Film Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: Dream Child

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The movie poster for A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: Dream Child. And ha. The tagline, “Freddy delivers.”

Whelp, for the fifth time, I’m back with another review of a Nightmare film, this time, A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. Again, they crank these bad boys out rather fast: This one came out on Aug. 11, 1989, technically less than a year after the previous installment, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, which came out on Aug. 19, 1988. When they’re churning out this fast, is it any wonder that they lose some of the plot (literally) and certainly the horror element?

The only notable thing I know about the director for this fifth installment, Stephen Hopkins, is that he apparently directed several episodes in the first season of one of my favorite shows, 24. He hasn’t really done a whole lot. That said, he apparently directed episodes of the new Quibi show, The Fugitive, the 2020 TV series based on the 1963 TV series and 1993 film of the same name. Not sure I’ll be picking up Quibi any time soon, but it is great source material.

With how year-after-year they are cranking these out, it’s surprising they don’t just have the same director and screenwriter on each one. Why the continual switching? Because on this one, we also get a new scriptwriter from the previous films, Leslie Bohem. I do have to give Bohem credit, though: He also wrote one of my favorite and underrated 1990s action films, 1996’s Daylight.

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In front of the camera, of course Robert Englund has returned as Freddy Krueger, and Lisa Wilcox (whoops, I’ve been spelling her last name as “Willcox”) returns as Alice Johnson. I was surprised by the Halloweenies podcast’s love of Wilcox and the Alice Johnson character. Again, not to re-litigate a movie I’ve already reviewed, but I get the point that she had an arc from being a (for lack of a better word) mousy character to a fighter against Freddy Krueger, but her acting and character still didn’t do it for me.

Danny Hassel is also back to play Dan Jordan, Alice Johnson’s boyfriend.  Also coming back is Nicholas Mele as Dennis Johnson, Alice Johnson’s father. Otherwise, it this is a new cast of characters.

The premise of this one, picking up where Dream Master left off, is that Alice Johnson is graduating, in a long-term relationship (I’m reading the HBO Max synopsis, but I assume this is Dan Jordan), and is apparently pregnant, hence the title. Freddy Krueger is back, but is apparently getting at Alice Johnson by going through her unborn child, “allowing him to taunt Alice even when she’s awake.” Whoa.

So to recap the conceits of the prior films. In the original, the horror is that there’s a monster (Freddy Krueger) who will attack you in your sleep, and what happens to you in your cream can actually hurt and/or kill you. To mitigate that, the characters do everything they can to stay awake. In the second film, Freddy Krueger essentially uses the protagonist to do his evil deeds. In the third film, we’re back to the original conceit, but this time, the characters are institutionalized and the doctors (rightly) are trying to help them sleep, so that’s horrifying. Then in the four film, Alice Johnson’s character, an amalgamation of the surviving Dream Warriors’ powers, takes the fight to Freddy and ostensibly kills him.

Now, in this film, the conceit is that Freddy Krueger can get you … even when you’re awake. Again, whoa.

One noticeably different thing than the previous two installments: No quote about sleep to start the film, only ominous bells (maybe church bells?).

I’m of two minds of the shower scene that starts the movie (after the very long opening credits interspersed with what seems to be sex between Alice Johnson and Dan Jordan): First, again, we get some nice gross out content that’s been customary with this franchise with the dirty water, and the overall effects of the shower going haywire and looking like a watery crypt is great. Second, however, when she transitions from the shower to seemingly the place where Freddy Krueger was birthed (the insane asylum) the special effect looked downright awful.

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That said, the actual aesthetic and such of the asylum with all the “crazy” people roaming about looks great and makes you feel uncomfortable (not least of which is because Alice Johnson has no clothes on, so she seems particularly vulnerable, given that Amanda Krueger, Freddy Krueger’s mother, was raped hundreds of times at this facility).

This scene is also effective because we get a lot of quick cuts and spinning, which I don’t typically like, but for setting up the atmosphere here, it’s effective.

… fortunately, it was all just a dream! Wait no, she wakes up and one of the “crazies” begins attacking her, and I’m pretty sure it’s regular-faced Robert Englund. That’s neat. But then he’s gone, too, so it was just a dream.

I will say, it is nice to see some representation in this film, as I don’t recall there being any prior. Kelly Jo Minter plays Yvonne Miller, one of Alice Johnson’s friends. A lot of these slashers early on seem to only ever have all white-casts, so it’s nice to see a change-up here.

I’m not sure how to read the scene where we witness Amanda Krueger birthing Freddy Krueger, the doctor going, “Holy sh*t, what is that?” and then the alien-looking fetus running at Alice Johnson. Is it meant to be goofy? If it’s meant to be scary, then yikes. The effects are fine, but I’d rather err on the side of horror in this case than comedy.

