Her mother carefully opens the furnace and takes a seat beside it. Nancy, weathered by nightmares of a man with knives for fingers, steps across the cold basement floor and kneels down close by. ‘You want to know who Fred Krueger is?’ her mother begins. ‘He was a filthy child murderer who killed at least twenty kids in the neighbourhood. Kids we all knew.’ For Nancy, who has been dreaming of this hideous monster for several weeks, as each of her friends are butchered in their sleep, the revelation that this man was real feels like a sucker-punch to her gut. ‘It drove us crazy when we didn’t know who it was, but it was even worse after they caught him,’ she continues, reaching inside the furnace to reveal a small item wrapped in old cloth. ‘The lawyers got fat and the judge got famous but somebody forgot to sign the search warrant in the right place, and Krueger was free, just like that.’
Realising that the worst was yet to come, Nancy stares intently as she asks, ‘What did you do, mother?’ Taking a breath, her mother says, ‘A bunch of us parents tracked him down after they let him out. We found him in an old, abandoned boiler room where he used to take his kids.’ She pauses, almost too scared to admit the truth. ‘We took gasoline, poured it all around the place and made a trail out of the door. Then lit the whole thing up and watched it burn.’ Still haunted by the memory of her actions, she tries to reassure Nancy that Krueger is no longer a threat. ‘He can’t get you now. He’s dead, honey, because mommy killed him,’ she declares. She then unwraps a pair of work gloves with blades attached to each finger, stretched out like long metal claws. ‘I even took his knives.’
It was this scene from A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven’s landmark horror picture, that first revealed the horrifying truth behind Freddy Krueger, a mysterious figure dressed in a red and green sweater that stalks the dreams of the children of Springwood. Nancy Thompson is a teenager that lives on Elm Street who, following the brutal murder of her best friend, begins to suffer recurring nightmares of the sinister figure. With his severely burnt skin and knives like fingers, each of the kids in the town share the same dreams that Freddy is coming to get them. After the murder of Krueger many years earlier, her mother has struggled with alcoholism, while her father, a lieutenant in the Springwood Police Department, has become emotionally detached, refusing to acknowledge his part in the death of the child killer.
But Nancy and her friends would not be the only teenagers that found themselves terrified by the boogeyman. All those parents that either played a part in Krueger’s death or were complicit in the cover-up would suffer the consequences by losing their own children to the man of their dreams. When A Nightmare on Elm Street was released in November 1984 its creator, writer-director Wes Craven, had no intention of further exploring the mythology with sequels, but following its unexpected success at the box office, a succession of filmmakers expanded on the history of Freddy Krueger, using the scene between Nancy and her mother as the blueprint for the character’s back story. From the first movie, it was established that Krueger haunted the children of Elm Street as punishment for the sins of their parents, and that his strength came from the fear that he held over his victims.
In 1987’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors, Nancy returned to Springwood to work as a therapist at a hospital for emotionally-disturbed teenagers where Kristen Parker, who displays a remarkable gift within the dream world, has joined a group of children whose parents were responsible for the murder of Krueger. By the final moments of A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, released the following year, both Nancy and Kristen had fallen victim to the dream demon and now Freddy’s greatest adversary is Alice Johnson, a close friend of Kristen. With her brother and several of her friends having also died in their dreams, Alice finally chooses to face Freddy Krueger, and using the powers that she had inherited from Kristen, vanquishes him back to his own domain.
For Craven, who had created A Nightmare on Elm Street as a serious exploration of the surreal nature of dreams and the violation of innocence, the evolution of the franchise from a bold statement to what he considered a pop culture gimmick would be somewhat frustrating. ‘Nightmare is about a group of kids who, completely against their will but very compellingly, find their dream lives becoming as important as their waking lives,’ explained Craven to author Maitland McDonagh. ‘My feeling was that the initial Nightmare was about something fairly serious: the presence of evil, especially adult evil, directed toward the innocents of the world, embodied in children. It was a subject that had to do with terror, with release of vicious intent, and it was not a joking matter.’
A Nightmare on Elm Street had never been devised as a franchise, and even prior to the release of The Dream Warriors, Robert Englund, who had become a star through his portrayal of Krueger, had expressed his desire to end the series. 1985’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge had been a critical disappointment and even the studio were desperate to erase all memory of its existence, but when the third instalment exceeded all expectations, New Line Cinema realised that they had yet to explore the full commercial potential of their property. With Alice succeeding Kristen as the eponymous dream master, the fourth chapter of the Elm Street saga fully embraced its pop culture appeal, and through its use of MTV-style visuals and elaborate special effects it came to dominate the summer of 1988.
While its closest competitor, Friday the 13th, had long since lost momentum, Freddy Krueger was stronger than ever, and so studio head Robert Shaye wasted no time in bringing his cash cow back from the dead. And while fans may have been eager to see the series resurrected once again, its star was desperate to leave the nightmare behind him. ‘When I decided to do the fourth film, I was contractually obligated to do a fifth,’ claimed Englund prior to the release of A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. ‘There was no way I could get around it, because I finally had to ask for some big bucks. I hadn’t made much money on the first three, because I’d been starring on television in the series Downtown, and before that V. When you work on TV it’s very lucrative, and I didn’t negotiate at all because that was my priority. So I finally had to negotiate for Nightmare 4, and in order to get paid well I was obligated to do Nightmare 5.’
