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A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER (1988)

Starring: Robert Englund, Lisa Wilcox, Tuesday Knight, Andras Jones, Danny Hassel, Rodney Eastman, Brooke Bundy

Written By: Brian Helgeland (also story), Scott Pierce, William Kotzwinkle (story) Directed By: Renny Harlin

The Short Version

It’s official; Freddy’s a game show host now… and he raps with The Fat Boys.

An interesting concept is wasted on a script that was written after the effects were already designed.

It’s all flash and minimal slash; there’s not a single scare to be found here.

The ending has to be one of the dumbest I’ve ever seen in a slasher flick.

Think of it as A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: Freddy Sells Out.

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

AMERICAN.

It claims to be real cheese, but it’s not.  The rest of the world calls it “wax” for a reason.


Pairs Well With...

BOONE'S FARM STRAWBERRY WINE.

Cheap swill for drunks; I think I just caused some people to spontaneously remember high school and throw up a little.  This movie has a similar effect.

“Jason!  Come here, boy!  That’s a boy!  You almost scared me!”


And suddenly, it all went wrong.

After New Line finally gave A Nightmare on Elm Street a strong sequel in the form of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, there was cause for hope that Freddy’s slasher franchise would continue to provide both good gore and good stories.  This, of course, was New Line’s cue to provide the audience with neither the next time around.

Welcome to the ridiculous mess that is A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master.

Forget about the plot; the filmmakers sure did.  (It’s said that they designed the major effects sequences first and then patched together a story to go around them; I can believe that.)  The result is a half-baked disappointment that’s all flash and relatively little slash, and that completely wastes the glimmer of an interesting premise along with a largely likable cast of Freddy bait.  Well, actually, it’s two half-baked disappointments, because really, the first half hour is one movie, and the last hour is another.

Just thinking about it makes me want to grab a drink.

We start with a direct sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, though Patricia Arquette has been replaced by Tuesday Knight in the role of Kristen after catching a case of the pregnant.  Despite having been thoroughly and convincingly killed at the end of that flick, Freddy (Robert Englund, of course, finally getting the top billing he deserves) is inexplicably back for revenge against the “Dream Warriors” who represent the last of the original Elm Street children.  Instead of trying to come up with a reasonable explanation, the filmmakers figured that the best way to go about showing Freddy’s resurrection would be to have a dog named Jason walk over his grave and piss fire on it.

No.  I’m not kidding.  Freddy comes back to life after being sprayed with flaming dog pee.

Empowered and reconstituted by the pee, Freddy then proceeds to knock off the Dream Warriors, though Kristen is thoughtful enough to psychically will her power to pull others into her dreams to her friend Alice (Lisa Wilcox) before being burned to death.  (Though at least this time, the fire is not urine-induced.)

And now that we’ve killed a third of our runtime getting the last movie’s batch of meddling kids out of the way, it’s time to start up with this flick’s Freddy fodder.

To be honest, there’s not much that I can say that I like about A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, but I do like the Freddy fodder, collection of loveable 1980s archetypes that they are.  There’s the smart kid with the big glasses that cover half of her face, the fitness chick whose hair is three times bigger than her waist, the guy with the hair gel who wants to be the next Karate Kid, the jock with the heart of gold, and, of course, the sweet preppie Final Girl.  In an unusual move for a slasher flick, every one of them is genuinely likable, and every one of them is decently cast.  (Indeed, Lisa Wilcox ends up being my favorite Final Girl from the Freddy franchise, despite the wretched story that surrounds her.)  Of course, this doesn’t stop Freddy from knocking them off one by one… except that he doesn’t really knock them off.  Instead, he’s just the MC for the special effects parades during which they get killed, but hold that thought for a minute.

As the teenagers start dying, there’s a glimmer of high concept: Freddy may eat their souls (literally, as demonstrated in a particularly dumb-looking scene involving a pizza), but Alice inherits the power of their personalities, apparently becoming some sort of Anti-Freddy.  This, I will say, has real potential… but it is utterly and completely wasted, and indeed rendered pointless by the single dumbest final battle I can think of from any of the Big Three slasher franchises, eclipsing even Jason Goes to Hell by a narrow margin by virtue of complete “WTF” senselessness that doesn’t even have the decency to jive with the rest of this movie, much less the franchise.

But then again, I think we’ve already noted that story just doesn’t matter here, haven’t we?  The point of the final battle is to showcase another series of special effects; nothing more, nothing less.

This, in turn, makes it just like the rest of the movie.

Sure, some of the deaths are flashy, but scary?  Never.  Gory?  Meh.  The most frightening frame in the entire movie involves seeing Robert Englund dressed in drag.  When a horny kid ends up being pulled into his waterbed and drowns (combining two images from the first film in the process), sure, it looks kinda cool, but there’s no resonance to it.  Yeah, the girl who hates bugs being killed by having a gigantic cockroach emerge from her insides is supposed to be clever, but it’s not, even though it does beat the “sucking face” kill of the asthmatic girl, which looks just plain stupid.  And just think: those are the kills that make the most sense.  But again, sense doesn’t matter; all that matters is “what can the special effects department do, and how can we try to work it in?”  At least before, Freddy could be looked upon as a malicious stalker; but this time – especially after the first half hour is over – his kills are literally random, and they’re not even necessarily his kills.  The transformation that began in Nightmare on Elm Street 3 has reached its conclusion here, and Freddy has fully given himself over to the role of Hell’s Own Game Show Host.  (Even the script admits it in a rare moment of self-awareness.)  That cockroach kill?  Not Freddy.  Who knows where the roach came from?  Freddy’s just holding the roach motel box and making stupid wisecracks about it.  As the movie goes on, the deaths play less like real kills and more like punchlines.  Not scary, and not funny, and not fun even in the “mindless entertainment” sense.

Frankly, the fact that Robert Englund is such a professional about it only makes things worse.  His dialogue consists almost entirely of one-liners and cheap insults; it’s actively painful to listen to.  Painful, but again, not the least bit scary.

When the most emotionally resonant scenes in the entire movie are the music video montages, you know you’ve hit rock bottom.  You won’t believe that this flick was directed by the same man who brought you fun stuff like Die Hard 2 and The Long Kiss Goodnight, but amazingly enough, it’s true.

Not Renny Harlin’s finest hour, methinks.

But speaking of the music…

As bad as A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master is, you could actually do worse when it comes to slasher soundtracks.  (Maybe Freddy got his pick; he was hosting videos on MTV at the time.  Really.)  Yes, that’s Tuesday Knight, our stand-in for Patricia Arquette, singing the opening theme song, but by far the funkiest and most bizarre entry on the track list is “Are You Ready For Freddy,” featuring none other than Robert Englund himself rapping with… The Fat Boys.  No, I am not kidding.  Here’s the video on YouTube. Trust me; it’s more fun than the real movie is.

And that, in the end, should tell you everything you need to know.  While A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master may not scrape the bottom of this franchise’s barrel (yes, there are worse than this), it’s still incredibly bad, and proof of the truism first stated by George Lucas (of all people) that “a special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.”

Why, yes… yes, it is.

Bottom line, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master represents Freddy taking the express elevator to stupidity.  Devoid of plot, devoid of scares, and stuffed with special effects that carry all of the emotional resonance of pocket lint, this is one slasher sequel that easily makes the “skip” list, despite an appealing Final Girl.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, March, 2012


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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