Thursday, October 25, 2018

Alice Lives! The Whole Bloody Affair

by Adam Riske and Erich Asperschlager
Adam and Erich discuss A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 & 5.

Adam: Ever since attending the Flashback Weekend convention a year ago, I’ve grown an attachment to the Alice NOES movies: The Dream Master and The Dream Child. I like that this double feature has an arc and a hero that makes it out of the franchise alive and prospering. The original is still the best and my most watched, but nowadays I’m finding myself eager to revisit 4 & 5 a couple of times a year. They’re comfort food, and maybe where the series peaked creatively in terms of set design and makeup effects. What’s your history and opinion of these two entries in the NOES series?

Erich: For a long time, I hadn’t seen much of the franchise besides the original NOES and maybe the third movie. It wasn’t until the complete series hit Hulu a couple years ago that I had a chance to watch through (most) of the franchise (I only made it halfway through Freddy’s Dead). I was surprised how much I enjoyed 5, in particular. I like 4, too -- I’d seen Dream Master at least once or twice before my Hulu rewatch. (Remember that failed column we wrote and rightly scrapped, about 3 & 4? Pretty sure that means this column counts as a reboot.) Dream Child is the first NOES movie I was aware of at the time it came out. I didn’t see it in the theater, of course, but I can still remember seeing the creepy carriage and the car crash in a TV commercial. When did you first see these movies?

Adam: The entire way through? Not until I was an adult. I remember The Dream Master being on cable a lot when I was little and sneaking away to watch a few seconds here and there. I recall seeing the “Wanna suck face?” moment at an early age. It was really scary because I had asthma!

I’m glad you enjoyed part 5 because I think it’s in my top three Elm Street movies now, behind the original and Dream Warriors. Director Stephen Hopkins appears to like the teenagers, so the movie has more emotional weight than some of the other entries in the series. The kids all seem to be nice people that you want to get out of Freddy’s warpath. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but The Dream Child works in the same way for me as Halloween 4, where I like Rachel (Ellie Cornell) and Jamie (Danielle Harris) so much that having Michael Myers in the movie is just a bonus. I’m not sure why NOES 5 has a bad reputation. I think it’s moody (it feels very free-flowing and dreamy), has a sense of dread, and deals (at least a little) with teen relevant topics like pregnancy, adoption, and abortion in a sincere way. Plus, some of the technical filmmaking is amazing. I’m thinking specifically about the use of lighting and color in the dream sequences and the M.C. Escher moments in the climax. I could go on about The Dream Child (and I will) but first...what is it about The Dream Child that you enjoy?
Erich: In a weird way, The Dream Child is grounded in a way some of the other sequels aren’t. I suppose almost any Freddy resurrection makes more sense than the dog peeing fire in Dream Master, but the set-up to 5 has an internal logic: Alice getting pregnant gives Freddy a way back in, tying back to his own cursed birth. I also love the idea of the baby dreaming as the thruline between the deaths. Teen pregnancy is scary. (So is adult pregnancy, come to think of it.) There are so many things you can’t control. Imagine if one of those things was the dream state of your fetus being used as a gateway for a knife-handed demon? Try shopping for THAT baby shower!

As much as I like the story and mythology of The Dream Child, I’m less crazy about the deaths. They might be the weakest out of the middle run of movies, not counting “invisible Freddy” in 4. The aforementioned face sucking is a cool effect. I’m not as into the Darth Vader motorcycle ride or the overeating sequence, and the comic book showdown is silly even for an NOES sequel. What do you think? Did surrogate fatherhood give Freddy less time to express his craft creatively?

Adam: I don’t mind silly in the NOES series (I even like the video game death scene in Freddy’s Dead), so the comic book sequence works for me just enough. I’m a big fan of the motorcycle death in The Dream Child because it’s one of the few that freak me out in the series (another one is the bug death in The Dream Master, but that makes me want to gag and fast forward). I also love the diving board nightmare with Kellie Jo Minter (she survives) in The Dream Child. The way it’s filmed is odd, like an after-school special. I think the lamest death in The Dream Child is Freddy himself. I don’t remember it too well, except he turns into a baby Freddy. It feels rushed or like they ran out of money. His demise in The Dream Master (with the souls of his victims pushing out of his body) is much more satisfying cinematically.

Speaking of fatherhood, one part of the arc over both films that I’ve grown to love is the redemption of Alice’s father (played by Nicholas Mele). It’s so satisfying and unconventional for a horror movie. He has a line in The Dream Child that honestly moves me, where Alice asks him if he’s disappointed that she’s pregnant and he responds that (I’m paraphrasing) “It would be nice to have a boy playing around in the house again.” It gets me in the feels because it’s not only a nice sentiment, but it shows the filmmakers are considering the consequences of the events despite it being a genre sequel. They didn’t have to do that and the fact that they do makes the movie better.
For Freddy performances, do you have a Dream Master or Dream Child preference? Also, is it just me or does Lisa Wilcox’s performance as Alice feel stronger in The Dream Child? It’s like she cracked it the second time out. She’s great. I met her at a con recently. Super nice. I wish her and Dan (Danny Hassel) were a thing in real life. They’re golden. Their sex scene at the beginning of part 5 isn’t even like “Oooh sex” but more “I hope these two have babies.”

