Thursday, November 20, 2014

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

A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
Director: Stephen Hopkins
Starring:  Lisa Wilcox, Robert England, Kelly Jo Minter, Nicholas Mele, Danny Hassel, Erika Anderson, Joe Seely
Rated:  R

Bon appetit...bitch.

There are a ton of haters and strong dislikers of The Dream Child.  I'm not one of them.  The film was one I wasn't particularly fond of back when I first became a fan, but as I've aged, I actually like a lot of ideas on display here and some of the character work being done.  Things were in place for this to be one of the best sequels in the franchise, but it suffered from some execution problems, mainly an extremely unbalanced tone in the film.  I actually don't think the difference in quality between this film and the last one is really that much.  In fact, honestly, some days it could come to a coin flip on which one I like better.  Compared to The Dream Master, this one is actually feels like its about something.  I  guess I don't see the film as a lost cause.  We can call this an "In defense of" article if you want, but I'm just going over what I see in the movie.
Box office returns on this film showed that the Freddy fad was over.  I'm sure the film's quality and subject matter had a little to do with it, but I mainly think the filmgoing audience and horror fans were experiencing a massive Freddy fatigue.  He was everywhere.  We'll get into it very soon, but not only was Freddy hitting the big screen once a year, showing up on MTV and having merchandise galore, but there was also a TV series on every week.  And it was a pretty lackluster affair.  Too much Freddy had finally kicked in.  This film still made money, but the box office saw a drop from $49 million to $22 million.  I think the message was pretty clear from that.
Dream Child takes the dream concept and puts a new spin on it.  It furthers the abilities of Krueger and the dangers of his evil.  He possesses the constant dream state of Alice and Dan's child in her womb.  This brings on a whole new sense of the unexpected.  Since its Alice's child, he has the powers to bring people into his dreams.  But its even so much that they'll just shoot right into the dream world fully conscious.  You don't have to fall asleep for Freddy to get you now, you just have to be in contact with Alice or Dan.  
The film also does what Dream Master didn't do, and builds upon ideas and build upon the mythology that was beginning to come together in Dream Warriors.  We get more of Amanda Krueger and what happened to her.  They even show us the winner of the great 100 maniac sperm race.  Granted, the hunt for Freddy's mother is sorta a retread through finding and burying his bones in 3, its still something of a mission.
Alice returns here and we get into some deeper material with her character.  She's a teenage expecting mother.  Faced with the tragedy of the baby's father and her boyfriend dying, its a whole lot for her to take in.  Its also challenging when Dan's parents return later in the film based upon a doctor's request to try and get her to let them adopt the baby.  We actually have some real character drama going on here and another obstacle she's facing amid Freddy's return and endangering not only her friends, but her baby too.  Lisa Wilcox is actually quite good in the movie.  Her character has grown a lot since the previous film and her confidence and paranoia work out quite well.  There's a maturity to this performance that wasn't there in the last film.  Like her character found in Dream Master, there's a new sense of confidence and a lead we have watched rise to the top and really can get behind her in this follow up.  
They really progress and pay respect to the previous film with Alice's relationship with her father.  A couple lines of dialogue tell us where they're at and we see they've managed to come closer after the events of the last movie.  One of the best dramatic and character scenes in the entire series comes at the beginning of the second act when Alice asks her father if he's disappointed in her and he tells her he isn't.  And as a sweet touch, he adds "I hope its a boy.  It'd be nice to have a little boy playing around here again".  A nice reference to Rick from the previous film.  Showing that they are still fresh off the tragedy that befell them in the last movie and isn't just forgotten because we're onto the next chapter.  There is also another strong moment from her father later when he stands up for Alice to Dan's parents.  Mr. Johnson makes a real good case for MVP of The Dream Child.
Its a slasher sequel cliche, but here we are in another movie, so Alice and Dan have a brand new set of best friends who we never saw in the previous film.  That's something we just have to allow the movie to have.  This is actually a better group of teens than the previous one.  Not by much, but I really think they are.  All of them are dealing with the uncertainty of graduating high school and the wonder as to who they're going to be and who they should be.  Gretta struggles with her mom wanting her to become a model, but there's actually some humanity to her and a desire to just be a regular person. There's a nice moment in the film where we see her alone in her room mourning Dan, which just shows that its not just Alice that his death affects.  There's also Mark, who really doesn't know what he's going to be and wonders if his true passion in life (comic art) will ever turn out for him.  These things are all used against them in their death, but its much more developed and explored here in this film than the flat stereotypes in the first.  Hell, even Dan is better here both on paper and performance-wise.
