A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER
WRITERS: Story by William Kotzwinkle and Brian Helgeland
Screenplay by Brian Helgeland and Scott Pierce
DIRECTOR: Renny Harlin
STARRING: Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger
Rodney Eastman as Joey
Danny Hassel as Dan
Andras Jones as Rick
Tuesday Knight as Kristen
Ken Sagoes as Kincaid
Lisa Wilcox as Alice
Toy Newkirk as Sheila
Brooke Theiss as Debbie
QUICK CUT: It's another late night on Elm Street, as a local janitor comes back to town to deal with some unfinished business.
Kristen - Newly recast from the first movie, her personality remains mostly the same, but more confident, if still afraid of Freddy.
Alice - The new girl, shy and quiet, and the sister of Kristen's love interest.
Rick - Alice's brother, Kristen's boyfriend, a tiny bit of a rebel, just a hint of a bad boy, but more in that sense he LOOKS the type, but doesn't quite act it. Seems to be friends with everyone.
Dan - The new kid in town, has no clue what's going on for most of the movie. A bit bland and regular, but he's a good guy who looks nice, so Alice fixates on him.
Debbie - The flirt in the group, who manages to be that but also not confrontational about it. Too often her sort is instantly jealous of all other women, but she's just one of the group, and loves showing off to the boys.
Sheila - The nerd of the group, and while she's tropey, she's also friendly, and welcome in the group.
Freddy - He's very well established by this point. He's quippy, he's threatening, he's clever...he's still nowhere near as jokey as he will be, and I think this is one of the best balances between horror and humour.
THE GUTS: Welcome back, Triskelions! February is here, and you know what that means, Fredbruary! The incredibly impossible to pronounce gimmick name for the first of the month, when I make a return trip to Elm Street to see what Freddy Krueger is up to. This year, it's #4, The Dream Master. I *think* this was my first Elm Street movie. This or #3. I definitely remember seeing both of them around the same time, and they were some of my earliest horror movies. But we're all here for Freddy and the nightmares, so I won't put y'all asleep any longer...
The movie starts out with a recast Kristen finding a girl drawing the Krueger house on a paving stone, and yes, this is all a dream. It starts to pour, and she heads into the house, while some kids do some jump rope and recite the Freddy rhyme. We are well into creepy territory already.
Events inside the house continue to be off putting, although it never quite feels like a dream. Nothing too weird, nothing too out of place or dream logic-y. But it does have that creeping sense of something wrong. It's more atmospheric than dreamlike, and that's fine, but most horror movies pull that off.
She finds herself in the basement, as one does with Freddy movies. Kristen gets freaked out by some screechy noises as one does with Freddy movies, and immediately summons recast Kincaid and recast Joey into her dreams. Much to their disgust. Kincaid is literally yoinked out of his chair and backwards through the air.
They're more than willing to help a friend, but this seems to have become a regular thing, her yanking them into her dreams, and they're getting kinda tired of it, sure that Freddy's dead, and trying to get a good night's sleep.
And to remind the audience that what happens in their dreams happens in reality, Kincaid's dog Jason, who got dragged along for the ride, bites her on the arm and the wound is there when she wakes up.
The next day, Kristen swings by her boyfriend's place to pick up Rick and his sister Alice, because we need new canon fodder for the movie!
And oh, their father is a real peach. He does the usual father thing of "Is THAT what you're wearing to go out??" thing, and uh...there's like, nothing wrong with Alice's outfit? I mean, even by 80s standards it was conservative.
They get to school, and we meet a couple more people briefly, including Alice's probably love interest Dan. I'm sure this will end well.
It's another group of characters that are a bit tropey. You've got the flirty girl, the asthmatic nerd, but you know what? They're all likable, they're all friends, and they make for a good diverse group that all hang out together. It feels real.
They go about their school day, and I like the dynamic between Kristen and the recast survivors of the previous movie, with their secrets of Freddy and such, compared to between her and Rick. He sees the trio as a bit creepy, but he's not in on things, and it makes for an interesting division.
Since they're the new kids on the block, we spend a lot of character building time with Alice and Rick at home. Rick loves his karate montage training, and Alice has to deal with her father. We also see repeatedly that she likes to daydream and fantasize about telling her dad exactly what she thinks of him, amongst other things. Sadly, she's too meek and quiet to ever indulge in more than fantasy.
Meanwhile, Kincaid is hanging out with his dog, and as he dozes off, he finds himself in a junkyard. Specifically, someone shoved him in a trunk. He assumes Kristen is dream-yanking him again, but he finds himself all alone in the maze of cars.
Jason has also been dragged along, and is pawing at the ground, until he finds a good spot and HOLY CRAP THE DOG JUST PISSED FIRE! The dog must be a Hynerian breed.
Anyways, the ground cracks open where the flaming piss landed, revealing a skeleton beneath, that recombines itself and reforms slowly into the body of Freddy Krueger. It's very reminiscent of the rebirth scene in the original Hellraiser, although I'd say not as good, but still pretty great.
