A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

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1988

New Line Cinema/Heron Communications/Smart Egg Pictures

Directed by Renny Harlin

Produced by Robert Shaye and Rachel Talalay

Screenplay by Brian Helgeland and Scott Pierce

Story by William Kotzwinkle and Brian Helgeland

Based on characters created by Wes Craven

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER is that bad of a movie. It is a disappointing movie in a lot of ways but that’s because it had to follow the grand slam home run that was “Dream Warriors.” Let’s face it, “Dream Warriors” is one hell of an act to follow. THE DREAM MASTER is nowhere near as bad as “Freddy’s Dead” but I’ll take “Freddy’s Revenge” over THE DREAM MASTER any day.

We catch up with the surviving Dream Warriors: Kristen (now played by Tuesday Knight) Joey (Rodney Eastman) and Kincaid (Ken Sagoes) who have apparently been released from treatment at Westin Hills and are now attending high school, getting on with living normal lives. At least Joey and Kincaid are. Kristen is still returning to the dreamworld, obsessed with the notion that Freddy Krueger is still alive and well somewhere in the dreamworld, still after them. Joey and Kincaid quite sensibly tell her that she may in fact herself cause Freddy to come back if she keeps on looking for him.

Kristen reluctantly agrees and concentrates on rebuilding her life. And she’s got a good one. She’s got a new BFF, Alice (Lisa Wilcox) Sheila (Toy Newkirk) a brainy black girl, Debbie, a tough chick (Brooke Theiss) who looks out for Sheila and she’s even got a boyfriend, Alice’s brother Rick (Andras Jones.)

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Turns out that Joey and Kincaid were right as Freddy does indeed return to resume killing of Elm Street children. Once he finishes off the last of the Dream Warriors he turns his razor bladed glove on Alice and the others. But before Freddy killed her, Kristen was able to pass on her powers to Alice. Now, whenever one of her friends is killed by Freddy, Alice gains their abilities. How? Don’t ask me. THE DREAM MASTER isn’t big on explaining much of anything but we’ll get to that in a bit.

The movie eventually comes to a showdown in the dreamworld between Alice, now powered with the various abilities of her friends and her brother (Rick’s martial arts skills, Sheila’s intelligence and Debbie’s greater strength thanks to her avid weightlifting) and Freddy.

Let’s get what I didn’t like out of the way first so I can end this review on as upbeat a note as I can, okay? First of all, killing off Joey, Kincaid and Kristen is such a downer that I can’t express it. I mean, in “Dream Warriors” these characters earned their victory over Freddy Krueger and deserved to live their lives in peace. To bring them back in THE DREAM MASTER only to kill them off so coldly and callously is a kick in the ass to the integrity of all the characters in “Dream Warriors” who gave their lives to fight and finally defeat Freddy.

Having said that, I gotta admit that I always knew that if Joey was gonna get it, it would be from chasing a chick. And Kincaid’s next to final scene always gives me chills as he’s in a junkyard that as the camera pulls back we see it apparently covers an entire planet, screaming to the sky over and over; “Freddy’s Back! Freddy’s Back!”

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Tuesday Knight as Kristen is a disappointment in the role but it’s not her fault. Patricia Arquette made such an impact as the character that I feel that if they couldn’t get her back (allegedly she wasn’t even asked to return) they should have just left the character alone. Rodney Eastman and Ken Sagoes bring a lot of energy to their roles for the brief time they’re in the movie and it’s welcome as the crew of young actors in THE DREAM MASTER are nowhere near as interesting or vibrantly memorable as the cast of “Dream Warriors” Oh, they give it their all and I commend them for their work but they just don’t command my investment into their characters. I was tickled pink to see Brooke Bundy return as Kristen’s slutty mom, still shouting “Andale! Andale!” at her stressed out daughter.

But the major flaw of the movie is its refusal to explain anything. Freddy Krueger returns because…well, simply because he’s needed to return. But at least it’s done in a truly memorable fashion with Kincaid’s dog urinating fire on Freddy’s bones. The movie never bothers to explain exactly how Kristen passes along her power to Alice or how that enables Alice to absorb the abilities of her friends when they die. Some cockamamie rhyme about The Dream Master is pulled out of nowhere and that along with Freddy looking at his own reflection (?) enables Alice to defeat him.

