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.
The very first scene of A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) gives you a good insight into the 90 minutes you are about to endure. As the credits roll an utterly horrific 80s power ballad thunders in the background. I am quite confident in stating that it is the worst horror film credits track of all time. Actually, to say that the horrible credits sequence is an accurate taste of what is to come is a little harsh… on the horrible credits sequence. Because despite the miserable song choice, there is something worthwhile in it, namely the very creepy and cool images that the song is doing an excellent job of ruining.
Seeing the film you are checking out is directed by Renny Harlin is never a good sign, and a Nightmare on Elm Street 4 proves that adage. In an attempt to seamlessly connect this film with the excellent A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), the film brings back Joey, Kristy and Kincaid. Bringing back beloved characters is always a good move. But bringing back characters that no one really gave a shit about first time round (speaking as a massive fan of the third film) smacks of desperation and the fact you couldn’t afford the decent characters. Not only that, this is a connection with the excellent third film on a superficial level only, with no connectivity in terms of tone, theme or quality. Also, if you are going to bring characters back, at least do something with them. Don’t just kill them all off un-climactically in the first act of the film. Unfortunately this narrative choice is reflected throughout the film as the plot is teen slasher paint by numbers of the highest order. Plenty of people have told me how the series descends as it becomes more and more comedic, especially the character of Freddy. There were hints of that in the third film, but the balance between humour and horror was more or less spot on in that film. Here though the Freddy character is too far gone into the realm of comedy and he lacks totally in menace. This got me thinking actually that in none of these films, even the better ones, the audience is not particularly aware that Freddy is a child murderer. I’m not so sure that is a good thing.
The major problem with this film is not that it is bad (it is though), but that it just feels utterly and irredeemably unoriginal. Every sequence feels like it is some amalgam of parts of the first three films. Not only that, rather than combining and improving on the aspects it borrows, it all feels worse, somehow like a ‘lite’ version. Not content to rip off earlier films in the series, the film is also a raging success at ripping off parts of basically every big film from the 1980s – The Karate Kid (1984), Back to the Future (1985), The Fly (1986) and Ghostbusters (1984). Not only is this painfully obvious and cheap, it also makes parts of the film feel totally out of place and like they belong in a completely different film. The part that borrows heavily from The Fly is especially guilty of this. Thankfully though it dispenses with the 80s-ness of the second film. Aside from the power ballad at the start. And then continually repeating the line “major league hunk” in one scene. Oh and absolutely every single thing about this film which is one of the most 80s of the 80s. Time has not been kind to you A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: Dream Warriors. Not that you were any good to start with.
I think I have made myself abundantly clear on this one. It even pales in comparison to the first sequel which was no fun at all. It is silly and lacks any of the charms that this series has brought so far. Any film that manages to make a ‘final girl’ letting fly with the phrase “fuckin A” after suiting up for the final battle sound utterly lame, deserves neither your respect nor your support.
Verdict: Schooner of Tooheys New
Another Nightmare on Elm Street review will be coming your way next week. If you have missed any of my earlier reviews, be sure to check them out: The classic first film, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.
Well as advertised by many of your comments last week, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) is a massive improvement over the second entry into the series and not too far off matching the first. The return of key creative figures such as Wes Craven and Heather Langenkamp, in addition to a sense of continuity with the first film, go a long way to achieving what is a cracking sequel.
The film opens with the Edgar Allan Poe quote “Sleep. Those little slices of death. How I loathe them.” It is a fantastically dark note to open on and permeates the opening act of the film. Perhaps the only thing that prevents A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 from joining the first film as a true classic of the genre is that the film does descend into silliness for about half an hour through the middle. There are definite joys to this silliness, but it does detract from the overall film. The early parts of the film show that Freddy is back once again and this time he is making kids commit suicide during their dreams, targeting descendents of the people who burned him alive. This leads the return of the main character from the first film Nancy Thompson, played by Langenkamp, as a young psychologist. This is a great ‘in’ into the main narrative for the audience and will also excite fans of the first film. The casting is all pretty good with Robert Englund sufficiently menacing and the younger kids all solid, led by a young Patricia Arquette who gives a really good performance. A young Laurence Fishburne (credited as Larry) also pops up in a small supporting role.
The opening half hour is really atmospheric, perhaps the most successful at creating a sense of dread out of any of the films so far. This is a film that for me took itself a lot more seriously than the second and it pays off. As the killings escalate, the action does go into some silly and absurdist territory. But just when the film feels like it is losing its way, a seemingly random subplot really brings that attitude back as a mysterious nun gives a lot of insight into the genesis of Freddy. One thing this film does is show off a lot of strong imagery, often gothic, often Freddy showing his increasing power, and these stark pieces of photography definitely stick in the mind. It is not hard to create chilling, iconic images with the character of Freddy and his distinctive look and thankfully this film does not waste that potential and we are treated to Freddy as a TV, a puppet master, a huge head/slug/vacuum cleaner thing and plenty more.
It is exceptionally difficult for any sequel to both invoke aspects of an earlier film in the series and to also feel fresh. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 manages this invocation through the use of imagery, soundtrack and the recurring character of Nancy, whilst the quite chilling (at times) content lends the film a freshness. Whilst the tone lightens at various points, any time a film is focused on the suicide of teenagers, that is some dark stuff right there. The mysterious nun subplot nicely recalls the combination of genres that the first film excelled at. I was genuinely intrigued with where that was all going and the payoff ends up being the creepiest moment of the entire film as the audience gains more of an insight into Freddy’s mortal past. There is an interesting reinforcement as well of a Christian worldview in the latter stages of the film, with holy water and the cross exhibiting great power. I am not sure what the film is saying with that, I definitely do not think it is intended to be evangelical. But the references do stand out in comparison to the rest of the series so far. It is interesting to see the imagery and references in the films evolve in such a way, something I would love to see continue (though I have my concerns it won’t) in the fourth film.
Given that this film wisely ignores that the first sequel ever really happened, if you are going to start exploring these films, I would advise you to just go straight from the first to this one. Dark, dripping in imagery, atmosphere and adult themes, this is a cracker of a horror film, even if you are not a particular fan of the series. Highly recommended.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny