Tagline: Terror beyond your wildest dreams.
Director: Renny Harlin
Writers: Wes Craven (characters), William Kotzwinkle (story), Brian Helgeland (screenplay)
Starring: Robert Englund, Tuesday Knight, Andras Jones, Lisa Wilcox, Danny Hassel, Brooke Bundy, Brook Theiss
18 | 93 min | horror
Budget: $ 7,000,000 (estimated)
In 1984, horror maestro Wes Craven unleashed one of the most terrifying creations to ever grace the horror lexicon. Fred Krueger had all the right ingredients to keep you awake at night. A grotesquely deformed, razor-fingered child-killer, he was not the kind of merciful barbarian who would dispose of you with one brutal blow. This monster was gloriously sadistic; the kid who had taken pulling legs off spiders to a whole new level. Not only was he able to control the sacred realm of dreams, he thrived on manipulation and fear, driving his victims weak with despair before finally committing the act, one delivered with the brief, yet addictive thrill of symbolic ejaculation. When you were sweating under your bed sheets as a child after a particularly affecting scare, you could be safe in the knowledge that exhaustion would eventually lay waste to your unforgiving imagination. That, of course, was no longer the case.
Craven’s handling of the dreamworld delineations in the original A Nightmare On Elm Street were inspired, scenes in which Freddy’s leering impression appeared above Nancy’s bed and the infamous bath scene just two mind bending moments procured on a relatively minuscule budget, but just as vital to the emergence of Krueger was actor Robert Englund. In A Nightmare On Elm Street, Englund would give the kind of inimitable performance that made he and the character inseparable, his malevolent cackle and gunslinger stance — the latter a byproduct of the production’s notoriously weighty glove — proving impossible to replicate. Any lumbering idiot in a mask can play Jason Voorhees, but Englund’s Krueger was more nuanced, a fact that New Line Cinema quickly discovered having toyed with the idea of replacing him for franchise anomaly A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, only to recant on their decision after only a few days. Englund understood the Krueger character better than anyone else because it was his mannerisms and characteristics that helped define him. His ability to balance terror with sadistic wit was nothing short of a revelation.
By the time the fourth instalment of the smash franchise came around, ‘Old Pizza Face’ had become something of a self-parody. Gone were the slow, teasing builds and sly shadows of the original. In fact, the series had become so self-referential we would walk hand-in-glove with our killer as he stalked his latest batch of Hollywood fodder, confident that his cheesy wisecracks would be the most vomit-inducing aspect on offer. This kind of commercial departure began with the previous year’s instalment. For many, A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors was a welcome return to form for a franchise that had lost its way with Freddy’s Revenge and its decision to ditch the dreamworld concept for a straight-up possession story. Others saw the writing on the wall, viewing the third instalment as a character-marring step away from the dark side. Personally, I’ve always preferred my Krueger vicious, but the expansion of the dreamworld concept was very welcome, even if it did lead to roads that took the character on a rather tasteless corporate journey to commercial extinction. If The Dream Warriors‘ “Welcome to prime time, bitch” announced as much, The Dream Master‘s decision to have us watch Krueger relaxing on a beach behind a pair of wayfarers confirmed it, the newly camp character posing with the suave self-assurance of a Calvin Klein model—albeit it a rather ugly one.
The Dream Master begins with the demise of the previous instalment’s survivors, making fickle fare of The Dream Warriors, which is probably the only reason this film existed following the creative departure that was Freddy’s Revenge. Kristen, who in a classic soap opera switch is no longer played by Patricia Arquette, has lost control of her ability to bring others into her dreams and begins dragging kids in against her will. After Krueger makes short work of former foes Kincaid (Sagoes) and mute teenage pervert Joey (Eastman), Freddy stalks Kristen through his ethereal funhouse and tricks her into coaxing Alice (Wilcox) into the fray. Unable to curb his bloodlust, however, Freddy almost loses his meal ticket after barbecuing Kristen in his infamous boiler room, only for her to pass her burdensome powers onto Alice, an inexplicable parting gift that saves Krueger’s blushes and subjects us to another hour of his increasingly redundant wisecracks. Lord, have mercy!
