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

Renny Harlin

Lisa Wilcox - Alice Johnson
Robert Englund - Freddy Krueger
Tuesday Knight - Kristen Parker
Danny Hassel - Dan Jordan
Ken Sagoes - Roland Kincaid
Toy Newkirk - Sheila
Brooke Theiss - Debbie
Rodney Eastman - Joey

Year - 1988

Score - 2.5 Howls Outta 4

It should have been the end. Freddy Krueger was dead and buried in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS, released in 1987. That was creator Wes Craven's plan when he decided to produce and write the very successful sequel. Craven and New Line Cinema had issues with DREAM WARRIORS' ending [Craven wanted a conclusive ending but New Line won out with their more open-ended one] but the two parties were on good terms with their agreement.

That is until the box office numbers came in...

$40 million.

DREAM WARRIORS became the highest grossing NIGHTMARE film at the time, giving New Line the indication that the people loved Freddy. And when horror franchises make more and more money with each installment, a sequel is inevitable. Remember...horror villains don't die if they're making you moolah.

New Line rushed the next film into production to be released in 1988, titled THE DREAM MASTER. Their plan was to end Freddy's revenge on the Elm Street children once and for all, giving Freddy a means to haunt any child and kill them, no matter if they were part of his history or not. Craven was upset that DREAM WARRIORS was seen as a sort of afterthought for the finale of the Krueger story, wanting no part of the franchise until 1994 with NEW NIGHTMARE. Patricia Arquette, who was supposed to return as Kristen Parker [one of the survivors of DREAM WARRIORS], became a rising star and declined a return to the franchise [although Ken Sagoes as Kinkaid and Rodney Eastman as Joey would return]. Directed by Renny Harlin, THE DREAM MASTER was released in the spring of 1988 to a ton of success. THE DREAM MASTER made almost $50 million at the box office in the United States alone, making it the most successful NIGHTMARE film [or second if you count FREDDY VS. JASON]. Freddy Krueger was officially a pop culture icon and the star of the horror genre for better and for worse.

Kristen Parker (Tuesday Knight, replacing Patricia Arquette) believes Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) may still be alive. That's definitely the case when Kristen's old buddy Kinkaid (Ken Sagoes) and his fire-peeing dog [I couldn't make this shit up if I tried] resurrect the Gloved One [no, not Michael Jackson - Freddy!!]. Anyway, Freddy gathers the strength to finally get his revenge on all the surviving Elm Street children, killing off Kinkaid, Joey (Rodney Eastman), and Kristen. However, Kristen brings her friend Alice Johnson (Lisa Wilcox) into her dream before dying, somehow passing on her powers to Alice. Alice, suddenly feeling like Kristen, begins having dreams about Freddy herself. Actually wanting her to live, Freddy begins manipulating Alice into bringing her friends into her dreams so he can kill them one by one and claim some new souls. What Freddy doesn't realize that Alice gains every power from every victim Freddy kills, culminating to a final [ha!] showdown between Alice and Freddy.

While not as great as the original or DREAM WARRIORS, THE DREAM MASTER is still a pretty good installment of the NIGHTMARE franchise. It continues the plot structure of DREAM WARRIORS, with elaborate dream sequences and interesting visuals to highlight Freddy's powers. However, the film doesn't feel as fresh or as innovative as the previous installments. Plus, Freddy Krueger is the star here and is pretty much wisecracking throughout the film, making him lose his scare factor for good. 

As usual, I'll start with the SFX of the film by DreamQuest. While not as eye-popping as DREAM WARRIORS [where the hell is the Freddy snake??], it's still nicely done to protray the level of control Freddy has in manipulating his victim's dreams. While I thought some was pretty corny, like the Rick Samurai dream and Sheila getting deflated like a blow-up doll [I personally wouldn't know anything about this subject], I thought the Debbie roach dream was very cool - even after 20 years. Still kind of makes me cringe when he skin peels and reveals a bug-like body underneath. It's like a weaker version of THE FLY remake, but it works very well. I also liked when Freddy makes his exit as the souls he swallowed fight back and rip him apart. There's a lot of care when it comes to the SFX to these NIGHTMARE films. I've seen better but I enjoyed watching the craziness nonetheless.

