Thursday, August 22, 2019

Buck Rogers: "Cruise Ship to the Stars"

In “Cruise Ship to the Stars,” Buck (Gil Gerard), Wilma (Erin Gray), and Twiki (Mel Blanc) board the space luxury liner Lyran Queen on a mission to protect Miss Cosmos (Dorothy R. Stratten), a genetically perfect human woman, and “beauty” contest winner.

Mystery assailants aboard the space liner realize that Miss Cosmos possesses a “staggering genetic value” and wish to sell her body parts on the black market.

Once aboard, Buck and his friends attempt to protect Miss Cosmos, unaware that their opponent is a dangerous “transmute.”  

Sometimes, the would-be-thief is the meek, gentle Allison (Kimberly Beck) and sometimes she is the avaricious, incredibly powerful Sabrina (Trisha Noble).  

Allison and Sabrina both are being manipulated by their boyfriend and thief, Jalor Davin (Leigh McCloskey), who is plotting to use Sabrina’s abilities to capture and dissect and Miss Cosmos.

“Cruise Ship to the Stars” is another intriguing Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981) pastiche.  It’s another episode that seems basic, and even clichéd on the surface, until one looks at a little more deeply at the influences going into it.  

In this case, the episode takes its setting from one of the most popular TV series of the latter-half of the disco decade: The Love Boat (1977-1987). 

Instead of a sea-bound Pacific Princess, however, Buck Rogers sets its story on the gorgeous star-liner Lyran Queen.  The miniature for this spaceship is incredible and it would recur -- though with less-flamboyant coloring and trim -- as the starship Searcher in the series’ season two.  I’ve always loved this ship’s appearance, with the forward sphere, the long tube, and the over-powered, rear-mounted engine tubes.  It’s a fantastic design. I’ve always wanted a model kit of it.

In terms of interiors, the set used for the directorate hangar deck during the first season has been rebuilt or redecorated here as an elaborate Lyran Queen swimming pool (another set frequently seen on the Pacific Princess).

The episode takes a little bit from The Love Boat in terms of structure too. Here we meet a number of different passengers, all with a story to tell.  Even Twiki gets to fall in love with the gold ambuquad named Tina (Patty Maloney). I won’t comment on the fact that she says “booty booty booty” instead of Twiki’s “bidi bidi bidi.

In terms of characters, however, “Cruise Ship to the Stars” -- at least on its surface -- is really a kind of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde story.  That story first came into the pop culture firmament back in 1886, when Robert Louis Stevenson published his tale, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  The novella is a case study in the duality of man’s nature, both moral and immoral, and perhaps even a reflection of the conscious vs. unconscious mind.

Here, Buck tangles with an opponent who boasts two distinct personalities. One is meek and gentle, learning to assert herself and declare her needs. That’s Allison, our Dr. Jekyll in this case. The other personality is an out-of-control Id, a thief and a savage: Sabrina, or Mr. Hyde. 

The sci-fi concept that permits this doubling is the idea of a “transmute,” some who can alter their physical and psychological identity.  

The question becomes, I suppose, who is really in charge? Sabrina or Allison? And beyond that, who is the “real” personality, and who is the “created” one, if we look at the concept in that fashion?

When we look in the mirror, we could ask ourselves the same questions. What controls us? The unconscious mind? The Id? Or some higher, more “civilized” function of the new brain, rather than the prehistoric one?

On an even deeper level, “Cruise Ship to the Stars” is really all about identity and the way society judges the standard of beauty. 

Ms. Cosmos is beautiful inside and out, so much so that she is judged perfect by society. Her beauty is both physical and genetic, and therefore coveted by others who wish to profit from such “perfection.”  

Sabrina and Allison navigate standards of beauty in a fascinating way as well.  Sabrina is physically attractive, and yet her soul is monstrous. Her beauty is external; wrapped up in things like materialism and avarice.  Jalor considers Allison meek and weak, though she is also physically beautiful.  But as Allison asserts herself, as she undergoes the process of “becoming,” she might be seen as self-actualizing in a beautiful way as well.

