Friday, 16 April 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child

For the first time in three sequels there is no epigram.

When used correctly epigrams are informative. They are harbingers of tone. The skill to the epigram is deftness and/or precision. Witness Dream Warriors 1987. When misused it is a pretentious gimmick; bear reluctant witness to The Dream Master 1988. In the absence of epigram The Dream Child begins with goodwill.

Splatterpunk[1] [2]

25 years ago horror fiction birthed a subgenre called Splatterpunk. Two of its conspirators were John Skipp and Craig Spector. They are both still active. They are both best selling authors. At the time of this film they were writing partners. Robert Shaye hired them to pen the story.

Horror films gave birth to the Scream Queen[3]. Some of these actresses have gone on to mainstream successes: Jamie Lee Curtis, Neve Campell, Sarah Michelle Gellar. What about the scream director? Horror is a notorious sweatshop for (pretty) young things. The upshot is it has provided a number of future stars their break. What of the young/neophyte directors who launched their careers through the genre?

The remake is helmed by Samuel Bayer[4] – a hitherto music video director. His future is yet to be determined. The Dream Child is directed by Stephen Hopkins. He would go on to make Predators 2 1989 and The Life and Death of Peter Sellers 2004. Barring Wes Craven he’s the most successful of the Elm Street directors.

After the box office bonanza of The Dream Master it looks like Robert Shaye was seeking redemption; atonement for that sequel’s sins. He was in a comfortable position to feel guilty enough to go back to storytelling. However Tuesday Knight’s Nightmare raised the franchise bar for the credit soundtrack. In this film the soundtrack is a generic score. New Line should have stuck with the Tuesday template.

Alice sweet Alice

The main credits intercut with a love scene. It’s all very temperate. There’s nothing to offend or arouse. This film is rated ‘R’ due to its horror and not due to a naked shoulder. The female goes to shower. It’s Alice (Lisa Wilcox).

Blurred behind the shower door is eroticism unseen in this franchise. (They must have used a stand-in for Wilcox.) Inside the shower the faucets flood the cubicle. There’s a shot from below – through the plughole. It’s reminiscent of Nancy’s bathtub scene. It is nowhere as effective but it does signify that for the first time in two films the director is assured:

Alice falls out of a wall of water into a dark passageway. It leads into a holding pen for the criminally insane. Here dressed as a nun she/we witness the rape of Amanda Krueger.

That’s an effective curtain raiser.

Alice has a new clique. Their dialogue is excruciating and the delivery is in sing-song. There’s no mention of her deceased brother throughout the film. This script does its best to ignore The Dream Master - while not a bad thing a line or two would have help continuity.

Alice is beckoned by the furies - the white frocked children who sing Freddy’s ode. She follows them into dreamscape. (Note; she was not asleep) Inside this dream she witnesses Amanda Krueger give birth to monster. The baby monster self generates into Freddy.

It’s an improvement on a dog urinating over a grave.

(Wooden) actor Danny Hassel reprises his role as Dan although he doesn’t survive the first act. It’s become customary in this franchise that the returning characters will die early. Of course if you fall asleep while driving a car - like Dan does - you’re likely to die anyway – Freddy or no.

Alice is pregnant with Dan’s baby. Her baby Jacob dreams while he sleeps in mommy’s womb. His dreams take the franchise back to its ethos as Freddy kills the clique according to their insecurities.

In utero

Lisa Wilcox plays lead for the second time in the franchise - tying with Heather Langenkamp. Unfortunately Wilcox’s performance is never better than line recitals. She does not have the gravitas of a Langenkamp nor the vulnerability of a Kim Myers. The stand out in a typically mediocre cast is Kelly Jo Minter. Kelly Jo had a nice run in the early 90s that included House Party 1990 and the Wes Craven directed The People Under the Stairs 1991.

Reznor[5] describes Kincaid as the ‘angry black dude’. He was being tongue-in-cheek (I think). He attributed a stereotype to all the kids in Dream Warriors. The Dream Master cast included Toy Newkirk as Sheila Kopecky. She may have been a stereotype (bespectacled-asthmatic-bookworm-nerd) but she wasn’t a racial stereotype. The same can be argued for Kelly Jo’s role and performance.

The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise has earned my trust. There is an abundance of films written in racism[6] and released with racist intent: True Romance 1993, Pulp Fiction 1994, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans 2009 amongst a multitude of others. Ironically there is less racism in horror than there is in mainstream movies where it is accepted for granted. That is not to say racism does not rear its demonic head within the genre – I stopped watching Cabin Fever 2002 in the first act. Thrill Fiction has zero tolerance for racism; wherever it is encountered it will be exposed and condemned. Thrill Fiction has due respect for Wes Craven, John Carpenter and James Cameron (honourary inclusion). They have made some of the most iconic horror/sci-fi films in history. They have made a point of anti-racism.

Alongside Kelly Jo actor Joe Seely’s portrayal of Mark the comic book geek is deceptively good. In the film’s key dramatic scene Dan’s parents threaten Alice with their adopting her unborn baby. Wilcox’s performance rises to her best scene in the franchise. Seely’s performance makes this scene great.

There are five actors but he is the only one with no lines. He stands in the same shot as Alice. Timidly at first – he walked in on a family argument. As the argument heats he becomes bold; he stands with her. Two kids against two adults.

The running theme of this series is teenage friends standing together against the horror of their dreams and the corrupt reality of adults. This scene and Seely’s performance in it encapsulates that.


Robert Englund continues to play Freddy as a pantomime villain. At this point the viewer might as well accept it. The horror is gone out of Elm Street. This film may as well be sci-fi since the attempt to scare has been abandoned[7].
Yet the dream transitions are an improvement. The curtain raiser is an example of this film’s fluidity between consciousness and dream sequences. The Alice chasing after Mark into his dream scene is a flutter of élan. Whereas Dan and Greta’s deaths are overcooked the best death is Mark’s cartoon. I’m tempted to say it was inspired but I know where the inspiration came from[8].

These are the best dreamscapes in the franchise to date. That may be because there’s a variation on the usual 1428 Elm Street and its infinite cellar/ boiler room.  Production designer CJ Strawn creates an asylum and maternity ward that invokes claustrophobia in the viewer and participation in Alice. The best dreamscape designs surround Amanda Krueger. While her storyline does not further the mythology inserting the mythology into the storyline is striking enough.

Thanks to the retro direction taken by Robert Shaye this film focuses more on story than its predecessor. It has the best idea of all sequels to that date – a foetus dreaming – but lacks the knockout script to deliver. It paid the price at the box office[9]: The Dream Child is ranked 7th out of all 8 films. However after the dreck that is The Dream Master this instalment was a welcome surprise.

This film was released 11th August 1989 – a mere 51 weeks after the previous one. Therein lay the problem similar to the current Saw series. New Line hot shot the Nightmare movies before giving them chance to develop into story and performance. It has been to the studio’s short term financial gain. It has been a long term narrative and cultural loss to the rest of us. Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein dominated the 20th century in literature and popular culture. Freddy Krueger has the potential to dominate the 21st century in the same way.

Time and the remake will tell.

Read more Thrill Fiction: Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare
Technorati Tags:, , , , , , ,
Generated By Technorati Tag Generator
blog comments powered by Disqus