Stephen Hopkins has the right idea here to go for the darker tone with Freddy.  But, sadly, after the last film, the publicity and the TV series, its too late for that.  He must be given some credit for the really Gothic aesthetic he creates here.  There are some terrific sets and lighting throughout the film.  Its grim, its creepy, its wonderful.  And as a sorta cool geeky thing, there's plenty of stop-motion in this film that remind me a lot of effects on Pee-Wee's Playhouse.  But there's a sort of discomfort or disturbing feeling to that sort of animated effect for me too.  Renny Harlin did indeed have style in his film, one more of his own.  Hopkins here reaches into the vaults of classic horror with his dreamworld iconography and look.  The man had all the best intentions in the world with what he wanted to do with this film.  I just don't think he had full control and wasn't able to execute at a level he may have have been aiming at.
What's The Dream Child's biggest problem?  It's Freddy Krueger himself.  Freddy brings an incredible imbalance to this film that doesn't fit anything else going on in the movie.  It makes the film tonally awkward.  You have this dark, classically haunting looking film that features some deeper, personal themes for its characters and then you get Freddy popping in to yok it up.  Had the Freddy in this movie been the one from Part 2, this movie would have been far far FAR more effective.  Instead here, Freddy pops in for some slapstick that doesn't fit with anything in the film (aside from it being the followup to the previous film) and at this time his one-liners are tired and groan worthy.  The problem is, Hopkins wants to make what Freddy used to be, but the previous film supplanted Freddy as what audiences expected him to be.  It feels like Hopkins made his film, but New Line or whoever put their Freddy into it.  Hopkins was right to take Freddy back to being scary, but it was too soon after the 4th film for separation and he didn't have the clout to make it work.  So, yeah, the villain in more ways than one for the film is indeed Freddy Krueger.
I do think Freddy wound up with some of his best make up in the series with this film.  He's lit well and you really get a nice look at him.  Its also pretty cool that we have a weaker Freddy than we have had before.  He has no souls, so he's collecting new ones.  And in the end when they're being ripped from his body, there's only the three he took in this film.  The showdown at the end not only features some cool visuals, but some gross effects with him ripping from Alice and then trying to burst out of his mother in his demise.  If only Freddy would have just kept his mouth shut.  On one hand, Gretta's death is pretty disgusting and awesome except from the overdone "Bon Appetit...Bitch".  Dan's death looks really creepy and cool, but the whole motorcycle injection stuff is just all kinds of weird.  And while its a groaner and many people think its dumb, the Super Freddy sequence is actually one of the most ambitious and visually realized nightmare sequences in the entire series.
Why was The Dream Child a letdown and hated by most of the fans?  There's a lot of factors that could go into it.  I think the biggest one at the time was that they were tired of Freddy.  The subject matter of the film might have been too adult and too deep for its target audience.  Dealing with a teen pregnancy and having issues with the dead father's grandparents might have been too much and too unrelatable for kids back then.  Dream Child also takes it subject matter and characters very seriously, and we're coming off of a popcorn film that was pretty hollow.  Also, we transition from the film that so far had Freddy's highest nightmare kill body count to one that has one of the lowest.  There are only 3 Freddy kills in this film.  Plus, in this one Freddy sort of lurks and keeps to the shadows more often than before.
The Dream Child may be an "idea movie" for me.  One that I'm able to see a lot more in than others.  A movie that presents ideas and themes that they may not fully realize or execute well, but one that I respect for having them brought in the first place and allows me to get behind it and see what its trying to accomplish.  I like having better characters, having ones that have lives and are realized a little more than "Oh, he's this personality because he's wearing this and has a poster on his wall".  The film also advents a new medium for Freddy to attack and further delves into his mythology.  As a capper to the trilogy started with Dream Warriors, I don't know if its a satisfying big finale, but its definitely a great epilogue with Dream Master serving as a sort of finale.  A film I feel gets a lot of hate that it doesn't deserve, because it has more to offer than some of the ones that are considered "better" than it.  I know I'm in a vast minority in finding enjoyment in The Dream Child, and its not a perfect or great film (a decent one), but over the years I've found something in it that I do admire and see that it has more merits than people want to give it credit for.

NEXT TIME:  That "final" movie that always comes a few entries too early

I did get to meet Lisa Wilcox at a convention a few years ago.  And man...she looks incredible for turning 50 this year. Like Mark Patton before, she was my prime reason for hitting up this convention.  However, the convention itself was nowhere near enjoyable as the previous one.

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