I rather like the episode’s climax, wherein Buck, Twiki and Wilma close in on Sabrina and incapacitate her with sonic beams.  They make a good team.

Finally, I can’t end this review without noting the appearance here of Dorothy Stratten as Ms. Cosmos.  Stratten also starred as Galaxina (1980), and was named Playboy’s Playmate of the Year for the same year.  

And, of course, Stratten’s beauty was also coveted and manipulated by others.  At the age of 20, she was murdered by her former husband and manager.  It's a tragedy that still resonates in the pop culture.

Next week: "Space Vampire."

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Evil Touch: "The Obituary"

In “The Obituary,” an “old newspaper man” with a cane, Pettit (John Morris) hobbles into an airplane hangar and confronts the pilot working there, Willie Tremaine (Leslie Nielsen), about an incident from his past. He flew a plane drunk, once, and the plane crashed, killing 53 innocent people.  Although Tremaine was vilified in the press, he was never charged with a crime, and he has always proclaimed his innocence. In short, Willie was “legally cleared, but never forgiven.”
But Pettit has shown up on this day to warn Willie that he has not escaped scot free. A murderer named Henderson has been released from prison. He lost a wife and child on that fateful plane flight, 3000 nights earlier. And now he wants revenge for the death of his family.
Willie reaches out to his own wife, Susan, and son, Billy, but can’t find them anywhere. They don’t answer his telephone calls, and they are not at home when he races there. Willie begins to believe that Henderson has abducted his loved ones, and is planning to kill them.  A desperate, weeping Willie confesses to being drunk on the flight and causing all the deaths.  “I made the mistake. How do you think I feel?” He acknowledges.
Willie soon discovers, however, this family is safe. Henderson died a month ago. And even more mysteriously, Pettit, the reporter is also dead. He had been in a coma for two weeks before his demise, meaning that Tremaine confessed to a ghost!

As Anthony Quayle’s narrator reminds the audience at the end of “The Obituary,” “confession is good for the soul.” This is the story of a man, Willie Tremaine, who has never taken responsibility for his actions, and for 3,000 days, has lived with the weight of a guilty conscience. He has never told anyone the truth about his actions, and only confesses when his family that is threatened.
The episode’s final sting, or kicker, is that Pettit, the newspaper man who visits Tremaine in the airplane hangar, is actually dead, forcing this confession as a kind of last act on this mortal coil. This is a twist that feels very Twilight Zone-ish, and yet works well for the episode overall.
What makes “The Obituary” such an intriguing cult-TV half-hour, however, is the fact that other than in the opening and conclusion, there is a lot less-talking here than there is action.  There are long stretches in this installment where there is no dialogue, as Tremaine goes in search of his family, looking for them everywhere, and coming up empty. These moments are tense, and we empathize with Tremaine as he dashes about. He races from scene to scene, hoping to prevent a disaster that he knows he has caused.  Still, the approach is intriguing. Perhaps the series’ low budget precluded more performers from appearing per half-hour, and also precluded more scenes of character development?  Instead, this is virtually a one-man show with Leslie Nielsen on the run.
The funny thing, of course, is that once upon a time, Leslie Nielsen had a well-known reputation as a dramatic actor, and more than that, an actor willing and able to play dastardly villains.  He appeared as a bad guy in series such as Rod Serling’s Night Gallery (1970-1973) and in films including Day of the Animals(1977) and Creepshow (1982).  Everything changed for Nielsen with Airplane (1980), and also, ultimately, The Naked Gun(1988). Those films cemented him as the perfect deadpan actor to feature in utterly outrageous comedies.  But in “The Obituary” Nielsen is still firmly ensconced in his earlier career mode, playing a morally compromised, not entirely likeable man.
Of the three stories I’ve reviewed thus far for this retrospective, I would say I enjoyed “The Obituary” the most, in part because it hints at the supernatural without delving deeply into it. As was the case in “The Lake,” there is a ghost haunting the main character, but in “The Obituary,” that ghost is really the past.  Pettit shows up as a phantasm, perhaps, during an out-of-body experience (while he is in his coma), but Tremaine’s haunting is all about what he’s done, what he’s responsible for, not the machinations of a villainous specter.
It’s also worth noting that The Evil Touchin three installments has approached three  distinctly different sub-genres of horror. “The Lake” was a supernatural ghost story. “Heart to Heart” was a serial killer show and thriller. And “The Obituary” feels of a piece with The Twilight Zone, a little paranormal, and very dramatic.
Next up, back to suspense thrillers: “Happy New Year, Aunt Carrie.”

