Wednesday, 10 October 2012

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child

1989
Dir. Stephen Hopkins

After surviving attempts on her life by dream-demon Freddy Krueger, Alice soon begins to have nightmares about him again in which she's not in control. She realises that he is using the dreams of her unborn child to get to her and she must face him and attempt to destroy him one last time...

The phenomenal success of The Dream Master automatically green-lit a further cheeseburger instalment of the Elm Street franchise. The fifth title, The Dream Child, took a little longer to go into production however, as it was stalled by an almost endless series of re-writes, and by Robert Englund’s increasingly busy schedule. The actor was now heavily involved in Freddy’s Nightmares, a TV series that featured Freddy Krueger hosting Twilight Zone-like tales of the macabre, occasionally delving into the mythos of the film series; including an episode detailing Krueger’s pre-dream dwelling killing spree and subsequent death at the hands of vigilante Elm Street parents. By this stage Krueger was well and truly established as the ‘hero’ of the series. New Line never once considered replacing Englund and bribed him back to the fold with promises of directorial projects. For once, they didn’t approach Craven for his input as he’d essentially burned his bridges with them and was ensconced in trying to set up his own horror franchise with Shocker.

Several screenplays were written in parallel, with horror novelists John Skipp and Craig Spector recruited to write one, and Leslie Bohem another. Bohem’s central premise was actually based on an idea that was considered for Freddy’s Revenge, with the dream dwelling killer menacing an unborn child and using its dreams to wreck havoc. Producer Sara Risher apparently dismissed this idea as she was pregnant at the time Part 2 was made, but when Part 5 went into production, the concept was given the thumbs up and amalgamated with aspects of Skipp and Spector’s screenplay to form the final draft, which was written by David S. Schow. Too many cooks me thinketh!



The Dream Child was released at the same time as the eighth Friday the 13th film, Jason Takes Manhattan. There had actually been plans to bring Freddy and Jason together in a film, but that particular project would take many more years before it ever came to fruition. Perhaps because the Golden Age of the slasher movie was well and truly over by the end of the Eighties, or maybe because audiences had just grown tired of Freddy’s shenanigans, but The Dream Child was, while still fairly successful at the box office, the least successful title of the series so far, and evidence that its popularity was waning. Also, bear in mind that at this time audiences were privy to Freddy’s misadventures on the small screen, too. Overkill much?

Opening with one of the queasiest loves scenes outside of a David Cronenberg film, The Dream Child picks up after the events of The Dream Master. Alice (Lisa Wilcox) is graduating college and making plans with her new friends when she discovers she is pregnant. She begins to feel that she’s not in control of her dreams anymore and soon realises that Krueger is attempting to reach her through the dreams of her unborn child. It’s a concept that has chilling potential, but what ends up onscreen is a retread of earlier films in which Krueger shows up and says something witty before/while killing someone in their dreams. Director Stephen Hopkins makes a bid to return the series to its dark roots, and The Dream Child hangs heavy with a grim gothic atmosphere. It also depicts what was only described in prior films: the moment when Krueger was conceived - his mother Amanda finding herself accidentally locked inside the asylum where she works and repeatedly raped by the inmates. However, despite this unsettling beginning, as Krueger remains the same wise-cracking, pun-spouting clown he had been from the third movie on, the attempts to darken the tone are eventually thwarted by his presence. There are a few spookily atmospheric moments when Alice wanders into the dream world looking for Amanda and finds herself in a gothic asylum/church/castle with its myriad shadowy corridors and moodily lit spaces, but they’re smothered under Freddy’s mouthy antics.



Part 5 is as stylised as its predecessor, and contains some genuinely unsettling imagery. Alice’s dreams are plagued by visions of Amanda in the asylum, giving birth to a hideously deformed baby that scurries off into the dark and emerges from the shadows as Freddy Krueger. With all the monstrous newborns on display, this film has real shades of It’s Alive. We also learn through Alice’s ethereal encounters with Amanda in spectral nun form, that in order to destroy Krueger, Amanda’s earthly remains must be freed from their resting place where he hid them after he murdered her. Despite Hopkins attempts to tone things down, this entry also boasts some of the most ridiculous death sequences from the whole series, including Alice’s boyfriend being welded to his motorbike as he races along a motorway at night (‘Better not dream and drive!’), a wanna-be model force-fed until she chokes to death, an athlete menaced in a swimming pool when her diving board becomes one of Krueger’s claws, and best/worst of all, an A-ha music video inspired death where a comic-book geek is sucked into one of his drawings, turned to paper and shredded by Krueger. The pacing is also rather uneven and it really only picks up towards the climax, set in an impressively realised Escheresque maze, with Alice trying to rescue her son from Krueger’s clutches as stairways twist and turn before her eyes.




Rather unexpectedly, abortion is briefly discussed as a means to stop Krueger, who is feeding the souls of his victims to Alice’s unborn child to corrupt him. If this film was in any way as intelligent as the first, discussions like this would have lent it a certain dark gravitas. As it is, they just don’t sit well with all the Freddy jokiness and pun-tastic deaths. The Elm Street series never really boasted the same 'sex-equals-death' mantra of its slasher peers (Friday the 13th and Halloween had cornered that particular area of the market). It drew crowds with the promise of outlandish special effects and flamboyant death scenes, not bare breasts. Indeed the opening credits of this film depicts one of only very few sex scenes throughout the whole series, and it doesn’t end with the copulating couple getting murderlised; but finding out they’re going to be parents. Throughout the series, most adults are depicted as weak and ineffectual – the parents’ attempts to cover up their part in Krueger’s death actually leading to their children being killed by him. While this entry also features overbearing and grotesquely unfeeling parental figures, it also depicts a deeply maternal Alice fighting to protect her unborn child and patching things up with her former alcoholic father. Krueger’s mother even puts in an appearance, albeit a spectral one, to guide Alice in her attempts to stop him once and for all.




While it unfurls as a haphazard mishmash of ideas and tones, The Dream Child does contain an interesting concept, and at times boasts a welcome gothic atmosphere. Unfortunately, with its ‘business as usual’ barrage of bad one-liners, SFX driven set pieces and inappropriate comedy, the whole film is naked of tension and intrigue, and is merely held together by soulless effects and a strange, pulpy cruelty.

5 comments:

JP "Strange and Shocking Turn Of Events" Wendel said...

It's never a good sign when you see this script was written by more than 2 people. Easily the worst of the series.

The Film Connoisseur said...

This is the weakest of the series in my opinion (as often happens with part 5's in franchises for some reason!) but it does have some redeeming qualities, I like the style that the director gave to some of the visuals and I also enjoyed how as you mentioned, it showed us that whole sequence where Amanda Krueger gets left behind and raped, we even see Krueger's birth, something we hadn't seen either on any of the films, so it does have a cool thing or two about it.

James Gracey said...

@JP It's incredible the amount of writers who were involved in the Elm Street series. All the constant rewrites and redrafts is dizzying!

@Film Connoisseur While I agree with you about this one being one of the weakest titles in the series, I also dig the wonderful gothic atmosphere in some of the scenes, and Hopkins' attempts to darken it down. It's just wasted though as much of this one is total snoozefest.

Thank you for commenting! :)

Emily said...

You know, now that you mention how oversaturated Krueger was in pop culture at the time, I totally remember being jealous of my brother's Freddy folder. And yes, to me, this is the worst installment. It has some good ideas but is so gosh darn BORING about pursuing them. Snooooooooze.

James Gracey said...

A Freddy folder!??! Jealous. Though to be honest, back in 1989, if you'd handed me a Freddy folder I would have screamed and ran away.