A Nightmare on Elm Street had made its debut at the height of the eighties horror boom, during which a never-ending supply of low budget splatter pictures made their way to the big screen. But the tenacious attitude of the American censors and a changing cinematic landscape, which instead saw audiences seduced by psychological thrillers following the release of Fatal Attraction, would result in horror movies falling out of favour with the mainstream, and by the time the decade came to an end Freddy Krueger was no longer the phenomenon he once was. While The Dream Master had only been released a few months earlier, when The Dream Child entered pre-production in the winter of 1988, many felt that this would finally be Freddy’s swan song.
It was the prequel that everybody has been talking about
Much like with its predecessor, A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 explored the history of Freddy Krueger and the root of his evil. But between the two movies there had been another attempt to revel in the mysterious past of the Springwood slasher. On 8 October 1988, New Line and Lorimar Telepictures had sent Elm Street to the small screen with Freddy’s Nightmares, a syndicated anthology series presented by Krueger that offered viewers a variety of self-contained stories. Its pilot, directed by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Tobe Hooper, attempted to depict Krueger’s mistrial and subsequent murder at the hands of vengeful parents. ‘I knew No More Mr. Nice Guy was not only the pilot episode but also that it was the prequel that everybody has been talking about for so many years,’ admitted Hooper.
For The Dream Master, New Line had reached out to the writing duo of Ken and Jim Wheat, both previously responsible for the Star Wars spinoff Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, but for the latest instalment the studio contacted various horror authors to meet with executives to pitch story concepts. While rising genre writer David Schow, then developing a second sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for New Line, was rejected by Shaye and producer Sara Risher, the most promising concept came from John Skipp and Craig Spector, two authors whose vampire novel The Light at the End had come to the attention of Shaye’s protégé Michael De Luca. Fearing that Krueger had begun to lose the sinister menace that had first made an impact on audiences half a decade earlier, the producers of The Dream Child intended on returning Krueger to the monster that Craven had envisioned with his original nightmare.
‘I think there’s an operating philosophy with the Nightmare movies of employing as many writers as possible. Although New Line is very protective of Freddy and the whole Elm Street mythos, they clearly understand the need to get as much input as they can if the latest picture’s going to top the previous one,’ explained Spector in an interview with Fangoria. ‘We’d met Mike De Luca a couple of years back via Mark Carducci, who was then working on a script of The Light at the End, which Mike liked a lot. He’s a cool guy, one of the few producers in the business who seems to actually read horror fiction and knows who’s out there. Even then, Mike expressed an interest in working with us.’
With Alice having defeated Freddy at the end of The Dream Master, it was agreed that instead of introducing a new protagonist for The Dream Child, Alice would make a return. And so on 1 December 1988 Skipp and Spector commenced work on A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Pool, their attempt to introduce a brand new element to the Krueger mythology. In order to prepare for this writing assignment, they researched the literary works of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, whose fascination with the unconscious mind had resulted in a collaboration with The Interpretation of Dreams author Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis. It was the writings of Jung that inspired the essence of the fifth Nightmare on Elm Street, and as Skipp and Spector explored deeper through his work, the notion of the dream pool first began to take shape.
‘I would have first to explain to you the meaning of dreams and dream-series,’ claimed Jung in Analytical Psychology: Its Theory and Practice. ‘I had to study it for years and to find the material myself, and I cannot expect even a highly-educated audience to be au courant with such abtruse matters. When we come to the technique of dream analysis, I shall be forced to enter into some of the mythological material, and you will get a glimpse of what this work of finding parallels to unconscious products is really like. For the moment, I have to content myself with the mere statement that there are mythological patterns in that layer of the unconscious, and which may even be in strict contradiction to the personal psychology of the dreamer. For instance, you are simply astounded when you observe a completely uneducated person producing a dream which really should not occur with such a person, because it contains the most amazing things.’
For Skipp and Spector, the exploration of the dreamworld at the hands of Jung would have a profound effect on them. ‘It was logical to take Jung’s ideas as a cornerstone on which to build the dreams and nightmares material, because that stuff is basically symbolic,’ recalled Spector on the influence that Jung had over their story. ‘The concept of the dream pool is a purely Jungian notion, this place in the collective unconscious where everybody’s dreams link up. The unconscious is the back door to the mind, and the back door can swing both ways. If Freddy can get into people’s dreams via that door, it would be possible for Alice to get into Freddy’s dreams via the same route, and therefore into his past. And the idea of making Alice pregnant linked the two a lot more than we first thought, because you are linking the dreams of an unborn baby with its mother.’
The concept of Freddy attempting to infiltrate the real world through the dreams of the unborn was first proposed during the development of Freddy’s Revenge, and then considered once again for The Dream Warriors. The person responsible for this plot element was Les Bohem, a former musician-turned-screenwriter thirsty for his first taste of Hollywood, but when producer Risher discovered that she was pregnant, the idea that Bohem had pitched seemed ill-timed and inappropriate. Ironically, the original script for The Dream Warriors, co-written by Craven and Bruce Wagner, had opened with a scene in which a young pregnant woman, somewhat echoing Bohem’s pitch, is torn open as Freddy’s metal claws rip through her stomach. The audience would then be subjected to the first sight of an infant Freddy, an image that was finally brought to fruition several years later with A Nightmare on Elm Street 5.
Despite being rejected for his earlier proposal, Bohem would be one of several writers approached to write the fifth Elm Street picture and, unlike his competitors, he already had the basics of a story in place. ‘For Nightmare 3, I had pitched them Freddy as a baby. I went in, one of the executives was pregnant at the time, and I was literally pitching, ‘Picture the claws clawing their way out!’ And no one liked my idea,’ he detailed in the documentary Never Sleep Again. ‘So then I got a call for Nightmare 5, and when they came to me they said, ‘Remember when you wanted Freddy to have a baby? Well, we like that idea now. What if Alice was the mom?’ We had to make up a set of rules for what he was doing to get himself into the real world. Which was maybe a little muddy in the movie, but it was essentially get all four of her friends’ souls and then get them into the baby.’