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Buck Rogers: "Escape from Wedded Bliss"

In “Escape from Wedded Bliss,” Princess Ardala (Pamela Hensley), Kane (Michael Ansara) and the Draconians return to Earth armed with a fearsome new weapon: an orbiting, glowing pyramid that can destroy whole cities in a heartbeat. The Draconians stole “ultimate weapon” from an alien mining operation and converted it for purposes of mass destruction.  
Now, Princess Ardala ransoms Earth, and the Defense Directorate. She wants to marry the most “genetically sound” man in the universe, Buck Rogers (Gil Gerard), and will destroy New Chicago if he is not sent to her for what Buck terms a “shotgun” wedding.
With the aid of a Draconian defector, Buck gathers intelligence about the Draconia’s lay-out and acquiesces to Ardala’s request. Once aboard her flagship, he must battle Tigerman to the death to prove his worth to marry a Draconian princess. He refuses to kill the hulking bodyguard, however, after defeating him in the arena.
Buck’s real mission, however, is to disarm and destroy the pyramid weapon. He must do so before the marriage ceremony. There, at the wedding, he will be outfitted with a special, constricting collar that will assure his fidelity to Ardala for the duration of their marriage.

When I was ten years old, and first watched “Escape from Wedded Bliss,” it was probably my favorite episode thus far of Buck Rogers in the 25thCentury. It’s easy to see why I felt that way as a kid.  First, it brought back the Draconians, and sexy Princess Ardala, the distinctive and colorful villains from the feature film. Secondly, it presented a visually memorable, and highly destructive weapon of mass destruction as the episode’s McGuffin. 
As an adult watching the episode some forty years later, however, “Escape from Wedded Bliss” loses much of its luster. 
Of course, it is always great to see the return of Pamela Hensley, and also terrific to see Ansara join the series, replacing Henry Silva. These accomplished performers and their characters will return two more times, beyond this episode, in the remainder of the first season (“Ardala Returns,” and “Flight of the War Witch.”)
But the story itself in “Escape from Wedded Bliss,” and well as its execution, leave much to be desired.  The first problem, of course, is the whole narrative set-up. Princess Ardala travels half-the-galaxy, carrying a weapon that could conquer any planet, any race…just to marry Buck Rogers?  After he tranquilized her, destroyed her fleet, and sent her scurrying back to Daddy in “Awakening?” 
And why is Buck even in the running as the “most physically and genetically sound” man in the galaxy? I mean, Buck is handsome and good looking, sure, but physically and genetically remarkable? The episode offers no specifics about this claim on the part of the princess. It likely would have been better if Ardala simply stated that she found Buck to be the most desirable of all her suitors, and therefore would stop at nothing to marry him. But Buck definitely has this tiresome, 007 thing going on in the first season, where every woman he encounters basically drops to her knees in his presence, judging him to be the hottest guy in the known universe (or even other universes, as the case may be.)
But -- as Kane sort of points out -- Ardala’s plan is pretty lame. She could bring the Earth Defense Directorate to its knees with the pyramid weapon, taking out defense installations and Starfighter squadrons to start.  She could then subjugate the planet and, finally, from that position of authority and strength, demand Buck Rogers as one of the terms of the planet’s surrender. 

