THE DREAM CHILD: The Unsung Nightmare on Elm Street

It has long since been stated that The Dream Child, the fifth installment in the long-running Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, is the worst amongst the bunch. I’ve always found this claim to be asinine, as the film exists in a universe that includes Freddy’s Dead. Even without the existence of the purported ‘final Nightmare,’ I’d still scoff at the disdain heaped upon the fourth sequel. Sure, there’d be more weight behind the argument, but the film being the worst in the franchise doesn’t automatically make it bad. On the contrary, I find it to be quite good. A misunderstood nightmare, if you will.

To defend the film, I should discuss the criticism lodged against it. The biggest one is that the production feels rushed. This is justified, after all, it was rushed into production after the box office success of The Dream Master. The Dream Child was released only three-hundred and fifty-seven days after the fourth film; not even a full year had gone by. This would show in its box office receipts, as the fifth installment would only gross $22.2 million, losing over half of the audience from the last installment (which grossed $49.4 million, the most of the original franchise).

In an effort to jumpstart production, the subtitle The Dream Child was attached to the sequel, long before any earthly idea of what that entailed. An early mock-up poster would feature a fetus in a crystal ball balanced on Freddy’s glove, both confounding and intriguing fans. This would later get dropped and replaced by a demonic stroller, both out of controversy and misrepresentation. The script would suffer the same fate, going through numerous writers and rewrites. None of John Skipp & Craig Spector’s work outside of one measly line of dialogue (“It’s a boy!”) makes it to screen. Only half of Leslie Bohem’s script was left intact, with William Wisher & David J. Schow being brought in to touch up her screenplay. Even that wasn’t enough, as Michael De Luca was tasked with putting the finishing touches on the project, including faxing over new pages during filming. To accommodate everyone, the pseudonym Jack Barstow was credited to the script, as to not single any one person out.

Those scripts would include a darker approach to the Freddy mythos, harkening back to his sadistic ways. Much like in the first, he’d be confined to the shadows throughout half of it, a mysterious figure whose appearance is more out of necessity than grandstanding. The viewer would get a glimpse inside the mind of Freddy, showcasing the tortured soul that he is (which would be featured, quite poorly, in the next edition). The rest touches upon themes utilized in the film (graduation, pregnancy, personal demons, etc.), but either toned down or breezed past. The only true constant is Alice’s pregnancy, which is the driving force behind Freddy’s rebirth.

When I say rebirth, I mean that literally. To bring the dream demon back once more, the writers were given the unenviable task of concocting a reason for his return following Alice’s defeat of him in The Dream Master (using her powers to strip him of his). The original script called for a literal rebirth, showing Amanda’s torturous birth of the son of a hundred maniacs; and did we ever get that! While the final product may not be as dark and sinister as originally crafted, it’s a thrilling mixture of special effects and broody pregnancy woes nonetheless! No matter one’s feelings on it, it makes a helluva lot more sense than flaming dog piss!

Freddy’s literal rebirth isn’t just an FX extravaganza, but a certifiable tie-in to the emotional crux of the story. Alice (once again portrayed by Lisa Wilcox) is pregnant, bringing about eerie nightmares of Freddy’s past. The film opens with her (following coitus) traversing through an insane asylum, witnessing the rape of Amanda in the safest way possible to garner an R rating. Lurking about is Krueger in human form, inviting his greatest nemesis into his sordid past. The end result is typical Nightmare fuel: a hot shower turned into a scolding sauna. This sets up the mood for his eventual rebirth in the next nightmare, replete with a hideous Freddy baby (coming close to the promise of the aforementioned fetus on the mock-up poster).

The rest of the film follows Alice as she frantically tries to explain Freddy’s existence to her friends and family, all the while trying to uncover how the scarred monster has regained his power. She discovers he’s using the dreams of her unborn son, Jacob (Whitby Hertford, who would later go on to be that POS kid who challenged Sam Neill in Jurassic Park, naturally), to infiltrate the dreams of others. This adds many layers to the story, as not only is he a menace to the children of Elm Street, but now an unstoppable being who can corrupt those before they’re even born. His ultimate goal is to officially be reborn into society as Jacob, resulting in Alice becoming the figurative Amanda in this situation. While these implications aren’t brought heavily into the forefront, they exist and crawl around one’s head throughout.

The attempt to return Freddy to his more sinister roots is definitely present, but is admittedly stunted by the killer’s usual wisecracks. The Dream Child was released during the height of the Freddy boom, in which his face would be plastered onto everything, from bubblegum to lunch boxes. He was more a pop culture icon than a terrifying monster, cracking wise on talk shows, MTV specials, and even crooning “Wooly Bully” on his own album (oh, how I wish I were kidding). Freddy’s Nightmares would be airing on television nationwide, in which he would do his best Cryptkeeper impersonation by introducing the stories (and sometimes even take part in them). Will Smith would produce a catchy song about the once-labeled child molester (“A Nightmare on My Street”) and Freddy himself would dance along with the Fat Boys in the music video for their hit single, “Are You Ready for Freddy?” This film is no stranger, as Kool Moe Dee’s Let’s Go awkwardly plays over the end credits.