Unbeknownst to Bohem, as he developed his screenplay for A Nightmare on Elm Street 5, so too were Skipp and Spector. While the unconscious analysis of Jung would play a significant role in the creation of their story, another important influence was the work of Joel Norris, a psychologist who has dedicated his career to researching the damaged minds of such notorious killers as Henry Lee Lucas and Jeffrey Dahmer. Serial Killers, first published in 1988, was a valuable resource for both writers as they attempted to understand what first drives a person to murder. ‘When a human time bomb erupts into violence, whether it be the methodical repeat violence of a serial killer or the apocalyptic self-destructiveness of a mass murderer, no one is untouched,’ Norris later explained in 1992’s The Killers Next Door. ‘For some communities, it’s the death of innocence, while for others, it’s the nightmare of an unseen terror that stalks the streets.’
When A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 made its way to the big screen in August 1989, it would be the culmination of five writers and almost a dozen drafts, each one operating under the mandate that Alice Johnson is pregnant and this will be Freddy’s portal back to the real world. Skipp and Spector’s story began with Alice and Dan Jordan, one of the few survivors of The Dream Master, now in a relationship and preparing to graduate from high school. But despite the happiness that they both share, Alice is haunted by the memory of Freddy Krueger, and recently the nightmares have returned. But Freddy had been defeated and is no longer a threat, and with the imminent arrival of adulthood, as they leave their school lives behind them, Dan has little interest in indulging in such morbid fantasies.
One night her unconscious mind takes her to the dream pool, where she finds herself in the corridor of an old asylum where a nun, Amanda Krueger, is carrying out her chores. But as a hand reaches out for her the young woman backs away, only for her futile escape to end with a dozen inmates violating her as Alice watches on helplessly. Finally pulled back out of the dream, Dan finds her in a state of hysteria and so tries to distract her with a passionate kiss. But all Alice can see is the rape that she has just witnessed, and even as she looks up at her lover, his face morphs into that of one of the patients. Realising that she is still in the dream world, Alice awakens once again, this time alone in her bed.
I saw your mom naked in a movie
Bohem’s script also began with a dream sequence. This one, however, was prefaced with a sex scene between Alice and Dan, marking the conception of the titular dream child. Lying together in each other’s arms, Alice finally decides to take a shower but suddenly the water begins to spray violently against her skin, causing the shower to gradually fill. This sequence would prove to be a bone of contention for the actress in question. ‘I wasn’t too thrilled with the nudity. I had a clause in my contract about no nudity and having a body double,’ revealed Lisa Wilcox in Assault of the Killer B’s. ‘I’m fine with my own sexuality but I always knew I was going to have kids someday and didn’t want them to go to school and get teased by other kids saying, ‘I saw your mom naked in a movie.’ That would just be horrifying to me as a child.’
The screen door of the shower finally gives way under the pressure of the water and Alice is thrust out into the darkness, landing on the cold concrete floor of a long dark corridor. Making her way towards a light she sees a large room full of dozens of inmates and a young woman, Amanda, accidentally locked inside. Frenzied hands reach out to her but before her violation can be witnessed, Alice is violently awoken. While many of Skipp and Spector’s ideas were featured in the final draft, Bohem’s opening sequence and overall concept is the one that New Line finally agreed to develop.
The rape of his mother and Freddy’s unwanted birth had first been revealed by writers Chuck Russell and Frank Darabont two years earlier in The Dream Warriors when an elderly nun, later revealed as Krueger’s mother, described the brutal attack. ‘The worst of the criminally insane were locked up like animals,’ she explained. ‘A young girl on the staff was accidentally locked in here over the holidays. The inmates kept her hidden for days. She was raped hundreds of times. When they found her she was barely alive. And with child. The girl was Amanda Krueger. Her child…the bastard son of a hundred maniacs.’ It was this revelation that helped to develop the story of Freddy, a child created from the most violent of acts and who would grow without the nurturing love of a mother or the stability of a home life. As Norris had dictated in Serial Killers, an abusive childhood is a recurring pattern in the creation of a monster.
For Skipp and Spector, one of the key elements of their story was to explore how Freddy’s evil had manifested itself as a product of his unstable upbringing and perhaps had he been raised with the love that a child deserves he may have not have grown up to become a murderer. ‘We wanted to show that killers are made, not born and we wanted to find new avenues of growth for the Freddy mythos, to create directions that future Nightmare on Elm Streets could go into,’ claimed Spector. ‘Because if you don’t, you’re led down a regressive path where Freddy becomes a little simpler every time and loses touch with his heritage.’ While the first two movies had explored his murder spree in Springwood and the town’s retribution against him, The Dream Warriors had deconstructed the mythology by introducing a back story that explored his conception and thus the cause of his evil.
The graduation of Alice and the Class of 1989 would be depicted in both versions of the screenplay that were conceived simultaneously but each served to introduce a different assortment of supporting characters. Skipp and Spector’s new additions included a promising young Hispanic artist called Jen Valdez, her bulimic housemate and wannabe model Ginger Becker and their African-American dirt bike enthusiast Dean Woodyard. One minor element of their script that was abandoned by the studio was a scene in which Krueger’s house is destroyed by the Springwood council to make way for the Elm Street Mall, the latest addition to a community desperate to escape its past. Even as the graduates prepare to face the promise of the future, the shadow of Freddy Krueger and the actions of their parents are still cast over them.
