I’m back, just like Freddy Krueger, with another installment of the Nightmare series: A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. This one came out in 1988, about a year and a half after the critically and commercially successful Dream Warriors. They sure were good at cranking these out. This also came out on Aug. 19, so we’re almost at the 32-year anniversary of the film.
The most notable behind-the-scenes aspect for me is that Renny Harlin is in the director’s chair. Harlin also directed 1990’s Die Hard 2, and 1999’s Deep Blue Sea, a very underrated film, in my opinion. He also did 2009’s 12 Rounds, featuring my boy, John Cena, one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time. It’s a paint-by-numbers action film, but I liked it!
Apparently, this film has been called the “MTV Nightmare,” a continuation of the MTV-ing of Freddy Krueger we saw in the previous installment with his iconic line, “Welcome to primetime bitch!” With the birth and popularity of MTV in the 1980s, it seems to have influenced a lot of jump-cut editing, like in its music videos, and also, again, continued the wise-cracking, quipping nature of Freddy Krueger.
Consequence of Sound, which does the Halloweenies podcast I’m always talking about, did a great video on this:
“… He had surpassed being a movie monster and become, for all intents and purposes, a rock star on a Malibu beach, smiling in a pair of Ray-Bans like a gruesome Tom Cruise.” – Consequence of Sound on Freddy Krueger
It really is extraordinary how New Line Cinema, the production company behind the series, was able to MTV-ify and rock star-ify Freddy Krueger, and mass market a child killer into really, one of the first anti-heroes. The 1980s had started turning toward that, it seems, with Freddy Krueger as a big example, but you also had Batman turning darker with Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns in 1986. While Batman’s a traditional hero in many respects, he also has that anti-hero vibe.
Rodney Eastman (who plays Joey Crusel) and Ken Sagoes (who plays Roland Kincaid) return from the previous installment, but Tuesday Knight replaces Patricia Arquette as Kristen Parker. Tuesday Knight does look pretty similar to Patricia Arquette, so it is good casting. I can buy her in the role of Kristen Parker.
We also have a new lead, with Lisa Wilcox coming in to play Alice Johnson. An interesting aside, apparently Ellie Cornell, who played Rachel Carruthers in Halloween 4 and Halloween 5, was originally in line for the role of Alice. Could you imagine her in the Nightmare series instead of the Halloween series? It’s hard from me to decouple her from the latter
And, obviously, Robert Englund is back as Freddy Krueger.
The premise of this one is that we’re still following the aforementioned surviving Dream Warriors, but this time, Freddy Krueger is going after a new teen, Alice. However, Alice becomes something of an amalgamation of the Dream Warriors: she has athletic prowess, physical strength, and intelligence.
Just like the last one where we started off with a quote about sleep from Edgar Allan Poe, this time we get one from the Bible:
“When deep sleep fallen on men, fear came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones to shake.” – Job IV, 13-14
Is there something to the fact that its Roland Kincaid’s dog, Jason, who ultimately digs up Freddy Krueger’s bones and reignites the flames (by peeing)? As in, Jason … Jason Voorhees. Was that some seed planting for an eventual Freddy versus Jason monster mash?
Unfortunatley, Kincaid’s time in this movie didn’t last long, as he’s Freddy’s first kill as he makes his way through the survivors of the last film.
The Nightmare films like to use bath tubs and other water devices to great effect. Well, this film does one of the best one yet when Freddy Krueger pops out of a water bed to get Joey, the next survivor on his list. Of course, he quips (as Joey was, just like in the last film, seeing a naked girl), “How’s this for a wet dream?” But it looks great and holds up well.
If the 1980s hair bands soundtrack didn’t tell you this was the 1980s, then the Rick Johnson character, played by Andras Jones, is literally The Karate Kid. Which, incidentally also debuted in 1984 and had a couple ’80s sequels. But Johnson here looks like just Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso.
Ha, I can’t tell if they are playing with us or not. But when Freddy finally catches up to Kristen, the last of the survivors, she’s at the beach (she was trying to go to a good place in her dream). Freddy starts out as a shark. Yes, a shark. Are they joking about the franchise jumping the shark? I mean, Freddy’s knives glove was a literal shark fin. Later, we also get a scene in a … movie theater. A movie theater! This film is a wink and a nod, ain’t it?
Kristen dies, but not before passing her powers on to Alice, including her smoking habit apparently, which is a bit of a raw deal, huh? Dead by Freddy or dead by lung cancer.
Small note on a detail I’m only picking up because I’ve watched these films back-to-back-to-back-to-back now: The first three movies must’ve had Coca-Cola as a sponsor because Coke cans are everywhere. This fourth installment clearly has a Pepsi cup. Maybe New Coke three years earlier killed the Coke shine for a bit.
A recurring theme in these films that I keep touching upon is the gross-out factor. Whelp, when Freddy Krueger goes after Debbie Stevens (played by Brooke Theiss), she’s on the bench press. He pushes down on it until, at the bend of her elbows, her elbows explode at the points. Yuck. But also, for 1988, the special effects look great. Then her forearms fall off and turn into like a cockroach until she becomes a full blown one. Makes my skin crawl watching that. Seriously, I’m freaking out and getting itchy. Yuck.
Dream Warriors, as I’ve mentioned, was a nice blend of horrific with levity, of the sort of scary Freddy with the quippy Freddy. This one goes too far in the direction of the latter and is worse off for it. And it’s not even quips, so much as a lot of puns.
For example, Freddy says, “Welcome to Wonderland, Alice!” to Alice at the end, and instead of even being funny (and certainly not scary), it’s just cheesy.
Freddy’s a rough one, too, because at least with Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, you can slow them down eventually with enough firepower or other weapons. But Alice literally rips a hole through Freddy’s chest, he laughs it off, and magically repairs it.
That said, the ending of “evil shall see itself” in the mirror and the souls he has inside of him fighting back, so that’s what brings Freddy down is inventive and interesting.
Overall, this is the weakest of the sequels so far for me. I wasn’t too impressed with Lisa Wilcox; she was a step down compared to even Knight, much less Arquette, and Heather Langenkamp, who wasn’t even that strong to begin with. We lose our favorite Dream Warriors at the beginning, then we’re left with a bad-acted group of kids we don’t know much about or care about, Freddy puns at them, and then they die.
Still, people were excited for Freddy. Even though it came out shortly after Dream Warriors, it improved on Dream Warriors’ run, with $49.4 million at the box office with a much higher budget of $13 million.
I also continue to be a contrarian on these films, as I quite liked two, even though it was relatively panned, I was pretty much in line with critics and fans on Dream Warriors, and here with four, the critics seemed to like it better than I did. From Rottentomatoes:
“A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master marks a relative high point in this franchise’s bumpy creative journey, although the original remains far superior.”
Hard disagree there for reasons I’ve already outlined.
The biggest plus of the film is that the special effects, unlike even Dream Warriors, holds up extremely well for 1988. I’m also in agreement with Englund that one of the best scenes of the franchise is when Alice and Dan Jordan (played by Danny Hassel) are trying to save Debbie from her gross cockroach fate, and they keep time looping. Since I take notes as I watch and pause the movie, I actually thought I had accidentally gone back a few minutes and replayed the same scene. That’s freaky and well-done. I hope they play with that looping idea more in future installments.
If you’re into Freddy, you have to add this one to your viewing, but don’t expect the best of the bunch.