Tuesday, August 11, 2020

31 Years Later: Revisiting ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child’ and My Introduction to Freddy

All of my memories of A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child revolve around primetime network television and an eight year old me in 1991 tuning in to see what WPIX Channel 11 was featuring for the night. I’d grown up around the time where Freddy Krueger was still something of a cult icon for the whole family, so sitting down to finally see an actual Nightmare movie didn’t bother me much. Especially with my favorite show “Saved by the Bell” lampooning it just weeks earlier, and the availability of Freddy Krueger gum in my local grocery store; my uncle even had an Elm Street sticker album he carried around!

The Dream Child, now at the ripe old age of thirty one this year, was my introduction to Freddy Krueger, and it’s a movie filled to the brim with iconic imagery and disturbing deaths by the dream demon. WPIX didn’t always include the first film in their line up, so I’d only get to see The Dream Master and The Dream Child back to back and never really had the resources to seek out the other sequels. I didn’t get to see the first film until I was at least seventeen. And so my fascination with Krueger and my love for the character blossomed primarily out of The Dream Child, where Krueger was well into his saga of tormenting the children on Elm Street and was now seeking to begin his reign of terror anew with the birth of a child. 

It never actually dawned on me how controversial The Dream Child was when I was a kid. It was only years later, watching the fantastic documentary Never Sleep Again, that I came to learn the film didn’t exactly hit the mark with fans or critics. Director Stephen Hopkins took an edgier overtone with Krueger, using his sequel as a means of exploring the ideas of abortion, unwanted pregnancy and the idea of Krueger instilling a new soul into an unborn child. The heroine Alice comes to grips with the idea of her pregnancy with Danny, her fellow survivor from The Dream Master. Although the script from Leslie Bohem doesn’t directly tackle it, Alice does grapple with the concept of abortion and this is where Krueger is somewhat allowed to interfere and use his presence as a means of destroying her sanity and building a new bloodline for his legacy.

The Dream Child also looks into the conception of Krueger himself, which involved his mother Amanda Krueger being gang raped in the asylum she oversaw, and inevitably giving birth to the “Son of a Thousand Maniacs.” Here, Krueger is filled with wrath when he’s reborn into Alice’s consciousness, as he’s given an almost renewed sense of power. He immediately begins wreaking havoc on just about every one of Alice’s friends, inflicting horrendous deaths on them all. The Dream Child features Krueger at his most vindictive, reducing aspiring model Greta to a waking nightmare of her own lack of self esteem and her tendencies toward anorexia. With Freddy serving, she’s forced to eat herself alive in the middle of a horrendous dinner with her shrill mother (who often discouraged eating of any kind).

Danny gets probably the most painful death of them all, as he’s literally merged with his motorcycle before his eyes, slowly manifesting into a hellish monster… much to Freddy’s delight. This dream would be the precursor to the death of Heather’s husband in New Nightmare, as both men fall asleep at the wheel and endure painful deaths by the hand of Krueger. As an eight year old, even in its chopped for network TV glory, Danny’s death was mind blowing, and though the kill scene is vastly reduced from director Hopkins’ original plans, it’s still one of the most punk deaths Krueger ever inflicted.

My favorite though is the death of Mark, the comic book geek and artist. Not only is he my favorite character of the movie, but he’s the closest we come to seeing an actual dream warrior emerge after the death of Kristen in The Dream Master. As an eight year old aspiring artist and rabid comic buff, Mark was my hero. He drew incredible works of art, and inadvertently spent most of his time manifesting Krueger into a fallible being as a means of taking away his power. When Mark has no choice but to fight Freddy, he gives him a very hard time, if even for a moment when he takes the shape of “The Phantom Prowler.” Only when Freddy takes the form of “Super Freddy” does he dole out the most creative death of the series, hacking poor Mark to pieces.

Fun kills aside, writer Bohem delves much deeper into the back story of Krueger and the idea of evil being nature or nurture. Can it be passed on? If Alice keeps Jacob will he become a person of moral character or someone like Freddy? Did Amanda Krueger’s gang rape really help create pure evil in Freddy? Or did the contemplation of an abortion put a stain on Krueger’s soul? Is the final scene an indication that perhaps Jacob is carrying on Freddy’s reign of terror? 

The Elm Street series had dealt with weighty topics in previous films in the franchise, but The Dream Child is refreshingly bold in the way it uses the idea of abortion as a means of putting to question not just Krueger’s nature, but the all-encompassing nature of evil. The arguably polarizing plot point only enhances what many often consider a throwaway sequel to the series. At the end of Alice’s fight with Freddy, all she can do is hope that Jacob finds the right path, away from the clutches of Krueger.

And even after Freddy’s Dead established Krueger’s role as a father and his daughter’s ascension to helping children, all we can do is hope that Alice and Jacob lived happily ever after.


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