‘Freddy is a symbol. He’s a symbol of all the evil in the world. He’s a symbol of the corruption and the pollution that every new generation has faced since time began and will continue to face,’ Englund told Gorezone during the promotion of the movie. ‘He’s also a symbol of the sins of the parents; not that the parents are idiots or anything like that, but that if they grow weary of battling the evil in the world and they go on with their lives then it’s the children that inherit it. Freddy is symbolically a child killer. He’s killing the future because he has no place in it. Teenagers and kids pick up on that. They understand, even though they don’t intellectualise it like I do. Down deep they understand it and so there’s a sort of repulsion/love thing.’
While the supporting characters created by Bohem were the ones featured in the final draft, ostensibly they would serve the same purpose as Skipp and Spector’s: instead of Ginger, the beauty suffering from an eating disorder is Greta; in place of Jen, the artist is Mark; and replacing Dean as the sympathetic and understanding friend is Yvonne. There would be some notable changes, however, particularly with regards to the exploration of bulimia and anorexia. With Ginger, it was her desire to become a famous movie star that drove her obsession for weight loss, but with Greta it was her domineering mother who insists she count every single calorie if she was to one day become a model. Eating disorders had first entered the public consciousness in the mid-eighties when singer Karen Carpenter passed away at the age of thirty-two following a lifelong struggle with anorexia.
The evolution of Jen into Mark would come with the arrival of director Stephen Hopkins, a comic book aficionado who had first made a name for himself with various music videos and as second unit director on Highlander before making his filmmaking debut in 1987 with the Australian thriller Dangerous Game. While pre-production had already commenced before New Line approached him to direct the picture, Hopkins worked closely with Bohem to develop both the set pieces and characters. ‘I started out drawing comic books when I lived in England and what I learned from comics was the importance of composition and story depth,’ stated Hopkins, whose love of comics influenced the character of Mark. ‘I’ve got the advantage of doing a film in a series where each film has taken a different visual approach. Freddy is the only constant.’
One element shared between both scripts is the resentment that Dan’s parents have towards Alice, although this is more apparent in Skipp and Spector’s. Upon discovering that they are to become grandparents, they are unable to hide their disgust at his choice of partner, with his father criticising her history of mental instability while his mother declares that ‘everyone knows about Alice Johnson’s hallucinations.’ These comments served to highlight that despite what the parents of the town had done to Freddy and all of the teenagers that had died as a result, many still refuse to believe the truth.
The ominous presence of Freddy Krueger rears his ugly head again. In Bohem’s script Alice says farewell to her father at the graduation and heads through the park on her way to work, but as she hears children playing they begin to sing an old nursery rhyme that kids would hear in their dreams before Freddy strikes. Within moments day has turned to night and she finds herself at the steps of an old gothic building, where a mysterious nun leads her inside. There Alice witnesses the gruesome birth of Freddy as his mother, screaming in fear, is rushed into a delivering room where an unholy abomination is unleashed upon the world. Immediately rejecting her own child, she watches in horror as the malformed creature charges out of the door, its escape reminiscent of the xenomorph following its own painful birth in the 1979 sci-fi horror Alien.
First we tried a bulldog but it was too frisky
Following four motion pictures and a television series that explored the story of Freddy Krueger, with A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 fans were finally able to witness both the violent conception and hideous birth of a monster. While the special effects on the three previous sequels had been spearheaded by Kevin Yagher, The Dream Child marked the return of David Miller, the man that had helped Craven to create Krueger for the original Elm Street five years earlier. And now New Line had given him the opportunity to show the birth of Freddy. ‘In the very early stages of the birth sequence, we needed something small underneath the birth blanket to simulate movement,’ explained Miller on how the scene was achieved. ‘First we tried a bulldog but it was too frisky. Then we put a kitten under the blanket, which worked pretty well except for one small problem: every time we put the kitten under the blanket, it would curl up and fall asleep.’
Alice follows the monstrous baby into the same church where Freddy had met his fate at the hands of Alice a year earlier and as the floorboards begin to break away and the stained glass window shatters, Freddy is reborn. As he is finally reunited with his infamous glove he utters the only line of dialogue to have survived from Skipp and Spector’s draft…’It’s a boy!’ His mother declares war on him, pleading with Alice to help release her from her earthly prison. Alice then finds herself in the diner where she works, only to discover that she has been missing for four hours. But soon she comes to realise that it is not her own dreams that Freddy has been infiltrating but those of her unborn son.
The rebirth of Freddy would be further embellished in the official novelisation of The Dream Child, adapted by author Joseph Locke, the man who had performed similar duties for The Dream Master. ‘A horribly burned hand reached out from behind the pulpit and snatched the glove up with a faint clatter. Alice stiffened, scrambled to her feet and stared up at the alter,’ described the writer. ‘Beams of light filtered through the shifting dust as a vague figure appeared from behind the pulpit. Knives scraped over wood. A laugh cuts the silence. As the dust cleared she saw him, Freddy, staring down at himself, inspecting his body. Then he smiled at her and quipped, ‘It’s a boy.’ ‘No!’ she screamed. ‘You’re dead!’ ‘That’s never stopped me before…”
His rebirth in Skipp and Spector’s script differed greatly to that of Bohem, in which Alice would awaken in an old hospital and during her exploration found herself in a laboratory filled with specimen jars and a piece of Freddy’s skull, a remnant of his destruction at the end of The Dream Master. She then witnesses the birth of Freddy, with a disgusted Mother Superior declaring the new born an ‘abomination’ as Amanda’s stomach is torn open and Freddy emerging from within. After finally retrieving his skull from the lab he declares ‘It’s a boy!’ and begins to taunt Alice as foetuses pulsate in the jars all around her. Realising there is no escape she challenges him to kill her but he says he has plans for her and the life that is growing inside of her.
