The Ten Day Nightmare: Day Six – A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
In a perfect world, The Dream Child would make up for the dip in quality of The Dream Master, and bring an exciting conclusion to a string of films we could call “The Dream Trilogy” (Warriors, Master, & Child). This, apparently, is not a perfect world. Instead, we have what feels like one of the most unnecessary films in the series. How did it go wrong? Read on to find out. And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD.
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5: THE DREAM CHILD (1989)
Directed by: Stephen Hopkins
Story by: Craig Spector & John Skipp
Screenplay by: Leslie Bohem
Having survived their last encounter with Freddy, Alice and her boyfriend Dan have started to settle into a nice, normal life…at least until Alice starts having nightmares about Amanda Krueger and Freddy’s dark origin. Even worse, these nightmares seem to occur even while Alice is still awake. Alice soon discovers she is pregnant with Dan’s baby, and that Freddy is infiltrating the sleeping mind of the unborn child, in the hope of being reborn in a new body. Alice must once again stop the burnt maniac…this time aided by the spirit of his dead mother.
Ah, the eternal questions – Why are we here? How did it all begin? And, of course, which sucks more, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge or A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child?
This last one is actually pretty tough. Because while both movies do suck, they suck for different reasons. The major flaw of Freddy’s Revenge was its stubborn and inexplicable refusal to stick to the basic ideas and rules that the first film established. The Dream Child, on the other hand, is clearly concerned with adhering to the existing Nightmare films, at times to an overwhelming degree (like subtly “borrowing” several elements and story-beats from previous films in the series). In fact, the movie is so desperate to add new layers to the known mythology, it ends up crumbling underneath its own weight. And while I’m not against the idea of a fifth film trying to liven things up by introducing previously unknown facets of the back-story, the problem here is that this movie really has nothing worthwhile or even coherent to add. Instead, it just takes what we already know and fouls it all up.
Before I get into that, though, let’s take a brief moment and consider the film this might have been. Following the huge box-office success of A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, there was no question that New Line would quickly start readying another entry. And since the series still enjoyed a somewhat more respectable reputation than other slasher fare, the company set their sights high, offering the writing/directing job to both horror master Stephen King and comic-book legend Frank Miller. Obviously, both declined…which is too bad, I think. Clearly, the evidence on-hand doesn’t really suggest that a King or Miller directed Nightmare movie would be any good (see Maximum Overdrive and The Spirit), but it might have been stupidly entertaining (once again, see Maximum Overdrive and The Spirit). If nothing else, I bet even the biggest train-wreck either of those two could have conjured would have been more interesting than what we got, and it would also be pretty cool just to be able to say that those guys were once involved in the series.
At least a film written and directed by King or Miller, for better or worse, would have been the personal vision of a single filmmaker. Instead, we have another one of those assembly-line pieces here – a story by horror authors John Skipp and Craig Spector, which was turned into a screenplay by Leslie Bohem, which was then further diluted by rewrites from William Wisher Jr., David J. Schow, and Michael De Luca. Dream Warriors proved that these “written-by-committee” pieces can work…but the odds are usually against you. This is not one of those exceptions.
Here, what is clearly a script with problems isn’t done any favors by director Stephen Hopkins. Like Renny Harlin before him, Hopkins is clearly more focused on the imagery and overall mood of the piece than on the glaring story flaws. Now, to be fair, Hopkins’ visual sense-of-style is impressive. In his recent autobiography, Robert Englund remembers being wary of another Nightmare film until meeting with Hopkins and seeing the detailed storyboards and ideas the director has already begun working on. I can see where his excitement came from – Hopkins has made a very-cool looking film, with all sorts of fancy visuals and creepy gothic atmosphere (a sequence in an M.C. Escher-esque maze of stairways, in particular, is one of the more memorable visuals in the series’ history).
But, well…not to be a jerk about it, but by now the Nightmare series was just kind of expected to have compelling imagery and fantastic set-pieces. Dream Warriors set the bar high, and it was reasonable to expect each subsequent film to look even bigger and better. But you can’t just rely on that – if there’s nothing interesting holding these visuals up, then what’s the point? Hopkins could have just as easily accomplished all the cool-looking scenes he had in his head in one of those Freddy Krueger music videos that were popular at the time. Once you’re making an actual entry in the film series, you better be bringing something worthwhile to the table story-wise.
