront barriers and discrimination in forms ranging from the blatant, including the much lower salaries that women members of the Directors Guild of America routinely earn, to the subtle.”

Looking back on her career in a chat with Entertainment Weekly last summer, Talalay laid out that things weren’t easy for her even after Freddy’s Dead grossed $35 million in theaters (it was #1 on the charts two weeks in a row); and the subsequent box office failure of Tank Girl, she says, tanked her Hollywood career completely.

Coming off the Nightmare on Elm Street films, the three directors before me all went on to huge action films,” she explained. “I wasn’t afforded the same opportunity, and I feel that was absolutely to do with my gender.”

So many men fail and then get their next opportunity,” she added. “I didn’t.”

Here in 2017, female directors are very much still an endangered species in Hollywood, which is why it was such a big deal when the Patty Jenkins-directed Wonder Woman was such a massive hit. Looking back, it’s pretty remarkable to think that 26 years prior, New Line afforded Talalay the opportunity to shatter a similar glass ceiling for the horror genre. And it’s pretty sad, at the same time, to realize how little things have changed.

Rachel Talalay is to date still the *only* woman to helm any film in any major slasher movie franchise, which reminds that we’ve still got a long way to go.



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COMMENTS

21 Comments
  • filmlover

    and the blu-ray version of #6 is not even in 3-D, which is critical to its viewing!

  • bd2999

    I like hearing interviews with her and in the Never Sleep Again documentary she is great. Highly dedicated to the series.

    That said, Freddy’s Dead was pretty bad.

    • The chicken man

      Loved it! But I like everything most people hate. Lol.

  • Necro

    I thought she did a pretty good job with it.

  • C-3PO’s

    I feel like this article should be about Kathryn Bigelow and Near Dark.

    • John Squires

      Different glass ceiling, but yes, she’s an INCREDIBLY important filmmaker as well.

    • Bloodkry

      Are we forgetting this woman also won an Oscar for best director?

  • If Freddy’s Dead was as good as its marketing, it would have really shattered the glass ceiling. But, although not particularly great, it’s enjoyable years later as a popcorn horror film.

  • Saturn

    Without wanting to sound sexist she helmed a shit Elm St movie.
    And if it had been directed by a man? HE would have helmed a shit Elm St movie.
    Before anyone gets all pissy fit I’ll mention that (as C-3PO pointed out) that Kathryn Bigelow gave us Near Dark a few years earlier which is one of the greatest vampire movies ever made.
    So don’t give us the whole “oh, but it’s because she’s a woman” crap.

    • Batcat

      Near Dark has become an actual classic movie and is likely the best vampire film of the 80s. It was certainly one of the most original and innovative. Freddy’s Dead was a rotten sequel that turned into self parody. I totally agree with what you said.

  • Edgar Pinecone

    Just a pity she’s not a better director. That really would have been something.

    To be fair though, she’s not bad within the tighter confines of TV directing.

  • Andrew Thompson

    I’m not a huge fan of the movie(although it’s a bit better than I remembered) but Talalay is cool and it seems like she definitely got the shit end of the stick. Jack Sholder got to make The Hidden and it seems like everyone at New Line fucking hated his entry.

  • Mark Lepine

    She didn’t get a third chance because her Elm Street was the worst in the franchise. Tank Girl tanked and that is Hollywood regardless of your sex.

  • pablitonizer

    Mary Lambert did a wonderful job with Pet Sematary back in 1989!

  • Brian Cunningham

    BD has gone full SJW.

    • zonecapitalx

      Wow, they’re promoting female directors. Im so offended! Grow up dude

    • The fuck? This was a great article highlighting female horror creators. This is a good thing. If this basic kind of advocacy is considered SJ, then we should all be W for it.

  • Upsetwith7days

    I see what you are doing. No.

  • To be honest I don’t care if the directors are males, females, trangenders or even aliens, I just want them doing a great job.

  • MikeLoewnau

    Freddy 6, while definitely not on my list of favs, performed well the year it was released. I mean it’s in the top 50. Let’s not forget that ’91 was the same year that Mulcahy gave us Highlander II and they continued to fall all over themselves to give him more horror to direct. There’s dozens of examples of worst directors in the 90s that continued to get the breaks that Talalay didn’t.

    Tank Girl, while kind of a mess, is pretty damn enjoyable. And that’s after the studio edited the hell out of the movie without Talalay’s permission.

    Quite frankly, she’s probably the best director attached to modern Doctor Who and I’ll fight anyone that says that Hell Sent isn’t one of the best directed and acted episodes of television that’s out there.

  • AdamX

    Freddy loses some of his luster when you see him a blue wind breaker.

    The movie itself is pretty good if you don’t go in expecting Nightmare 1 or Dream Warriors.

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