When the fourth Nightmare on Elm Street movie was released, it appeared to be stretching itself thin of ways to keep its villain, child murderer Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), around, relevant, and with reason to continue killing. He’s the only staple of the series thus far, with everyone else having been killed off or forgotten about. That film introduced a new protagonist, Alice (Lisa Wilcox), who is also the lead in this film. Has anyone made it through alive in more than two films in this series?
Anyway, the film opens with Alice having now graduated from high school, and she’s made a couple of new friends in addition to her boyfriend, Dan (Danny Hassel), who also survived Freddy’s last killing spree. She thinks that she’s put an end to Freddy for good, but has a dream in which he’s reborn. Freddy only appears and kills people in dreams, remember, so this terrifies her. Later, her boyfriend is in a car accident and dies. Alice knows Freddy was behind it, but nobody else believes her until other people also start turning up dead.
“But wait,” you say. “If Freddy can only kill people in dreams, how did Dan die in a car crash. He must have been awake while he was driving. And how did Freddy get into his dreams anyway?” Good questions, reader. Well, from what I can gather, Dan actually did drift asleep while driving, meaning he was dreaming and therefore susceptible to Freddy’s wrath. As for how Freddy got out of Alice’s dreams and into Dan’s — she has the power to share dreams, but she wasn’t asleep at the time — that’s one of the central mysteries of the film and takes a bit more explanation.
It turns out that the “Dream Child,” of the title isn’t there just for fun, nor is it referring to Freddy, despite what the opening scene hopes you believe. Alice, as we later learn, is pregnant, and from that you’ll probably figure out exactly how this happened. If you don’t, the film will explain it later on anyway, but it’s not a very well-kept secret.
The Dream Child moves along at a brisk pace and you’re unlikely to question its logic while it’s playing because what’s on-screen will hold most of your attention. That’s not to say that the film is any good, but from a visual sense you won’t be bored. Much of this fifth Nightmare on Elm Street plays out as if it is a tech demo, something to show off the visual effects and not much more. In fact, that might have been exactly how the death sequences were conceived. “What looks cool and what can we do within our budget? Huh? Who cares if it makes sense, Johnson?”
It’s true that the film looks great. This is a darker Nightmare on Elm Street, at least aesthetically. There’s often less lighting, there are more Gothic settings, and the dreams almost exclusively occur in dark areas. There aren’t any beaches this time around. Add in some touchier subject matter, like teenage pregnancies, overbearing parents, and eating disorders, and you’ve got a film that shouldn’t be a lot of fun to watch. And with a horror movie, that could work.
It doesn’t work, though, because the script played many of the scenes for laughs. From Freddy’s puns to over-the-top deaths, it’s almost like you’re supposed to be laughing for most of the film. It’s almost as if the director, Stephen Hopkins, and the writer, Leslie Bohem, never communicated. She was going for a funnier version of A Nightmare on Elm Street, while he wanted to take the film in a darker direction. The result is an uneasy mix of styles, and while that’s kind of fascinating, it doesn’t make for a good film.
Also — and I’m nitpicking at this point because there’s nothing else to talk about when it comes to this film — what happened to Alice’s absorption powers and the skills she gained in the previous movie? In that one, she inherited whatever dominant personality trait a person who died had. She learned martial arts, learned a new personal mantra, and was tempted to smoke. Here,s she’s bland Alice, and that whole ability has been completely forgotten about. That was a clever — although ultimately rendered pointless — ability to justify all of the secondary characters getting killed off.
The film also does its best to make Freddy less of a scary character. When you get more details about a monster, it becomes less frightening. Your mind can process it more easily. We get a bit more back story to Freddy in this film, and it just doesn’t accomplish anything but making an already not terribly terrifying character even less fearful. This is especially true when he never even tries to harm our protagonist, citing that he needs her.
A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child is a special effects showcase, meaning there’s always something to look for on-screen, but nothing much else. It’s a visually and thematically darker film — at least from the director’s eye, but on paper it seems like it wants to be played for laughs. It makes for an uneasy and silly watch. It ignores continuity from previous films, is already stretching the way Freddy continues to be alive and kill people, and provides little reason to watch it.