Protagonist Alice is a pallid introvert lost in her own private wonderland, a self-conscious teen who covers her mirror with pictures of her dead mother in order to avoid her own reflection. Conveniently enough, mum became rather interested in the realms of the subconscious before she succumbed to the big sleep and had once taught her a rhyme about The Dream Master, a fabled character who learned how to control dreams with positive visualisation. Soon Alice is drawing kids to their deaths left, right and centre, as Freddy develops a penchant for fancy dress, assuming the guise of a nurse, a teacher, a surgeon and even a pornographic model during the movie’s 90-minute running time, playing life-draining tonsil tennis with one victim and posing for a real-life Polaroid with another. Say cheese, bitch!
From there Freddy plays the insidious circus master to a whole host of incredible special effect set-pieces, picking off the movie’s stereotypes with a wry relish that kills the fear factor dead. So elaborate and expensive were some of those death sequences that others suffered as a consequence, which is why we are treated to the dubious sight of Alice’s kung-fu brother taking on an invisible Freddy, as our glorified stand-up act spouts cod Oriental philosophies in an imaginary dojo — not an inspired creative decision but a monetary one. ‘Nightmare 4’ features the kind of screenplay that makes disposable pawns of its central characters, and when a girl of sixteen manages to turn up for school each morning, seemingly unaffected by the brutal and relentless deaths of her friends and family, you find it hard to care very much about anyone as the visual novelties come thick and fast.
Rather than oppress our senses with Charles Bernstein’s gut-wrenching lullaby, a theme that was vital to Craven’s original vision, The Dream Master instead enlists the help of a whole host of pop movie royalty, with a soundtrack that screams youth-oriented marketing, featuring such commercial luminaries as Blondie and Go West, while Tuesday Knight, here starring as Freddy victim Kristen, chips in with pop music tie-in ‘Nightmare’, a particularly soulless track that, while not featuring on the actual OST, plays during the opening credits and sets the tone for the rest of the movie. This is horror for the MTV generation: shallow, brightly coloured and lacking any real depth.
As a genuine horror, this is tired, frivolous fare, but you can’t deny the fascination of seeing Robert Englund in drag. Nor can you deprive yourself of the opportunity of watching his crater-faced alter ego picking at a past victim pizza, one that will strike fear in the hearts of practising vegans across the world — though likely no one else. Most dizzying is an absurd Freddy rap buried somewhere in the end credits, a slick production with a troupe of soul sisters backing his every brazen boast, and with rhymes like, ‘With a hat like a vagabond; standing like a flasher; Mr Big Time; Fred Krueger, dream crasher,’ the rap industry certainly had nothing to fear either.
There are certainly a few inspired moments on offer, particularity a time-loop that taps into the uncontrollable nature of dreams by having two of Krueger’s targets repeat the exact same steps while their friend edges ever closer to his indomitable fate, and Englund is typically enigmatic as the movie’s marquee attraction, making the most out of material that likely would have killed most other actors. There is also some next-level set design that is still impresses, further exploring Krueger’s subconscious realm and proving that the movie’s visual excess was largely money well spent. But after all the visual hoo-ha, it comes down to a good, old-fashioned O.K. Corral-style standoff, one in which Alice calls on the teachings of her mother as she attempts to banish Krueger to commercial purgatory for at least another year.
Trapping Alice and “major league hunk” Dan in a Groundhog Day style time cycle, Freddy sets his meat hooks on bugphobe Debbie, causing her to metamorphose into a giant cockroach in a bone-crunching, flesh-flopping sequence of awe-inducing ingenuity. Not satisfied with simply watching her squirm, Krueger then places his prey inside a giant trap and squishes her into a sallow splatter of goo.
Most Absurd Moment
After Kincaid awakens in a dreamscape junkyard with trusty dog, Jake, the poor fellow watches as his favourite mutt shoots fire from his dick, splitting Krueger’s burial ground and causing his corpse to reanimate in a rather wonderful special effects sequence. Soon after, vets would diagnose Jake with a rather nasty case of the canine clap.
The film features cameos from New Line producer Robert Shaye as a high school lecturer and exploitation queen Linnea Quigley as the ‘Soul from Freddy’s Chest’ no less.
Most Absurd Dialogue
Having watched her best friend barbecued and her classmate sucked to death, Alice attends her third funereal in a week, this time her own brother’s, and douchebag Dan feels the time is right to comfort his new squeeze.
Dan: Are you okay?
Alice: Not really.
Who would have guessed it?