Nightmare on Elm Street 5 - The Dream Child

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Stephen Hopkins' A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 The Dream Child

Jun 6, 2000 (Updated Jun 6, 2000)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Hm...Kool Moe Dee's dis to LL Cool J, "Let's Go" plays over the end credits

Cons:a poor script, bad performances, and pedestrian direction--amongst other things

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child: New Line Cinema
Rating: USA: R/ UK: 18/ Australia: M

I was speaking to Craig Spector (a horror author, who, along with partner John Skipp was one of the founding fathers of the Splatterpunk movement in horror fiction of a decade ago) about his and Skipp’s story credit on A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. A buddy and I were curious as to what of Skipp and Spector’s original vision actually made it into the finished film. Craig looked at us, thought a second, and said "the only thing that we wrote that made it into that movie was the "it’s a boy!" line. And while this information really has nothing to do with the review of the movie—I offer it up as interesting example of how Hollywood can often take the work of someone and twist it into something both unrecognizable, and not very good—which sort of sums up this film.

By the time NOES 5 rolls about, the series is definitely showing signs of wear. There’s really nothing left to scare audiences with, so Freddy becomes a comedian as opposed to the savage monster he was originally conceived as. And since Hollywood logic dictates that each sequel must up the ante in terms of death and special FX, we’re treated to a series of fairly elaborate setpieces—which are essentially designed to take the place of an actual narrative. All of this is sort of sad, really, because there’s an interesting idea at the core of this film.

Personally, I’ve always been of the opinion that NOES 3, 4, and 5 are essentially a trilogy within the framework of the series. The ideas and characters first explored in 3 carry over to 4, and some of those characters and ideas carry over to 5…which then attempts to provide at least some kind of closure. And while 3, 4, and 5 all have some interesting ideas at work in them, they’re just not very good (although, at least 3 is watchable).

This time around, Alice (Lisa Wilcox) and jock boyfriend Dan (Danny Hassel) are graduating from Springwood High. They’re young and in love, with the usual assortment of socially and ethnically diverse friends—you know, the kind you only find in Hollywood films. Life couldn’t be better for these kids—the future lies open before them, love is in the air, and things just look peachy all over. Of course, nothing can ever stay peachy in Springwood for long—and soon enough, Freddy’s back, killing teens in increasingly more inventive (and ultimately, more lame) ways.

But, there’s a problem—it seems that Freddy’s somehow developed the power to pull our heroes into his nightmare world while they’re awake—a power he has because he’s using the dreams of the unborn child Alice is carrying inside her. How will our teen protagonists battle and defeat the evil Freddy this time around? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out.

As I mentioned above, there’s actually the germ of a good story buried under all the typical American slasher film cliché in this film. The idea of Freddy using the unborn child as an entry point into the real world is an interesting one. However, the film muffs it up by never using it an effective or consistent, manner. I can accept that Freddy could use the baby’s dreams to affect Alice—since she’s carrying the baby and has a bond with it. However, I can’t buy that Freddy can use the unborn baby’s dreams to a pull Alice’s friends into his world—because if that were the case, why would Freddy need the baby at all? He could simply use any sleeping person’s dreams to achieve his goal.

Okay…I’m reading a lot into this, afterall, it’s just the fifth film in a series of slasher films—none of which were all that inventive after the first one. I know that, and while I don’t expect much from any film with the number 5 hanging off its title, I would like to at least think that the filmmakers and studio believe I’m intelligent enough to both catch, and be annoyed, by a film built around a faulty central premise.

Another interesting idea that sort of gets half explored is the Amanda Krueger angle. Amanda was a nun who worked at the Springwood asylum. She got mistakenly locked in a room with 100 or so asylum inmates, got raped repeatedly, then gave birth to Freddy. There’s some interesting potential in that story, but no one ever stops to explore any of it. No, instead, Amanda’s introduced so that we can all watch her suffer in the asylum, and so that she can turn up at the climax to help the forces of good—all of which is pretty ho-hum.

From a visual standpoint, NOES 5 looks a lot like 4. There’s a ton of elaborate special FX sequences, a bunch of fresh-faced teen characters, and some set design that looks like something out of an MC Escher print. Director Stephen Hopkins (Lost in Space, Predator 2) apparently just rented a copy of NOES 4 and tried to copy Renny Harlin’s style. The direction here can only be described as pedestrian—there’s no inkling of style, no elaborate technique, just a straight ahead, shoot what’s in front of the camera approach that grows stale rather quickly. The only things that get any kind of special visual treatment here are the kill scenes and the FX shots. The rest of the time, the film is about as visually intriguing as a made for TV movie.

But, the problems don’t end there. The acting is particularly odious here as well. Lisa Wilcox turns in another bland, plain Jane portrayal of Alice—and while she’s a somewhat proactive horror heroine, she’s still about as exciting to watch as dishwater. There’s just no range to the performance here—she’s got two speeds, whimpering damsel and kick butt female avenger, and frankly, she’s not all that convincing in either mode. The little boy who plays the Dream Child (Whitby Hertford) is pretty much unwatchable, particularly his scenes at the climax. Need proof that Hollywood should eschew making films with kids in major roles? Look no further than this film. Danny Hassel has a very minor role, so we’re spared from the agony of seeing him try and emote his way through another film.

On the other side of the ledger, Robert Englund does a nice job as Freddy. Despite the fact that they continue to make him do and say increasingly stupid things (like skateboard or spouting off one liners like "Don’t dream and drive!"), Englund is generally fun to watch. I’ll also admit to sort of enjoying the performance of Alice’s dad—he’s quite the changed character from the prior film, and his few scenes seemed genuine, yet fairly subdued.

Gore wise, the film is something of a mixed bag. The movie features a plethora of special FX and gore setpieces, but since this is a Hollywood film, most of them seem to offer up a lot of gooey looking stuff, but not much blood. Freddy forces one girl to eat till her cheeks distend and she chokes to death, makes one guy merge with his motorcycle, kills another in a comic book setting, and so on. The death sequences are more elaborate than ever, but they’re completely unsatisfying. The comic book scene in particular is cheesy beyond words. Hardcore gore fans will be unimpressed by this film—but rebellious teens who think this kind of stuff is really "out there" should find enough to ‘ew’ and ‘ah’ over.

Finally, the dream sequences themselves aren’t very good either. The strength of the first film was the way Wes Craven blurred the lines between nightmare and reality—and that doesn’t happen here. The nightmares in this film are the elaborate kind that only happen in movies. Most of us have nightmares that are at least partially grounded in reality or set in familiar surroundings. NOES 5 skips that and offers up a series of nightmares in really weird settings, with lots of dark, shadowy corners, and weird light, etc. It’s not that the nightmare sequences are terrible looking—it’s just that they don’t keep with the spirit of the original film.

In the end, reviewing this film hasn’t been very much fun—and neither was watching it. Yeah, there’s some interesting imagery here and there throughout the film, but we never really get to dwell on it. The direction is pretty flat and plain, the acting is really flat and plain, and the story never deviates from the standard NOES film formula (right down to its shocking ending). In short, it’s a film without any real aspirations—They’ve neutered Freddy to the point where he can no longer scare an audience, so they instead try to amuse us with his antics and get by with some elaborate murder setpieces—and frankly, that’s just not enough to impress me. If you’re a Freddy fan, then you’ve probably already seen this movie—everyone else should feel free to skip it entirely.




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