This tactic would not only get her the man she so abundantly desires, but prove to Draco that she is the ruler/leader he wants and needs to succeed him on the throne  But of course, Ardala manages not to go this route.  Perhaps it is because she possesses some small hope that Buck actually loves her, and that if she were to attack Earth, he would never marry her willingly. Still, her plan is really bad, and doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
“Escape from Wedded Bliss” also features a scene that will live in infamy, at least in cult-television circles. At the reception for Princess Ardala in New Chicago, the Earth Directorate Defense provides some live entertainment. That entertainment turns out to be a troupe of scantily clad, male and female roller skaters.  The roller skaters engage in a terribly dated, horrifically embarrassing number to quasi-futuristic music that stops the episode in its tracks. 
To paraphrase a review from the series I once read, if this is the entertainment of the future, count me out.
Also, there’s some weak writing here, as Buck manages to get out of all his scrapes, including the dangerous wedding ceremony, using a “black light” bomb, given to him by Dr. Huer. Basically, Rogers just has to pitch the bomb on the ground, and the whole screen goes black.  When the screen returns to normal, Buck is gone, having escaped.  

In the audience, we don’t see him flee, or get past the guards, or find his way. The screen just goes black and we cut to Buck’s new location as he is miraculously out of danger. I would like to ask the question: why is Buck immune to the effects of the black light bomb? Why can he see, after detonating the bomb, well enough to escape and get where he’s headed  If the bomb lays down an impenetrable veil of blackness how does Buck see through it?
Then, of course, the episode must feature a standard duel between Buck and Tigerman (think “Amok Time,” or “Rules of Luton,” or “Code of Honor,” or…), one that requires Buck to showcase his moral, human superiority by not killing his opponent. This decision proves helpful, as Tigerman helps Buck escape the princess’s clutches in the final act. 
But does anyone really believe that Ardala wouldn’t immediately have Tigerman put to death, following, his defense of Buck? Tigerman strangles the Princess and threatens to kill her, while Buck escapes. Why does Ardala tolerate his presence after that?  Good help isn’t that hard to find.
A commenter here a few weeks ago wrote, based on my review of “Vegas in Space,” that it sounds as though that episode didn’t stand up to much scrutiny. The same observation holds for “Escape from Wedded Bliss.” It’s a silly, inconsequential hour, despite the return of the delightful, Hensley.  I guess all I can say is that it is a fun show, and Buck’s main claim to fame is, finally, its reputation as a fun space romp.  At its best (“Plot to Kill a City”), the series could shatter that ceiling, but “Escape from Wedded Bliss” is more representative of the first season, as a whole. It’s a fun and silly adventure, and that’s it.
Next week. More “genetically perfect” people in “Cruise Ship to the Stars.”

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Cult-TV Flashback: Freddy's Nightmares (1988)

In the late eighties -- due in large part to the success of Tales from the Darkside (1984-1988) and Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994) -- genre television took off in syndication.  Syndicated series such as War of the Worlds (1987-1989), Friday the 13th: The Series (1987 – 1990), and Monsters (1988 – 1990) all drew substantial attention and drew large fan bases.

Another TV series that arose in this era was a spin-off from the Nightmare on Elm Street movie franchise.  In 1988, New Line -- “The House that Freddy Built” -- produced two-seasons of a low-budget horror anthology fronted by none other than Freddy Krueger himself.  

That’s right: Robert Englund hosted Freddy’s Nightmares: A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Series (1988-1990) and the program ran for 44 hour-long episodes. Freddy’s Nightmares featured guest stars such as a pre-stardom Brad Pitt (“Black Tickets,”) Lar Park Lincoln, John Cameron Mitchell, Mariska Hargitay, Tim Russ, Sandahl Bergman, Dick Miller, George Lazenby, and Mary Crosby.

