A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

Synopsis: Proving there’s no rest for the wicked, the unspeakably evil Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) is again resurrected from the grave to wreak havoc upon those who dare to dream. But this time, he faces a powerful new adversary!

As her friends succumb one by one to Freddy’s wrath, telepathically gifted Kristen embarks on a desparate mission to destroy the satanic dream stalker and release the tortured souls of his victims once and for all.

Directed by Renny Harlin (‘The Long Kiss Goodnight’, ‘Cliffhanger’) and loaded with killer effects and drop-dead humor, this is a “superior horror picture that balances wit and gore with imagination and intelligence” (‘Los Angeles Times’).

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A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master 6.75

eyelights: Robert Englund. its strong female characters. its less jokey tone. its aesthetic quality.
eyesores: its aesthetic quality.

“How sweet, fresh meat!”

Having righted the ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street‘ franchise with “Dream Warriors“, New Line Cinema decided to stay the course, producing a direct sequel to it a year-and-a-half later. Released in 1988, “The Dream Master” brings back the survivors of the third film, Kristen, Joey and Kincaid, for a final showdown with Freddy.

Interestingly, it’s also a passing of the torch from Kristen to Alice, her best friend (who didn’t exist in the previous film), who now becomes the “final girl”. In ‘ANOES4’, Kristen is back in high school, has a pretty bestie, goes out with Alice’s pretty brother (who also didn’t exist in ‘ANOES3’), and hangs out with a pretty rock chick.

(They also have a token black friend, who’s also pretty – in a science nerd sort of way)

Though the crowd and setting are almost completely different, the core conceit is the same: Freddy returns from the dead, tracks down and kills some teenagers, and then one key teenager tries to fight back. At this juncture in the franchise, there are no secrets left for it to reveal: the teens know and we know what to expect.

All that’s left is the body count.

In many ways, “The Dream Master” is cookie-cutter ’80s horror, with its pretty cast being knocked off one by one by a supernatural serial killer. What distinguishes it from its peers, really, is its villain, the gleefully tongue-in-cheek Freddy Krueger, who overcomes a few corny one-liners thanks to a stellar turn by Robert Englund.

Aside for a horrid drag sequence, Krueger is mercifully more sinister than comical this time; his scenes are menacing, not goofy. It’s a massive improvement over the folly of the last two pictures, which served up a large Freddy worm, a TV with mechanical arms, tongue-shaped bindings, exploding birds and other such nonsense.

Here, Freddy is no longer a laughing matter.

Sadly, the nightmare sequences are neither abstract nor scary; they’re merely background for Freddy.

And they don’t make any sense:

  • How could a dog come lunging out at Kristen from the boiler? Why did she, Kincaid and Joey all wake up just as it chomped down on her arm?
  • Why would Kincaid’s dog be with him in his nightmare? Is the dog also dreaming?
  • Freddy appears in the school nurse’s office and is about to take Kristen’s blood. But she wakes up. That’s it? It’s over? Just like that?
  • In the middle of an exam, Alice and Sheila have a nightmare. Together. What? Did they both fall asleep in class at the same time?
  • Debbie is weightlifting when Freddy comes for her. So… are supposed to believe that she fell asleep on the bench? Seriously? And what’s the deal with her being turned into an insect? WTF was that about?
  • In the most memorable sequence, which finds Alice and Dan in a continuous loop, both characters would have to be sleeping at the same time – while behind the wheel and barrelling down the street. However, Alice had already been sleeping, woke up, joined Dan and they took off in his pick-up truck – before falling into their dream loop.

So… when did they fall asleep?

…etc.

Aside for the dream loop, the most traditionally ‘Elm Street’ sequence is when lucky Joey gets another sexy naked girl scene – this time in his waterbed mattress. This is reminiscent of Tina and Glen’s deaths in the original, which was nice. The only problem with it is that his mom later finds him drowned inside the mattress.

Um… dafuk? Doesn’t anyone wonder about the weirdness of his death in this reality?

One scene that was well-conceived was the one in which Freddy reconstitutes himself in the car graveyard: The ground opens up and his bones start to mend. Then muscle begins to form on the cadaver. Then scarred skin slips onto the body. I’m not sure if the filmmakers melted wax and played it in reverse.

But it was a nice set of effects.

“The Dream Master” generally looks nice, but it has the appearance of an ’80s music video, with everything lit up brightly, even in the dark of night. In fact, the picture is patently ’80s, dated as it is by Joey’s waterbed, Rick’s martial arts sequence, the hair-sprayed girls, the dorky fashion and its “cool” soundtrack.

At least the filmmakers were more progressive from a gender perspective, giving us three less conventional female characters: Alice is timid but strong-willed, Kristen is shallow but is the fittest, and Sheila is the smartest. In horror, especially at the time, this was pretty rare. Meanwhile, the guys are all pretty generic.

I was pleased that Alice became the new lead: in the previous film, Kristen was sort of shell-shocked, bland. Patricia Arquette didn’t return for this one, and Tuesday Knight is the epitome of the generic high school girl. Boring. At least Alice has texture and is relatable. And I liked that reality blurred due to her daydreams.

However, I was left a bit skeptical by the notion that Alice would collect her friends’ abilities after they died – so, inevitably, as Freddy killed them off, one by one, she became more powerful. Um… what? And then she confronted him and defeated him with the help of none of those skills – she pulled something out of her @$$.

Whatever happened to Craven’s notion that Freddy fed on his prey’s energy and they could defeat him by taking that energy back?

The only thing one can say about ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 5’ is that it’s relatively competent. But it’s not original, nor clever. In fact, it falls neatly into mundanity despite its interesting new protagonist. It’s the kind of movie that’s so unstimulating that it could not exist and it wouldn’t matter; it’s easily forgotten.

You can’t say that about the original.

Story: 6.0
Acting: 7.0
Production: 7.5

Chills: 2.5
Violence: 3.0
Gore: 3.0

Date of viewing: August 10, 2017

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