Director: Renny Harlin
Writers: Brain Helgeland, Ken and Jim Wheats
Starring: Lisa Wilcox, Danny Hassel, Tuesday Knight, Ken Sagoes, Rodney Eastman, and Robert
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master was released in August 1987, a little over a year since the third film was released. While The Dream Master received the biggest box office of the entire franchise (until the crossover Freddy vs. Jason), the follow up is a bit of a mess. It’s not scary in the slightest, and really suffers from a weak script that doesn’t do anything new or exciting with the franchise.
Freddy’s (Robert Englund) back after being laid to rest at the end of Dream Warriors. He comes back in a dream where a dog pees literal fire over where Freddy was buried which cracks open the Earth and his bones reassemble. That’s it. It’s a stupid moment that’s not as funny as it should be. The portrayal of Freddy is really weak throughout The Dream Master. He just turns up and kills people, with a higher body count than previous entries. For most of the deaths he gives a one-liner, but none of them are funny are memorable. It’s just trying to recapture the magic of Dream Warriors, with very limited effect.
The film really suffered from the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike, which meant that director Harlin ended up making a film with very little planning for the plot and a lot of improvisation. It really shows in the final product, with some incredibly bad and unnatural dialogue. There are so many clunky moments that just don’t work. Essentially the plot show Kristen’s powers being transferred to Alice and Krueger killing the others that Alice brings into her dreams. The actual ‘Dream Master’ that the title refers to is a rhyme, which is forgotten for most of the film, until it’s really important at the end.
While the script is poor and is essentially just death after death with only the main character, Alice (Lisa Wilcox) getting any character development, that’s not the main reason to watch a slasher film. It’s all about the kills, and there are a couple of really great ones here. Kincaid’s (Ken Sagoes) death, one of the survivors from the previous film, comes really early on and is a bit of a shock. Debbie Stevens (Brooke Theiss) is turned into a cockroach, which is probably the most memorable death in the film.
Arguably the best thing about this film is Renny Harlin’s direction. It’s incredibly inspired. There’s a sequence where Kristen (played this time around by Tuesday Knight, since Patricia Arquette declined returning to focus on more dramatic roles) is drugged by her mother with sleeping tablets. The camera spins all over and around the room, following the Kristen constantly, in one of the most mesmerising, but also stomach-churning shots. It’s an amazing part of the film. The film really leans into the dreamworld as well, with a really well-made time-loop that feels like a real dream, a scene where the characters fall asleep in class. The film does a really good job of blending the dreams with the real world.
The effects are also spectacular, with some incredible prosthetics and transformations. The death of Krueger in this one, looks incredible. It may look a little dated at points, but overall, the effects look better than a fair few modern films.
It is definitely the weakest entry in the series up to that point, but it’s still entertaining. The shallow plot can be overlooked because everything else is so well crafted. The Dream Master is still a solid entry to the series, even though it’s very messy.
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