The year is 1988. It’s been four years since the original A Nightmare on Elm Street was released, simultaneously impressing and haunting the world with its originality and style, and distribution company New Line Cinema has just raked in a ton of cash for its highest grossing production yet, A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. Of course, this meant that Freddy Krueger wasn’t dead (kinda like how he wasn’t dead at the end of Nightmare parts 1, 2, and 3 either), and just one year later in 1989, Freddy returned to yet again terrorize some poor teenager’s nightmares.
After releasing two very successful, fun, and inventive sequels with A Nightmare on Elm Street parts 3 and 4, New Line Cinema hoped to keep the Freddy train a-rollin’ with A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. It’s too bad, then, that this train was derailed by bad direction, lousy acting, and a lack of impressive death scenes (okay, I’m done with my train analogy now, you’re welcome). The Dream Child picks up about a year after the events of Nightmare 4: The Dream Master, with our main heroine Alice trying to keep it together and put Freddy in the past.
Of course, keeping in style of every previous movie in the series, the first scene is a nightmare which shows that Freddy is in fact alive again. This opening scene actually ends up being the best part of the entire film. Alice finds herself in an insane asylum wearing a nun’s habit and garnering a name-tag that reads “Amanda Krueger.” She becomes locked inside the ward with every patient loose, and is attacked. This scene is of course taken from the explanation as to what happened to Freddy Krueger’s mother we get in Nightmare 3, and it’s a genuinely effective and well produced scene, but the movie only goes downhill from here.
The next thing we see is Alice graduating from high school along with her friends. Dan, her boyfriend, is familiar, being the only other surviving face from Nightmare 4, whereas Alice’s other friends are all newly introduced. In Nightmare 4 we were treated to some genuinely likeable characters, but here we just get a group of bland oddballs. There’s Mark, who draws comics, Greta, whose mother pushes her to be a model, and Yvonne, who doesn’t really have a good singular trait but is just kinda there to fulfill the trope of Nightmare films where the main character goes into the dream world while the side character does something in the real world, having an effect that helps the main character against Freddy in the dream world. The night of graduation, Alice is again experiencing a nightmare and this time witnesses the birth of Freddy. Freddy comes out fine, except that he looks like E.T. or maybe he looks more like a baby version of Jason Vorhees when he jumps out of the lake at the end of the original Friday the 13th.
Anyways, freaky baby Freddy escapes the doctor’s grasp and crawls along the floor in the emergency room in through the doors of a neighboring room, which just so happens to be the inside of a church, the same church that Freddy was defeated in in the previous film. The scariest looking baby to ever live then finds Freddy’s remains from the last film, and proceeds to crawl into Freddy’s signature red and green sweater. By the power of nightmare magic, baby Freddy is transformed into regular, good ol’ burnt face and knife-glove touting Freddy Krueger. It’s all really stupid and nonsensical and stupid stuff continues to happen for a while but we then find out that Alice is pregnant (not really surprising seeing as how the subtitle to this one is The Dream Child), and Freddy is getting to her through her baby’s dreams, with his overall goal to be reborn through Alice’s child.
From here on out, we get a few kills from Freddy, who is significantly goofier than ever before, but really none of the kills are even all that spectacular. They’re imaginative, sure, like when Freddy and comic book guy Mark turn into black-and-white comic book characters and battle it out, but the finality in this kill, along with the rest of the kills, just isn’t satisfying. There’s probably some deep message being relayed in this film about being anti-abortion or maybe anti-teen pregnancy, but the movie itself is so dumb that no one should even attempt to look into its themes or messages, and instead attempt to forget that you ever even watched it. It’s sad, too, to read that, apparently, renowned horror novelist Stephen King and innovative comics writer of the time, Frank Miller, were both separately asked to write and direct the 5th Nightmare film. Those are the movies that I want to see, not this junk.
Man, did I rip that movie apart (and boy was it fun). The depressing thing, however, is that it isn’t even as bad as the next entry in the series, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. Freddy’s Dead keeps none of the characters from any of the previous films, save obviously for Freddy Krueger himself, in hopes to recreate a bored franchise with new characters. The story itself takes place 10 years in the future, where virtually every last child and teenager in the town that these movies take place in, Springwood, Ohio, has been killed by the clawed hands of Freddy. Just one last child remains, a teenager who is called John Doe due to his previous dream which had rendered him unconscious with no recollection of who he is and stranded in a place he doesn’t know. He’s mistakenly brought to a shelter for neglected teens, where he meets the rest of the movie’s cast. Yet again, we are gifted another group of unlikable teen lambs for slaughter. Spencer, a drug addict. Tracy, a girl who had been sexually abused by her father as a little girl. And finally Carlos, who was also abused, but in non-sexual ways that left him with no hearing ability without the addition of a hearing aid. There’s also the co-main protagonist, a woman psychologist named Maggie who is also having odd dreams.