‘From the moment his mother abandoned him, Freddy never had a chance. He was doomed,’ claimed Skipp. ‘Whatever genetic influences are present, not everyone turns into a mass murderer. The question of parental responsibility is one Alice has to deal with when she decides to keep the baby. How we approached the abortion issue in general was by saying, ‘If you’re going to have a baby you should be responsible for the child, because the unloved children of the world are the ones that have the real shot at turning into monsters.’ With Freddy wanting to become Alice’s child, he’s trying to get her to reject it, which in turn sets up the type of life he needs to guarantee him the kind of hideous treatment that would allow him to go that much further in his several-lifetimes-long pursuit of becoming the ultimate monster.’
While A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 was not the first horror movie to explore teenage pregnancy and the responsibilities that parents have over their child, these were themes that were not often explored in mainstream slasher movies. Both Alice and Dan are pressured by the personal beliefs of those around them, whether it’s Ginger’s opinion that Alice is too young to be a mother and should have an abortion or Dean advising Dan that family is more important than college and if he loves Alice he should be willing to be a father. After listening to the words of his friend, Dan finally accepts his responsibility and phones Alice to tell her that he loves her and that is all that matters. This is a very important moment in the lives of expecting parents; whether or not they choose to accept the responsibility.
In both incarnations of the script Dan jumps behind the wheel of his truck as he races to see Alice. In Skipp and Spector’s draft it was because he wanted to tell her that he is ready to be a father, while in Bohem’s version it is after receiving a frantic call from Alice, claiming that Krueger had returned. Struggling to stay awake, he hears his mother chastising him on the radio before the truck comes to life and seatbelts begin to wrap around him, causing the truck to lose control as Freddy takes the wheel. Eventually coming to a violent stop, he is thrust through the windscreen and lands in a bloody heap on the ground. He then finds a motorcycle and once again hits the road. But soon wires and leads begin to inject deep into his flesh, melding him to the bike as Freddy’s face forms among the electronics of the instrument panel. This fusion of man and machine speeds head-on into an oncoming truck.
Arguably one of the most ambitious set pieces of the movie, the task of creating Dan’s cyberpunk death would fall to R. Christopher Biggs, a veteran of New Line’s Critters series. ‘I was the only one crazy enough to accept the job,’ he would later admit. ‘We took a Yamaha V Max apart and moulded approximately twenty-five pieces, which would become the major elements of the Freddy cycle. For the suit, we used a basic form construction that we sanded to whatever texture was needed. The hands and feet were sculpted…We’re really living the life of vampires on this film. On paper, we’re usually supposed to wrap night shooting by 2am. Hell, most nights on this film I’d settle for that.’
Sometime later Alice is in a hospital bed with Yvonne, who informs her that Dan had died in an accident. She insists that Krueger was responsible but is then advised that she is pregnant and these kind of outbursts are not uncommon. Grieving over the loss of her lover, Alice is unable to sleep and late in the night she is visited by another patient, a young boy called Jacob. He offers his condolences and then disappears from the room. In Skipp and Spector’s script, the mysterious young boy that enters her life following Dan’s death is J.J., a supposed distant relative of his who offers Alice emotional support. But both Jacob and J.J. served different purposes in their respective stories, despite their true identities later revealed to be the same person: Alice’s unborn child.
While both scripts explored pregnancy in a similar fashion, they would chose to tackle eating disorders in different ways. For Bohem this came during a fancy dinner party held by Greta’s strict mother, who is dismissive of the impact that Dan’s death would have on her, before insisting that she indulge in the mass buffet. Greta, who had been raised to avoid consuming unnecessary calories in order to retain her figure, refuses. Suddenly Freddy appears as a maître d’ and starts force-feeding her the contents of a porcelain doll replica of her, effectively resulting in Greta consuming herself. With a bloated face, Freddy causes her to choke in front of her mother and their guests, her dying image projected to Alice as she opens the door to her fridge.
With anorexia, the body ends up eating itself
The death of Greta would come as the result of yet another writer. Having already contributed his script doctoring services to James Cameron on his 1984 sci-fi horror The Terminator, William Wisher was recruited by New Line to perform similar duties on A Nightmare on Elm Street 5. ‘Initially, I was hired to do a dialogue polish, but they were having problems connecting the characters in terms of how Freddy kills them, so I did a full draft to unify what was bothering the kids,’ recalled Wisher. ‘That turned out to be parental pressures on them to achieve as adults. Greta, for instance, is anorexic because her mother wants her to become a model, so she’s terrified of getting fat. We had Freddy feed her to herself; with anorexia, the body ends up eating itself. The film needed a psychological subtext to what’s happening, rather than just have Freddy kill them. That was all there in the drafts I read, but it hadn’t been fully developed.’
In Skipp and Spector’s script Ginger would be taken by Buddy, her sleazy agent, to a hotel room to meet two producers in the hope of landing a part in a new movie. Forced to strip off for the camera, she auditions for the role of Babette, a young woman being stalked by a maniac. But soon she realises that Buddy has offered the men more than just her acting skills and by the time the audition comes to an end she is left lying naked on the floor. She opens her eyes to find that she is now wearing a dress and is being ushered through a studio to the set of Downtown Julie Brown, where the host greets her as dancers begin to perform. But Freddy appears among them and proceeds to force-feed her, causing her body to bloat. Finally awaking from the nightmare, Freddy is there once again and as Buddy returns to the room he sees Ginger fearing for her life. Disembowelling her from behind, Freddy showers Buddy in blood and guts and then drops the murder weapon as the sound of police sirens approach, framing the pervert as the killer.