Series directors included horror movie luminaries including Tobe Hooper (“No More Mr. Nice Guy,”) Tom McLoughlin (“It’s a Miserable Life,”) Mick Garris (“Killer Instinct”), Dwight Little (“Do Dreams Bleed), William Malone (“Lucky Stiff,”) and Englund himself (“Cabin Fever,” “Monkey Dreams.”)

On paper, it certainly looked promising, and the series aired in 106 local markets. But the series experienced some growing pains over its first season. 

Freddy’s Nightmares’ changing cast of young actors looked inexperienced and diffident, the budget was so low that no good locations could be used (and one episode appears to have been shot in a hotel meeting room…), and the program was shot, badly, on ugly videotape.  The writing seemed rushed too, and lacked nuance.  The series had a lot of gore and a lot of sex in it, but very little in terms of ideas.

And Freddy -- who has continuing a long decline from being terrifying boogeyman to ringleader of a three ring circus – wasn’t well-served by the anthology, either.  He became overly-familiar, and familiarity is the enemy of good horror.

The pilot episode of the series, “No More Mr. Nice Guy” exemplifies the two-dimensional approach to Freddy’s world. 

Here, Freddy is portrayed not as a man who hides in shadows and hurts in children in dark corners, out of society’s view, but as Evil Incarnate.  

In other words, before his burning and resurrection as a spectral monster, Freddy is already monster, a fearsome immortal not afraid of anyone or anything.  As he is burned alive, Krueger quips” You missed a spot” and makes other ludicrous remarks that suggest he is not afraid of death, and in fact, mocking of those who kill him.

Although we know from the feature films that Don Thompson (John Saxon) captured Freddy (and ultimately had to release him), neither Saxon nor the character appear in this episode. Instead, Lt. Blocker (Ian Patrick Williams) is the arresting officer. 

That’s a change in continuity. 

As is the fact that several police officers speak openly of Freddy’s final resting place, even though in Dream Warriors, Thompson is the only person who possesses the knowledge that Freddy’s bones rest (though not in peace…) in an auto junkyard.

Worse than any of this, Freddy’s Nightmares is a disaster from a visual standpoint.  Freddy’s house is supposed to look menacing, but looks more like a red-and-green disco where someone’s smoke machine has malfunctioned. Another cost-saving measure: the two-half hour stories in each program often use the same two sets.

One of the key reasons why the Elm Street films proved so popular in the late 1980's involved the dazzling fusion of inventive dream ideas with amazing special effects.  Freddy’s dream world was always imagined with fantastic results in even the worst of the feature films.  The TV series completely betrays that legacy, and looks like an amateur production by comparison.

I wrote in Terror Television (1999) that Freddy’s Nightmares is my choice for the all-time worst horror TV series, and I stand by that assessment. The series had a duty to respect the King of Horror, Freddy Krueger, and it completely failed him (and Englund) at every turn.  I have never believed it was a coincidence that the movie series began to fare poorly at the box office starting in 1989…the era that Freddy’s Nightmares aired. I think the dumb, cheaply-produced syndicated series killed a lot of good will towards the gloved one.

Still, I’m a completist, and thirty years after it aired, I’d be very happy for an official DVD release of the series, and the opportunity to re-evaluate its merits.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Evil Touch: "Heart to Heart"

In “Heart to Heart,” The Evil Touch(1973) host Anthony Quayle introduces a story he calls a “meal of suspense” and “ghastly echoing of fear.”  In particular, a serial killer is roaming the countryside, a “monster who was born with a seed of evil.”
Meanwhile, a callow playboy, Richard (Peter Sumner), stands to inherit the fortune of his wealthy aunt (Mildred Natwick) if he can only get his act together. But he is cruel, abusive, and ungrateful, and is disinherited from the will. Realizing he will lose the estate, he turns over a new leaf, and attempts to mend his ways, though his aunt is suspicious. He secretly has another plan, however, one that takes into account his elderly aunt’s weak heart.
One night, Richard arranges to drive his aunt to her weekly bridge game. But his car breaks down on the way, even as the radio tells tales of “the monster,” believed responsible for eight murders in as many days. Richard’s aunt appears terrified, but has turned the tables on Richard. Conspiring with her butler, she arranges for Richard to be killed, apparently by the local serial killer.
With Richard dead, the aunt and the butler return home for the note, only to be paid a visit by “The Monster…”

