For its first hour or so A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, proceeds like clockwork, hitting its marks in the blandest, least compelling ways imaginable. The once-fresh Freddy formula has seemingly run its course — Freddy’s a boorish wiseacre, the kids are mostly paper-thin, and the scenario largely fails to capture our interest. (And if I have to hear “One, two/ Freddy’s coming for you” one more time, I’m calling the police.) However, as it approaches the inevitable showdown with Freddy, something remarkable happens: The Dream Child actually builds up a head of steam, climaxing with a sequence of remarkable visual design and surprising emotional resonance.
To get there, though, you have to endure plenty of boredom. Since her last encounter with Freddy, Alice Johnson has recovered nicely, graduating from high school and preparing for a European jaunt with her boyfriend Dan Jordan (Danny Hassel). However, Dan is killed in a fiery motorcycle crash on graduation night, and Alice is presented with some unwelcome news: she’s pregnant. Soon, Freddy’s back in her dreams, along with two strange other characters: a boy who seems to be her unborn son, and a nun who gives cryptic advice on how to kill Freddy.
It sounds like a decent setup, and director Stephen Hopkins gives The Dream Child a crisp sheen, but for the most part, this is pretty dull stuff. By this point we know that Lisa’s friends will all be stereotypes: there’s the aspiring model with the obnoxious, domineering mom; the “edgy,” “weird” comic book fan; the “sassy” best pal. Of course, the adults are useless as usual; Dan’s snooty, uptight parents want to take custody of Alice’s baby after she tells her doctor that Freddy may be controlling her mind through her baby’s dreams (apparently they don’t do doctor-patient confidentiality in Springwood). And of course, nobody believes that Alice is bedeviled by Freddy — until it’s too late.
The Dream Child spends way to much time re-explaining what we already know about both Freddy’s backstory and his current plans. But when Freddy finally strikes, the movie is on firmer ground. Comic book dude becomes a virtual cartoon (in a sequence that looks a lot like the video for a-ha’s “Take on Me,” but is effective nonetheless). And when Alice and Freddy meet, they square off in a locale that’s part-hellish inferno, part M.C. Esher drawing. This sequence is remarkably disorienting and fresh, utilizing a surreal palate that draws us into the action while actually caring about the outcome of Alice and her kid.
So ultimately, The Dream Child is that rarest of birds — a middling movie with a solid ending (more often, it’s the other way around). However, I want to make something perfectly clear: when I say the movie’s a failure, I am in no way disparaging the many talented people who worked to make it a reality. Even the worst Hollywood picture is made with craft and care, and if the end result is unsuccessful, it’s not for a lack of effort and skill — it’s amazing that any movie gets made, much less a great one. To that end, I interviewed one of the many capable craftspeople who worked hard on two of the Nightmare films — a man who also had the opportunity to briefly play Freddy himself onscreen.
Luc G. Nicknair got a job on A Nightmare on Elm Street Part Two: Freddy’s Revenge through his roommate. He started as a production assistant before rising to the rank of second assistant cameraman by the end of the film. On the last day of the shoot, after hours of working on the opening sequence of the film — in which Freddy drives a school bus to the portal to hell – he was granted a strange, fortuitous opportunity to make his mark on the series — this time, in front of the camera.
“It was one of those 24-hour days, and I was so wiped out I actually curled up in a closet somewhere on the set and passed out,” he said. “There was a knock on the door and it was my roommate, and he said, “Dude, you gotta get up. It’s one of the last shots of the evening.” So we go to do an interior shot of the Nightmare bus, and they say, ‘Robert [Englund] isn’t here, but you’re the right height. You can fit in the clothes and the glove.’ So I threw the hat on, and threw the gloves on, and they shot me in silhouette, and the scene is just me walking to the back of the bus and drumming my fingers on the seats.”
Nicknair was thrilled to step into Freddy’s shoes, albeit briefly. But operating the killer’s famous glove proved more difficult than he anticipated.
“The bad thing about wearing the glove was that it’s really hard to handle the fingers,” he said. “Think of yourself with really long fingernails. They kinda get in the way. You gotta have your fingers spread out so they wouldn’t cross into each other.”
Though it was exciting to wear the glove, it possessed an aura that Nicknair hadn’t anticipated.
“It was always pretty cool to have that glove on your hand,” he said. “There’s a lot of power to have that glove on your hand — very dangerous power.”
I had to know: was the glove outfitted with real blades?
“They were real blades,” he said. “Could you cut yourself? Yes you could.”
Though Nicknair hadn’t seen the first Nightmare, he found that working on the sequel — his first gig on a feature film — to be an ideal place to learn the ropes of filmmaking.
“It was very hard work,” he said. “But what was kind of neat was that there were opportunities to grow and learn, because when you’re on a project that long, you’re given a lot of hands-on stuff to do. And it was a low-budget movie.”
Nicknair’s second go-round with the Nightmare franchise was The Dream Child. By this time, he wasn’t as green; Nicknair had more than a dozen TV and film credits to his name, and he was hired on as first assistant camera operator. His first day on the set was a memorable one: he filmed a dinner party scene in which Freddy stuffed food into the mouth of an aspiring model – including her own innards.
“We would always do rushes from the previous day during lunchtime,” he said. “A lot of people would bring in their lunches in order to [watch the dallies]. People got sick when they saw that scene. I was cracking up. I thought it was pretty funny.”
Nicknair was initially indifferent to the Nightmare franchise, but he relished the process of working on the series.
“When these movies came out, there were a whole slew of slice-and-dice movies,” he said. “With [the Nightmare franchise,] there was a more elevated process with the minds behind it. It was also an opportunity for the writers and the directors to cut loose because of the whole dream factor. You could go into these free, dark areas of people’s minds while trying to tell a story.”
As a viewer, Nicknair gravitated toward some of the later entries in the Nightmare franchise.
“My favorite period was when the dark humor had been brought into the picture with Freddy,” he said. “People can laugh at the sight of danger, because it’s a way of dealing with it.”
Away from the set, Nicknair’s sense of humor is also pretty twisted: he keeps one of the props from The Dream Child — one of Freddy’s arms – in his bathroom, wth the intention of spooking unsuspecting guests. In the years since his work on the Nightmare films, Nicknair has worked extensively as a cinematographer. He’s also been a camera operator on a number of big films (including Predator 2 and Batman Forever) and music videos (he shot the video for Tupac Shakur’s “Toss It Up,” the final filmed images of the rapper before his death), as well as the pay-per-view prank show Juiced starring none other than OJ Simpson (“That was one of the most surreal projects I’ve ever worked on,” he said. “I like to say I’ve worked with the famous and the infamous”). But it all started for him with Freddy, and he remains proud of his contributions to the franchise.
“Freddy was the Frankenstein of the 1980s,” he said. “He was the top dog.”
Check back tomorrow, as I’ll be tacking the oft-reviled Freddy’s Dead: The Final Chapter. Despite the title, I can safely assume this isn’t the end for Freddy, since I have three more movies to watch after that one.
Schedule of Nightmares: