A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
Directed by: Renny Harlin
Starring: Robert Englund, Lisa Wilcox, Andras Jones, Tuesday Knight, Danny Hassel, Rodney Eastman, Ken Sagoes, Brooke Bundy, Nicholas Mele, Toy Newkirk, Brooke Theiss
1/2 (out of 4)
The last school nurse was better, but we have these budget cuts, you know...
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
The movie grew on me. I kept telling myself that I’m not supposed to like it – after all, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 – The Dream Master is filled with bad puns, formulaic dialogue, silly logic, and plot developments absolutely nonsensical. It begins and ends with completely implausible sequences – Freddy being resurrected by flaming dog urine and Freddy being vanquished by his own reflection in a mirror (I mean, come on – really?) But the movie can be held up as a perfect example of style over substance; in the hands of Finnish director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Deep Blue Sea, Exorcist – The Beginning), it is full of energy and jubilant in its depiction of a surreal, absurd universe. It believes in itself – no matter how stupid it gets. And believe me, with scenes like a high school martial arts expert kung fu fighting with an invisible Freddy, backed up by a stock “Asian” soundtrack, things get pretty stupid.
Man, what did you feed that dog?
Kristen Parker (Tuesday Knight, replacing Patricia Arquette from the third film) is trying to move on with her life, but she is having bad dreams again, and worries that Freddy Krueger is coming back. Joey (Rodney Eastman) and Kincaid (Ken Sagoes) are understandably annoyed when she keeps bringing them into her dreams. But her fears turn out to be well-founded – Kincaid dreams of the junkyard where Freddy was buried and watches his dog Jason (LOL) piss a stream of fire, exposing the gloved one’s grave and allowing him to reconstitute himself. How this was achievable through canine micturition is anybody’s guess, but my opinion is that everybody’s fear brought him back (I’ll stick with that theory until somebody comes up with a better one). After dispatching the last male dream warriors, Krueger goes after Kristen, who pulls her best friend Alice (Lisa Wilcox) into the dream to assist. The timid Alice, not understanding what the hell is going on, is understandably no help. So Kristen is dispatched quickly but manages to “give” Alice her dream powers before getting roasted in Freddy’s boiler room. Since Alice now has the ability to bring people into her dream, Freddy uses her to bring her friends in (Alice theorizes that Freddy can’t reach the new kids of Springwood unless somebody can bring them to him).
We're gonna need a bigger sequel.
Right away you should be saying: Hey, Kristen isn’t very bright for giving up her power. If she hadn’t done it, Freddy would be no threat to anyone else. Yes, but there would be no movie either, so let’s move on. New Elm Street victims include Alice’s brother Rick, played by Andras Jones, who was probably hired because he has a weird Christian Slater vibe. There’s also the brainy Sheila (Toy Newkirk), fitness junkie Debbie (Brooke Theiss), and Alice’s crush, Dan the jock (Danny Hassel). Their interactions with one another, using goofy dialogue, only exist so that we are all briefed on their weaknesses – Sheila’s sexual repression and bouts with asthma, Debbie’s hatred of bugs, Rick’s fascination with, uh, ninjas, and Dan’s, um, well, he’s a jock. Alice has her own problems, which include her tendency to daydream, which helps her escape her everyday troubles, like her asshole alcoholic dad (Nicholas Mele). Never really grounded in reality and being the shy person that she is, Alice covers her bedroom mirror with photos of her friends, which she will remove everytime one of them dies and leaves their “power” to her. So, by the end of A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, Alice has gained complete self-confidence, along with parts of her friends’ personalities and skills. This gives her the strength needed to confront Freddy one final time. Alice’s gradual conversion to “Dream Master” is an interesting piece of character development in a movie that is otherwise filled with stock teens (looking college-aged, as always) who end up on Freddy’s menu.
Not a bad first date - at least Freddy paid for the pizza.
Fred Krueger has now become as far removed from spooky child murderer as possible. From now on, he is the anti-hero, as evidenced by his constant one-liners, hamming it up as much as he can. He’s no longer hiding in shadows; the spotlight constantly illuminates him (Robert Englund now gets top billing in the opening credits). Harlin ramps up the fantasy bits from the third film, which include a Jaws parody (where Freddy dons shades at the beach), Freddy quipping “Wanna suck face?” before sucking the air out of his female victim, and turning one victim into a cockroach before squishing her in a roach motel (listen closely earlier in the film and you’ll hear Rick say an interesting line: “Kafka and Goethe have never been irreconcilable.”). The cockroach scene is a great death, courtesy of icky effects by Screaming Mad George, and there’s a fun sequence where Alice is literally pulled into a movie (it’s Reefer Madness) where she faces her fear that she’ll be working at the Crave Inn (LOL) forever. Then Freddy brings out a pizza with screaming faces for meatballs (“I love soul food!”). These scenes suggest that Freddy has now become a kind-of deity. A demon that can eat souls like food items, turn people into roaches, literally suck the life out of them – how can you stop a monster like that? (The movie doesn’t know the answer to that, which is why it makes up some bullshit about evil seeing its own reflection, Mumm-Ra style).
Fred is attacked by a huge facehugger.
As dumb as The Dream Master is, it’s still an entertaining picture. The goofy Church standoff, made up dream-lore, striking use of color, rock soundtrack – it’s all neatly packaged late 80s MTV nostalgia. (Joey’s room even has MTV playing nonstop). It’s a funhouse movie with all the fear, suggestions of child killing, and references to sins of the fathers surgically removed (but like the previous films, it still portrays parents as absent, oblivious, or dangerous – these kids are on their own). The movie is a sell-out, obviously (nice rap by by Freddy on the Fat Boys song), and not scary, but it’s just absurd enough and inventive enough to be likable anyway. Leo Goldsmith said it best: “Harlin’s film is a seemingly bottomless grab-bag from the ‘80s televisual subconscious, riffing on everything from Jaws to The Karate Kid to the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, all with a palette of neon colors that even Joel Schumacher might think was in questionable taste.” It’s sickly sweet pop-cultural candy, but Dream Warriors started down this path; I guess it’s too late to turn back now. (By the way, cast list for Elm Street 4 lists Linnea Quigley as “the soul from Freddy’s chest.” See if you can guess which one she is.)
– Bill Gordon
This movie made enough money to give Fred an extended vacation in the Bahamas.