The first episode of The Evil Touch,“The Lake,” was, truth-be-told, pretty underwhelming. Nothing much happened, and the episode struggled to achieve its intermittently creepy vibe. On top of that, the narrative was very straightforward, and familiar.  
“Heart to Heart” similarly begins with a familiar or tired premise, but then moves in some exciting and suspenseful directions. The idea of a young man attempting to scare an old female relative to death, for her money, is one that has been explored far too many times in horror fiction and film. Yet “Heart to Heart” adds an element of the unexpected into the proceedings with the presence of the serial killer, “The Monster.”  
This unseen killer could be anyone in the cast, or someone all together outside the dramatis personae. And he operates according to his own agenda and rules. So while the old aunt, and her ungrateful nephew separately hatch murderous plans, the killer is making plans too. There’s an old saying that man proposes, and God disposes. “Heart to Heart” embodies that concept as the aunt and Richard each plot and scheme, playing at being a murderer, while a far more experienced murderer stands to upset their respective apple carts.
“Heart to Heart” is smart enough to play lightly with its twists. Everyone watching the episode realizes that Richard hasn’t suddenly reformed. He’s just out to get his aunt’s money before she can officially disinherit him, and is not afraid to stoop to murder. The aunt’s plan is a shocking twist, but the best twist is last: that the killer chooses the aunt’s estate for his nightly murderous visit. This is more than enough authorial gamesmanship to carry the 25-minute episode’s duration, and make it an entertaining span. 
It’s true that this episode is not one of the best of the series, but it finds the fledgling series on some solid ground after a weak start.  You may not agree with the aunt that the tale is a cause to be “chilled to death,” but if entertainment and suspense is the name of the game, the episode delivers.
Next week, The Evil Touch explores a different genre of horror with “The Obituary.”

Sunday, August 11, 2019

30 Years Ago Today: A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)

In many ways, the Elm Street movies are a lot like the James Bond films. Consider: there is one larger-than-life figure at the center of each film (Freddy or 007), and much of the action and plotting seems to be determined by the need to feature spectacular set-pieces. 

But also like James Bond, the Freddy films seem to need occasional re-grounding in reality. 

This re-grounding has happened on a few occasions in Bond history.  The out-of-balance nuttiness of Moonraker (1979) was deliberately redressed by the back-to-reality For Your Eyes Only (1981). Recently, Casino Royale (2006) re-imagined the 007 series after the surfing-tsunami, ice castles, and invisible car excesses of Die Another Day (2002).

The Dream Child (1989) is, in many ways, a similar kind of effort.  

A Dream Master is a pop-music laden, slick Freddy film (that I like a great deal…), but which takes the series quite far from its original horror roots. Freddy the Ringmaster has replaced Freddy the sicko.  

Stephen Hopkins’ film, the fifth entry, adopts a new approach. It continues the rules and formula of Dream Warriors and The Dream Master, but attempts to inject more horror -- specifically body horror -- into the proceedings.  

Freddy is also on screen less frequently, and his make-up has changed some to make him look more malevolent.  

The movie doesn’t even begin with a light pop song.  Instead, The Dream Child commences with a creepy musical composition that accompanies disturbing views of Dan and Alice having sex. We don’t actually see them in their entirety, only shots of their bodies -- their flesh -- moving up and down in unsettling blue light.  This is the beginning of the movie's thesis about body horror, but our the unsettling nature of evil that can grow inside.

This disturbing first scene is an indicator that the Freddy movies are attempting here to move into adulthood alongside their original audience, instead of staying permanently arrested in teenage concerns. 

