A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child is inept. Some of the ineptness isn’t too damaging–director Hopkins can’t make anything scary, even though he’s got his cast in these scary looking sets and so on. He handles it too matter-of-factly. But, after the first couple times, that ineptness stops surprising. By then, the film’s other failings have a chance to show up.
The problem with Dream Child is its got one gimmick. It’s got one surprise for the viewer and it’s fairly obvious, especially if the viewer is thinking about it. Yet Leslie Bohem’s script puts it off for at least the first act, instead establishing Lisa Wilcox–who ended the previous film a dream warrior bad-ass–as something of a milksop. It’s a terrible part; there’s nothing for Wilcox to do.
Bohem’s gimmick also means–for better or worse–Robert Englund isn’t going to have much to do for a while. He’s supposed to be dead, after all. The film’s logic for bringing him back could work–and be really creepy (Wilcox willing him back into existence)–but it doesn’t because Bohem’s script is awful.
Hopkins does all right with some of the direction. Unfortunately, it’s mostly the high school stuff, which he gives a somewhat goofy undertone. It’s wasted competence. While Wilcox remains sympathetic (especially if you’ve seen the previous entry and can mourn her character arc here), there’s not any good acting in the film from the haunted teens. Kelly Jo Minter and Danny Hassel aren’t bad, but neither have much to do. Joe Seely and Erika Anderson do get more to do and they’re lousy.
The film’s also strange in how little it apes from Nightmare entries but how much it gets from other popular films of the time. There’s a Beetlejuice lift, there’s a huge Hellraiser (or Labyrinth) lift. Bohem’s script is tone deaf not just to the franchise, but to itself.
Jay Ferguson’s terrible music doesn’t help things either; it’s always going and always bad.
I suppose some of Peter Levy’s photography is decent. More the real world stuff than the dream stuff, which is boring.
A big part of the Nightmare franchise is the filmmakers realizing how to engage with their target audience. Hopkins is indifferent, but Bohem simply can’t do it. Without an inventively exploitative screenplay–and story structure–there’s no way for Dream Child to work. At all.