At this point, the dog is the smart one and runs the hell away. Kincaid on the other hand does manage to drop an entire car on the former janitor. Unfortunately, Freddy does not go down that easily, and sends a bunch of his own cars after the kid.
I absolutely love the aesthetic here, of running through a maze of piled up cars, that can slide and shift around like Tetris blocks to impede or open the way. It's still not quite dream logicy enough for me, but it does work on a level of unreality.
Kincaid shouts out to the void that Freddy is back, hoping Kristen will get the message, and before he can wake up, Freddie guts him and kills him.
With one down, Freddy next pays a visit to Joey, and sends a naked woman into his waterbed. Literally INTO the waterbed. While the kid is distracted by boobies, Freddy pops up, rips through the plastic, and drags Joey under.
It's VERY reminiscent of Johnny Depp's death in the original, down to the kid listening to headphones, but making it water based ups the ante wonderfully.
That's enough for Freddy for one night, so Kristen gets to live another day. She notices a distinct lack of friends when Alice shows up, and they infodump about the Dream Master, which is a bit of folklore that never gets fleshed out as much as I wish it was.
Kristen does finally find out her friends are dead, and freaks out. She hits her head on the wall and passes out. Which is never what you wanna do in these movies.
She wakes up and discovers the true meaning of nightmares when Robert Englund shows up in drag, dressed as her nurse.
Which is a big red flag to anyone who knows Robert. I almost wish it would have been a normal actress, so it would come as more of a surprise when Freddie reveals himself.
Meanwhile, Dan wanders back into the plot as he and his friends stop at the Peach Pit where Alice works, to try and find Rick. She also drops the line about how working as a waitress forever is her worst nightmare. Oh, my sweet summer child, you ain't seen nothin' yet.
Kristen and Rick show up to share the news about the Dead Dreamer's Society, and Kristen does some infodump for the newbies to the movie.
After their trip down Infodump Street, Kristen heads home, and her mother drugs her so she can get some sleep. She remembers how bad things got from the previous movie, and takes things into her own hands. Kristen's reaction is great, and really sells the horror of her falling asleep.
She passes out on her floor, after some great spinny cinematography while she fights the effects of the pills. Remembering advice from Alice, she dreams of someplace nice, and finds herself on a beach.
But surprise! Freddy shows up to ruin all the fun, and explodes out of a sandcastle.
Kristen runs, and finds quicksand, and for once, I will allow the movie trope version, because it's a dream. Freddy shoves her down into the ground, a little bit of symbolic revenge for his own burial, and she reappears in his home.
Freddie chases her down into the basement, as one does, and tries to urge her to bring in more food for his thoughts. Kristen's the last Elm Street kid, and he'd love a fresh order of kidlets.
She tries to fight it, refuse to give him fresh victims to dream his way into, but she eventually gives in and calls in Alice. Which is good, because otherwise this would be a short, downer of a movie.
Freddy kills off Kristen, wrapping up the last of the plot threads from #3, but not before she blasts her soul energy into Alice. Or something. Maybe she was possessed by a Vorlon.
So that wraps up our original cast, and the flaming torch of Kristen's corpse has been passed on to the next generation. I've said before how I like movies carrying forward elements, but most horror sequels tend to wrap them up in a few minutes. I like Dream Master giving us the first half of the movie to say a proper goodbye to old friends, while also building up the new crew.
Which pretty much leads immediately into more nightmares, as Sheila dreams she's blowing a math test, all thanks to Freddie. It all ends with him draining the life out of her, making it look like an asthma attack.
There's also the plot point that Sheila drops a gadget that gee, will it come in handy later? A clue: Yes. I suspect that might have been developed more if they had paid more attention to her character at any other time in the movie.
With most of the cast dead up to this point, Dan wanders back in, and sticks around this time, as he becomes part of the core group. It's an interesting way to develop a character, and the structure of this movie allows for it.
Rick falls asleep next, exhausted after looking after his sister, and so its his turn to face the Fred. He first gets assaulted by cheerleaders, then shoved into a hellevator. Now, this is closer to some proper dream logic.
It opens up on a Japanese decorated area, and invisible ninja Freddy kicks Rick's ass. But Rick finds his centre, and manages to fight the air pretty impressively, even knocking away Freddy's glove. But that just gives him a flying projectile to launch and kill Rick.
At the funeral, Rick pops up out of his coffin to pay his sister a visit, but it's just another daydream of Alice's. She properly grieves her brother's death and has a training montage of her own. It feels like she's becoming too tough too quickly, but the movie does remind us she's absorbing the powers and abilities of those who die, like a Nightmare Highlander.
Meanwhile, Debbie is aerobacising waiting for everyone to come over to her place and they can plot how to take care of Freddy. Things kinda spin in place for a bit as all the players get into position for the final act.