Following the death of Greta in Bohem’s script, Alice and Yvonne make their way to Mark’s family warehouse where he has retreated to process the tragedy. Struggling to accept the loss, he is willing to entertain Alice’s fanciful ramblings about Krueger, even at the cost of alienating Yvonne, who struggles to accept the stories. With Yvonne having to leave for work, Alice offers to keep Mark company, during which he confesses his love for Greta. Eager to learn more about the man responsible, Alice offers to make coffee before telling him the truth but in the meantime he is sucked into the dream world. Alice soon follows him to the other reality and after saving Mark from an abyss she sees Jacob, staring off into the distance. She suggests that they find his mother but he claims she does not want him around. When she tries to reassure him he snaps, saying she doesn’t care about being a mother and asking why she never thinks of him.
Finding Mark unconscious on the floor of his room, she says that Freddy is trying to hurt her baby and so suggests that she has a doctor run checks as Mark researches into the history of Krueger. During an ultrasound Alice slips into a dream-like state where she observes her baby growing peacefully inside her, only for Freddy to appear and feed the souls of his victims to the child through the placenta. In much the same way as Jen in Skipp and Spector’s draft, Yvonne serves as the sceptical friend that refuses to believe any of the stories she hears about Krueger and instead fears that Alice is suffering from a breakdown following the loss of Dan, thus conceiving these tales of a boogeyman.
While in Skipp and Spector’s script Dan’s parents were venomous towards Alice and critical of her mental state, in Bohem’s story they were desperate to adopt the baby due to their concerns over her ability to raise a child in her current condition. Meanwhile, Mark reveals to her the research that he has uncovered about Freddy, from Amanda’s alleged suicide following his trial to the fact that her body was never recovered. He theorises that due to the manner of her death she is in purgatory or, as one of his books describes, ‘trapped in its earthly resting place.’ They realise that they must find her body in order to free her soul and so Mark agrees to watch over Alice as she enters the dream world. With Yvonne rescued from an attack by Freddy, she finally realises that everything Alice has said about Krueger was true.
In the real world Mark is reading through his comic book collection as he watches over Alice when he comes across one he has never seen before called Nightmares from Hell. Inside he finds a story that echoes their own ordeal, with a monster that represents Krueger, when he is suddenly sucked into the comic book. Inside this black-and-white world Freddy taunts him and so Mark runs for his life, only for Freddy to pursue him on a skateboard. Narrowly escaping the attack, Mark transforms into one of his own comic creations, the deadly superhero Phantom Prowler, but as he faces off against Super Freddy he is reduced to a sheet a paper and sliced to pieces, the ink draining from him like blood.
‘Mark ran to the nearest window, but it would not open. ‘Faster than a head-on collison!’ Freddy roared,’ detailed Joseph Locke in his adaptation as he depicted the surreal death of Alice’s friend. ‘As Mark clawed at the window, searching for a hold, he saw movement outside. A comic book version of a semi and Dan’s red truck were headed straight for one another at high speed. When they collided, the word CRASH! appeared in a jagged bubble in the air above them. ‘No!’ Mark cried, covering his eyes with his hands. Behind him Freddy shouted, ‘Deader than your darling Greta!’ When Mark lowered his hands, the window was gone, replaced by a vivid drawing of Greta in an old, decaying high chair, her skin rotting, her eyes gone from their sockets, her mouth hanging open and filled with mush. Mark screamed and spun around as Freddy laughed. ‘Able to shred stupid little boys into bits and pieces?’ He lifted his deadly claw high above Mark…’
Despite being written independently from one another, Skipp and Spector’s script would feature a similar fate for Jen, Mark’s equivalent in the story. Jen is sleeping as Dean drinks coffee and reads a magazine but when the record player starts to skip he heads into the adjacent room, only for the door to slam behind him. As Jen opens her eyes she looks across at a drawing of Freddy’s house, watching as a dog appears on the lawn. Freddy then decapitates the animal and thrusts its severed head towards her. In the blink of an eye all of her artwork comes to life, as sculptures begin to twist and turn, a potter’s wheel across the room creating a claymation figure of Freddy before her eyes. Grabbing an acetylene torch, she starts to melt his face but as he slashes its tank the gas leaks out and causes an explosion. As she burns to death Dean is trapped under the door, Freddy looming over and impaling him with his claws.
The similarities between the deaths of Mark and Jen would not be lost on its writers. ‘It was interesting to see how we’d come up with similar ideas,’ admitted Bohem. ‘Giving people certain parameters and discovering they’ve written almost identical material does seem to validate the concept of a collective unconscious. For example, I was amazed to find we’d written a scene where one of the characters goes into a comic book. To be honest, I didn’t create that idea; it was given to me by another writer friend, Larry Wilson, who had just written it in a draft of Beetlejuice 2 that was rejected by the producers. Rather than see the idea go to waste he gave it to me for Nightmare 5. Then I read Skipp and Spector’s script and Larry’s ideas was very close to their scene.’
