Movie Review: “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master”

  In 1988, the fourth instalment in the Elm Street series hit screens around the world and became the highest grossing entry in the series until Freddy vs Jason in 2003.

   Renny Harlin took the reins as director here, fresh from his 1987 horror film “Prison” (which features an early starring role for Viggo Mortensen and is worth checking out if you haven’t seen it) and adds some nice visual touches throughout.

   Robert Englund receives star billing here for the first time in the franchise, his name appearing even before the movies title and he’s said that this is his favourite film in the series.

   (Ladies and Gentleman, there will be Spoilers)

   We open with a blonde girl partway into her dream and we find out quickly that this is Kristen from Part 3. Tuesday Knight has replaced Patricia Arquette (she also sings the opening theme) but soon after it’s business as usual as Kristen, while wandering about the famous “Elm Street House” gets a feeling that Freddy is around and pulls Kincaid (Ken Sagoes) and Joey (Rodney Eastman) into her dream.

   As a fan of the series it’s nice to see the surviving characters from the previous entry returning, even if one of them looks markedly different than they did the previous year.

   Kincaid and a far more talkative Joey berate Kristen for dragging them into her dream which, it seems like, is still a semi-regular occurrence and remind her that Freddy Krueger is gone and she needs to move on and let them do the same. The “last of the Elm Street children” have left Westin Hills Asylum and are back at High School living normal lives….kinda.

   Focus now shifts to a new character. Alice (Lisa Wilcox) is a quiet, slightly plain looking girl who lives with her brother Rick (Andras Jones), a martial artist who is dating Kristen and alcoholic father (Nicholas Mele), her mother having died some time ago.

   Alice is prone to daydreaming, her inner thoughts manifesting with greater confidence and more fight but never able to filter out into reality and, if you’ve not already sensed “main protagonist” here, I’d be very surprised.

   Rounding up the chopping list….sorry…..are Rick’s friend Dan (Danny Hassel), the “Jock” who is the subject of Alices daydreaming affections, Debbie (Brooke Theiss), a fitness fanatic with a bug phobia and the biggest stack of 80’s hair ever seen on screen and Sheila (Toy Newkirk), a bookworm with asthma.

   One of the nicest touches this film gives us is it’s choice to completely ignore the social boundaries that exist in both real life high school and the common cinema version of. There appear to be no real cliques in this school. This group of friends range from nerd to jock and it’s refreshing to see this norm ignored, though Joey and Kincaid appear to exist in their own small group and are only seen to interact with Kristen before Rick describes them as “weird”.

   So far we’ve yet to see the man himself and, at this point in the series, it’s the longest we’ve had to wait for Freddy to make an appearance so we know it’s coming soon.

   The next night, Kincaid falls asleep and wakes up in the boot/trunk of a car and finds himself, along with his dog Jason (strange choice for a name, wonder what inspired that) in a familiar looking auto-salvage yard. Kincaid watches in horror and we watch with incredulity as his dog pisses fire onto a patch of earth revealing the bones that were buried by Neil Gordon in Part 3. This is mad, even for an Elm Street film but memorable nevertheless and the bones lock back together as organs, flesh, burnt skin and clothes regenerate until, finally a gloved hand picks a battered fedora from the ground and places it on his head.

   “You shouldn’t have buried me. I’m not dead,” Freddy says, though he does so without moving his lips. Kincaid, remembering he’s a “Dream Warrior” and now galvanized into action picks up a car and drops it on Krueger’s head but to no avail. We quickly cut to Freddy appearing out of nowhere and, following a quick stab, it’s “One down, two to go”.

   Joey is next and succumbs once more to a topless blonde, this time vanishing from a poster on his wall to reappear within his water bed. Same as before, we know what’s coming and, in a moment built for the movie trailer, Freddy bursts from the water and poor Joey doesn’t even have a chance to shout before he becomes the second victim leaving Kristen as the true last “Elm Street Child”.

   This, of course, doesn’t fill her with confidence and while Rick tells Dan of the Krueger mythology, Alice reveals to Kristen how she deals with bad dreams. She recalls a poem that he late mother used to tell her which says that you are in control of your own dreams and as long as you can remember that then nothing can harm you in the sweet sanctity of sleep.

   Kristen gets to put this to the test after her mother (a returning Brooke Bundy) spikes her drink with sleeping tablets. Recalling what Alice told her about taking control, Kristen “dreams someplace fun” and finds herself on a nice sunny beach.

   If you were somehow, as of yet, unsure how far Freddy was from his original personification, the sight of a glove resembling a sharks fin cutting through the water and sand before Krueger appears and dons a pair of shades, might remind you how far tonally the films had shifted.

   I didn’t have too much of a problem with this at the time though I can see why many would. This is silly certainly but, it’s within the realm of dreams where anything can happen (strange as it is seeing Freddy in broad daylight) and doesn’t contradict any of the established mythology so I was content to run with it.

   Falling into quicksand, Kristen finds herself back in a more familiar environment; the boiler room, where Freddy confronts and informs her that he needs her help in continuing his work and taunts her to call out for one of her friends.

   I’ve often wondered what would have happened if Kristen hadn’t pulled Alice into her dream. Would Freddy have tortured the girl until she had no choice but to call out? Would he have just killed her and finished his revenge? Then what? Would he just vanish back to Hell?

   These questions need no answers however as a shocked Alice watches Freddy toss her friend into a fiery furnace. Kristens last act is to give Alice her power, the blast passing through Freddy first.

