Saturday, May 30, 2009

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

by JM

The Dream Master is an effing mess. No two ways about it. But, depending on your perspective this mess is one of the best or one of the worst Freddy movies.

Personally, I am a sucker for messes.

At this point, any horror fan should know the story of Freddy Kruger. But, I do want to take a moment to discuss the character briefly and his evolution through part 3.

In part 1, the character is creepy. His lines are few. He is kind of a bogeyman, returned from the dead to take revenge on the parents of Elm Street that killed him.

A lot of reviewers have a problem with part 2. But, I actually think that Freddy's evolution makes sense. After having his revenge on the parents that killed him, he refocused on the new kids that are living on Elm Street. I mean, the guy was a pervert child molester, right? He doesn't need any excuse to go after new kids. And, frankly, it makes sense to me that he would want to leave the dream world.

But, whatever. No one else liked the idea. So, part 3 brought Freddy back and had him, again, taking revenge on kids whose parents had a hand in his death. This one was less a horror film than an adventure. But, it was really good and is, in fact, my favorite in the series.

Then, Mr. Renny Harlin came in to direct part 4 and did what he does best. He totally derailed the series.

But, as with his derailment of the Die Hard movies (he did the second one), the Exorcist movies (he directed Exorcist: The Begining) and Gina Davis's career (he directed The Long Kiss Goodnight AND Cutthroat Island), A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master is a near perfect train wreck. Truly, for fans of sleazy sequels, Renny Harlin is a godsend.

As with all Elm Street movies, this opens with a completely pretentious literary quote. This one really raises the bar in two ways. Firstly, it is taken from The Bible. The only way to be more pretentious about a quotation is to take it from a character in your own movie (I am looking at you, Rob Zombie).

Secondly, it is accompanied by a late '80s pop/goth tune performed by Tuesday Knight. Yes, the same Tuesday Knight that plays Kristen in this installment (in part 3, the character was played by Patricia Arquette). Other movies have tried this, but it just never works. Remember when Ice Cube's character was listening to an Ice Cube song while on the boat in Anaconda? Well, at least this time no one had ever heard of Tuesday Knight.

Part 3 opened with shot of Kristen making a Popsicle stick house representing Nancy's house from part's 1 and 2 . Part 4 opens with a lazier and much less interesting sequence showing a kid making a chalk drawing of the house.

As mentioned, Kirsten is played this time around by Tuesday Knight. I guess the years have been rough on this character, because it looks like Kristen's been drinking pretty heavily since we last saw her in part 3. She has also picked up a nice Muncie Mom haircut.

In short order, this movie establishes that part 3 survivors Kristen, Joey, and Kincade are all going to high school together.

But, Renny pulls a move that I usually just hate in movies. He quickly kills off everyone that survived in the previous installment. At least, though, he gave us the fantastic waterbed death. Trust me, I was in 5th grade when this was released. So, I saw it between 5th and 6th grade on VHS at a sleepover. The idea of having an attractive blonde appearing in one's bed was enough to have the entire group of 12 year old boys totally freaking out. I am not sure there is any other way to describe our reaction.

None of this matters, though. The Dream Warriors are disposed of early on to give us some gore and body count. Their deaths set up one of the worst ideas ever put to celluloid. Somehow or another, a new character, Alice (looking like the oldest high schooler since Drew Barrymore went undercover to get kissed) is able to take on anyone's dream power after anyone dies.

Oh, and somehow this power opens some sort of door to allow Freddy to stalk and kill kids that have no connection to his death (by the parents of parts 1 and 3).

WHAT!? That's just stupid! Not only does it make absolutely no sense, but why go out of the way in part 3 to "correct" the mistakes of part 2 in order to end up in the same place in part 4? But, that's Renny Harlin, for you (by the way, this gets even worse in part 5. Everyone hated that Freddy was trying to get out of the dream world and into the real world through possession in part 2. So, in part 5, he tries to possess an unborn child in order to get out of the dream world and reborn into the real world. This is in no way Renny Harlin's fault. But, it begs the question, what in the hell was part 3 all about??).

Hey, though, this movie is not about continuity or plot. It is about weird dream sequences, over-the-top deaths, and Freddy Kruger one-liners. In these regards, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master does not disappoint.

For example, in one great sequence, Freddy is eating a pizza at a diner. The kids he has been killing are all part of the pizza, which he refers to as "soul food." He says "Rick, you little meatball" as he spears the head of Alice's deceased brother then eats it. I mean, does it get better than this?