Erich: I’m so glad you brought up Alice’s dad. I’d forgotten his arc, so when I watched Dream Master I really hated him. Seeing where he ends up in Dream Child almost brought me to tears. It makes such a big difference when a horror movie has good, sympathetic characters and not just protagonists who are only slightly “better” than the murderous villain. The NOES films do a good job of making us like the kids. The adults, not so much. I think both 4 & 5 have scenes where someone’s mom rolls her eyes at her daughter being sad her friends are dying off. Even ignoring the fact that all the parents who formed a mob to kill Freddy are themselves murderers, it’s weird. (Tangent: am I right that all the vigilante adults were parents of murdered children AND the kids later stalked by Freddy, meaning all these current kids have murdered siblings in their past?) Alice’s dad is sweet regardless, but he seems downright angelic compared to every other adult in these movies.

I agree that Alice is stronger in Dream Child. Dream Master hands Alice the torch, but it’s still very much Kristin’s story. Between Dream Master and Dream Child, Alice goes from Carrie White to Laurie Strode. For a genre that loves resetting storylines from sequel to sequel, NOES is good at giving at least its human characters arcs.

I think the reason I love this franchise so much is that continuity from film to film. The kids cycle in and out, but at least in this middle run of movies the recurring characters pull you from one to the next. It reminds me of what Marvel has done with their movies, establishing characters and amping up the action and complexity a bit with each entry in the series. NOES is like the MCU if the superheroes were regular kids and Thanos was always the villain.
I have the Elm Street collection box set out from the library for a few more days. Which of the other sequels do you suggest I watch or rewatch? Is Dream Child where you check out? The way it ends, I would have been happy if it was the horror movie equivalent of a series finale.

Adam: Dream Warriors, of course. The characters are likable and I love slashers like this one where the good guys have a chance to fight back. I dig Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, but I don’t return to it as much as I should because it’s a heavier affair than some of the other entries. I know a bunch of people will roll their eyes at this, but I have turned the corner and like Freddy’s Dead. On a scene to scene basis, I think it’s fun and it’s very New Line-y. I check out after New Nightmare. Freddy vs. Jason is lame and the remake is completely generic and forgettable except for Rooney Mara, who is always interestingly sad. You should set your DVR for The Goldbergs this week. Robert Englund is going to be back as Freddy Krueger for the episode!

Two questions to close us out: Of the big slasher franchises, is the NOES series the one you enjoy the most? And what is your favorite sequence in this double bill of Dream Master and Dream Child? I love the movie theater/diner sequence in part 4 where Alice is sucked into the movie screen. The way it’s shot makes it look like a horror version of a Maxell commercial.

Erich: Way ahead of you on The Goldbergs. I’m already camped out in my living room.
Since you already picked the movie theater sequence, I’ll go with the finale of Dream Master, with all of Freddy’s soul victims bursting out of him and pinning him to the altar. The whole “Poem Ex Machina” conceit is as silly as the flaming dog pee, but the way Freddy is dispatched is satisfying. Honorable mention goes to the quiet dramatic moments in Dream Child we talked about before: the scenes between Alice and her dad, and those that deal with the struggles of teen pregnancy.

As for the question of which slasher series reigns supreme, I have to give it to the NOES. Halloween has the original Halloween, but this series has the original Nightmare on Elm Street, which is great in different ways. There’s a lot to like about the Halloween sequels, but they don’t feel binge-worthy the way NOES does. Maybe I just prefer Freddy as a chatty foe to Michael Myers’ relentless silence. Michael Myers is the ultimate horror villain in the original, but over a series of films that blankness gets a bit...boring? I also dig the continuity of NOES to the fractured rebooted timelines of Halloween. You’ll notice I haven’t argued the merits of Friday the 13th. I haven’t seen all of them, but from movie one that series does nothing for me. If I want a cola, I don’t reach for Royal Crown.

I don’t know for certain that I like the Nightmare on Elm Street series better than Halloween (my answer will probably change after I see the new movie) but for the past few Scary Movie Months I have been more likely to put on a NOES movie than any other franchise. They’re fun. They’re bloody without turning my stomach. They bring me back to a horror-watching childhood I never had but wish I did. Do I wish Freddy would stop saying “bitch”? Absolutely. But I suppose if anyone is — by definition — unwoke, it’s him.

Adam: Haha, nicely done sir.

1 comment:

  1. That was a pretty amazing back and forth. Personally, because I saw it when I was super young, Freddy as the wicked witch of the west is eternally burned into my brain.