I wish care for the SFX went to the script though. While these characters were okay for the most part, they seemed too stereotypical for me to really care about them. It would have helped if the story was better. I mean, the three films before it had a much better narrative going on. This was slightly better than your typical FRIDAY THE 13TH flick due to better acting and more exciting moments on the screen. I mean, how can you build up three characters who survived the much superior DREAM WARRIORS and then just waste them in the next chapter? Seriously...was there any other reason for Kinkaid and Joey to be in this film other than to die? Pathetically, I might add. At least Joey got to see boobies before he was killed. All Kinkaid got was watching his dog pee fire [shakes head]. Kristen was treated slightly better but I can see why Patricia Arquette passed. Nothing against Tuesday Knight, who did a fine job with what she was given, but the Kristen I remember wasn't really as much of a downer than this Kristen. And how did she have the ability to pass her powers to others? Speaking of which, do all children have dream powers? It seems to be the case but I couldn't tell you as fact since it's never really explained. And who are we left with after the three kids we like are gone? The virginal girl, a good-looking jock, a Ralph Macchio KARATE KID wannabe, a nerd, and a fitness fanatic. Gee, I wonder who's gonna live? Seriously, I liked the characters but I wish they had more depth.

And then there's Freddy. What have they done to Freddy? Instead of hiding in the shadows, scaring his victims, he's now making them laugh with his potential stand-up career. I won't lie and say that I hate funny Freddy because I don't. While he's a clown in THE DREAM MASTER, it's not over the top and he's pretty funny. I kind of think by this point, Freddy wasn't scaring many people to begin with anymore. So why not make him funny? It's sort of appealing and he's actually quite charming. But I definitely understand why fans don't like the change because now Freddy isn't just our villain, he's EVERYONE'S villain. But again, I still like Freddy here and he's actually the only character with personality in the film. He's not as big of a clown as he is in FREDDY'S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE. Now that film is a joke!

The direction by Renny Harlin is good. He tried to compensate visuals for the lack of a what-should-have-been a good script and does well. I liked his style, with the crazy angles [Kristen falling asleep before her death was very effective], nice lighting [greens and reds], slow motion stuff, and some nice editing and pacing. Harlin wanted to direct a good film here and he succeeds in my opinion. I actually think he makes the film better than it should have been. Harlin would go on to direct DIE HARD 2 after this, and eventually the awesome CLIFFHANGER and the not-so-awesome THE COVENANT.

The acting was good, but not great. Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger is officially the star of the film and as always he does not disappoint. Englund is great spouting off one-liners like his life depended on it. He had me chuckling and I really enjoyed his performance. It's gonna be sad knowing that he, most likely, won't be playing the character he made immortal for the I'm-sure-to-be-horrible reboot Michael Bay is producing for 2010. Don't get me started on that news. Lisa Wilcox is good as Alice, the new foil for Freddy. It's weird because she seems very awkward in her performance, yet I like watching her act. She's kind of stoic most of the time but I definitely believed her portrayal. I honestly believe she's much better in the next sequel, THE DREAM CHILD, than she is here. But I enjoyed Wilcox and she's a worthy successor to Heather Langenkamp.

Tuesday Knight was good as the Kristen Parker replacement. She smokes unlit cigarettes and looks great in a bikini. Plus the girl can sing [she sings the opening credits "Nightmare"]. Andras Jones as Rick was very likable. I know a lot of people who find the Karate Kid wannabe annoying, but he charmed the hell out of me in his performance. Too bad his karate sucks. Danny Hassel as Dan the jock was...okay. He, um, wore his jacket well! And he had great hair too! Brooke Theiss probably has the most memorable death scene in the film as Roach Girl Debbie. I liked her, even if she didn't do much. She looks great in her clothes and I would definitely spot her anytime she wants. And Ken Sagoes and Rodney Eastman return from DREAM WARRIORS just to die stupidly. Oh well. I hope that paycheck was worth it.

And if I haven't stated the issues with this film enough, I got more to rant about. Like how in the hell does flaming dog pee resurrect Freddy, let alone anyone? I just laughed at how silly that was! And Alice having the ability to shatter glass in the real world - not even Mariah Carey can do that! The car accident with Alice and Dan was also pretty weird since they were both asleep at separate places, weren't they? And the way Freddy gets finished off - really? His reflection stopped him? REALLY? That was the best offense the writers could come up with!? Freddy has seen himself in the mirror many times! What made this time any different? Because it was stained glass? Just really dumb, I'm sorry. And I gotta say, they should have used some of the budget to give Lisa Wilcox some karate lessons. That scene where she flips the nunchucks makes me laugh. It's so obvious the backshot is of a man wearing a really bad wig. Reminds me of that diner scene in I'M GONNA GIT YA SUCKA. Too funny.

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER is pretty much all style and not enough substance. But it's still a very watchable and fun film that does more right than it does wrong. Just don't expect to be scared. You may be disappointed. This is the MTV-version of Freddy, take it or leave it. And while this film made a ton of cash, this was pretty much the peak of the franchise as it went downhill both commercially and creatively until NEW NIGHTMARE [creatively] and FREDDY VS. JASON [financially]. And believe me, that bottom is not pretty. But then again, I'll save my thoughts on that when the time is right.

1 comment:

  1. This was a fun movie, not the best but not the worst of the nightmare movies, i love the roach death, a true fav. of mine, another great review.


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