#5 in my ranking of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.
Really, this is the fifth entry in a franchise centered around a dead guy who invades people’s dream to kill them. Do we need to spend more than half of it with our main character trying to convince people around her to believe in the guy? Still, despite all of my frustrations with the bulk of the film, the ending is a large example of how I simply can’t hate any of these films. Sure, the storytelling is frustrating, but the visuals are so dynamic and imaginative, especially as the climax comes to pass, that I end up forgiving it a lot. Not nearly everything, but enough.
Alice (Lisa Wilcox) is a normal teenager enjoying the end of high school with her boyfriend Dan (Danny Hassel). They conceive a child, unbeknownst to Alice, and her dreams begin to come back. However, the central figure of Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) is absent. Her friends Yvonne (Kelly Jo Minter), Greta (Erika Anderson), and Mark (Joe Seely) have absolutely no idea who Freddy is or any concept of the terror that has plagued the small town of Springwood on and off for at least seven years. Still, they are ready for life after graduation, and it seems like most of the formative stuff around their characters were cut down to the bone. In particular, Yvonne and Mark feel underserved in the beginning (which is ironic since they last the longest of the supporting teenagers), leaving us with Dan and Greta having overbearing parents be their defining features.
Well, something is going on because Alice dreams of Freddy reforming again…for reasons while fearing the vision of his mother Amanda (Beatrice Boepple). Then, teenagers start to die, and based on the rules established in the previous two films, Alice has the power to draw people into her own dreams which is how Freddy’s getting around (I honestly hate this rule, but they stuck with it so whatever), except that it’s all happening when Alice is awake. Something else must be going on.
And this is where the movie spins its wheels for along time as Alice tries to convince people that Freddy Krueger is real. Never mind the in-universe holes, why did the creative team (namely screenwriter Leslie Bohem and director Stephen Hopkins) decide it would be interesting for the audience to watch characters struggle with this basic question that had been answered four films ago? I get the impulse at a certain level. There are two big reasons. The first is to introduce the concept to new audiences who aren’t intimately familiar with the franchise, something that could have been covered with an opening text crawl. The other is simply giving the audience what they expect from a Nightmare on Elm Street film. You can’t break the mold or the audiences will be mad, or something.
Another issue I have is with the implementation of the central conceit. The idea is that Freddy is using Alice’s unborn son, Jacob (Whit Hertford), as a conduit to re-terrorize the world of teenagers. Why? No one besides Wes Craven seems to care about anything regarding Freddy as a character, so don’t expect anything else here. I wasn’t really expecting much more than more monster stuff, and that’s all I got. The other problem is that a baby in the womb, unexposed to clear language or any visual reference to the world outside of the mother’s belly, isn’t going to be dreaming up places like rundown mental asylums or high schools. Those dreams are going to be much more emotion and base sensation focused which would allow for more surreal settings in which to base the dreams. Instead, it’s just more of the same.
The first hour of this film is two major frustrations on top of each other.
Once past that, though, and we get towards the final confrontation, things begin to pick up in more conventional ways for the franchise, though. It breaks no new ground, but using the Escher Stairs as inspiration and leaning heavily into it is actually really fun to watch. The ending is filled with inventive visuals that sustain the final twenty minutes or so, and while they don’t really elevate any of the material that came before, they make the wait somewhat worth it. It’s a minor visual tour de force.
Sure, the movie does pretty much nothing with its concept of mothers of cursed children (having two pairs in the film), leaving a host of ideas on the table, and it gets lost in trying to convince characters of information that the audience already knows while finding another mundane reason for Freddy Krueger to come back, but that ending and all of the dream sequences are fun. It’s really the dream sequences that force and allow directors to be creative at a level that other slashers really don’t and can’t. Cut those out and most of the franchise becomes really boring. Thankfully, they’re part and parcel of the whole thing and keep showing up to break up the narrative missteps.