Convinced that Freddy’s attack on Yvonne was an attempt to distract her from uncovering the truth about Amanda, Alice sends her friend to the site of the old asylum, where she enters the sinister building in search of Krueger’s remains. Yvonne breaks apart a wall that had been erected to keep the past buried, each brick that is removed stripping away another dark secret. In the dream world Alice also explores the asylum, declaring her love for her son while daring Freddy to finally face the wrath of his own mother. Sending him back to the point of his conception, Freddy finds himself locked away with a hundred maniacs, who proceed to tear him limb from limb as Alice declares, ‘Goodnight asshole!’
It was just me and a hundred extras
While Freddy had died on screen several times before, this moment would prove to be a favourite for Englund, one that allowed him to work with other actors without the interference of the filmmakers. ‘My best time on that was the sequence in the insane asylum,’ he told Den of Geek when looking back on the movie almost thirty years later. ‘That was fun because that was my first time with the floating crane camera. There’s no crew. It was just me and a hundred extras and this little teeny camera. It was like having a drone on a little wiry crane. That was my first time with that technology, which was great.’
But Freddy is not so easily defeated and as one of the severed arms crashes to the concrete it transforms into red and green-striped spiders that begin to crawl their way up the walls, one of them landing on Alice. While many of the special effects created for A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 were achieved through the use of elaborate prosthetics or puppets, the Freddy spiders were devised in a far more simplistic way. ‘The genius thinking we had was that we got lots of tarantulas and hand-painted them green and red,’ Hopkins revealed in 2010. ‘On the floor of the stage we put up a little wall, which was in the shape of an arm. And then we had trainers come in and arranged them in green and red stripes. The wall goes down and they start to scatter. But tarantulas hate each other and so they started fighting immediately.’
Where the two drafts would differ greatly was during the climax, with the studio having refused to commit to an ending. For Skipp and Spector, their story saw Alice rushed to St. Mary’s Hospital where she is sedated by a doctor, then left alone to rest while being monitored from the nurses’ station. Suddenly J.J. appears in the room, advising that the answers she seeks are in the dream pool. The bed then turns to water and they both find themselves submerged in the pool, Alice finally breaking the surface to appear on the cold floor of the orphanage. Following Amanda, she confronts the nun, only for the woman’s memories to overwhelm Alice’s mind: a seven-year-old Freddy bullied by the other children, one year later he is torturing a cat and a year after that he burns down the orphanage. At the age of twenty-seven he completes work on his bladed glove and so his reign of terror begins.
Returning from her dream she finds Freddy standing before her. As he adds a new blade to his glove he slowly advances, teasing Alice as the furnace rages behind him. Pinning her down, he glides a hand gently across her stomach before his fingers begin to meld with her own flesh, the two becoming one. He slowly enters her, his arm working its way inside as he attempts to return to the womb so he can be born again. As a bright light is cast down on them Amanda Krueger appears, finally accepting responsibility for her actions by admitting that once she had not been prepared to provide the love that he needed but now she is willing and ready. Freddy resists as he continues to climb inside Alice but suddenly an umbilical cord shoots from out of Amanda and inserts itself into Freddy. Despite his refusal she slowly pulls him inside of her stomach, breaking his spine in two as her womb devours him. In the real world Alice has been rushed into the delivery room and although she was told that she is expecting twins, one of the heartbeats flat-lines. Freddy is finally dead.
One ambitious sequence that would fail to make it into The Dream Child, however, would come from Locke, which showed Alice incorporating the various methods of her friends’ deaths into her punishment against Freddy, first trapping him in a rusted high chair – echoing the torture of Greta during her gluttonous demise – before she uses her dream powers to transform herself into a roaring vehicle in honour of her deceased boyfriend. ‘Alice concentrated hard on Dan, drawing strength from his memory, power from his love and she felt herself changing,’ explained the author. ‘She fell to her hands and knees, except they weren’t hands and knees anymore. Her arms were above her head, stretched out on each side like handelbars and her legs curled up tighter and tighter until they formed a perfectly round circle – a wheel – and another wheel grew from her chest, coming to rest on the concrete and her engine revved. As Freddy tore the tray away and stood up in the high chair, lifting the tray over his head to throw it at Alice, she shot toward him in a streak of gleaming chrome, crashing through the high chair and sending Freddy into the air, flailing helplessly like a rag doll.’
In Bohem’s script Freddy has survived the ravage attack from the inmates and is now waiting for Alice, his new friend Jacob standing beside him. Realising that Freddy means to hurt them both and that his mother really loves him, Jacob runs from the killer and is chased through a surreal labyrinth until he reunites with her. Upon discovering that Freddy hides inside of her, this being how he found her unborn child, Alice is determined to pull Krueger from out of her womb and destroy him once and for all. Slowly she painfully gives birth to Freddy, their faces momentarily fused together like Siamese twins until she finally rejects the unwanted abomination. With the two still connected at the waist, he proceeds to tear her to pieces, finally dominating the dream master.
This sequence would be created through a variety of different methods. While both Englund and Wilcox were forced to endure the prosthetics required to replicate the burnt flesh of Freddy, the filmmakers also brought on board a Vietnam War veteran and paraplegic actor called Noble Craig to assist in the performance. ‘She was having to hang on to him. And he was on wires,’ recalled Hopkins on how this set piece was achieved. ‘Probably no one’s seen anything quite like the final battle of A Nightmare on Elm Street. It came out of desperate scriptwriting at the end. It really had to end, it had to show this kid’s anger with Freddy…Having all these creatures that Freddy has eaten coming out of his chest on long tendrils, like umbilical cords, which were all on wires with puppets.’
