A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)

The Dream Child picks up with Alice, who we were introduced in the fourth installment, The Dream Masterjust graduating high school and looking forward to a future after her harrowing experience that ultimately resulted in vanquishing Freddy Krueger. Alice is still addled with guilt due to being the focal point that had led those around her into the nightmare realm to their untimely and horrific deaths. After consummating her relationship with her hunky boyfriend Daniel, Alice ends up with child, and she begins to experience that familiar, eerie feeling that Freddy has found his way back to Elm Street, and that portal is within her womb. Even with her being awake, the fetus is asleep most of the time, and dreaming, so Freddy is manifesting himself into Alice’s thoughts, and those of her friends, leading them to to confront certain doom.

The Dream Child is a major step down in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, reducing the amount of fun and intrigue we have generally gotten in the series, even among the weaker entries.  That sense of fun is replaced here with depressing flashbacks involving a nun being viciously raped by a hundred insane inmates of an asylum, and lots of unpalatable notions involving the invasion of a teenage girl’s womb by the demon-like entity created by that rape. Although other films have referred to Freddy’s origin, they wisely kept it only as a horrific notion, and didn’t make the mistake of forcing us to observe the event and continuously go back into that sordid and wretched scenario, then expect us to be titillated by the shallow formula slasher movie antics on display in the present tense.

It’s the fifth film in the series, and the fifth new director, with Stephen Hopkins taking the helm of the ambitious but inconsistent franchise for one turn.  Hopkins was known primarily in the Australian film industry, and had one film under his belt as a director, an obscure slasher film called Dangerous Game, which came out in 1987 to a little buzz that didn’t quite pan out. Hopkins would direct a bit more high-profile Hollywood efforts in the 1990s, most notably horror-tinged thrillers like Predator 2, Judgment Night, and The Ghost and the Darkness, as well as the much-maligned attempt to port an old TV series to the big screen, Lost in Space.

As with the prior entry, the production was rushed in order to get the film into theaters around the same time the following year, with only two months window from start to finish, causing quality control issues that resulted in the inability to make sure the story was making sense as they progressed, especially as the script underwent extensive revisions by three separate teams who completely upended what the prior writers had done.  Stephen King had originally been sought out to handle the screenplay chores, but he wasn’t interested, and comic book giant Frank Miller passed in the opportunity.

At this point in the series, the fans expect that there will be vivid and nightmarish dream sequences, and the Dream Child has the least memorable.  The best among them involves a comic-book fan and artist who gets sucked into a comic controlled by Freddy, but given that we don’t particular care about that character (in fact, he is arguably the most annoying among them), there’s little for us to do but admire some of the animated effects involved in the scene.  There’s also a sequence that borrows from the topsy-turvy stairs found in M.C. Escher’s famous lithograph print,”Relativity” which might have come off as inspired had it not already been done in nearly identical ways by Jim Henson’s Labyrinth three years prior.

Reportedly, the MPAA had slapped The Dream Child with an ‘X’ rating due to the graphic nature of a few scenes that were subsequently trimmed down, one involving self-cannibalism as an end to the life of one of the teenagers, a beheading, and the other a more intense version of another teenager having his body fused is a grisly fashion with the motorcycle he is riding.  The idea for the film had come from the makers observing that those who made the series a success through the 1980s were now into adulthood, and would find it scary to encounter nightmares that feed on their own anxieties about babies, parenthood, drinking, driving, future careers, and making tough choices about what to do about it all.

Freddy Krueger’s appearance has been slightly different from movie to movie in terms of the make-up applied, but his look feels the most off in The Dream Child, as does his personality, which is nearly non-existent, except as a creature to come out and say, “booga-booga”.  Englund does get to make an appearance here without makeup, playing only of the hundred maniacs who raped the nun named Amanda Krueger to create the abomination, and one presumes this character is the actual father, given the resemblance.

Lisa Wilcox gets her time to continue shining as the heroine of the film in an emotional performance as Alice, though the film’s greatest liability is that her character remains the only one in which we care about in terms of whether she may live or die by the end.  The supporting cast around her seem to be cast for certain looks, but none of them really stand out in terms of their performances, as their characters are given only one trait to define them as to how their nightmare sequence will go.  The comic book nerd will be in a comic book, the girl who likes to swim will meet her fate at the pool, the school beauty with modeling aspirations who can’t eat to spoil her figure will have a food-related nightmare, etc.

Attempts to have heart warming or heart-rending moments fall flat due to the lackluster characterizations, as Freddy’s tragic back story is given short shrift and, given his evil nature, counterproductive to the series. Alice’s reconciling with her alcoholic father, as well as the family stepping forward as caretakers to her future son, might have worked if we were given much more exploration to their relationships before these developments.  The film also introduces Jacob, who is meant to represent Alice’s son in the future and to give a proper face to her unborn child, but scenes involving him still lack emotional weight, and therefore bog down the film with unnecessary and conceptually disheartening exposition on Freddy’s desire to be reborn within Jacob by feeding him the souls of the victims.

The ending of the film is abrupt and unsatisfying.  It wasn’t the original ending in mind, and was shot at the last minute.  Compounding the problems with the ending is the use of Kool Moe Dee’s “Let’s Go”, which is a great song but it has nothing at all to do with the movie.  It is entirely a diss record meant to continue his battle with LL Cool J on record after his “How Ya Like Me Now?” and LL’s response, “Jack the Ripper”.  Jive Records, known at that time primarily for their hip-hop performers, provides the soundtrack, though that music is barely spotlighted within the film save for “Let’s Go.”  Whereas the third and fourth entries used their soundtracks not only as ways to market their films, and to give their movies a spunkier attitude, The Dream Child‘s collection of songs from Jive Records is a complete afterthought, and yet another missed opportunity.  Only “Bring Your Daughter…to the Slaughter”, performed by Iron Maiden lead singer Bruce Dickinson, would prove notable, primarily because it became a #1 hit the following year in the UK when it appeared on Iron Maiden’s “No Prayer for the Dying” album.

The film garnered a bit of backlash, not only due to the violent content within the series as a whole, but due to its notions of a fetus being the conduit for bringing evil to the world, which turned off many viewers, while those on both sides of the abortion issue felt that the film seemed to be sending the wrong message to their political ends.  The film as a whole proved to be unpalatable to even those who were on board for the first four entries, as it is missing a good deal of the humor, the sense of campy fun, and the focus on the victims and their stories, replaced by Gothic dreamscapes, repulsive story elements, gruesome deaths, and a very morbid and dour mood throughout.

The Dream Child would end up being the least successful in the series up to that point, falling out of the top 10 after a mere two weeks of release, though still technically successful, earning about $22 million on a budget of $8 million.  Nevertheless, that take was less than half of the prior two entries, and it set such a dreary tone to try to build upon, leading the makers of the series to think that diminishing returns were going to be the norm, resulting in the next entry, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, being the end of this particular strain of Freddy’s films — the series would literally go from the cradle to the grave with its final two chapters.

Qwipster’s rating: D-

MPAA Rated: R for gore, strong violence, sexuality, nudity, and language     
Running Time: 89 min.

Cast: Lisa Wilcox, Robert Englund, Kelly Jo Minter, Danny Hassel, Erika Anderson, Joe Seely, Nick Mele
Cameo: Ted Nugent
Director: Stephen Hopkins
Screenplay: Leslie Bohem