The cheesy Freddy Krueger, which the screenwriters so desperately tried to veer away from, rears his ugly head in The Dream Child, no doubt. Particularly in his stalking sequences of the teenagers. Both times he goes after Dan (a returning Danny Hassel), he spouts out as many car puns as humanly possible as he morphs the expecting father into both his truck and motorcycle. His idea of dealing with Mark (Joe Seely) is by becoming Super Freddy, an embarrassing villain in Mark’s comic book, The Nightmare from Hell. He rides in on a skateboard, impersonates both the Flash and Batman, then slices through Mark in paper cutout form. It’s the epitome of cornball Freddy, setting the stage for his video game antics in Freddy’s Dead.

To denounce The Dream Child for the Super Freddy scene or his constant one-liners is to blissfully ignore the darker elements, though. Underneath the tackier gimmicks is a gothic tone, one that permeates throughout the entire production. The film has a moody bluish tint to it, one of the few times I’m welcoming of the style. Everything feels dark and foreboding, as if the Gates of Hell are about to burst open and suck in any and all innocent bystanders (which kind of happens with the victims, actually). The color palette complements the dreary existence of Freddy and his ominous presence, as well as Alice’s maternal fears. The film tackles hot-button issues such as abortion and teen pregnancy; admittedly for cheap thrills, but deeper than one would expect in a typical slasher.

Even Freddy’s antics are grimmer this time around, sans one lousy comic book fiasco. His murder of Greta (Erika Anderson) is terrifyingly cruel, locking the anorexic model into a high chair and force-feeding her the intestines in which he carves out of her. Even the more bombastic nightmares, such as the aforementioned truck/motorcycle death combo for Dan and Yvonne’s (Kelly Jo Minter) pool from Hell, come across as garish and wicked. There’s a great balance between special effects and cruelty that doesn’t get talked about as much as it should!

Credit where credit is due: director Stephen Hopkins works wonders with the special effects, costuming, and set design crew! All parties were encumbered with delivering (pardon the pun) a film on a time crunch, one with constant script changes. They were up to the challenge, combining the familiar elements to please the audience and studio whilst incorporating a more gothic feel to the proceedings. Peter Levy’s cinematography engulfs the proceedings in a hellish form, showcasing the spectacular sets whilst giving them a somber atmosphere. Jay Ferguson’s score is my personal favorite of the series, harkening back to gothic operas and highlighting the intensity of the situation(s). The remnants of the multiple scripts are strung together to create a surprisingly cohesive, albeit shortchanged, story. Angles such as Alice’s grandparents wanting to adopt her baby are seemingly dropped for no reason, and the graduation ceremony is trimmed for time, resulting in certain key points being excised. Still, Hopkins glues the pieces together to tell a haunting tale of parental fears and nightmares. It’s no wonder the studio rewarded him with Predator 2 following this (which is another unsung sequel).

The Dream Child does what you’d expect a sequel to do: it ups the ante in regard to special effects, body count, gore (even if the MPAA cut it to shreds), and camp. It further explores Freddy’s past, which is almost always a gripe of mine (what you don’t know is scarier than what you do), but serves a purpose this time around. Amanda’s plight ties in perfectly to Alice’s, with the hunt for her remains to free her soul playing nicely into the finale. The extraordinary sets open up the world as opposed to confining it, giving glimpses into Freddy’s psyche that were originally hinted in the earliest script treatments. The characters, particularly Alice, are strong-willed and combat Freddy at every turn, as opposed to simply cowering in fear. Even the redemption of one Dennis Johnson (a returning Nick Mele), the once-abusive alcoholic father of Alice, is heartfelt and handled with care. It adds more depth to both the pregnancy angle and personal growth of Alice.

I won’t sit here and proclaim The Dream Child to be the best in the franchise. Hell, I won’t even claim it’s one of the best sequels. It’s not as bizarrely unique as “Freddy’s Revenge;” not as entertaining as either “The Dream Warriors” or “The Dream Master;” and most certainly isn’t as inventive as “New Nightmare.” It is, however, an ambitious detour from the norm that takes chances with its story and gothic nature. For a film burdened with production woes, it comes out the other end mostly unscathed. It is one that rewards repeat viewings, as its darker angles come closer to the forefront the more you glimpse into it.

For those who trounced The Dream Child as nothing more than a lame sequel, I ask that you give it a second chance. With more insight into the project and a detachment from Freddy-mania, I feel time will heal most wounds fans felt from this installment. At the very least, you won’t be treated to a run-of-the- mill sequel, but instead one that takes chances and has its own feel, for better or worse.

P.S. I’d recommend hunting down the unrated VHS or Laserdisc to get the full experience.

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