Alas, the story here is a mess. It takes a while to realize this, though, as the film actuallydoes have an intriguing first act. Alice’s initial nightmare, depicting Amanda Krueger’s rape in the mental asylum where she worked as a nursing nun, is actually a pretty gripping scene that’s – yes – enhanced by Hopkins’ keen eye for disturbing imagery. Plus, on a more crass level, Alice spends a good portion of this opening sequence nude and wet, and I’m certainly not gonna complain about that (although all you junior Mr. Skin wannabes out there will probably be disappointed to learn that any shots of actual nudity are a body double, and not Lisa Wilcox).
After that, we move into the requisite “heroine tries to convince everyone Freddy is back but no one will listen to her and they all think she’s crazy” portion of the film, and even here the movie hasn’t lost me yet. For one thing, I still genuinely like the character of Alice, and find her sympathetic enough to get invested in – I may have a lot of issues with this film, but Lisa Wilcox’s performance isn’t one of them.
Plus, I think there’s something to be said for this section of the film’s attempt to build tension and set the mood. Sure, it’s a bit stretched out (the story proper doesn’t really kick in until about the 20-minute mark), but it doesn’t bother me as much as I know it does other fans. Sure, I criticized Freddy’s Revenge for not having enough actual Freddy, but I was talking the overall picture there. I don’t have a problem with keeping him off-screen for awhile at the beginning of the film, as long as the time is being used to convey important story points and set-up a cool entrance for the character.
Unfortunately, it’s when Freddy does show up that The Dream Child takes a sharp left turn into turdsville. First off, let’s just get this out of the way – Freddy looks like shit in this movie. I don’t know what the deal is…all of these original Nightmare movies were made so close to one another – why couldn’t they have just kept the make-up design consistent from one film to the next? I guess I wouldn’t be complaining if the make-up had actually improved here, but it’s just awful and dumpy looking. Maybe it’s supposed to reflect Freddy’s weakened state or something, but whatever – it’s hard to be scared of the guy when he looks more like that creepy old man from those Six Flags commercials than he does the burnt-to-a-crisp boogeyman who once terrified Nancy Thompson.
Then again, it’s not like the movie is making any actual attempts at having Freddy be scary in the first place, and that’s another big problem with this film. If the last movie started the “Freddy as full-blown comedic character” ball rolling, this one kicks the ball off a cliff into a chasm of goofiness. And like last time, this proves not to jive with the rest of the movie. It’s even more jarring this time around, actually. Hopkins clearly wants the movie to have an old-school gothic horror feel, and there’s actually a lot of pretty dark material and edgy subject-matter in this one. But then suddenly you cut to Freddy chasing after a victim on his own personalized skateboard, and you instantly undercut any real dread you might have had going.
What makes matters even worse is that this time around Englund himself seems aware of the series’ declining fortunes, and therefore doesn’t seem to be giving it his all. He’s oddly flat in this movie; maybe as a result of now (between the movies and the television series) having been playing the character so frequently in such a short span of time. Whatever the reason, it feels like he’s just going through the motions as he lifelessly rattles off dialogue now consisting of almost nothing but a series of lame one-liners. Englund’s infectious gusto often kept The Dream Master tolerable – it’s actually kind of a bummer to see him now play the role as if his heart is no longer into it.
I guess I can’t blame the guy – even ignoring the ruination of the Freddy character, there’s really nothing else here for him to get that excited about, either (except for those nifty visuals, I suppose). The film’s general story-idea – Freddy trying to return by invading the dreams of Alice’s unborn child – is kind of neat, but undermined by sloppy storytelling and maddening gaps in logic. For instance, what exactly is Freddy trying to accomplish? He wants to be reborn in the body of Alice’s son, Jacob, right? But then why is he also trying to take Jacob under his wing in the dream-world? Why teach him, if he’s just eventually going to destroy his soul and take over his body? And speaking of Jacob – how is it that his not-yet-fully-formed mind manifests itself in the dream-world as a psychic prediction of what he will look like in ten years? He’s a fetus, for Christ’s sake!