In keeping with that approach, the film meaningfully discusses hot-button issues in the culture, including abortion and eating disorders.  The focus is still on young people, but The Dream Child isn't afraid to explore deep problems in that milieu. Like Nancy Thompson, this film isn't afraid to dig beneath the surface.

The Dream Child is not as light, not as slick, as The Dream Master, but I appreciate its dedicated attempts to move the franchise forward, while simultaneously returning some element of fear or terror to the Freddy character.  

On the down-side, the film definitely showcases some artistic exhaustion in terms of the retread supporting characters -- who come across as replacement friends, and bad copies -- and there are some continuity issues that the film must contend with as well.

But as a Freddy Krueger body horror show, The Dream Child impresses, and distinguishes itself from the Elm Street pack.

“This is one of God’s creations.”

High school graduation nears for Alice (Lisa Wilcox) and Dan (Danny Hassel), but Alice feels increasing anxiety about Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund); about the possibility that he might manage to return from the grave.

Her intuitions prove correct.  Freddy is alive, though weak, living in the dreams of her unborn baby. As Alice soon learns, she is pregnant.  And babies dream most of the day, which means that Freddy has access to a universe of nightmares, even when she is wide awake.

Freddy uses his new power base -- Alice's womb -- to reach out and grab others, including Dan, whom he murders.  

While Alice grapples with what to do about a baby that could be born evil, she must also protect her friends, including Greta (Erika Anderson), who has an eating disorder.

“Your birth was a curse on the whole of humanity.”

The Dream Child -- the fifth entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street film series -- suffers a bit from its placement in the series.  It has not been long since the events of the fourth film, for instance, and yet Alice is fully ensconced at Springwood High with a new set of friends: Yvonne, Greta and Mark.  

Nobody talks about the friends who died last year, and certainly these friends would have gone to high school with them, right?  It's like Alice just opened a six pack of new friends, and there they are!

The film features some baffling continuity errors with the rest of the series too. 

Westin Hills -- which audiences saw up and running in Dream Warriors, and which could not have occurred more than two or three years earlier -- is described in the film's dialogue as as having been abandoned for years.  

Also, it is now located across from a park and is a huge, Gothic construction (represented by inadequate matte painting).  This is a dramatic rewrite of series history, since Kristen, Kincaid and Joey -- all classmates of Alice’s -- were warehoused there for a time.

And now we also learn that Sister Krueger’s body was never found, and has been hidden in the walls of the hospital for forty-something years? 

That’s new information too, and information that doesn’t really line up perfectly with the events of Dream Warriors either.  In fact, we saw the Sister’s grave in that film.

Also, when we witness Freddy’s birth (or is it rebirth?) in the film, why is he physically-deformed, a physical terror from birth?  

The real Freddy was a normal person, in terms of appearance, before his burning in the boiler room, right?  

So is Freddy re-born as a monster in this case, because we  are witnessing his rebirth, not a flashback of his original birth, in the movie?  It would be nice to have a bit more clarity about this, but the movie provides none.

These changes are vexing -- and continuity is not at all a strong-point of the Elm Street franchise -- but I admire Dream Child for attempting to be more psychologically adroit and thematically interesting than some of its predecessors.

In particular, I admire the film’s courage in dealing with two important issues involving young adults.  

The first involves Greta.  She feels tremendous pressure from her mother to be “Polly Perfect,” in her own words. This means that she is constantly being monitored in terms of what she eats and what she wars. 

Greta is not seen for who she is, but what kind of fame -- vicarious or direct -- she can bring her to her mother. Greta’s mom is thus an Elm Street Parent in keeping with others we see in the films: one who is corrupt and sinful, and unable to legitimately love her child for who she is. The message, voiced in the film, goes beyond even “pushy parents can drive you nuts.” Rather, parents can create pathology in their children.  And Greta, obsessed with her weight, and eating the right foods (“you are what you eat”) is sick.  She may be bulimic, or even anorexic.

Freddy, of course, attacks this pathology, and force feeds Greta until she dies. 

