Sunday, July 3, 2016

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child

Ever hear how the even-number Star Trek movies are considered the good ones? It's the opposite for the Nightmare on Elm Street series; the odd-numbered entries are the best. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989) might not reach the classic heights of the original, but it's a huge improvement over Part 4 and it finds the filmmakers mostly treating Freddy Krueger seriously again.

The Nightmare movies work best when they tap into teenage angsts and fears, mainly the divide between children and parents. Sure, your parents love you and mean well, but they can get you killed because they don't know any better. The Dream Child adds a new wrinkle to the theme: teen pregnancy.

Alice (Lisa Wilcox) and her boyfriend Dan (Danny Hassel), survivors of Freddy's last rampage, have graduated high school, but after some freaky dreams, Alice fears Krueger might be trying to come back. Soon, her fears are confirmed when Krueger kills Dan and begins going after her friends. But how? Lisa is pregnant, and Freddy is using her unborn baby's dreams to regain his power.

For the most part, Freddy (Robert Englund) is back in the shadows where he belongs, more of an omnipresent boogeyman rather than a macabre game show host, and the film, while sticking with the dream-world terror, adds an element of body horror. One victim is an aspiring model with the worst kind of stage mom, the kind who won't even let her have a lick of a lollipop and is always on her about her weight, so Freddy kills her by stuffing her full of food. Dan is killed when he falls asleep at the wheel, and in his dream, Freddy fuses him with the motorcycle he's riding, and it's a painful-looking transformation as pistons and wires jam into his flesh.

The pregnancy angle breaths new life into the plot. In the real world, Dan's parents try to pressure her into letting them adopt the baby, convinced a young and in their minds hysterical single mother is not fit to take care of a child. Alice learns Freddy is feeding the souls of his victims to her baby, trying to corrupt him and make him like him. It gives the story some more stakes than the usual try to survive the killer. In her dreams, Alice meets her son Jacob as a little boy, and because she's nervous and unsure about motherhood, Freddy exploits that, by trying to turn Jacob against her.

At one point, abortion is brought up. After all, no baby, no dreams, no Freddy. A treatise on Roe v. Wade the movie is not, but it's a serious topic the movie does not skirt or try to avoid. Ultimately, Alice decides against an abortion because the baby is all she has left of Dan, her informed and honest choice.

As bad as Part 4 is, the callbacks to it demonstrate some nice character touches. Alice's father was a one-dimensional violent drunk there, but here, he's sobered up and trying to be a good dad; he stands up for her, which I think is a first for any parent in the series. He doesn't scold Alice for the unplanned pregnancy; instead, he says it'll be nice to have another boy running around the house, a sad reminder of Alice's brother, who was killed in the previous movie. Alice herself has grown from the nervous wallflower to a mature, confident young woman and a protector.

As many strengths as Dream Child has, director Stephen Hopkins still can't resist indulging in the sillier aspects of Freddy. Freddy's at his best here when we can't see him and his presences is only suggested, like when Alice wanders through the empty corridors of the asylum; it's spooky, gothic, and unsettling.

When Freddy is present, he's the goofy jokester we've been getting tired of. Dan's death is effective visually, but in rapid succession, Freddy throws out three corny one-liners: "This kids feels the need for speed," "Time for fuel injection," and the worst, "Don't dream and drive." When Freddy kills the aspiring model, he wears a chef outfit. And horror of horrors, Freddy rides a skateboard.

Dream Child is one of the better sequels in the series. The central triangle involving Alice, Freddy, and the baby is strong enough to carry it through, and Hopkins crafts some strong images, especially in the opening when we learn about Freddy's conception and birth (poor Amanda Krueger, a nun, is accidentally left in the nuthouse with hundreds of violent psychopaths, and it's one of the creepiest sequences in the series). A little Freddy goes a long way, and in the second half, when he's up to his old tricks, the movie suffers.

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