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

All good things must come to an end. So the first couple of entries in your horror series are good, not unusual, the third entry continues the trend, you got lucky, the fourth is even better. Wait, what? Are you sure this is a horror series? Then the fifth entry comes out and sucks. Yup, looks like this is a horror series. Still four out of five isn’t bad, right? I guess, but that still doesn’t stop me from being bummed out about how much of a stinker this one was.

The premise even had potential. Alice Johnson (Lisa Wilcox) returns from the last film and she starts having dreams about Amanda Krueger (Beatrice Boepple), the mother of one Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund). If you remember, there was a bit of interesting backstory about Freddy’s origins in The Dream Warriors and the film sets itself up to build upon that awesome and kickass entry in the series.

But then, the deaths start coming. The body counts in the franchise have never been that high, rarely going past six or seven deaths, which allowed a great buildup to some creative and crazy deaths. These deaths are both of those, to be sure, but the execution is poor. A lot of the deaths are just goofy looking. Yes, some of the deaths in the past have been silly, but the smart effects and corny one-liners have made them work.

Not so in this entry. The big problem is that the special effects are atrocious. This is because the execution of the ideas shows too much. A lot of the previous films have focused on quick, cheap effects that were visually compelling. Here, it feels like they are trying to show off their effects budget yet it just doesn’t stand up. Effects from the ‘80s can look rather bad in retrospect, but these are some of the most fake looking and unconvincing effects I’ve seen from that era.

Also, Freddy has lost some of his charm with this installment. With each film he’s become more and more prominent. His presence has given the series an edge as his goofiness lets the audience know that the film knows some of these sequences are silly. They’re supposed to be because Freddy has this dark, yet childish, sense of morbid humor. Here, the film can’t find the right balance. Some of the sequences are so dark that Freddy’s humor seems out of place and jarring while others are so goofy that almost every death sequence in this film is horrible.

However, the mythology behind the Freddy character is compelling and the film sets up this great idea of other forces in the dream world. And then it fails to deliver. We see Freddy’s mother, Amanda, several times at the beginning of the film but she doesn’t show up again until the end for like a minute. It would have been far more interesting if she became a force that came alongside Alice and tried to help her overthrow Freddy throughout the film.

Alice is another key problem in this film. After the events of The Dream Master, she should be in a much darker place than she is. Her brother and almost all her friends are dead because she couldn’t control her dreams in the previous film. But the writers pressed a giant reset button. She’s got a new gang of friends and everything is unicorns and rainbows in her life. Yes, this means Freddy is going to mess it all up, but he already did in the previous film and this entry doesn’t reflect that.

The only hint of it is this great relationship Alice has with her dad (Nicholas Mele), who’s trying to combat his alcoholism problem and get over the loss of his son and the divorce with his wife. There’s another added element in there which makes their relationship, as well as the dream world, more interesting. The film tries to pull it off as a revelation, but I imagine most people will figure it out early on in the film.

Of the films so far, this one probably has the most ambitious and sophisticated plot, getting into more of the mythos and introducing more elements, but it fails in execution because so much of the film is built around these elaborate dream and death sequences that aren’t compelling to watch. The series has always been a bit self-indulgent, as it should be, with the dream state, but this one gorges itself on the possibilities, going too far in the first few minutes with dreams within dreams within dreams, making everything afterwards seem banal.

Even then, it’s a great sequence and the opening minutes of the film demonstrate once again what the series can be at its best. But as the films go deeper into the dreams, they lose themselves a bit more, get a bit too meta. There’s a sequence that takes place inside a comic book, going even farther with the dream state. There’s something alluring and visceral about the dreams, but, like the cast of teens it’s easy to get lost in them and lose sight of the overall film.

© 2010 James Blake Ewing

  • http://antisocialjournal.wordpress.com skinneejay

    I’m surprised to read the other Nightmare movies are good. I always thought its legacy rested on the first movie.

    I still feel bad because I haven’t seen anything related to Elm Street.

    Irony here: The fifth entry is considered the lowest point of Saw, and I agree with it (Yeah, the franchise is good).

    Good review.

    • http://cinemasights.wordpress.com/ James Blake Ewing

      I’m not sure why people think these films got progressively worse. Yes, they get a bit sillier, but that’s part of the fun of the series, the morbid sense of humor. None of these have been quite as thoughtful, masterful and artistic as the first film, but I think each has brought some strong material into the universe, or at least they did until this entry.

      • http://antisocialjournal.wordpress.com skinneejay

        That’s the same thing I felt with Saw. Even if it didn’t make sense, it was fun. V was the one where there was barely any fun, but there’s a general agreement that VI brought it back.

        Will you review New Nightmare? It’s considered the best sequel.

        • http://cinemasights.wordpress.com/ James Blake Ewing

          O yes, I’m watching it as part of this marathon.