This is one of my favorite kills in the Elm Street series because it expresses something vital about the teen-centric “body image” crisis that is on-going, wherein teens are encouraged by media, parents and society to be of a certain weight, of a certain appearance. It’s a pressure that people still feel, and if anything it has gotten worse, since now men and women both are urged to conform to social norms in terms of their bodies.

Similarly, The Dream Child doesn’t shy away from examining unwed mothers and their problems. 

For a time, Alice contemplates abortion, because she simply doesn’t feel equipped to be a mother at this point.  Ultimately, she chooses to keep the child, Jacob, yet then faces scrutiny from Dan’s parents, who want to raise the child themselves.  

The upshot?  Alice lives under judgment, no matter what she does.  

She is judged for being pregnant, judged for contemplating her choices regarding having the baby, and judged for her fitness in being a parent.  

It’s not an easy situation she’s in, and it’s rewarding that The Dream Child goes to these places, and doesn’t give any of the issues it raises short-shrift.  The on-going subtext of the Elm Street films is that the sins of the parents are delivered upon the children.  Alcoholic, demanding, corrupt and pathological parents of the Reagan Era don’t pay attention to their children, and allow a monster to slip into a place that should be safe: the family hearth.

The Dream Child goes further than any other film, excepting perhaps the original, in diagramming this equation.  Alice and Greta deal with some major problems in the film; problems that arise not just from Freddy’s presence, but the behavior of the adults in their lives.

Some folks won’t like the presence of the abortion debate in the film, I know. Yet The Dream Child is very even-handed in discussing abortion, and doesn’t adopt either a hard pro-life or a hard pro-choice stance.  Instead, Alice just contends with the situation in front of her, trying to make the best decision he can. 

There’s something very realistic about the debate in the film.  In real life, choices about abortion are not an abstract, binary, either-or decision. For those involved, the choice is not a political hot potato, nor an opportunity to grand stand.  There are shades of grays, there are personal considerations, and there are repercussions, no matter what path is selected. 

In terms of set-pieces, I’ll be the first to admit that The Dream Child doesn’t rate positively beside some of the other films in the saga.  The Phantom Prowler comic-book scene is a travesty, with Freddy comically aping a graphic novel superhero with bulging muscles.  The Dream Child's purpose is clearly to re-establish Krueger as a serious threat, lurking in the shadows before striking his enemies.  This set-piece is so silly it undercuts, largely, the film’s attempts at re-grounding.

Much more fascinating and on-point is Dan’s death scene. Freddy becomes a motorcycle, and sort of “grows” into Dan, shearing off his flesh and perforating him with tubes, coils, and other mechanical devices.  

It’s incredibly grotesque, and almost David Cronenberg-like in both conception and execution (think: Crash).  When you couple this scene with those shots of Jacob in the womb, and Greta’s over-stuffing, there is a fleshy, tactile nature to the death scenes in this film.  They feel more organic, and less fantastic, and, frankly, I prefer this approach.  

But the organic nature of these scenes also make the comic scene stand out like a sore thumb.

Many critics and Freddy fans don’t like The Dream Child very much, and I suspect this is because the film is the only one of the sequels that really succeeds in making folks feel...uncomfortable.  The organic nature of the deaths, and the questions raised about body image issues and reproduction are not easily digested as mere entertainment. There’s a queasy, discomforting aspect of the film. It’s painfully aware of the fragile nature of our bodies, from birth onward.  The movie begins in a dank, squalid insane asylum, where a group rape occurs, follows on to the birth of a monstrosity, and then features many scenes that showcase how vulnerable and pliable our flesh really is.  There's nothing light about The Dream Child.

In other words, The Dream Child is a legitimate horror movie, not just another roller-coaster Freddy sequel, not just a lark with Freddy as circus ringleader. 

I rather like it, and appreciate what it was trying to achieve, though I readily admit it has flaws. I remain disappointed that Freddy’s Dead (1991) dropped Alice’s story, and went in a less satisfying, less human direction.

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