A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989) *
Having just examined the Friday the 13th series’s contribution to 1989: The Year of the New Low, let’s have a look now at what Paramount’s rivals at New Line Cinema were doing to their flagship horror franchise at the same time. While it doesn’t equal the insulting awfulness of Friday the 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child actually represents a much steeper qualitative nosedive in the context of its predecessors; at their best, the Nightmare films reached heights the Friday the 13th producers didn’t even realize existed, so the comedown represented by The Dream Child is all the harsher.
High school is just about over for Springwood High’s class of 1989. Alice Johnson (Lisa Wilcox, returning from A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master) and Dan Jordan (Danny Hassel, also reprising his role from the preceding film) seem to have been brought much closer together by their run-in with Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund, whose contract for The Dream Master stipulated that he would appear in The Dream Child as well— otherwise it seems likely that he’d have had nothing to do with this movie) a year or so ago. The two of them have been dating for some time, and have begun planning their futures expressly with reference to each other. The post-Freddy upturn in Alice’s life is so extreme, in fact, that her cranky old drunk of a father (Nicholas Mele— man this is unprecedented! Four actors coming back for the sequel to a slasher flick!) has gone and joined AA. The only spot of trouble on the horizon concerns Alice’s dreams. She’s started having nightmares again, almost like the ones she had right after Fred Krueger killed her friend, Kristen, last year. There’s no sign of Freddy himself, but if Alice knew as much about the killer’s history as we do, she’d know immediately what was up when she begins dreaming about a young nun (Beatrice Boepple) getting locked up by accident in a Bedlam-like insane asylum and coming out knocked up with an unknown loony’s bastard. Even so, the nightmares have her worried. They’re the first dreams she’s had that she couldn’t control since she became the Dream Master as a side-effect of her unwilling symbiosis with Krueger.
She’s right to be concerned. On the very night of her graduation, Alice dreams of the nun— whose name tag she now notices identifies her as Amanda Krueger— giving birth to a deformed, precociously mobile baby. (This is where the first red flag marked “Beware of Suck” pops up. Good or not, no previous installment in the series ever ripped off another movie as blatantly as this scene steals from It’s Alive.) Alice follows the mutant infant from the delivery room, through what can only be part of the asylum from her earlier dreams, and into the same church that served as her battleground against Freddy at the end of the last movie. (It’s a dream, so they’re all part of the same building.) That’s when Alice notices that the little monster is headed straight for Krueger’s clothes, which still lie discarded in front of the altar, and makes the obvious deduction. Alice can’t figure out how it’s possible that Krueger could be returning once again, but that’s okay— if the rest of the movie is any indication, screenwriter Leslie Bohem doesn’t know either. Be that as it may, Freddy’s first act after reconstituting himself is to declare a rematch with Alice, but the duel is cut short when Amanda storms into the room. Krueger flees at his mother’s approach, and Alice is left to wake up in safety.
Her nap has been rather longer than she intended, and Alice is now four hours late for work. Her first action after rushing to the diner is to call Dan at the high school’s pool complex, where their mutual friend (and swim team star) Yvonne (Kelly Jo Minter, of Popcorn and The Lost Boys) has snuck most of the graduating class in for an after-hours party. After hearing his girlfriend’s terrified description of Freddy’s fifth resurrection, Dan immediately hops into his truck and drives off to see Alice at work. He falls asleep at the wheel on the way, however, and contrary to everything that was established in the preceding film, Krueger comes for him. Just as Dan’s dream turns maximally sour, he has a head-on collision with a tractor-trailer in the real world, and dies almost instantly in the fiery wreck. This happens right outside the diner, meaning that Alice is the first on the scene to witness the aftermath.
