Thursday, October 29, 2015

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

For some reason, I assumed that A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child was a sort of Rosemary's Baby riff, with Freddy mystically impregnating returning protagonist Alice (Lisa Wilcox) and forcing her to give birth to his unholy spawn. The opening scene even implies this scenario, as we see shots of two people having sex without being able to make out who they are. Eventually Alice comes into view, gets out of bed and heads to the shower, where it becomes apparent that she's in a dream, one in which, as usual, she's trapped and in danger. Freddy doesn't show up, but Alice finds herself in the asylum where his mother, Amanda, was gang-raped and impregnated by inmates (as referenced in Dream Warriors), one of whom is played by Robert Englund. So it's not unreasonable to expect a Freddy Jr. to show up soon, but Alice's eventual pregnancy is the result of normal unprotected teenage sex with her jock boyfriend Dan (Danny Hassel, also returning from the previous movie).

The function of Alice's pregnancy is not to birth Freddy's demon offspring, but rather to give Freddy a new (and sort of narratively lazy) way to invade people's dreams. When Alice and her friends find themselves confronting Freddy while ostensibly awake, Alice deduces that Freddy is entering the dreams of her unborn child, then using that child (named Jacob) to bring others into the dreams, much like Alice herself is able to do. It's just a roundabout way of giving Freddy the chance to kill another bunch of disposable teenagers, who are inordinately skeptical about his existence, considering the guy has probably killed half of their peers. Freddy is a little less cartoonish this time around than he was in The Dream Master (which practically turned him into Bugs Bunny), but he's still pretty silly, prone to bad one-liners and elaborate, themed murder tableaux.

Director Stephen Hopkins and screenwriter Leslie Bohem hint at some serious issues, including (obviously) teen pregnancy, drunk driving and eating disorders, but all of that stuff is easily tossed aside in favor of more grotesquerie from Freddy. Some of that grotesquerie is sort of impressive, or at least more horrific than the cartoonishness of The Dream Master: The scene featuring Alice's possibly anorexic friend being stuffed to death full of food by Freddy has a sort of Monty Python vibe, and the abandoned asylum where Freddy's mother Amanda was killed has an air of ornate gothic mystery. Mostly, though, the movie is a series of ridiculous, over-the-top deaths, along with some superfluous additions to the increasingly tiresome Krueger mythology. The one interesting idea it presents is that Alice could easily stop Freddy just by aborting her baby (and thus ending its dreams), but she dismisses that idea so strongly that the movie could be read as forwarding some sort of perverse pro-life agenda.

Wilcox is stronger here than she was in the dismal The Dream Master, but she's still a weak opponent for Freddy compared to Heather Langenkamp or even Patricia Arquette. Englund once again gets above-the-title billing, but even he seems a little bored with Freddy's role as a jokester. The supporting characters are entirely disposable, although at least the filmmakers give a nod to some past character development, with Alice's father now a recovering alcoholic, and both expressing a moment of grief for her brother, who got killed by Freddy in the last movie. Those are tiny moments in what is overall a pretty sloppily told story, though, leaving Freddy only as hastily vanquished as he was the last time, and ready to rise again whenever the bottom line demands it.

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