Franchise Friday - A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 5: The Dream Child
Who knew Freddy could be so topical?
Now, I have to admit, part of the reason why there was a long break in-between our looks at Part 4 and Part 5 here is, very simply, I hadn’t heard anything good about the fifth film…and in watching the behind the scenes material available, most of the people behind the camera seem to be pretty quick in saying “Yeah…we got that one wrong.”
I’m not so sure. In fact, much like Part 2, I think Part 5 has had the times catch up with it…and with issues that still linger in political debate: Part 2 being homosexuality and Part 5 taking up the issue of abortion.
Heavy start, I know…so let’s take a look at the synopsis before we really get into the weeds of it.
Freddy was trapped. Alice, the Dream Master had made sure of it. But now, he’s found a way to escape and once again, the body count in Springwood is starting to go up as a new batch of high school graduates prepare to face down their fatal nightmares. Can Alice unravel the mystery of Freddy’s origins to ensure he’s trapped forever, or will something inside of her ensure that his killing spree is here to stay?
I guess at this point I need to put up a spoiler warning for a 34-year-old movie. Then again, this is my first viewing so…I guess it is possible.
We’re gonna start the film off here with a bit of a film-snob/critic moment. The film begins with Alice getting up from a bed that we’re pretty sure she made the sign of the double backed…well, you get the idea. [Nice. Don’t wanna swipe completely from the Maestro, do we? – Ed.] Stepping into the shower, she finds she’s in a nightmare, first as sewage comes up from the shower drain then as the shower starts to fill up with water, threatening to drown her. Right…on to the film snobbery. Well, water ends up being a well-worn metaphor for birth or rebirth in film. A character emerging from water can be said to be born into a new life, a new chapter of life or reborn. Water, womb, breaking of water…you get the idea. So, as Alice finally frees herself from the shower and emerges from the rushing water, who are we seeing born here? Well, is it Alice herself…as, throughout the events of the film, she’ll find her old life as a high-schooler come to an end and an abrupt entrance into the adult world? Is it Freddy being reborn, as there’s only one malevolent force that could create such a nearly fatal nightmare? Plus, you know, we ARE in a Nightmare on Elm Street movie…duh. Or…just maybe…it’s the birth of a third party here. After all, we did just have the sexy time with the boyfriend, Dan.
This leads us to dovetail into the larger issue in the film, whether intended or not: abortion. With this film coming in just at the tail end of the 80s, with a fairly staunch cultural conservatism in place over much of America…we’re exiting the Regan years into the presidency of Bush the first…I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the filmmakers apparently came down on the side of ‘life begins at conception’. Now, in all fairness I need to be clear here, at no point have I done any research into what the writers’, producers’ or director’s stance on this might be or might have been. I’m working strictly from what made its way into the film. But that’s the main story beat of the film, Freddy is escaping back into our reality not through Alice’s dreams, as had been the case in Part 4, but through the dreams of her unborn child. That said, there’s a very ‘How It Should Have Ended’ way to shut down this movie in the opening 15 minutes and save everyone’s life: get an abortion. And actually, one of the characters, Mark, brings this up. Granted it’s like halfway through the movie before these brainiacs figure that out and we’re already down two kids: Dan and Greta. I’ll get to that rant in a bit. Upon being asked, Alice does want to keep the child…and it’s certainly understandable. Now that Dan is dead…and he was the baby-daddy…it’s the only part of him she has left. I get it. But, as the venerable Mr. Spock would say “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one.” In that sense, Alice is surprisingly okay with offering up her friends on the chopping block…pro-life indeed! (Obviously, text cannot determine tone of voice, this last bit was injecting a bit of comic lightness to what is a heavy topic.)
While it might sound like I’m blaming Alice for the deaths in the film, honestly, they all had it coming. Look, no one in a horror movie is going to be mistaken for a member of MENSA. But in the span of the first 15-20 minutes of the film, these kids are given everything they need to not only figure out how Freddy came back but also the tools to beat him. I mean, these kids are REALLY slow on the uptake. In all fairness, sure, Dan had to die…plus that effect where he’s being forced to merge with the motorcycle was pretty cool…but the instant Alice wakes up from unconsciousness and is informed that she’s preggers there should be this big ol’ lightbulb moment. Ooooooh…so THAT’S how he’s getting out. The other aspect that ends up getting ignored are the hints Alice is getting about Freddy’s mom, Amanda Krueger. Again, maybe I’m judging harshly, after all, I’m just the viewer and outside of what are very traumatic experiences for our characters…but I can’t help but wonder if perhaps the writers would have been wiser to sprinkle these clues throughout the film instead of offering them up to the audience at the very start of the film only to have us as viewers just sit there and wonder when these idiots are gonna figure it out and how many of their own number are going to be offered up in sacrifice. [Yeah, never mind this is a slasher film and the kills are mostly what we’re here for…dumbass. – Ed.]