Having passed out from the shock of seeing her boyfriend’s charred and twisted body in the wreckage of the two trucks, Alice winds up being taken to the hospital right along with Dan. While checking her for injuries, the doctors make a discovery that sheds some light on Krueger’s newfound ability to enter dreams without Alice’s assistance— she’s pregnant with Dan’s child. Since fetuses are pretty much always asleep, Freddy must be using the unborn child as a dream conduit— Alice having passed on her borrowed psychic abilities to her offspring. The thing is, it’ll take any reasonably intelligent viewer about two seconds to figure that out after the doctor drops his baby bombshell. The characters, on the other hand, won’t arrive at the same conclusion until the movie is more than halfway over. The other connection which you and I will make instantly, but which will elude our hapless heroes for much of the running time, concerns a boy named Jacob (Whitby Hertford), who pops in to visit Alice in her hospital room. She takes him for a fellow patient, but we in the audience know better. The instant Alice comments that she’s always liked the name “Jacob,” it is obvious that the kid is none other than the spirit of her unborn son, communicating with her via some kind of psychic link because the filmmakers couldn’t think of anything better to do with our time.
Actually, Alice isn’t the only one Jacob’s been talking to. Freddy has already gotten a head-start in setting himself up as the boy’s imaginary playmate, and it is to Jacob that Krueger feeds the energy he derives from the souls of Alice’s friends, who start dropping like flies in much the same way as her junior-year social circle had. I’m not really sure what this is supposed to be about. The obvious answer would be that Freddy hopes to get himself reincarnated, but that doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense if the child growing inside Alice already has a soul of his own. Another thing that doesn’t make much sense is the strategy that Alice and her friends eventually arrive at for foiling whatever Krueger’s plan is supposed to be. Some research down at the library convinces her comic book geek buddy, Mark (Joe Seely), that the answer lies with Amanda Krueger. If they can find where her body was hidden (nevermind that there’s no reason in the world why it ought to have been hidden in the first place), they’ll be able to free her soul to battle Krueger in the spirit world. So while Alice drops into dreamland to keep Krueger busy, leaving Mark to stand guard over her in the world of the wakeful, Yvonne goes poking around in the ruins of the hospital where Amanda was accidentally imprisoned (and where she apparently hanged herself after her son was arrested for serial murder) for any sign of the old nun’s bones.
The surest sign of how little effort went into writing and developing A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child is how many of its details are recycled from previous films in the series. Sure the central conceit that Krueger is somehow using Alice’s unborn child to effect his return is a new twist on the story, but there is very little else here that we haven’t seen in one of the other four movies. The quest for Amanda Krueger’s remains is essentially a straight-up rehash of the search for Freddy’s in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. When Alice goes hunting for Krueger and charges Mark with watching her while she sleeps, it plays out very much like the analogous scene between Nancy and Glenn in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street. The “poetic justice” of the killings is repeated from The Dream Master, and if Krueger’s ultimate aim is his own rebirth on the material plane, then his scheme has more than a little in common with his efforts to use Jesse Walsh as a vehicle in Freddy’s Revenge. Hell, even the “evil” baby carriage that periodically shows up in Alice’s dreams has its antecedent in the “evil” wheelchair that Freddy used to attack Philip in Dream Warriors! What makes this so depressing is that even at their worst, the Nightmare on Elm Street movies had always eschewed the reflexive repetition that was the stock in trade of most slasher sequels. Each of the preceding films had taken the series in its own unique direction, and for better or for worse, none was interchangeable with any other. The closest approach The Dream Child makes to establishing its own personality is in completing the ruination of the Freddy Krueger character as a figure of horror. I swear, no matter how thoroughly you think a recurring character has been screwed up, a sufficiently incompetent writer can always make things worse. In the hands of Leslie Bohem and director Stephen Hopkins, Krueger is reduced here to a self-parodying cartoon, stripped completely of any power he had to inspire fear in an audience. And Robert Englund, for his part, plays him as if he realized what a sorry spectacle The Dream Child was going to be, delivering the one-liners that account for most of his dialogue without a hint of actual wit or feeling. If he indeed cared as little about his performance as he appears to have, it would be entirely understandable, for this movie’s creators clearly didn’t care about it either. What did have their interest and attention, you ask? Well perhaps the fact that no fewer than nine special effects houses saw employment on A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 is some indication. The final kick in the ass is that even with all the effort and resources being devoted to them, most of the effects look crude and amateurish, the ones attendant upon the death of would-be fashion model Greta (Erika Anderson) most of all. But since everybody else’s effort was wasted on A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, why not the effects crews’, too?