A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)

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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, Toy Newkirk, Brook Theiss, Robert Shaye, Nicholas Mele, Kristen Clayton

18 | 93 min | horror

Budget: $ 7,000,000 (estimated)


Review

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. When you were sweating under your bed sheets as a child 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.

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-claw 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. In The Dream Master, we even sat and watched as Krueger relaxed on a beach behind a pair of wayfarers, posing with the suave self-assurance of a Calvin Klein model – albeit it a rather ugly one.

Krueger Beach

The shades worked fine. The sunblock was a different story.

The film begins with the demise of the previous instalment’s survivors, making fickle fare of 1987’s The Dream Warriors, which is probably the only reason this film existed following the disappointment of 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 Kincaid (Sagoes) and disturbed teenage pervert Joey (Eastman) he stalks Kristen through his ethereal fun house and tricks her into coaxing Alice (Wilcox) into his dilapidated theatre of dreams. 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 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, her mother was 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, who learned how to control dreams with positive visualisation. Soon she is drawing kids to their deaths left, right and centre as Freddy develops a penchant for fancy dress, taking 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, while posing for a real-life Polaroid with another. Say cheese, bitch!

Dream Master Shelia

Shelia succumbs to the horrors of gingivitis.

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. ‘Nightmare 4’ has the kind of screenplay that makes disposable pawns of its central characters, and when a girl of sixteen manages to turn up for school every 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.

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 to watch his crater-faced alter ego picking at a past victim pizza, or spouting cod oriental philosophies as he prepares for an invisible battle with Alison’s kung-fu brother. Most dizzying is an absurd Freddy rap buried somewhere in the closing credits, a slick production with a troupe of sister soul singers and lines like ‘With a hat like a vagabond; standing like a flasher; Mr Big Time; Fred Krueger, dream crasher.’

Indeed!

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Dominoes would insist that their produce was locally sourced.

After all the visual hoo-ha, it comes down to an old-fashioned O.K. Corral-style standoff, in which Alice calls on the teachings of her mother and a Dream Master rhyme as she attempts to banish Krueger to commercial purgatory for at least another year.



Best Kill

After trapping Alice and ‘major league hunk’ Brad 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, squishing 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.

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 Brad feels the time is right to comfort his new squeeze.

Brad: Are you okay?

Alice: Not really.

Who would have guessed it?


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You can’t knock some of the special-effect set pieces for which, along with our anti-hero’s plethora of cheap one-liners, this movie is basically a vehicle for, but when society’s kids begin to walk around their homes in store-bought Freddy pyjamas, you know that the magic of the character has been drained beyond all recognition. Perhaps because of this obsession with all things Krueger, The Dream Master was the biggest grossing of the series to date, and although it would not be the worst instalment of the franchise, this was the one where the rot truly set in.

Cedric Smarts




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2 responses to “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)

  1. I remembered seeing this film in the theater & being disappointed that Freddy was becoming a joke instead of remaining a legit terror. You are right, the film did have its moments but few & far between. Great review!

    Like

  2. Thanks, Susan.

    I’m presuming I liked this movie as a youngster because the effects, even some thirty years later, are really spectacular. But if you’re a fan of the original movie – which I’m presuming you are – it’s kind of disheartening to see Craven’s seminal character so painfully exploited.

    I know that Craven didn’t want a sequel to his most famous creation, but Robert Shaye, the owner of a then minor New Line Cinema, could not afford to be so romantic. You can read about it here:

    https://vhsrevival.com/2016/11/18/freddys-revenge-1985-review/

    Incidentally, New Line Cinema would go on to fund the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy, so I suppose Krueger’s exploitation served its purpose in the end.

    Like

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