Alice randomly goes to a movie theatre, and goes all Last Horror Hero as she's sucked into the screen. She finds herself at the diner, now run down and cobweb filled, but still being manned by an elderly version of herself. Hey! Nice touch of coming back to her worst nightmare!
Freddy shows up of course to flirt with the girl at the counter, and eventually Elderly Alice brings over some pizza with some rather...off the menu toppings.
They've shown a number of times, the heads of Freddie's victims, squirming and writhing on his body, and now they're on the pizza, which he devours them from. Such wonderful horrific imagery.
Freddy's not full yet though, and demands more, which immediately brings up Debbie. So he's off for another snack, and sends Alice home.
She wakes up and runs to the diner where Dan is waiting and they drive off, hoping to get to Debbie in time. But as they pull up, Alice runs around the corner and...circles back to the diner where Dan is waiting for her, and they drive off, hoping to get to Debbie in...hey wait. It's a white hole!
Anyways, Freddy gets busy tormenting Debbie, by cracking her arms backwards, which makes insect limbs burst out of the stumps. She transforms more and more into a roach as the others run in circles.
While Debbie completes her transformation, the others realise they've been circling the drain for awhile, but it's too late, as Freddy squishes Insect Queen.
Freddy shows up in the middle of the road afterwards, and Alice tries to run him over. That goes about as well as a truck coming straight for Magneto though, and they crash.
An ambulance appears and rushes Dan off to surgery, and Alice tries to get home and put herself to sleep as quickly as possible, to be in the dreamworld with him.
Freddy chases them to a church, just in time for surgery to finish up, and Dan to get pulled out as they save him. Now it's Alice's turn to be all alone with the dreamin' demon.
Alice uses all the skills she's Quickeninged up from people, turns into her stuntwoman, and fights Freddy. Rather ineffectively as he stands there and takes it, cackling away, yet there is something very satisfying about just watching him be kicked and punched over and over again.
She blasts Freddy with Sheila's little gadget, burning a hole right through him, but he heals it right up. So he knocks Alice down, and moves in for the kill.
Fortunately, Alice remembers the rest of the Dream Master rhyme, and how if evil sees itself, it will die. So she grabs some nearby broken mirror stained glass stuff, and shows Freddy his reflection.
Well, if it was THAT easy, we shoulda done it three whole movies ago!! But to be fair, if my face looked like Freddy's and I saw it, I'd probably scream in terror too.
But it leads to a pretty epic scene where all the souls start to regain their autonomy, little gooey arms and faces peeling away at Freddy, and pinning him down to the wall.
Which is pretty much all she wrote, save for a quick wrapup with Alice and Dan, where she thinks she sees Freddy reflected in a fountain, but no! He's dead, for real! He must be! Until the sequel!
Video: Looks pretty good, since it's a big budget movie with studio and cleanup behind it.
Audio: Same for the sound, and the remixed 5.1 sound works really well in some scenes.
Sound Bite: Oh, any of Freddy's puns.
Body Count: I must be getting spoiled, because this one didn't have a lot of deaths. A high percentage of characters, but not that many numerically. But still, Nightmare makes up for it in quality.
1 - Freddy's revenge begins with Kincaid, 22 minutes in.
2 - And Joey isn't too far behind when Freddy drowns him in a water bed.
3 - Kristen gets tossed into a pit of fire.
4 - Freddy kisses Shiela to death.
5 - Then he stabs Rick-san in the gut.
6 - Debbie then regrets that insect she squished earlier in the movie.
7 - Freddy dies. For good this time!
Best Corpse: Debbie wins the prize, because I am a sucker for gooey transformations, and Kafka''s Metamorphosis is a favourite story.
Blood Type - B: A lot of credit for the score goes to, I believe, Screaming Mad George, who also did a lot of the wonderfully gooey effects in Bride of Re-Animator. The man has a head for gooey goodness, and randomness.
Sex Appeal: Huh. I *must* be forgetting something, because the content seemed very light for an 80s horror flick.
Drink Up! every time Dan returns to the movie.
Video Nasties: I am a sucker for a good rebirth scene. Although the cockroach transformation would've been good if it wasn't spread out over several scenes.
Movie Review: I've been doing these classic reviews of franchises for a few years now, and for the big franchises I've covered, I have yet to really encounter a BAD one. Sure, Halloween 3 was a departure, but still enjoyable. I know a lot of people loathed Hellraiser 3, but I loved it. And Elm Street 4 continues that trend. There've been a lot of very solid movies. And I really enjoyed this one. You can point to a few retreads of old ideas, but I feel like this is where they really nailed who Freddy was, and there are still some creative kills, some great effects, and good solid storytelling, with an interesting structure where the old cast slowly gets taken out, and the newbies built up. Four out of five anchovy heads.
Entertainment Value: Like I've said, Freddy is in top form, with some silly jokes, some great horror, and interesting nightmares, although nothing too weird. It's a good, solid, fun flick, but nothing TOO silly. Four out of five cockroaches.