Movie Review – A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
Director : Renny Harlin
Year Of Release : 1988
Principal Cast : Robert Englund, Lisa Wilcox, Danny Hassel, Brooke Theiss, Andras Jones, Tuesday Knight, Toy Newkirk, Rodney Eastman, Ken Sagoes, Nicholas Mele, Brooke Bundy.
Approx Running Time : 93 Minutes
Synopsis: Freddy Krueger returns to terrorise a new batch of kids from Elm Street.
The third sequel in the Nightmare On Elm Street franchise, and the second part of a loosely connected inner-trilogy following on from events in The Dream Warriors, Renny Harlin’s The Dream Master is a definitively 80’s horror fest, lacking quality writing, performances and logic, but manifesting as a classic with some brilliant practical visual effects. Freddy Krueger once more dominates the dreams of a bunch of nubile high-school students, hunting down the children of the parents who slaughtered him and turned him into the monster of your nightmares, and star Robert Englund once more sneers and snarls his way through a clutch of one-liners and ghastly death scenes, but despite the best efforts of Harlin (in his Hollywood directing debut) things never manage to get out of first gear. Schlocky, at times decidedly juvenile, The Dream Master’s insidiously creepy visuals are hamstrung by equally adolescent acting and nonsensical plotting.
Following the events of The Dream Warriors, Kristen (Tuesday Knight), Kincaid (Ken Sagoes) and Joey (Rodney Eastman) believe the demonic Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) is finally defeated, and have moved on to live relatively normal teenage lives. However, Kristen continues to encounter Krueger in her dreams; she doesn’t tell her boyfriend, Rick (Andras Jones), or Rick’s sister Alice (Lisa Wilcox), or even their other friends Debbie (Brooke Theiss) or Sheila (Toy Newkirk). When Krueger eventually kills Kincaid and Joey, and throws Kristen into one of his demonic boilers, it turns to Alice to fight the threat of Freddy’s deadly presence so no more kids are killed.
By the time The Dream Master arrived, people had a pretty good lock on all things Krueger; were there any surprises left in his razor-blade hand to thrill audiences now arriving with a level of expectation of gratuitously bloody violence and eroticism? Sadly, The Dream Master is a narrative disappointing venture into horror, a largely incoherent and stupid story that expunges a lot of what makes Krueger an iconic screen villain and turns him well and truly into a cartoonish manifestation that ain’t half as creepy. Harlin had the luxury of including a trio of the stars of the previous film here, a continuation of the story that works pretty well despite nearly a half-dozen credited writers turning this into a hazy clusterfuck of ideas that never gels into a cohesive whole, and he maximises the shock value by killing them off midway through the film – audiences of the day must have been astonished by this, although it’s something we look at with mild amusement today – but still can’t overcome deficiencies in the overall story.
Chief among the film’s problems is it’s reticence to give us character to root for. Coupled with the cast’s exceptional inability to act, Harlin’s back is against the wall in innumerable ways. Tuesday Knight’s Kristen, a holdover from the previous film, lacks depth and simple seems to exist only for crying, screaming, and looking somewhat ferocious. The newly christened lead in this sequel, Lisa Wilcox as Alice (whom Kristen passes the baton to, so to speak), feels poorly conceived and simply a retread of both Knight and previous franchise stalwart Heather Langenkamp’s roles, and although relatively pretty the actress isn’t strong enough to offer a quality performance worthy of the franchise. Wilcox’s delivery and wooden acting aren’t alone, as she’s accompanied through this thing by the iniquitous Danny Hassel, Brooke Theiss and Andras Jones, among others, all of whom are given little depth to their generic teenage characters.
As if that wasn’t enough, the writing on this film is truly remarkable. And by remarkable, I mean just asinine. The dialogue is risible, and when you consider no less a scribe than Brian Helgeland (screenwriter of LA Confidential, Legend and Mystic River) was involved there’s a truly sour taste left in one’s mouth at the end. Character’s don’t evolve or offer much emotional resonance, and their exposition lands with the a dull thud against Englund’s sadistic Krueger. Watching these people act is a trial in and of itself. Englund, for his part, continues to appear to have a blast as the demonic Krueger, although the weary signs of complacence are starting to show here.
The only real saving grace to The Dream Master is Harlin’s direction and the often remarkable visual effects, all of which are delivered via photochemical or practical means. Harlin delivers a surety and flair behind the camera, elevating the pedestrian performances with inspired framing and photography. The DP on this film was Steven Fierberg, and although at times appearing flat and lifeless visually, the film springs to life whenever the characters enter Freddy’s “dream world”. Harlin’s use of lighting and cinematic tricks is on point, showcasing his potential even if it doesn’t quite live up to things here. Hindered by a rancid script and mind-boggling plot twists, Harlin delivers on the more horrific aspects of the franchise, and does so with aplomb. If nothing else, it’s worth it to see a lot of green back-lighting given center stage, something I’m sure hasn’t happened very often, even though it should.
A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master is typically stylish hokum from this franchise, although it suffers a deplorable lack of quality in both the writing and acting areas. There are some astonishingly good practical effects utilised throughout the film, and the horror effects are especially effective. If you’re keen to see some of Harlin’s early work this is as good a place to start as you can want, but the film’s poorer elements far outweigh any positives and ultimately, The Dream Master is a doggerel of a thing.
2 thoughts on “Movie Review – A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master”
I was part of “the audience of the day” and killing off kids from the previous installment early was on mildly “astonishing,” and nothing to get too worked up about. The franchise has always treated characters aside from its lead as fodder for Freddy so we were prepared for that. The issues with this movie’s writing, acting, etc., are what hold it back. It just comes off as a weird concoction. For series devotees, like me, the reason to watch this has always been the visuals, Robert Englund continuing to “be” Freddy not just play him, and his character’s creative kills. In other words, your review nails it.
I think of all the actors to play iconic film roles, none is more memorable than Robert Englund. From what I can gather he’s also a pretty decent guy off camera too, which is nice.