My personal favorite dream sequence/death involves the character of Debbie. If there was any question that this movie was filmed in the late '80s, Debbie settles that once and for all. Just take a look.

Well, early in the movie it is established that Debbie hates bugs. Any chance that was just a quirk put in for character development?

Nope. Sorry to ruin that surprise. But, in one of the grossest sequences in any Elm Street movie, Freddy turns her into a cockroach.

The whole friggin' movie is like this. It is all about gags, punchlines, and special effects. Believe me, though, this is no complaint. Because this movie is so insane, I watch it more often than any of the others.

I will admit, the ending is pretty weak. Alice recites the rhyme:
"Now I lay me down to sleep. The Master of Dreams my soul will keep. In the reflection by my side, evil will see itself, and it shall die!"

At that point, she shows Freddy his own reflection and he is destroyed.

Now, I don't know about you, but the version of that little rhyme that I have always heard is slightly different. Frankly, I am not even sure what Alice's version means exactly. It seems like it was written by someone for whom English is not a first language. "The Master of Dreams my soul will keep"? What?

Oh, then at the end, Alice sees Freddy's reflection in a public water fountain and realizes that he may not be dead, after all. But, wait a moment, I thought we 5 minutes earlier... that Freddy's reflection will kill him. What is he doing hanging around pools of water?

For all of its faults, though, it at least was a launching pad for the band Vinnie Vincent Invasion and their song "Love Kills". What do you mean you've never heard of them?

Four finger knives.


  1. Yeah it's goofy as hell and reeks of Harlin, but I love this installment. Maybe it is just nostalgia, but this is one of the greats. And I loved Lisa Wilcox back then!

  2. Most of the sequels to ANOES are guilty pleasures of mine (though Wes Craven's New Nightmare was bloody brilliant) - lots of camp value (Zsa Zsa Gabor, Dick Cavett showing up in part III and Roseanne and Tom Arnold in part?). For whatever reason, the only part of Dream Master that I can recall is the metamorphosis section with the roach motel.

    I have the DVD somewhere, going to have to re-watch it soon. As always, great review!

  3. Part 4 takes its cues from the well-received humor of Part 3, and then keeps going and doesn't know when to quit and be "serious" for a second. I think *both* of the entries with Alice kinda suck; she's a horrible actress with the oddest and most stilted delivery ever, especially when she tries to yell or sound assertive. That said, this one is still oodles & oodles better than its successor Part 5 (which I almost actually hate, & it is by far the least of the franchise).

  4. JM: Thank you for this summary of the Nightmare franchise - Very well done. Loved your thoughts on Reny Harlin - ain't it the truth! His films really are train wrecks that sell tons of tickets. "Muncie Mom" haricut! Is that a reference to Muncie, Indiana? I love it. I haven't heard that one before.

    I really enjoyed this post. -- Mykal

  5. Radiation,
    I'll take this one for my brother -- yes, we boys actually spent many years in Muncie, which probably explains why we are the way we are. It's been years since we've been back, but we still know a Muncie mom haircut when we see one. They're very specific.

  6. I *gasp* never really liked the NOES series, and Freddy is one of my least favorite villains. I think the series as a whole is pretty iffy, but 4 is easily better than 2, 5, and 6, ranking it solidly as just ok. I like ideas in it, but it is almost an alternate universe NOES since none of the original rules comply. 3 p0wNzEs the rest of the sequels in their stupid faces.

  7. I agree with Carl. DREAM WARRIORS [part 3] is my personal fave and none of the sequels can compare to it. But THE DREAM MASTER is probably the last good sequel until NEW NIGHTMARE came along. I always had issues with this one. The whole Dream Warriors must die at the beginning thing always bugged me. I wondered what the point of DREAM WARRIORS was because of it. To kill characters that we've already been attached to just so we can watch new annoying ones who we want to see die? Makes no sense. The dog pee that revives Freddy is just ridiculous in a funny way. And the way Alice takes out Freddy at the end is so dumb. His reflection? Really? That's the best they can come up with?

    I do like the dream sequences in this one and I think the Alice character was interesting. Hell, she's one of the few survivors of the franchise. You have to respect that. I do think Freddy is a bit of a ham here but it's not as bad as THE DREAM CHILD or the horrible FREDDY'S DEAD. An above average sequel by a director who has made really memorable stuff, mostly for the wrong reasons. Great job!