The worst-regarded films in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise seem to be 5 and 6. The case for the prosecution on this one would go something like "boring", "an abomination" or "going fifteen or twenty minutes without a single interesting thing happening. Then when something does happen, it is overlong, over the top, not funny, not scary... just plain dumb." What's more, audiences agreed. It's the second lowest-grossing Elm Street film after New Nightmare, despite having the third-highest budget after Part 4 and Jason vs. Freddy. Whatever one thinks of the film's more sombre tone, it was clearly deemed to have been a mistake and the next sequel's overt comedy would be a clear reaction against it.
However Part 5 has its defenders and I'm one of them.
It takes itself seriously. Gone is the carnival atmosphere of the last two and in its place is a reflective and atmospheric horror movie. What's that? Horror? In a Nightmare on Elm Street film? Its dream sequences are as imaginative as ever, but this time there's something disturbing about them. They're not just an excuse for flamboyant fun, but instead strange, symbolism-ridden sequences that can seem deliberately hard to like. They almost go too far. There's stuff here which goes almost too far even for a fantasy franchise like this. Is it inappropriate in a bad way? I'm still thinking about that one, which ironically is why I love it. Alice's first one feels like a real nightmare. It's nasty and creepy.
Lisa Wilcox is back from Part 4, as are her father and her boyfriend, although fortunately no one's having to absorb their dead friends' personalities. Instead her character's being taken somewhere about as personal as you can get and Wilcox responds with a serious, heartfelt performance that helps set the tone for the whole movie. Yup, it's "unborn baby" horror. Just saying those words makes the film feel darker than its predecessors, doesn't it? They play it for real. I'm not going to pretend it's Citizen Kane or anything, but it's possibly the Nightmare on Elm Street film for people who hate Nightmare on Elm Street films.
They also bring back the Amanda Krueger backstory from Part 3, although unfortunately not Nan Martin as that wrinkled old nun. No one says "bastard son of a thousand maniacs" though, or tries to kill Freddy with a crucifix. It's simply that harking back to that time with the Kruegers is thematically appropriate.
Probably influenced by all this, the acting has improved all around. The only iffy moment is the reaction shot from Beetlejuice Mum when her daughter collapses at the dining table. It's also worth pointing out that the writers have allowed themselves to break the simple-minded rule of "parents bad, kids good". We still have some embarrassing or untrustworthy adults, but the movie's biggest sceptic is a teenager while Nicholas Mele's Mr Johnson has been allowed to do a complete U-turn. He's a nice guy now! He's still got a drink problem, but he's going to the meetings and he's always supportive of his daughter. He's sweet.
This film feels more honest than its predecessors. There's less cliche. The comic-book guy isn't a geek, for instance, unlike that D&D fan in Part 3.
You might be wondering about Freddy. You won't see much of him here, which was probably bad for the box-office. Again they make a big deal out of Freddy having been defeated at the end of the previous film, this time to the extent that it's what drives the plot. In this film his wisecracks are jarring and out of place, but in an odd way I like that. This time there's something transgressive about Krueger and his sick fantasy worlds, above and beyond the usual fun and games. He genuinely doesn't fit in. He's uncomfortable to watch, and not always in a camp way. At times they push that too far for the film's good and things get cartoonish, but always in some bizarre direction unlike anything you'll see anywhere else.
And if you're feeling shallow, they begin with Frosted Shower Glass Nudity.
The problem is the ending, or more precisely the lack of one. The big problem with the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise is the difficulty of building a plot around an unkillable killer in your dreams. What we get here is full of symbolism, but short of drama. Stuff just sort of happens, then the credits roll. It feels as if they forgot the last reel or something. I wanted to love this movie and a great ending would have done it, but unfortunately those closing credits whipped the carpet out from under my feet. Everyone's last word on this movie will be, "Huh, was that it?" There's some great, brave, serious-minded stuff in the preceding eighty minutes, but it gets overwritten in your memory by the shock factor of them stopping the film rather than ending it. I'm imagining the conversation:
- "So what happened, then?"
- "There were doves."
- "Flying away when someone dies? Like in Hong Kong films?"
- "Well, probably doves..."
However if you're braced for that, there's a lot to like here. They do that Escher thing which I last saw in Labyrinth. Playing the Dream Child himself is a rather good child actor called Whitby Hertford who was also in Jurassic Park. I can see why this was less successful than other Elm Street films, but I think it's seriously underrated.