31 Screams in October, Vol. 2, #18: A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)

Posted: October 18, 2015 in Movie Review
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A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 (1988)

Director: Renny Harlin

Starring: Robert Englund, Rodney Eastman, Danny Hassel, Andras Jones, Tuesday Knight, Ken Sagoes, Lisa Wilcox

Once again, I find myself drawing unpopular conclusions about a “Nightmare on Elm Street” sequel. In “Freddy’s Revenge,” I found a movie which fails as a follow-up but which works as entertainment. “Dream Warriors,” while mostly a good sequel, tries to be both dark and funny without finding the right mixture, and insults my intelligence in the finale. “Dream Warriors” is also responsible for bringing its immensely popular villainous dream demon out of the shadows and into the spotlight, giving him more one-liners and making the murder sequences less gruesome and more cartoonish. For good or ill, this would be the path that the “Nightmare” films would follow until Wes Craven’s return in 1994. But, with both Parts 2 and 3, the series was still trying to hold onto the creepier elements with which it began. It wasn’t until “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master” that the commitment to pure entertainment over horror was made in full, and that’s what helps to make it my favorite of the “Elm Street” sequels.

The three surviving “Dream Warriors” have all been reasonably reintegrated into society, back in high school hoping to get on with their lives. But Kristen (Tuesday Knight, replacing Patricia Arquette) has her doubts that Freddy Krueger is really gone for good. Her friends Joey (Rodney Eastman) and Kincaid (Ken Sagoes) are convinced he is, and they aren’t taking too kindly to being dragged into Kristen’s dreamworld every time she has a problem. The casting change had me fooled the first time I saw this movie back in the fall of 2000. Both Knight’s appearance and her performance as Kristen differ so greatly from that of Arquette that I didn’t realize I was looking at the same character until the first scene she has with Joey and Kincaid.

Eventually, Kristen’s fears are realized, and Freddy returns to take out both Kincaid and Joey, and to further terrorize Kristen. Her boyfriend Rick Johnson (Andras Jones) and his sister, Alice (Lisa Wilcox) grow concerned, especially after the deaths of Kristen’s two remaining friends from Westin Hills. They go to the house at 1428 Elm Street, still as unoccupied and dilapidated as it was in the last installment, where Kristen utters her worst line of dialogue: “It’s not just a house… It’s his home!” I honestly don’t know where to begin with what’s wrong with that line or how badly it’s delivered. After Rick quickly gives his friend Dan (Danny Hassel) the Cliff Notes version of Freddy’s origin story, Kristen’s mother (Brooke Bundy, reprising her role) shows up. Oh, god, not her again! Fortunately she’s gone as soon as she’s satisfied that she’s tugged on Kristen’s chain hard enough to force her to return home. That leads to Tuesday Knight’s one decent scene in this movie where, upon discovering that she’s been force-fed sleeping pills in her drinking water, Kristen tells her mother “You just murdered me!” Ouch. Could that have been any more harsh?

Kristen falls asleep, and Freddy shows up for one final confrontation. Being that Kristen represents the last of the Elm Street Children, Freddy needs a way to get to the other teens, so he gets Kristen to bring Alice into the dream and hand over her powers before Freddy tosses Kristen into a boiler. Alice wakes up and goes with Rick over to Kristen’s house. There, they discover in horror along with Kristen’s mom that her room is set ablaze and they are too late to save her. Alice, it seems, is set up now to serve as the Dream Master, or Freddy’s spiritual opposite.

