After having rewatched all of the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET movies back to back with an audience recently, it’s suddenly clear to me that A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART 5: THE DREAM CHILD is a very unappreciated entry in the series.
A self-admittedly rushed production, New Line Cinema was keen on continuing the franchise after the runaway success of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER. Getting another NIGHTMARE movie on the screen in less than year was the most-financially driven decision that the company had made up to that point, and the fact that anything approaching intelligible came out of it at all is a testament to the people who put it together. Unfortunately, the look and execution of NIGHTMARE 5 was a bit lost in the shuffle, and therefore undervalued upon its release.
The movie’s disappointing reception wasn’t due to a lack of imagination, but more so because the general public was growing a little tired of Freddy Krueger. He had become a part of the pop culture lexicon and avoiding him in the media was nigh impossible. Due to the merchandise, the magazines, the music videos, and the TV appearances, he was arguably the most popular boogeyman on the planet.
Further cementing his popularity, the style of Renny Harlin’s NIGHTMARE 4, which used faster cutting, pop songs, and more Freddy one-liners than before, hit the teenage audience in its sweet spot. So when NIGHTMARE 5 came along and shook all of that up, audiences weren’t all that receptive. Now with retrospect, I believe horror fans owe it to themselves to go back and give the movie another chance.
One thing’s for sure about NIGHTMARE 5, which is that it’s the most distinct-looking movie in the series by far. The director, Stephen Hopkins, utilized an impressive array of matte paintings, stop-motion animation, gothic set design, and fluid camera movement and placement, giving it a firm authorial stamp. The M.C. Escher-inspired scene in the finale of the movie, for example, is completely unorthodox, yet it feels like something out of a nightmare.
Besides the movie’s look, itself, there’s also the special effects, some of which were hacked up to appease the MPAA – chiefly Dan’s and Greta’s death scenes. Some folks didn’t quite understand what exactly was going on in those scenes, whereas I perceived the confusion to be a benefit. Not fully grasping what’s happening in those moments made them feel all the more nightmarish. Dreams don’t often make much sense logically, and having all of the pieces laid out and shown in full detail tosses the mystery of them aside.
Cobbled together from various scripts and ideas, NIGHTMARE 5 also dealt with more real world issues, skirting Freddy’s presence and giving him less screen time. It wasn’t a movie about a bunch of horny teenagers looking to score and later getting their conservative comeuppance for it. Instead it was a story about high school graduates on the verge of entering into an adult world, much like its audience at the time.
Alice and Dan take their first major step with an unexpected pregnancy, Greta is being pressured into entering the modeling world by her overbearing mother, Yvonne continues pursuing competitive swimming and, inexplicably, being a nursing assistant, and Mark continues working on his comic books, possibly aiming to go for something a little more professional. Dan is also feeling the pressure from his parents about accepting a career in major league football, and all of this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Alice having to deal with Freddy and worrying about her baby brings up all sorts of issues, including the possibility of an abortion. There’s also the scene later on when Dan’s parents confront Alice and attempt to adopt her unborn baby out from under her, which provokes her father, now a reformed alcoholic, to come to her defense. Alice’s dad returning from the last film also prompts one of my favorite scenes from any of the NIGHTMARE movies, but purely on a character level.
He discovers her in the kitchen crying after learning of Dan’s death and her pregnancy, comforting her and relating to her as a person, as well as a daughter. The very human exchanges in these scenes are the most realistic of any previously seen in the series, giving the story some much-needed depth for its characters. Lesser filmmakers would have jettisoned this material in the cutting room because, after all, it’s only a NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET movie, isn’t it?
Does any of this really matter in a movie about a dream demon cracking one-liners before he kills you? Absolutely it does! Without these scenes, there’s no connection to the characters, and in a way, we feel more linked to them than perhaps any other movie in the series, aside from NIGHTMARE 3.
The movie is not without its flaws though. Where it falters is in the rebirth of Freddy, and Amanda Krueger’s role in all of it. It doesn’t make a whole lot of narrative sense that he would return and exit the movie the way that he does, and it’s just sort of a thing that happens to get the story going without any motivation to really prompt it (although one could argue that NIGHTMARE 4 also has this problem). It’s also more of an excuse to flesh out Freddy’s backstory a bit more.
And while the special effects are very good in the movie, Freddy’s make-up design is, unfortunately, one of the weakest in the series. He looks much better during low levels of light, but straight on with very little diffusion, he has a very plastic appearance with little to no fine texturing. The payoff to the story is also fairly anticlimactic, leaving more questions than answers.
Yet, even with these faults, I still believe that NIGHTMARE 5 is a very solid piece of filmmaking. The story may no longer be about Freddy punishing the innocent, but the overall aesthetic and execution of the movie as a whole should be more appreciated than it is.
It didn’t prove to be as fruitful as hoped for when it was originally released, but if you were a kid or a young teenager when you originally saw it, seeing it now as an adult is likely warrant a stronger reaction and you can appreciate it more for what it is rather than what it should have been.