John’s Horror Corner: A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988), continuing the evolution of Freddy Krueger’s influence.
MY CALL: The kills remain highly creative, Freddy gets sillier, the characters get pithier, and the re-watchability remains top notch for this stellar franchise. This movie is excellent for a fun popcorn horror night! MOVIES LIKE Dream Master: First off, you should first see the original A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985) and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Other classics everyone should see include Poltergeist (1982; discussed at length in our podcast episode #16), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Hellraiser (1987). For more recent horror with a similar sense of humor try Wishmaster (1997) and Hatchet (2006).
As is typical for the franchise (but not at all boring or played out), we open with a surreal dream. Kristen pulls Joey and Kincaid into her nightmare as we are reminded of the excellent scoring and soundtracks that continue to grace this franchise and complement the spectacles of a most eerie atmosphere. Whether for use of shadows, our villain’s skin-crawling chuckle, or elaborate set design, the mood is persistently uneasy when it should be. This is a sequel worthy to follow the mighty Dream Warriors.
Dream Warriors ended with the unusual circumstance of three teen survivors: Joey, Kincaid and Kristen (replacing Patricia Arquette is Tuesday Knight; Wes Craven’s New Nightmare)—instead of the standard “final girl” survivor theme. Contrary to the beginning of part 2 and part 3, both of which reference part 1 without really being “direct” sequels of the story, part 4 now continues with our three survivors back in high school after their apparent release from the mental health facility.
I love that we get a good sense of these characters, their relationships with each other and what they’re like individually—a luxury we typically don’t enjoy while watching horror movies, yet a thankful staple of the NOES franchise so far. Their actions reveal their relationships instead of having a poorly written script “telling” us who’s who.
In addition to Joey, Kincaid and Kristen, there’s the nerdy Sheila (Toy Newkirk) who doesn’t pay attention to boys, the shy and virginal Alice (Lisa Wilcox; A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: Dream Child, Watchers Reborn), her dapper martial artist brother Rick (Andras Jones; Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama), his jock buddy Dan (Danny Hassel; A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: Dream Child), and the man-hungry fitness fanatic Debbie (Brooke Theiss; Beverly Hills, 90210). Continuing the franchise legacy of prohibitively mettlesome alcoholic absentee parents, our protagonists must defend themselves against more than just Freddy. So they have only on each other to rely.
By this fourth movie, Freddy’s menace has almost completely wicked away like his cindered flesh, leaving now the outwardly iconic sick sense humor left completely uncaged in Dream Warriors. If there was any question about his heavy transition to comedy please take, for example, his beach sunglasses and Jaws (1975)-homaging shark fin claw. Yeah, things are getting silly even for Freddy Krueger. He’s peeling apples with his claws, speaking like a wise 1800s kung fu master, playfully eating pizza topped with teenage meatball souls, and feistily pelting out adages like “no pain, no gain,” “you can check in, but you can’t check out,” and “sayonara”—all appropriate to the murderous situation and all delivered with the shamelessness of a sitcom dad gleefully embarrassing his kids.
Freddy’s kills continue to entertain with creative flair. Kincaid is killed after his dog’s flaming stream of urine resurrects our clawed killer; Joey succumbs to yet another way out-of-his-league topless dream girl (Hope Marie Carlton; Hard Ticket to Hawaii, Savage Beach, Slumber Party Massacre III, Slaughterhouse Rock); the nerd is life-sucked to a drained husk a la Lifeforce (1985) or Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988); and a fear of roaches and an evil bench press spotter lead to a grossly insectoid transformation death scene.
Freddy (Robert Englund; Wishmaster, Hatchet) has fully embraced being a known entity rather than the mysterious boogeyman he was in part 1 and Freddy’s Revenge. Not only has Freddy evolved, but so has Freddy’s dream world. Whereas Freddy once held all the power in his realm, with Dream Warriors the once defenseless teen dreamers became more empowered. Playing on that notion of power as Kristen, the last of the Elm Street kids, dies she imbues Alice with her power sort of like a Highlander movie (1986, 1991). Now Alice can pull people into her dreams and, after Rick dies, she can use nunchucks, too!
