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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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