But remember how in my review of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” I mention how the series was different from the “Halloween” and “Friday The 13th” series in that the producers, writers and special effects people tried to do something different in each movie? Well, the dream sequences and visuals in this one are exceptional. The one scene that still freaks me out, out of all the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies is the one where Debbie is turned into a cockroach and trapped inside a roach motel. There’s the scene where Kincaid’s dog pisses fire on Freddy’s bones. Yeah, it’s goofy as hell but damn if it don’t work, somehow. There’s the scene in a movie theater where gravity goes berserk and Alice is pulled into the movie she’s watching. And the conclusion has the souls of Freddy’s victims fighting their way out of his body, ripping him to pieces in the process. It’s a doozy of a sequence, heightened greatly by Linnea Quigley’s contributions to the scene. Don’t worry…you’ll know her when you see her.

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So how does A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET: THE DREAM MASTER stack up against the others in the series? As I keep on emphasizing and will maintain: it’s not that bad an entry in the series. It just has the misfortune to follow the movie that is generally regarded as the best sequel of the franchise. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the production values (which are actually damn good, btw) the visual effects or Robert Englund’s performance here as he fine-tunes Freddy’s wisecracking one-liners. And the direction by Renny Harlin is professional and peppy as Harlin knows how to keep a movie moving. But the fate of the Dream Warriors and the uninspired characters doesn’t make this one of my favorites in the series.

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And instead of a trailer, here’s one of the best examples of just how goofy things were back in the 1980’s. By this time Freddy Krueger had become such a pop culture star that he appeared in a video rapping alongside rap superstars The Fat Boys! Enjoy!

93 Minutes

Rated R

5 thoughts on “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

  1. Thank you for reviewing this film right after I requested it in my comment to your last review, Derrick! These back-to-back reviews of Freddy’s films are quite a cool treat for Halloween this year!

    I agree with you that the deaths of the surviving Dream Warriors was a major mood killer, for exactly the reason you described. I believe they were treated like a “loose end” to be taken care of by Freddy to display what a relentless, “you can’t get away from me forever” master of mayhem he was, but that didn’t change the fact that it was a major source of depression to the audience to see the inspiration they provided by their great triumph in the previous movie rendered null and void by their dispatch in this sequel, especially after the respect they earned from us. Of course, their after-the-great-triumph send-off was nowhere near as disrespectful, depressing, or pandering to expediency as was what happened to Hicks and Newt in the opening scenes of “Alien 3,” but it was bad enough. (Speaking of which, I can’t wait to see you tear apart “Alien 3” for that, among other things, in a future review!).

    I also agree with all of your assessments of this film. The replacement of Patricia Arquette in the role of Kristen was unnecessary from what you said, especially considering the rest of the “Dream Warriors” cast were invited to reprise their roles. Producers and casting directors often do not seem to understand that seemingly superficial things like an actor replacement of a popular role can irk audiences enough to negatively effect the enjoyment of a film. The facial recognition of a specific actor brings a lot to a role that shouldn’t be underestimated. Let’s not forget how that was one of the several things that totally ruined the “Mortal Kombat” sequel and effectively killed the first film franchise after an excellent first entry.

    “The Dream Master” did indeed largely suffer for following the excellent “Dream Warriors,” which likely set expectations skyscraper high among the fans. The next film in line was almost destined to under-impress compared to the previous entry. Even so, it did have many merits that you mentioned, and was not a bad entry in the franchise at all. IMO, the best thing it did was introduce us to Alice Johnson, one of the most memorable and courageous horror heroes I ever saw. I always had a crush on her. She wasn’t treated as well in the next entry, “The Dream Child,” but it was still good to meet her and see her again one more time. She was certainly the ultimate survivor among the Dream Warriors, and a very underrated horror hero if there ever was one (sorry, Ash!).

    1. You’re quite welcome. I’ve been promising for years that I was going to review all of the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET movies for Halloween and this year I finall make good on that promise. Next year I’m thinking of reviewing all the movies in my other favorite horror movie franchise: “Phantasm”

      The deaths of the surviving Dream Warriors keeps me from enjoying this movie a lot because they were totally unnecessary deaths, I feel. If you’re going to bring back the Dream Warriors then go ahead and do a full blown sequel to that movie and do it right. And you’re absolutely correct…it’s on the level of killing off Newt and Hicks in “Alien 3” which were also totally unnecessary deaths. I’m not a professional screenwriter but I can come up with at least half a dozen ways Newt and Hicks could have been written out of the movie without killing them. It’s just downright lazy writing to kill off characters in such a manner simply because the director and/or the writer doesn’t want to be bothered to deal with them.

    1. So do I. I saw them in person while they were filming “Krush Groove” and they seemed to be just as funny and fun-loving in person as they do in their videos and movies.

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