As Yvonne breaks through the bricked-up wall she releases the trapped soul of Amanda, who moments later emerges in the dream world to see Alice being consumed by Freddy. Warning Jacob that only he can defeat Freddy, Jacob offers to join Krueger but then unleashes the wrath of the souls that he had claimed, tearing the monstrous baby Freddy out of his adult body. As Alice collects the baby of Jacob, Amanda too is reunited with her own child but even as she warns Alice to escape, Freddy attempts to force his way back out of her womb. Months later Alice, her father and Yvonne sit in the park with Jacob Daniel Johnson, a group of children playing nearby as they sing the sinister nursery rhyme of Freddy Krueger once again.
Even as two screenplays were written simultaneously, the authors of each were unaware of the other, thus resulting in two independently developed stories that explored similar themes and concepts as they delved into the history of Freddy. ‘I learned about Skipp and Spector’s version a week before Christmas,’ claimed Bohem. ‘New Line called me about the project in the first week of December. New Line had worked out a number of ideas but would only tell me the basics. Their line of thought was that if they told me too much about the specifics they had in mind, it would restrict my imagination. All they told me was Alice was going to be pregnant and involved with Dan, that they were going to graduate high school, that Freddy would try to take over the baby and that Dan would be the first to die. There was no mention of another script.’
While Bohem would receive sole screenplay credit and both Skipp and Spector were acknowledged for their contributions to the story, the creation of the script for what eventually became The Dream Child was also achieved with the participation of another writer. With his own pitch having been turned down by the studio, following Wisher’s draft David Schow was approached to provide an additional polish. ‘Mike De Luca, then a development guy at New Line, called me in to ask me if I’d be interested in writing,’ he recalled many years later. ‘I went in and gave them a treatment called Freddy Rules. It posited the existence of a dream reality location called the Coma Pit; it’s the one place Freddy’s afraid of. And I was the only person in Hollywood without a script in their back pocket, so I did not get the job…Now Nightmare 5 is shooing, having gone through all of these other writers, they brought it back to me.’
For Wilcox, The Dream Child brought the character of Alice Johnson to a conclusion, having portrayed the heroine over two motion pictures, during which she had lost her brother, her lover and her closest friends. ‘My character has definitely changed between Nightmare 4 and this film. In Nightmare 5, Alice has a sense of confidence and outrage that makes her almost a mad woman,’ she revealed to Fangoria. In another interview she would add, ‘The script has some great acting moments for me. I get to relate more to people than I did in Nightmare 4 and the dialogue is sharper. I also like the way this film makes some valid statements about social responsibilities towards single mothers. We’re taking into consideration what a pregnant teen would really do and say. I think that’s important.’
Most of what we dream is exaggerated and strange and fantastic
While New Line marketed their movies to the same kind of teen horror crowd that had been fixated with Friday the 13th a few years earlier, for the most part Freddy Krueger was more respected than other slasher icons such as Jason Voorhees. And even as the critical reaction to the sequels had begun to diminish, the Nightmare series was always renowned for its imagination. ‘Even though I’m proud of the fear quotient, the logic of a movie called A Nightmare on Elm Street is to pursue the special effects, to exploit the nightmare surrealism and the Freudian/Jungian effects, symbolic or otherwise, that you find in a dream,’ insisted Englund. ‘Not everything we dream is gory or death-ridden; most of what we dream is exaggerated and strange and fantastic. That’s why I get upset when critics say we’re making the first film again. They still think it’s stab, stab, scream, scream.’
Finally making its way to the big screen on 11 August 1989, almost a year to the day since The Dream Master made its debut, A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child was initially released on close to two thousand screens and in its opening weekend earned $8.1m. Despite eclipsing competition from both Friday the 13th and Halloween, the latest Elm Street instalment earned more than $3m less than its predecessor, despite opening on more cinema screens. The reviews were notably less positive than earlier entries too, with negative reactions from the likes of Variety and the New York Times, although a rare praise would be bestowed by the Los Angeles Times. It had been twelve months since A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 conquered the box office and already there had been an array of music videos and even a television series. By the time that The Dream Child was released, Freddy Krueger had become too familiar.
‘Freddy, to my mind, had become too overexposed. People know he’s coming, so his appearance is not necessarily frightening,’ reasoned Hopkins on the cause of the movie’s failure. In an interview a year after its release, while promoting his work on the highly-anticipated Predator 2, Hopkins admitted his true feelings towards A Nightmare on Elm Street 5. ‘The film was a gigantic disappointment,’ he declared. ‘It was a rushed schedule without a reasonable budget and, after I finished it, New Line and the MPAA came in and cut the guts out of it completely. What started out as an okay film with a few good bits turned into a total embarrassment. I can’t even watch it anymore.’ In less than five years Freddy Krueger had become a superstar, a pop culture phenomenon whose very name elicited both excitement and terror in audiences, but by the end of the decade the magic had started to fade and so in 1991 New Line Cinema decided to lay the spirit to rest with Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare.
For its creator, Wes Craven, the death of Freddy could not have come a moment too soon. He had watched an idea grow into an enterprise but with each appearance his monster had become diluted and reduced to self-parody. In a last effort to restore some credibility to the nightmare, Craven finally returned to drive the final nail into the coffin. ‘Somehow they had killed him off completely and said they weren’t going to make the films anymore,’ explained Craven in Filmmaking on the Fringe. ‘That presented a problem to be solved and I must say, the way we’re bringing him back is pretty interesting. The second reason I got involved is that I was in a position to negotiate a very satisfying deal with New Line. They had gotten themselves in sort of a fix and came to me hoping I could get them out of it…They tend to think in terms of gimmicks and visual effects, not in terms of substance or character. Because of that, the movies degenerated into a series of set pieces about not much of anything at all.’