Even if it’s just a product of directorial flourishes, Freddy’s influence likewise continues to expand with each sequel. Two examples include Freddy being resurrected somehow by flaming dog piss and Alice awakening to find a postcard that ignites while she is clearly awake. In part 1 Freddy’s realm of influence was only in dreams, then he used a dreamer’s body as a conduit (part 2), and his reach continues to ebb into reality leaving the line between dream and reality ever more blurred.
SIDEBAR: This is the kind of sequel the franchise deserves! Not just for how it has evolved, but for what it retains. Like every sequel before it, Dream Master calls back to the paramount NOES themes. Parts 1-3 featured the steam-spewing boiler rooms, the power plant where Freddy worked and the junkyard where his remains were hidden, and here we revisit all of them. Instead of face impressions on Nancy’s bedroom wall, Freddy’s form emerging through Jesse’s stomach, and Freddy manifesting himself through a television set, we find the impression of stolen souls trying to writhe free from Freddy’s body.
Where once the perverted Freddy licked Nancy through the phone, licked a young girls stomach, or tongue-tethered a teenager’s limbs in a sick fantasy, he now lecherously flicks his tongue and “sucks face” to kiss a teenager to death. And rather than slicing off his own fingers, revealing his own brain, or uncovering his soul-embedded chest, he now reveals that he is literally filled with the souls of his victims. Also continuing to flavor the franchise, we again revisit Nancy’s dilapidated house on 1428 Elm Street and the unnerving little girls, likely the ghosts of Freddy’s victims.
I must emphasize that I still enjoy all the practical effects in all four of the first NOES films that are now 30 years old. Sometimes the simplicity makes it more gross, weird, off-putting, or even a bit more funny; and thrillingly FUN. I especially enjoyed Freddy’s resurrection when his bones reassemble and, just like Hellraiser (1987), his fluids congeal over his joints and skull to form sinew and flesh (like reverse time lapse melting of wax).
The effects of the animated writing on the physics exam and the life-draining kiss were also noteworthy. But Debbie has the most spectacular death since the Dream Warriors wrist tendon marionette. She slowly turns into a roach—a creature for which her hatred is firmly established—first through her arms torn asunder, then she finds herself in one of her own roach motels and the glue gooily tears off her face! And Freddy’s defeat in the cathedral finale is decidedly unique as the souls trapped within him manifest as slimy flayed arms emerging from his body, tearing him open while trying to escape themselves. It’s quite a sight and a testament to 80s practical effects.
Despite the rapid release of sequels (following the 1984 original in ‘85, ‘87, and now ‘88), this movie triumphs with heavily diversified and interesting sets, and the deaths remain elaborate and creative…as are many of the themes of the film. Director Renny Harlin (Deep Blue Sea, Exorcist: The Beginning) even tunes in to our childhood sentiments with The Wizard of Oz (1939; Alice’s ruby red shoes and the gale force wind pulling her into the black & white movie), another dream-like world ruled by someone with magical powers and beaten by a young woman who gains strength from her friends.
If I had one disappointment it would be that Dream Master does nothing to build on the mythology of Freddy Krueger after Dream Warriors gave us Amanda Krueger, the ghostly nun who told the story of Freddy’s rape-conception in a mental hospital. That said, we do clearly observe a continued and gradual evolution of Freddy’s influence which will continue in subsequent sequels (Dream Child & New Nightmare).
If Dream Warriors was the “fan favorite” sequel, I’m tempted to say that Dream Master might be at the very least tied for the “most fun sequel,” ranking quite high for re-watchability. Not only that, but I decree that anyone who fancies themselves a horror fan should own NOES 1-4.
Enjoy and pleasant nightmares.