Backtrack Baby


2.5 Stars  1989/18/86m

“Freddy delivers.”

Director: Stephen Hopkins / Writers: Leslie Boehm, John Skipp, Craig Spector & David Spector / Cast: Robert Englund, Lisa Wilcox, Kelly Jo Minter, Danny Hassel, Erika Anderson, Joe Seely, Nick Mele, Valorie Armstrong, Burr DeBenning, Clarence Felder, Beatrice Boepple, Whitby Hertford.

Body Count: 3

So I had this dream about A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 t’other day; I can’t remember much of it now apart from ‘being at’ the graduation scene. As it probably stands as my least favourite Freddy flick (including the remake), this subconscious soiree was enough to at least make me go back for a reappraisal…

While it’s still the most disappointing Elm Street (though I love the artwork), The Dream Child still houses just about enough charm to slink by, thanks mainly to that nostalgic drag the late 80s has as all three major slasher franchises began to wane. Seriously.

Halloween 5 was a subplot-scuppered mess, Jason Takes Manhattan tried to light a spark that fizzled out seconds later and as for Freddy, well Freddy’s problem was that he’d become way too big, way too recently…

If you’ve watched the excellent 4-hour documentary Never Sleep Again (and if not, what the actual fuck?) you’ll know that the fifth trip down Elm Street was rushed out in no time at all, with an unheard of four week pre-production schedule and the same time again to edit the film, it was done and dusted less than a year after The Dream Master, which probably highlights New Line’s then-greed with the franchise as the fourth film raked in an unprecedented $50million and favourable reviews.

Freddy’s worldwide fame notwithstanding (the TV series had begun, he was being namechecked by Ronald Reagan, he released a rap LP…), the producers made the error of attempting to back-pedal to the gritty, gothic feel of the first film, keeping Mr K pretty much out of sight for most of the film as he returns to torment Springwood teens through the dreams of an unborn baby. Desperate? Yes. Clever? Kinda.

The foetus in question belongs to Alice, who returns from surviving the last film along with boyfriend Dan and also her recovering alci dad. Now, I never really liked Alice in The Dream Master, she was all willowy and enfeebled, like some simpering Jane Austen chick who then went kick-ass. It was a by-the-book heroine that grated me. Thankfully, she’s a lot more resolute and likeable in The Dream Child.

No sooner than do she and Dan conceive, Freddy is able to enter the bub’s dreams and using Alice’s ability to suck other people into hers, eliminate her new circle of friends one by one. Or rather one, then two, then another one and no more.

A measly three victims are served up this time around, giving FK little to do and Alice and dwindling pals too much to do. Inexplicably, nobody seems to remember nor mentions the spate of deaths at Springwood High what, a year earlier? When Alice tries to convince her buddies of Freddy’s existence, they shut her down. Hello? Dead brother Rick? Kristen. Sheila. Debbie. Have they all developed amnesia?

A recycled subplot concerning Amanda Krueger and her lost remains is tossed in rather haphazardly (the producers admitted the end was not even written until the shoot was half over) and all manner of visual effects are wheeled in to try and divert the attention: Freddy as a chef who feeds one victim to death; cartoon super-Freddy; loads of gothic shit.

To be fair, the effects work – for its day – is excellent. One of the last films to make extensive use of claymation before the CGI dawn, The Dream Child at least puts effort into killing what few doomed teens there are. The MPAA, however, was not impressed and subsequently all grue scenes were cut back, rendering the film rather impotent on the gore stakes. Thus, it also became the lowest grossing entry, turning a decent profit but falling far short of the dizzy heights of the two former entries, which are arguably the best sequels.

Fortunately, they cut back on the comic one-liners as well – eventually going into overdrive in Freddy’s Dead two years later – to aid the reversion to Scary Fred Krueger. But it doesn’t work. By ’89 the brand was too ingrained in pop culture and no matter how off-screen you keep Englund, no matter if you bring back the finger-blades screeching along steel surfaces, he’s still the guy every other kid dresses up as at Halloween. Freddy fail.

Essentially, the rush-job that was the movie hurts it. Director Stephen Hopkins produced a good looking flick with no real surface issues but the drained ideas tank shows and is almost bone dry come the third act, which makes almost no sense at all. A couple more victims, more made out of the don’t fall asleep keystone that the whole series should pivot on might’ve drastically improved things but who can say?

But the black girl didn’t die – hurrah! Progress.

Blurbs-of-interest: Kelly Jo Minter later starred in Popcorn; Stephen Hopkins also directed Dangerous Game; Robert Englund can also be seen in Behind the Mask, Hatchet, Heartstopper, The Phantom of the Opera (1989) and Urban Legend; Whitby Herford was in Mikey.

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