A part for the course story ensues and for the most part the movie is a drag, save for Carlos’ death and an odd appearance from Roseanne Barr (of 90’s sitcom Roseanne fame) and her real life husband, Tom Arnold. We also see a snippet of Johnny Depp, who makes his grand return to the series since making his movie debut in the original Nightmare, and has a scene that last about 10 seconds (yippee!). There’s a few scenes that show the backstory of Freddy Krueger before he became a creature of nightmares, and these scenes are actually pretty good, too. Overall, though, three scenes just cannot save a movie from being bad, and this film has what is maybe the worst ending of any movie in the series. And I almost forgot to mention the magnificent awful 3-D effects that are utilized in the final 10 minutes of the movie. What a joke.
You know how I wrote before that I wanted to see the versions of Nightmare 5 made by either Stephen King or Frank Miller? Well, Freddy’s Dead started out as a totally different movie that I would absolutely kill to see; a movie written by none other than Peter Jackson (who would go on to make the ever so fantastic zombie flick Dead Alive and then make one of the most successful trilogies of all time, The Lord of the Rings). According to the internet, Jackson’s screenplay was called The Dream Lover, and featured a plot where Freddy has become so weak in the dream world that kids have actually made a game out of falling asleep just to go beat up on Freddy, all before he ultimately gets his power back and again takes his revenge on those darn teenagers of Elm Street. That’s a plot that I can get behind; one that isn’t very serious (just like the character of Freddy was at this point in the series) and which was most likely very funny due to the fact that it was written by Peter Jackson. It’s too bad the higher ups at New Line Cinema didn’t really like taking chances with their biggest franchise. That is, they didn’t like taking chances until 1994 when they released Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.
Yup, Wes Craven again came back to the Nightmare series, and making the best entry in the series since the last sequel that he was involved with, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. New Nightmare is unlike any of the other films in the series, and yet it’s also very similar to the original A Nightmare on Elm Street. It’s different in the fact that it takes place in the “real world,” but similar in that Craven pays many an homage to his original A Nightmare on Elm Street, almost taking some scenes shot for shot from the original. It’s kind of hard to explain, but New Nightmare is supposed to be set in our world, the world you are in right now as you read this post. New Nightmare acknowledges the fact that Freddy Krueger is a movie character and that the Nightmare series is just a bunch of horror movies. You see, Heather Lagenkamp is back as the main character for the first time since Nightmare 3, but she doesn’t play Nancy again. Instead, she plays herself. Robert Englund plays himself, John Saxon, Wes Craven and so on and so forth. This meta-horror route is a breath of fresh air that the series desperately needed.
The basic plot of New Nightmare involves Wes Craven being signed back on to create a reboot for the Nightmare series (just like in real life…not the movie’s “real life” but our real life…woah this is weird) and he reaches out to Heather Lagenkamp to reprise her movie role of Nancy. She’s very iffy about it because her and her son have started to have nightmares of their own involving Freddy, and she begins to realize that Wes’ script is actually occurring in “real life.” It’s a fascinating take on the horror genre and Freddy’s character itself that pokes fun at tropes of the genre/Nightmare series whilst also being a much more serious and darker film than any of the other Nightmare films.
A major part of most horror movies, and especially the Nightmare series, are the kills. I’ve painstakingly gone over how good or not good the kills are in each of the previous Nightmare sequels, but I don’t feel the need to do so for New Nightmare. A lot of horror movies live or die on how imaginative or well executed the kills are, but in New Nightmare, we’re so engrossed in the actual plotline that the kills surprisingly come second. This isn’t necessarily because the script in New Nightmare is all that, but because it’s so unique. New Nightmare is a fantastic film that’s well directed, sports a smart script (which sets the stage perfectly for Craven’s following film, 1996’s Scream), and features good performances all around from its main actors. It’s a fantastic send-off to the series.
So there you have it, Freddy fanatics. My ultimate look back at the sequels to A Nightmare on Elm Street (not including the 2003 spinoff, Freddy Vs. Jason, but that movie is pretty fun, too). It’s been a fun ride watching some of these, and a hard, grueling ride watching the others. It was worth it, though, if only to tell you, dear reader, which ones to watch and which ones to skip. For a final tally, you should most definitely watch Nightmare 1 and 3, and New Nightmare. If you like Nightmare 3, then give Nightmare 4 a look too because it’s fun, but not necessarily a must-watch. The rest of the bunch, however, I cannot recommend at all. And as always, join me, Michael Lane, again as we travel Down a Dark Lane and visit another horror movie next time. See you then!
— Michael Lane, Horror Film Blogger