Stephen Hopkins

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).

The Ghost and the Darkness (1996, Stephen Hopkins)

There are two significant problems with The Ghost and the Darkness. Its other primary problem corrects itself over time.

The score–from Jerry Goldsmith–is awful (he basically repeats his terrible Congo score). It makes the film silly, like a commercial. A great deal of the film is about the wonderment of Africa, something Hopkins and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond certainly capture… only to have Goldsmith ruin it.

Second, writer William Goldman thinks it needs narration. It doesn’t. Goldman’s able to get away with a dream sequence here (Hopkins and Val Kilmer sell it) but the narration’s too much. It brings the viewer out of the film, especially at the end; the credits are a disconnect from the film’s final narration.

The third problem is Michael Douglas. When he shows up, he’s basically doing Romancing the Stone, only with an occasional Southern accent. He gets better, but it takes about fifteen minutes and some of it is rough going.

The real draw–besides Hopkins and Zsigmond–is Kilmer (he never screws up his accent). He has an epic character arc in this film and his performance is brilliant. It’s especially interesting to see how he acts opposite Douglas, whose initially bombastic, silly presence should derail Kilmer’s performance. But it doesn’t. Again, some of it has to do with Hopkins, who knows how to shoot these scenes.

Good supporting turns from Tom Wilkinson, John Kani and Om Puri.

The film has some problems, but they don’t come close to overshadowing its achievements.



Directed by Stephen Hopkins; written by William Goldman; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Roger Bondelli, Robert Brown and Steve Mirkovich; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Stuart Wurtzel; produced by A. Kitman Ho and Gale Anne Hurd; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Val Kilmer (Col. John Henry Patterson), Michael Douglas (Charles Remington), Tom Wilkinson (Robert Beaumont), John Kani (Samuel), Bernard Hill (Dr. David Hawthorne), Brian McCardie (Angus Starling), Emily Mortimer (Helena Patterson) and Om Puri (Abdullah).

Dangerous Game (1987, Stephen Hopkins)

If Dangerous Game were an American movie from the 1980s, Steven Grives’s jerky cop turned psycho killer would undoubtedly be a Vietnam vet. Since Game is Australian, he’s not. Instead, with no explanation of mental trauma in his past given, he’s just from Ireland. That’s it. Nutso cop is an Irish immigrant to Australia. Some character development might have helped, but really… not much.

The movie’s strengths are Grives and director Stephen Hopkins. Grives makes the character occasionally sympathetic, which gives Game the illusion of a deeper level. Hopkins–except the climax–does a great job directing. The premise lends itself very well to a low budget movie–psycho hunts college students trapped in a department store. The setting gives Hopkins the opportunity to shoot in expansive enclosed spaces and he does these wonderful crane shots, teasing at how great he does when he gets outside. And there’s a beautiful roof sequence. Also impressive, and the only time he gets any real emotive symbolism out of his college-age cast, is the conclusion. There are some quick flashbacks to their terrifying night, but it works quite well in the end, even if the already overbearing music gets to be way too much.

The rest of the cast is unimpressive, Kathryn Walker the worst, John Polson probably the best. Leading man Miles Buchanan is, in his best scenes, mediocre. The script’s somewhat inventive once they’re trapped, but the setup manages to make Buchanan sympathetic (because Grives, pre-breakdown is harassing him), even with some trite, hackneyed scenes.

As a slasher movie action mix, Dangerous Game is fairly successful. It just misses raising itself to a higher level with the lame ending, which cuts off way too soon (especially given the lengthy introduction to the cast and some never to pay off foreshadowing scenes in the first act). I mean, it’s at least impressive enough I never got around to the observation for a big department store, all the scenes take place on two floors and only one of them gets destroyed in the action–as what Hopkins does with his limited budget is fantastic.



Directed by Stephen Hopkins; screenplay by Peter West, based on a script by Michael Ralph, Hopkins and John Ezrine; director of photography, Peter Levy; edited by Tim Wellburn; music by Les Gock and Steve Ball; production designer, Igor Nay; produced by Judith West and Basil Appleby; released by Quantum Films.

Starring Miles Buchanan (David), Marcus Graham (Jack), Steven Grives (Murphy), Kathryn Walker (Kathryn), Sandie Lillingston (Ziggy) and John Polson (Tony).

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