Dan Jordan is probably the most likable character since Roland Kincaid (played by Ken Sagoes) in Dream Warriors (he was also in the fourth briefly). Dan Jordan’s thing is that he’s a “dumb jock,” but he’s a lovable “dumb jock.” Because he’s there, or tries to be, for Alice Johnson. What happens to him in this one (turning into a skeleton or something while riding a motorcycle) is horrific. Well, that happens in the nightmare, and then in real life, because the nightmare happened while he was driving, he gets drilled head-on by a semi-truck.

Whelp, there goes another character we like.

“You’re just a little pregnant.” – Yvonne Miller, telling Alice Johnson she’s pregnant

I didn’t know you could be “just a little pregnant.”

The arc with Dennis Johnson — that he was an alcoholic in the prior film, but is trying to be a better father and in recovery in this one — is nice and welcome.

Alice Johnson has a moment where she tells the other three friends left in the story of Freddy Krueger, but uh, after all the deaths that have occurred in the previous films, how are they not aware of Freddy Krueger?

Or has every death in the prior four films been written off as an accident or whatever else (or that a regular human killed them)? It’s just ridiculous that we’re still spending a lot of time in these films questioning if Freddy Krueger is still alive.

Also, of the cast in this film and in any film up to this point actually, Joe Seely as Mark Gray might be both the worst acting and the worst character. Goodness.

Remember in the third film when, “Welcome to primetime, bitch!” became the iconic line? Well, in this one, Freddy Krueger adds “bitch” to a couple of his quips, and it’s … meh. Come on.

I’m griping, so I’ll get back to positivity by saying I think Erika Anderson, who plays Greta Gibson, is one of the better actresses in the series as a whole. She’s believable as the daughter who is sick and tired of her rich, snobbish, fancy mother bossing her around and making her going to high-end dinner parties.

During that scene, Freddy Krueger tells Greta Gibson, she is what she eats. Again, bleh. But it is a rather effective scene otherwise because the other guests in the dream are laughing and acting crazy. But again, another character I like gets killed off. Don’t get too attached, huh?

Now while I don’t like Mark Gray or his character, I do like the drawing that started off his death, and then Alice Johnson “drew herself” into the drawing (Nancy Thompson’s old house from the first film).

We’re almost an hour into the film and Yvonne Miller is still doubting Freddy Krueger! What in the world. And it’s a waste of good actress. Her nightmare, which she survives for now, is the best nightmare of the film, though. She does a huge swan dive into what she thinks is going to be a pool, but it turns out to be a puddle, and the special effect is seamless. Once Alice Johnson saves her, we finally get it, “You’re not crazy.” Delivered so well, I might add.

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Lisa Wilcox as Alice Johnson gives a much better performance in this film.

Since I said she wasn’t that good in the last film, I think Lisa Wilcox is much better in this film. It’s a much stronger and more believable performance.

The problem with the last installment and this one: We’re seeing and hearing too much from Freddy Krueger. In the first two films, he had lines, but few, and he was mostly relegated to the darkness. Now we’re seeing extended versions of him and close-ups. And he’s doing a lot of other characters instead of his classic Freddy Krueger look.

Englund still “chews up” his scenes as they say, but I prefer the first two films’ Freddy Krueger: He was freakin’ scary!

Not this one where he literally is ON A SKATEBOARD COMING AFTER MARK GRAY’S CHARACTER.

I actually like the black and white of the scene from Mark Gray’s nightmare with him turning into his favorite superhero character to take on Freddy Krueger, but whew, that skateboard aspect was rough. And it gets more creative from there: Mark Gray is killed by being shredded by Freddy Krueger like he’s a comic book, and the color drained out of him. Yikes. If you toned down the, “It’s Super Freddy!” and the skateboard, that’s a great nightmare.

Freddy Krueger getting attacked by the hundreds of “maniacs” at the end is a nice and inventive touch.

With the help of Amanda Krueger (played by Beatrice Boepple) and Jacob Johnson, Alice Johnson’s son (played by Whit Hertford), Alice Johnson is able to ostensibly defeat Freddy Krueger again. And I say ostensibly because the credits start rolling with his laugh.

It’s weird that this film wasn’t considered a commercial success. On a budget of $8 million, it made $22 million. That’s not as great a discrepancy between budget and box office receipts as prior installments, but that still marks it as the highest grossing slasher film of 1989. Mission accomplished, no?

Overall, again, like with all of these installments so far, the special effects for the most part are top notch and are a notable part of the franchise. I also thought the two nightmares with Yvonne Miller and Mark Gray (and to some extent, even Greta Gibson) were creative. But, as the Rottentomatoes critical consensus said, there’s just too much cheese. Freddy Krueger is too punny, too quippy, and too cheesy.

He needs to be scary again. It goes without saying that I think this is the weakest of the installments thus far.

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