As a child Rachel Talalay wasn't much fun at slumber parties. When the other girls were watching scary TV shows like "Chiller Theater" and alternately giggling and screaming, she was the one who was cowering in the corner. Worse yet, she was often the one who spoiled the fun by crying to go home.
But get a load of Rachel Talalay now.
She's a veritable slasher empress, a blue blood of the gore-and-guts genre and the director of "Nightmare on Elm Street VI: Freddy's Dead," which opens nationwide this week -- on Friday the 13th, no less.
The film is promised as the final installment in the popular series in which razor-fingered Freddy Krueger runs wild in the dreams of teen-agers, makes their arteries and veins behave like fountains in a "Wet 'n' Wild" theme park and never fails with a quip at a victim's expense.
But can this really be the last of Freddy?
"Well, as you know, Freddy's hard to kill," Ms. Talalay answered on a recent visit home to visit her parents in Baltimore. "It depends on how people respond. My future and Freddy's go together because you're only as good as your last movie."
This is hardly the first involvement of Ms. Talalay -- the daughter of two Johns Hopkins professors -- with Freddy. While it's the first film the 33-year-old has directed, she worked on the first two Freddys and produced the third and fourth. (She didn't work on the fifth, but still had close ties since her husband, Rupert Harvey, produced it.)
It's no surprise, then, that Ms. Talalay -- who also produces the films of her Baltimorean pal John Waters -- is an eloquent defender of Freddy.
"Freddy's about confronting your deepest fears -- he's not about how many ways to butcher someone," says Ms. Talalay.
"Plus, there's the message to kids," she says. "Freddy imitates evil parents and these films tell teen-agers that they can fight for autonomy and they can fight against authority."
But one still can't help but wonder what a young woman who went to Friends School, who graduated from Yale with a major in mathematics and who is so bright that she takes courses in genetics at UCLA for relaxation, is doing making films about psychopathic murderers.
"When Rachel told my parents what she wanted to do in life, I think they were kind of surprised and cautious," says her oldest sister, Susan Talalay, who runs a Washington-based program for foreign journalists. "They were very wary. But when she first started to make horror movies they were -- considering that they were horror movies -- very supportive."
"I must say that I never thought I'd have a daughter who'd be a director," says Pamela Talalay, in whose North Baltimore house prints by Holbein the elder and Robert Rauschenberg stare uncomprehendingly across the room at posters of Freddy Krueger. "But she's almost always been obsessed by movies. When she was about 13, I seem to remember her saying that she didn't have a hobby and that movies were going to be her hobby. I thought, 'What an intelligent child' -- every time she goes to the movies she can tell herself she has a reason."
At Yale, Ms. Talalay ran the film society. But she graduated from college thinking vaguely that she might do graduate work in mathematics. At home in Baltimore during the summer of 1980, she noticed a John Waters casting call for "Polyester" in the newspaper. She wrote him a letter asking for a job.
"And she got one -- but she worked for free," Mr. Waters says. "How good was she? She was producing my pictures less than 10 years later. You could tell even then that she wanted to make movies more than anything in the world and that she'd be great at it."
Very few people have seen Freddy VI yet -- there will be no advance screenings because the studio has been trying to keep the ending, which is in 3-D, a secret -- but Mr. Waters, who saw a rough cut of it, says, "It looks great."
Ms. Talalay will not talk about the film, except to say that there are Baltimore connections -- such as an Anne Tyler reference when Freddy drives a bus with an "Accidental Tours" decal and actors who wear Baltimore Orioles caps.
Her studio, New Line Cinema, hopes that her film will continue Freddy's winning ways. The five previous Freddy films have been a gold mine for the studio, earning more than $460 million dollars since 1984 when the first one was made.
It was Ms. Talalay's ability with computers that got her in the door at New Line, and soon after she was doing a variety of tasks, scouting out locations, managing accounts and acting as a consultant on scripts. It was on one of those jobs -- working on Roger Corman's "Android" eight years ago -- that she met her husband, who was producing the film. They've been together ever since, and last spring they were married -- with John Waters officiating.
"John was ordained as minister as in the Universal Life Church by Johnny Depp because Johnny wanted John to marry him," Ms. Talalay says with a smile. "John told Johnny he was too young to get married and married us instead."
Although she says she eventually wants to have children, she wants to direct another film first. "If I dropped out right now, I'd lose all the heat that Freddy VI can give me," she says.
Her opportunity to make Freddy VI really began with Freddy III, which was the first film she produced and the most successful of the series financially. She found ways of making the special effects even better while keeping costs down and fought and fought for a good script.
"My sister is motivated and ambitious," says her sister, Susan. "The summer she worked on 'Polyester,' I remember her saying that 'I'm going to be good at this.' If she decides she's going to be good at something, she'll be good at it."
"I wanted to direct this film very badly," Rachel Talalay says of "Freddy's Dead." "I asked myself, 'What can I do to make it so they can't get out of giving it to me? What can I do to make myself indispensable?' "
So she did something she had never done before: She wrote a story -- "I wanted it to be so good that New Line couldn't say no," she says -- and implied that the studio couldn't have it unless they let her direct it.
She says that directing her first movie turned out to be very different than producing any of her other films.
"What a producer does is try to get the best possible film for the director and still keep it on budget," she says. "But what you find yourself saying a lot to the director is, 'We can't afford that -- let's find another solution.' Directing is much more creative. The thing to directing is 'I want.' That's a relief after 'How am I going to get this?'
"But for me the biggest difference is working with the camera, and in a Freddy film that is -- and should be -- wonderful. You're in dreams and so you can do things that are absolutely wild and that you could never do in a 'serious' film like 'The Doctor.' In one scene I have the camera revolving around Freddy and his victim as the two of them are revolving around each other. Then everybody shifts direction, and so does the camera. That's what make these films so much fun to make."
But as happy as she is, Ms. Talalay has reservations about Hollywood.
"Right now I feel on top of the world," she says. "But there's so much that's purely evil about living in Hollywood. I've been here nine years and I've hated it every minute. There's no water, there are no trees, the ground moves under you -- you're living where people shouldn't live. You sit at a yuppie restaurant and talk about what's in the food and who's doing your face.
"I miss real people; I miss a real city. It's hard to find people who read books because they're all reading scripts or going to the beach. And the writing you find in the scripts you read is usually appalling."
And while she loves the wit and action of the Freddy films, she admits that there's a part of her that "would rather be doing Shakespeare."
L "One day I'd like to make a film that my parents could see."
But, she is reminded, her parents see all her films.
"Yes, but with their eyes closed," she says. "I mean with their eyes open."
THE TALALAY FILE
Born: Chicago; July 16, 1958; moved to Baltimore when she was 6.
On living in L.A.: "I miss a real city."
Hobbies: Skateboarding, molecular biology.
Education: f,tem Bachelor's degree in mathematics from Yale University in 1980.
On her marriage to Rupert Harvey, who just finished directing "Critters 4": "We call ourselves the horror sequel twins."
Favorite movie: Nicholas Roeg's "Don't Look Now." "Every horror movie since has borrowed from this film."
What she thinks of Freddy films: "The 'Nightmare on Elm Street' films aren't truly slasher films; they're about psychological horror."