For many years I was alone in the wilderness when I came to my opinion of the fifth entry in the seemingly neverending saga of the nocturnal exploits of Freddy Krueger. After the incredibly imaginative, MTV-style, excesses of the fourth installment; The Dream Child tries to take a half-step back and try and put Robert Englund’s dream stalking alter ego back into the shadows while still having him spit out rapid fire puns. This wanting to have it’s cake and eat it attitude leads to a somewhat muddled plot but the film has such a strong, gothic visual style, not to mention a shit-load of eyeball shrivelling special effects sequences that predictably drive the movie. Entertainingly over-directed by Aussie Stephen Hopkins (who went on to give us the muscular excesses of Predator 2 and the abject boredom of the 90’s Lost In Space movie), Nightmare 5 is at least TRYING to be actually about SOMETHING but the problem is thanks to multiple duelling scripts, the film has no real clue as to what that something is…
Alice, the survivor of Freddy’s last rampage thanks to having the powers of the Dream Master (not sure what the perks are but it doesn’t include a christmas bonus and a Nandos discount card, I personally wouldn’t bother), is settled and content. Her dad is on the wagon, her boyfriend is taking her on holiday and they’ve just graduated high school and Freddy is all but a memory but then all of a sudden the pizza faced, sleep slasher manages to resurrect himself by getting Alice to relive his harrowing conception and birth. Not only is it a stunning example of TMI, but it’s also supposed to be impossible – after all, where the Hell is Krueger getting the strength to pull all this off if Alice isn’t even alseep?
As Krueger starts picking off Alice’s new group of friends like pineapple off a pizza, the beleaguered Dream Master discovers that she’s not only pregnant, but Freddy is using the dreams of the unborn child to fuel a comeback worthy of retired WWE wrestler. As Alice and her remaining social circle frantically research Freddy’s origins in order to find a way to stop him (and we struggle with the brain melting paradox that a ten year old vision of her son refers to himself as “Jacob” before he’s even been named… can a kid name himself six months before he’s even born?) a final showdown is all set to decide the fate of Jacob’s very soul and it’s winner take all in a custody battle the likes of which you’ve never seen…
Saying that Nightmare 5 is slightly more subtle than Part 4 is kind of like saying Abraham Lincoln was a little bit shot. Even a slight step back from the multicolored assault of Renny Harlin’s movie still means it’s a frantically edited, in-your-face carnival of extensive special effects that sacrifices breathing space for the characters in order to hyper-actively shovel rubber onto the screen for us to gawp at.
One hapless meat sack is painfully transformed into a bizarre Tetsuo: The Iron Man style man/motorcycle hybrid that rockets down the highway into incoming traffic at speeds that would make The Flash squirt brown into his tights while another is force fed by an overexcited Krueger until their cheeks bulge out like an kleptomaniac chipmunk.
However, the most outlandish scene involves an aspiring graphic novel artist being sucked, A-Ha music video style, into a black and white comic book world which stunningly ISN’T a visual effect (the set AND Freddy’s make up and costume is actually painted in black, white and grey tones). The Dream Child may not be a great film but it is an example of great film MAKING.
However vastly and breathtakingly orginal these deaths may be, they’re also as scary as a ball pit full of baby chicks and frequently some of the sequences are maybe too out there and feel very much like a comedian’s stand up routine containing the odd stinker. A character being menaced by a transforming diving board sure LOOKS fairly funky but it’s not what I’d personally call a relatable fear and if the image of Freddy riding a skate board was any more on the nose it would be a zit.
Mixing some suprisingly weighty themes with imagery such as Freddy using his own severed arm as a seat belt, Nightmare 5 boasts a tone that weaves more than a drunk bear driving a bumper car, cramming in very present, but half thought out themes such as the stigma of being a single mother, abortion and perceived metal illness during pregnancy.
The problem was that no one realised that maybe Freddy fans back in 1989 weren’t going to be particularly interested in a Freddy movie that deals in primarily in an unwanted pregnancy; which in 2020 seems ironic considering how modern, more introspective horror movies these days are more overtly obsessed about wearing their metaphors plainly on their sleeves.
And yet everything I’ve mentioned all comes together to make a film I’ve always deeply enjoyed watching despite it’s flaws. There’s actual progression from the returning characters (Alice’s ex-alcoholic father is a rare example of a secondary cast member getting a genuinely touching sub-plot) and lead actress Lisa Wilcox continues the string of strong female leads in this series.
It ain’t perfect but as an attempt to do something different with a series into it’s fifth installment, you could do lot worse than The Dream Child.