Jay Ferguson

A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child (1989, Stephen Hopkins)

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.



Directed by Stephen Hopkins; screenplay by Leslie Bohem, based on a story by John Skipp, Craig Spector and Bohem and characters created by Wes Craven; director of photography, Peter Levy; edited by Chuck Weiss and Brent A. Schoenfeld; music by Jay Ferguson; production designer, C.J. Strawn; produced by Robert Shaye and Rupert Harvey; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Lisa Wilcox (Alice), Kelly Jo Minter (Yvonne), Danny Hassel (Dan), Erika Anderson (Greta), Joe Seely (Mark Gray), Nicholas Mele (Mr. Johnson) and Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger).

Tremors II: Aftershocks (1996, S.S. Wilson)

I remember when Tremors II first came out. I believe it was on the heels of a special edition laserdisc of the first film, but it might have been at the same time. Universal made a lot of direct-to-video sequels in the 1990s, but Tremors II was a little different. First, it was an actual sequel–writers S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock return from the first film, as do Fred Ward and Michael Gross. Second, it was at least an attempt at a real movie–instead of shooting Tremors II for television, it was shot for a theatrical aspect ratio (I guess that special edition laserdisc sold well, because the only widescreen advocates in 1996 were laserdisc buyers). Unfortunately, it still looks like it was shot for television and it still feels like a hackneyed direct-to-video sequel.

Not all of it is bad. Wilson and Maddock make their characters appealing–the stuff with Fred Ward and Helen Shaver is fantastic–and there’s still a lot of humor… but it’s not a real movie. No one’s really afraid of the monsters. Shaver loses a friend–watches the sequel’s new monsters eat off a leg–and is flirting with Ward twenty minutes later. There are some funny lines and funny details, but it’s NutraSweet overall. Ward stumbles a lot as some of his dialogue is terrible and, as his new sidekick, Christopher Gartin manages to be both agreeable and annoying. Gartin’s performance is agreeable, his character’s writing is annoying. But the big problem is that lack of fear. It’s a monster comedy, not a monster movie with comedy.

As for Michael Gross… he’s pretty bad for most of the movie. He’s got a few moments here and there, but his performance is an exaggerated repeat. He does what he did before, just amps it up a little bit; makes it cheesy.

Given the effects–done on the cheap–are excellent, the main problem falls on Wilson, who directed this one. He’s got no idea how to do establishing shots during scenes. The whole movie feels cheap because of the lack of these shots (regardless of its actual, frugal budget). He directs comedy scenes like “Mr. Ed” used to do. The inexperience is startling. With everything else trying (and maybe not succeeding) at making Tremors II more than a video cash-in, the director (slash co-writer) isn’t cutting it. He’s making it feel cheap. Worst is when he tries to mimic the Underwood crane style from the first film.

Tremors II is better than it should be–that Ward and Shaver romance standing out–but it’s a surprise, for the first film anyway. This one shows off how important having a good director can be.



Directed by S.S. Wilson; written by Brent Maddock and Wilson, based on characters created by Maddock, Wilson and Ron Underwood; director of photography, Virgil L. Harper; edited by Bob Ducsay; music by Jay Ferguson; production designer, Ivo Cristante; produced by Christopher DeFaria and Nancy Roberts; released by MCA Home Entertainment.

Starring Fred Ward (Earl Bassett), Christopher Gartin (Grady Hoover), Helen Shaver (Kate Reilly), Michael Gross (Burt Gummer), Marcelo Tubert (Señor Ortega) and Marco Hernandez (Julio).

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