   Unable to save Kristen from burning to death in her bedroom back in the real world, subtle changes start to happen to Alice. The first indication of what might be happening is when she lights up a cigarette before remembering that she doesn’t actually smoke (she also, apparently, doesn’t remember that she bought a packet of cigarettes that morning as they appear from nowhere).

   It just so happens that Alice now gains strength and abilities from Freddy’s victims which we see as Krueger continues to work his way through the cast.

   Falling asleep in class, Alice finds that Sheila has come along into the dream state as well. It’s not implicitly stated but it seems that Freddy is able to use Kristen’s power to some degree bringing people into the dream via Alice; using her as a conduit. At least that’s how I’m interpreting it. Freddy sucks the life from Sheila and induces a real-life fatal asthma attack and as she dies, some sort of transference of energy blasts into Alice who visibly continues to grow in demeanour.

   Further tragedy is to befall our protagonist however as her brother, Rick is next to fall foul of Freddy when he falls asleep on the toilet.

   After a nerve inducing elevator ride, Rick finds himself in a dojo in full martial arts clothing and has a fight with an invisible Freddy. Okay, we’ve had some inventive kills and seen Freddy transform (Super Freddy was only one film away) but, silly or crazy as it may have been to see Freddy go all Bruce Lee, I’d have much preferred to see that over invisible Freddy any day. The sight of Rick fighting against nothing with added sound effects is one of my least favourite kills in the series and though it shouldn’t be about kills only, we’ve come to expect a degree of inventiveness here that this scene ultimately lacks.

   Either way Rick is toast and Alice learns this when she is hit with another surge of energy. This strength drives Alice to begin to fight back but, before she can do so, she needs to make sure Freddy claims no more of her friends.

    She joins up with Dan, who has started to see the blossoming Alice in a new light and they race to rescue Debbie who is next on victim list no. 4.

   Trapped in a time loop by Krueger they are unable to get to her in time. If Rick’s death was a little less visually memorable than some of the others, then Debbie’s denouement is the total opposite.

   We had established earlier that the girl was not a huge fan of bugs and so, of course, she is transformed, quite grotesquely, into a cockroach which Freddy then crushes.

   A car accident that takes Dan out of the picture follows and Alice has to race against what little time is left as she insists to the paramedics that he must be kept conscious as she prepares to head into the dream world to face Freddy one-on one.

   Except of course, she’s not alone as she brings totemistic items from her friends along with her (the bug zapper that Sheila made for Debbie and Rick’s “Daniel-San” headband amongst them). Finding herself in a neon lit church Freddy appears and welcomes her to his “Wonderland”.

   Alice then proceeds to open up the biggest can of whoop Ass we’ve seen to date, doling out kicks and punches and even blasting a hole straight through Freddy with the aid of her bug zapper. Krueger laughs it all off, reminding her that this is his domain and he’s been the guardian of the gate to Hell longer than she’s been trying to open the gate to light.

   Finally, Alice remembers the “Dream Master” poem which ends with the line “Evil will see itself, and it shall die”. Holding a shard of broken glass up to Freddy he screams at the horror of what he’s become and this enables the souls trapped within him to burst free from his body and tear him into nothing before they ascend to the light.

   This is one of the more impressive endings in the franchise representing Freddy’s defeat and is probably my favourite of all the films.

   Even in hindsight we know that that’s probably not the end and a brief glimpse of Freddy in ripples of water as Alice tosses a coin into the fountain confirms that there’s every chance he will be back.

   If the first film was the darkest and the second was the most different in terms of altered mythology both before and after , then Parts 3 and 4 are pretty similar both tonally and structurally.

   We had the benefit of returning characters and the new teens that were introduced had a little more character than many of the other slashers of the decade. The transformation of Freddy Krueger into anti-hero which I’ve seen him described as and never really bought into was, if you do subscribe to such a concept, was created over these two films.

   By the time Part 4 was released it was the height of Freddymania. He was rapping on a single by The Fat Boys which appears during the credits of this movie and would appear in the video. Freddy merchandise was everywhere and so much of it was marketed towards children which, let’s be honest, is a little bit insane.

   It’s also in this same year that the TV anthology series “Freddy’s Nightmares” was launched with the titular character popping up to bookend these non Elm Street stories in the same way the Crypt Keeper did in the superior “Tales From The Crypt” One of the stories tells us of the time that the parents exacted their revenge on the notorious “Springwood Slasher” but most of the tales are fairly generic and bland with a few familiar faces but nothing that ever really resonates after you’ve finished watching and very little to recommend though it did last 2 seasons and 44 episodes.

   Part 4 remains a favourite of mine. Robert Englund is as good in this as he is in any of the films, especially the sequels and manages, for me, to continue to stay just to the right side of being a full blown comedic performance though it was still heading that way.

   Lisa Wilcox plays the heroine well and continues the vein of strong female protagonists that this series gave us and most of the supporting cast play their roles pretty well.

   This might have been the MTV version of Freddy but the effects are pretty bloody good and some of the set-pieces are amongst my favourites of the whole franchise.

   I wasn’t scared by this film at all. It’s not especially scary but it is entertaining and I was entertained. Maybe being part of the MTV generation helped and I had already decided horror was my preferred genre so this ticked a lot of boxes.

   I was, sadly, less enthused with the next entry but we’ll get to that in a little while.

   Till next time. Sleep tight.

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