Friday, October 17, 2014

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

Day 5 of Nightmare week, and the shitstorm has finally made landfall. Yup, we're getting into the bad sequels now.

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

Rated R

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child marks the moment when all the problems that had been building up in this series for the last two movies finally exploded all over the screen. Freddy Krueger becomes a full-blown comedian, the kills are few and far between and only one of them was really impressive, and the plot takes too long to get going and (together with the aforementioned comedy) completely destroys whatever menace Freddy still had. The only things that kept this movie from flat-out sucking were the special effects and the presence of Lisa Wilcox (returning from the last film) and Robert Englund. Otherwise, it's clear that, at this point, the series was a zombie. This film bombed at the box office compared to the last two, only turning a profit because they slashed the budget, and its failure led to the subsequent film being the last one in the series outside of spinoffs and the remake. Watching it, I can see how the series' fortunes went from sevens to snake eyes so fast. This one's only for the die-hard Nightmare fans who want to learn more about Freddy's backstory.

And I hope you liked the bits of backstory that Dream Warriors gave us, because The Dream Child makes them the focus of much of the plot. We get a flashback to Amanda Krueger getting raped in the asylum and conceiving Freddy, and much of the plot involves the protagonists trying to reach the place where she killed herself in order to free her spirit so that she can defeat Freddy. Oh, and sometime after the last film, the two survivors, Alice and Dan, had sex, leading to Alice getting pregnant -- which gives Freddy a route to re-enter the world through the baby's constant sleep. (A scare video against teen pregnancy, or an ad for Planned Parenthood? You decide. And yes, there is a scene where Alice rejects both aborting the baby and putting it up for adoption because she wants to raise it herself, a scene that serves no purpose, brings the film to a grinding halt, and makes her look stupid.) The thing is, why did the film feel the need to cram in both of these stories? I might've enjoyed a film that more fully explored Freddy's backstory, or a film about Freddy using the unborn child of a pregnant woman as his conduit, as both are interesting ideas. However, we barely learn anything about Freddy that wasn't already presented to us in Dream Warriors, outside the fact that his mother committed suicide, while the story of Alice's unborn child is only partially exploited. Both of these stories suffer from a great many plot holes as a result. The film apparently underwent heavy editing, but reading a description of the deleted scenes, they likely wouldn't have done much to fix the film's story problems.

They also wouldn't have fixed the film's problems with its characters. Lisa Wilcox is still likable as ever as Alice, one of the best heroines the series has had and someone who truly deserved a better film, while Robert Englund does what he can to save Freddy from the hideous sense of humor that the film foists upon him. Even when spouting the worst lines, I was still able to take him at least half-seriously. The rest of the cast, however, are all crap. The guy playing Mark, the comic book geek, hideously overacts, as does the girl playing the rich bitch Greta; her waving her arms around during her death scene had me laughing for reasons completely different from Freddy's awful one-liners. The girl who played Yvonne was decent, but forgettable (apart from the fact that you don't usually see the black girl make it to the end), and didn't have much of a character beyond "the best friend" to begin with. And was she supposed to be a nurse, or a classmate of Alice's? Because some scenes made it seem like she worked at the hospital, but we also see her in cap and gown during the graduation sequence at the beginning. Chalk that up to another of the holes in the block of Swiss cheese that is this film's plot.

The special effects weren't as impressive as in the last two films, but we still get one standout kill, the motorcycle death near the beginning, as well as a great body-horror scene during the ending. Overall, even with the reduced budget and some obvious editing to avoid an X rating, the special effects crew did a solid, if unimpressive, job. That said, there were only three kills in the entire movie, the lowest number in the series thus far, and while the first film had a great atmosphere and amazing set-pieces (specifically, Tina and Glenn's deaths) to make up for it, here, just like in the last movie, it's just not scary. The bizarre architecture of the dreamworld during the climax was pretty well beyond the reach of the film's budget, and instead of being eerie or unsettling, it was just confusing. Worse, the writing gives Freddy far too many bad puns and one-liners, a decision that ruins his introduction (getting off on the worst possible foot) and a death scene that could've been interesting otherwise. Given that this film isn't meant to be a horror-comedy, and is otherwise dead-serious when Freddy's not onscreen, the tonal shifts were jarring and took me out of the film much too often.

Score: 2 out of 5

Not a complete disaster, but definitely the moment where the Nightmare series well and truly passed the point of no return. It's not scary, the story's not interesting, and it's not even the bizarre, "what were they thinking?" kind of bad like Freddy's Revenge was. If you're a casual horror fan, watch any of the previous films instead of this.

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