In the long history of the Nightmare series (at least seven films spanning 10 years, or nine films spanning 26 years if you count those apocryphal additions) there were of course some women who only led the fight against the villainous Fred Krueger for one film. These women are Lisa Webber of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge and Maggie Burroughs of Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare.
Unfortunately, these are two of my least favorite movies in the series. Starting with Freddy’s Revenge, it had the problem that is so common when a surprise hit is given an unplanned sequel in that it didn’t understand what was great about the original and failed to re-capture its magic. Its main problems were replacing the female lead with a male and going with a concept that almost entirely did away with the nightmare aspect by having Freddy reincarnate himself in the real world.
Now, if this movie was so bad and didn’t even feature a female lead, why am I talking about it? Well, I do want to give it credit for trying to push the series into new territory rather than being a retread of the original (just because the risk didn’t exactly pay off doesn’t mean it wasn’t admirable) but also because it played with the typical gender roles of horror movies.
I said before that most horror movies have a Final Girl who usually does little more than avoid death. In addition to this, there will often be a male Hero who saves her either by defeating the killer himself or sacrificing himself to give the Final Girl her opportunity to either escape or deliver the final blow. In Freddy’s Revenge the male lead, Jesse, is very much a Final Girl while his love interest, Lisa, fills the role of the Hero.
Throughout the film Freddy tries to make his way back into the real world by using Jesse’s body and Jesse is terrified and does his best to escape the problem, rather than face it head-on. When he confides in Lisa, she of course is dubious but she does her best to learn about Freddy and as she starts to believe that this problem may be more than just Jesse’s imagination, she encourages him to fight against Freddy’s influence.
In this movie, even though the female character isn’t the lead, she is the one who is doing the most to fight against the villain. Jesse is the focus of the film, but things simply happen to him, Lisa is the one who does things in this story. She’s the one who researches the mysterious killer, the one who leads Jesse through her discoveries, and ultimately the one who faces the villain and saves her boyfriend. Though this is still one of my least favorite films in the series I have started to appreciate it more in light of how it subverted the tropes of its genre and I think Lisa is unfairly overlooked by most fans (including me, until recently) when remembering the heroines of the Nightmare on Elm Street series.
Moving on to Maggie of Freddy’s Dead, which remains my least favorite film in the series despite numerous attempts to enjoy it, we have for the first time an adult protagonist, excluding the original Nancy since she was introduced as a teenager before returning to the series later as an adult.
Maggie is a social worker at a youth shelter which has nothing to do with Fred Krueger or Elm Street until the arrival of a young amnesiac John Doe from Springwood. In an attempt to jog his memory, Maggie takes him back to Springwood where Krueger has been waiting to use her as his ticket beyond the town’s limits in order to infect the dreams of the rest of the world since he’s already killed all the Elm Street kids. The reason he needs Maggie is that she’s his long-lost daughter and apparently that genetic connection makes her able to transport outside the city.
Dubious and contrived plot issues aside, how does Maggie hold up as a character? Well she gets off to a shaky start because the movie looks like it’s going to be about the John Doe for at least the first third and though Maggie is present early on, she doesn’t seem to be part of the main plot until maybe halfway through and isn’t really the lead until a little later.
There are many good qualities to her like her devotion to her job, concern for the kids in her care, readiness to fight when necessary, but I feel like I know almost nothing about her. Even though I re-watched this movie with the sole intent of paying attention to her character in order to write about her here, I can only seem to say what she does rather than who she is. Maybe it’s because this movie was meant to end the series (making all the characters one-offs) that there’s not much emotional investment, since they’re really just plot devices in a movie that’s really about ending Freddy rather than caring about the new characters.
It may also be that the director wanted to make sure that the movie had a powerful heroine so rather than seeing her struggle and connecting with that, the audience simply sits by as she pretty much trounces Freddy in the climax. Whatever the reason, Maggie Burroughs is undoubtedly a strong woman, but not necessarily a great character. I personally have difficulty connecting with her or even remembering her when thinking about this series.
Next up, we really get into some of the great leads from the better movies, starting with Kristen Parker.