That said, the mother-child themes present in the film and the parallels and divergences within the plot make a pretty good plot thread for these proceedings. We’re given Freddy’s origin story: his mother Amanda was locked in a room with 100 maniacs by accident and…well…they do say Freddy was the ‘bastard son of 100 maniacs’…so, doesn’t take much imagination to figure it out. Is it kinda weak-sauce if we step outside the film’s logic? Yeah…it is…but again, given what Alice is going through, it does provide a good counterpoint and, for the most part, is forgivable. Speaking of film logic, the mechanism of Alice interacting with her yet unborn son, Jacob, provides the film with the main arena for the conflict between her and Freddy…each of them vying for the child’s attention and affection – Freddy so that he might be reborn through the child as his vessel and, naturally, Alice to prevent him and allow her son to have his own life. While I ended up enjoying how these themes played with one another, one thing that the filmmakers are quick to point out is that your average teenager? Not so much.
Another failing pointed out is the limited body count. We really only get 3 kills here: Dan, Greta and Mark. Dan gets the opener, with the aforementioned merger with a motorcycle and I gotta admit, I’d watch a movie filled with characters like this. The make-up and effects here, while maybe a little dated, remain cool and it’s all pretty effective in creating a painful techno-organic vibe. Greta’s death feels cliched however…oh noes, let’s kill a model by overfeeding her. Yawn. Though, in all fairness, the writers may have thought they were being clever here Greta being an extension of Gretel…where the latter character’s gluttony didn’t exactly do her any favors either. Mark’s death scene, as the avid comic book reader and budding comic artist, ends up being disappointing…but it’s hard to figure out who to pin the blame on. The way things are set up, it’s perfect for a send-up of the old 80s music video ‘Take On Me’ by A-Ha…where a woman gets sucked up into a comic book containing her dream man and the video ends up being a mix of live-action and sketchy animation (animation that looks like sketches…not poorly done animation by a questionable studio). We do get a couple of glimpses of that idea, but it ends up being dropped for a somewhat blander venture into plain black-and-white. Now, is this a function of not having the budget for an animated sequence? Possible, especially since the make-up effects on Greta’s demise weren’t convincing anyone. Or is it a question of avoiding a potential lawsuit from a band that, in 1989, was 4 years away from their largest success and 2 years away from an attempted comeback thanks to the James Bond film The Living Daylights? Goodness knows the bands do like their litigation…some warranted, some not so much. While I understand why New Line might have wanted to avoid the issue entirely, given the popularity of Freddy at the time of the film, it’s not hard to imagine this being a scenario for everyone to be a winner here.
Having brought up the villain’s popularity, the filmmakers suggest that his overexposure at this time may have also hurt this film. I’m not entirely sure this is the case…although I can certainly understand thinking that way. Oversaturation can prove to be the death knell of any franchise and given that Freddy was EVERYWHERE at this point in the 80s (he had his own dolls, automated phone line, TV show, rap songs and so on and so forth and et cetera times ten), this could certainly be the case. That said, a character well written or at the very least well maintained can remain in the public view for plenty of years while never really fading away. Ask Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, James Bond and Godzilla just to name a few.
A special nod to director Stephen Hopkins is in order as the film has a good blend of the small town Americana that you’d expect for Springwood as well as a gothic flavor to the flashbacks with Amanda or Freddy’s dreamscape. While I had only associated him with the Lost In Space cinematic remake in the late 90s, a quick google search shows he also directed Predator 2 which I also happened to enjoy. Guess I’ll need to bone up on his filmography a little more.
The last time the Nightmare on Elm Street series tackled a weighty topic back in Part 2, well, it tried but ultimately fell a little bit short for my tastes. With Part 5, I was amazed at how pertinent these themes still are and, perhaps because of that, found myself enjoying the film even more. That being said, all of our teenagers here are dumber than a box of rocks and the kid already dreaming when his development couldn’t have been any more that…what…on the manner of days to weeks? Not a high point…but all things considered, I’m not sure the film deserves the backlash it’s gotten from when it was released or from the filmmakers looking back on it. No it’s not gonna change the world and no, it isn’t going to solve the abortion debate anytime soon (even though if my friends were at risk? Bye bye fetus!), but I honestly enjoyed this entry far more than I was expecting to. That’s worthy of a Happy Cat rating!