Then you have the stuff with Freddy’s mother, Amanda. Once again, this is potentially intriguing, revealing that Freddy – despite all his power – still has mommy-issues and is actually afraid of her. But it’s handled in such a dumb fashion. For one thing, the main hook of it is one of those “borrowed” elements that I referenced earlier, as the quest to find Amanda’s remains is more-or-less taken right from Dream Warriors, where it was Freddy’s remains that were needed. Not surprisingly, it was much more suspenseful that time around.
And speaking of Dream Warriors, here’s a question for the Dream Child writers – if Amanda knew that her remains had to be found before her spirit could be freed and she could help destroy Freddy for good, why didn’t she just tell Dr. Gordon that two movies ago? Seems like it would have saved everyone a lot of trouble, don’t you think? Maybe this movie should have ended with her saying something like, “oh, by the way, I also forgot to mention that to REALLY kill him, you have to separate him from the three dream demons he has living inside him…but he might still be able to come back if he can find a hockey-masked killer to do his bidding for him!! Hope that helps!”
All of this eventually builds up to another nonsensical climax hurt by the fact that – by this point – we know that whatever temporary death they might inflict on Freddy just doesn’t really matter. They’ll have him come back again in another film (they did), and they won’t bother to explain how (they didn’t). It was cool when Dream Warriors actually offered an understandable way to finish Krueger off…but by the time of The Dream Child, it was getting to be a little ridiculous how each subsequent movie had to essentially ignore whatever did Freddy in last time, and then basically just make up some new weakness or way to kill him, thus making what the heroes of the last film accomplished seem pointless.
That’s the overriding problem with the fifth film, too. It’s so desperate to justify its own existence by introducing all this new information about Freddy and his powers, but all of this ground was already covered well enough before. The Amanda story felt wrapped up after Dream Warriors – this film’s additions to the story feel pointless at best; at worst, they completely nullify what was said and done in the third film. The Nightmare series had entered tricky territory now – in order to keep bringing Freddy back, it essentially had to re-write the mythology each and every time. But with more attention being paid to elaborate FX sequences and coming up with new comedy bits for Freddy, and attention-to-story therefore sacrificed, it’s only natural that you’d end up with a movie like The Dream Child. There are scenes that are nice to look at, but overall it just feels so…unnecessary.
BODY COUNT: 3
Three kills? THREE KILLS?? Look, I don’t want to be one of those bloodthirsty gore-hounds who demands an escalating amount of carnage in each of his slasher sequels…ahh, who am I kidding…of course I do. Even if that wasn’t the case, though, the low body count is just further evidence of how much other hooey was taking up time in this movie.
Geez, I don’t know, there’s just so many to choose from. In all seriousness, it’s actually an easy choice, as two of the three are pretty corny. I have standards, and so I can’t really award a Best Kill trophy to something like Freddy simply over-feeding an anorexic model…
Or turning a comic-book fan to paper and then shredding him…
That just leaves the death of Dan, which actually is pretty cool. Having fallen asleep at the wheel, Dan wrecks his truck, and so jumps onto a nearby motorcycle he just happens to find. Unfortunately for him, this motorcycle seems to have come straight from Freddy’s own Monster Garage, as the machine comes to life and actually merges with Dan before sending him speeding to his death. It’s an awesome sight, obviously inspired by the cyberpunk genre, and if nothing else is at least completely different than anything else in the series.
FREDDY’S BEST LINES:
“Hey Alice, wanna make babies?”
“Kids…always a disappointment.”
“Hey Danny, better not dream and drive!”
FINAL SCORE: 1 out of 4 Razor Fingers
Posted on December 6, 2014, in A Nightmare on Elm Street, Franchise Post-Mortems, Reviews and tagged A Nightmare on Elm Street, Frank Miller, Freddy Krueger, Horror Movies, Robert Englund, Slashers, Stephen King. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.