I was intrigued by the title of A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989). Would it deliver the seismic shift in the series that the title suggests? After the dire A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) I was not at all confident. Whilst the shift is perhaps not seismic, this is still a hell of an improvement and does actually do a fair bit different.
Most of the really excellent stuff in this entry into the series comes from the Dream Child part of the title and the creative crew behind the series have managed to incorporate a much needed jolt of narrative originality into the film as a result. I think the reveal midway through of how Freddy is getting into people’s dreams is nicely different, as is the appearance of the returning Alice’s child as a toddler in her dreams. Ups the stakes in a way no film since the original has managed to do in this series. I think director Stephen Hopkins and co went out of their way with the opening scenes to separate this film from the fourth last entry. It is shadowy and moody, with a gong tolling ominously and the first real hint of sex that there has been in the entire series. It is instantly a darker and more intriguing take than what has come before. In addition to the Dream Child, the other narrative aspect of this that is incorporated well are the flashbacks and references to Freddy’s past. Again, plenty of this is really dark and at times a little confronting – the scene that gives us a glimpse into Freddy’s conception in particular. I was a little concerned that this focus, coupled with none on Freddy’s child murdering crimes, would make the character sympathetic. But for me, the film never fell into that trap. The film does get a little silly at times, but it always manages to keep that on a pretty short leash. Actually at times the more humourous side of Freddy is actually quite engaging and amusing, without detracting too much from the horror storyline that we are meant to be absorbing.
Initially, once out of dreamland, I had grave concerns that the acting and characterisations were going to be unbearably kitsch. Thankfully though, with one notable exception (the acting performance of Joe Seely as Mark), this is really not the case and the film probably has the most interesting characterisations and relationships of any of these films. One of the best aspects of that is the return of Alice’s alcoholic father in this film. He is probably the first character who has satisfyingly grown from one film to the next. Alice, as played by Lisa Wilcox, is also a great recurring character, a surprise given how unmoved I was by her in the fourth film. The character and acting are a lot stronger here. You can really feel her desperation as she fights for her unborn child, as well as her friends around her that she loves so dearly. In addition to at least some level of narrative originality, what sets the good films apart from the bad ones in this series is effective imagery. Again, this film nails that pretty well. A battered and torn pram is great and comes back a second time with some fantastically spiky additions whilst the ultrasound scene veers into slightly absurd, but innovative looking territory. Against all better judgement as well, I really dug the look of the creepyarse Freddy baby. Also, some of the set pieces in this are as good, if not even better than anything else in the series. The early car sequence and the one involving a dream on top of the diving board spring to mind immediately.
It appears that the odd numbered films in the series are where all the quality is at. The classic original, the return to form of number three and now this have all been comfortably the highlights of this series. This one is so refreshing after the fourth and lives up to the title by incorporating the Dream Child into the narrative and utilising it to raise the stakes in both a story and visual sense. I suspect this may be the most underrated of the bunch, given I am not sure too many people out there are big fans of it. But count me as quite the pleasantly surprised fan.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
If you enjoyed this one, please take a look at my other Elm Street reviews: The classic first film, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master.