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."