Alice soon discovers that her new powers not only bring other people into her dreams, but they also give Alice herself certain character traits of Freddy’s victims. It’s unclear whether or not Kristen’s abilities included that little bonus. It certainly didn’t seem that way in the last movie, but maybe it would help to give an explanation within the film as to why Kristen was acting so differently. Next on the chopping block is Sheila (Toy Newkirk), an asthmatic who Freddy kills by sucking all the air out of her. Rick falls soon after, stabbed by an invisible Freddy who turns Rick’s novice martial arts skills against him. After the loss of her brother, Alice devises a plan involving herself, Dan and their friend Debbie (Brooke Theiss). But Freddy is able to single out Debbie, using her fear of cockroaches against her by turning her into one and crushing her inside a roach motel. At the same time, he puts Alice and Dan in a time loop so he can finish Debbie off uninterrupted. Still asleep while driving Dan’s truck, Alice and Dan attempt to run over what she thinks is Freddy standing in front of them. In reality it’s a tree, and the resulting wreck lands Dan in the hospital under sedation on the operating table.

Knowing that Dan is prone to an attack from Freddy at any moment, Alice hurries home, takes some sleeping pills, and goes into the dreamworld to kick a little Krueger ass. Specifically, Alice enters Freddy’s domain through her bedroom mirror, or “looking glass.” The Lewis Carroll reference should not be lost on anyone. Dan is injured inside the dreamworld and is awakened by the doctors, leaving Alice and Freddy to go one-on-one. A fairly one-sided battle ensues, with Alice getting the upper hand, but Freddy shows no signs of fatigue or lasting injury. Alice is finally able to turn the souls Freddy has collected against him, and they tear him apart before freeing themselves.

Honestly, I’m amazed to find that “The Dream Master” doesn’t have as large an amount of fan support as its immediate predecessor does. It’s never boring, for one thing. I’ll address the four most common marks against it individually:

  • Freddy’s revival. In Kincaid’s final dream sequence, his dog shows up to spray a stream of flaming urine onto Freddy’s resting place, thus reviving him. The thing is… A) It’s a dream sequence and B) Freddy’s a showman, and as such, loves a flashy entrance. C) This was the late 80’s, after all.
  • The early exit of the “Dream Warriors.” This group of misfits were never that strong individually, nor were they that great as a cohesive unit. They only survived this long because of Nancy (R.I.P.). With her out of the picture, Freddy was free to pick them off as soon as he’d regained his strength. No big shocker, there.
  • The outlandish dream sequences. The ones I hear people complain about are the roach motel and Joey’s waterbed. The waterbed isn’t any more over the top than Johnny Depp’s demise in the original “Nightmare,” nor is it any more implausible than Jennifer’s TV death in “Dream Warriors.” As for the roach motel, yes it’s a little out there, but so are most of our own nightmares. Not to mention that this is miles above some of the kill scenes in the next couple of sequels. The only one that truly fails in its execution (no pun intended) here is Rick’s death, made less elaborate than intended due to the limitations of the film’s budget. Alice and Dan’s time loop, along with the previous sequence where Alice gets pulled through a movie screen and ends up at the diner where she works (where Freddy orders “soul food” pizza) are the two best dream sequences in any of these movies.
  • The final confrontation. I guess, after all the insanity that had come before, the finale wasn’t big and broad enough. The way that Alice deals with Freddy here is sort of the complete opposite of Nancy’s solution from the first film. Both women find a way to rob Krueger of his power, only he’s too strong now to simply be evaded or ignored. Alice, in a move that smacks of “old school” horror, defeats the monster by revealing to him his own ugly reflection. It’s never a bad thing to rely on old school methods.

My only personal complaint is the unavoidable re-casting of Kristen. Tuesday Knight does nothing to make me believe she is the same person as Arquette’s version, although I do appreciate Knight’s contribution to the soundtrack (the song “Nightmare,” which plays over the opening credits). It’s all good clean popcorn fun at this point. These movies have always been more fun than scary, and this is the one that finally stopped tap-dancing around that fact. The series probably could have ended on the high note that “The Dream Master” provides. If you’re seeing these movies for the very first time, whatever your opinion of this one, you’re likely to agree. Fortunately, series creator Wes Craven had other ideas.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Thorough review and well done! I’m not sure, though, that I’d be willing to watch this sequel or the others. Sounds like they got it right the first time and should have left it alone.

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