A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4: The Dream Master (1988) Review

the-dream-masterWith A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: The Dream Warriors making an astonishing $44m at the box office, there was little doubt that a third sequel would soon follow. Eighteen months later, The Dream Master would be released to immense success, eventually making a little over $49m during its theatrical run. Despite New Line Cinema originally intending for the movie to be a crossover with Paramount‘s Friday the 13th franchise (the result, Freddy vs. Jason, would finally be released fifteen years later), the filmmakers decided to continue on from the events of the previous film by bringing back the principal characters and exploring certain elements which The Dream Warriors had touched upon. It would also move the series further away from claustrophobic horror and more into MTV territory, something which the third film had been guilty of during its final act. Freddy Krueger was no longer the scary child murderer of Wes Craven’s original, he had now become a full blown, wisecracking jester who would dispatch his victims in an array of inventive-yet-unbelievable ways.

dream-master-1Kristen Parker (Tuesday Knight) once again finds herself in the dream world at Freddy’s (Robert Englund) derelict old house where a young girl is sat outside drawing a picture which reveals him in the window. Suddenly a storm begins and rain pours heavily down on her. The door to the house slowly opens and, hesitantly, she heads inside, just in time to hear a group of children singing the nursery rhyme which signals his arrival. A strong wind blows her through a door and into the boiler room which he used to take his children. Kristen, who had previously displayed mysterious powers in which she is able to bring people into her dream, summons the help of her old friends Kincaid (Ken Sagoes) and the once-mute Joey (Rodney Eastman), whom she had formerly been a resident with at the mental institute, Westin Hills. They try to assure her that Freddy is gone for good when suddenly Kincaid’s dog Jason jumps out of the darkness and sinks its teeth into her arm, promptly waking them all up.

In the real world, Kristen’s best friend is Alice (Lisa Wilcox), a sweet-yet-troubled girl who lives with her martial arts-obsessed brother Rick (Andras Jones), who happens to also be Kristen’s boyfriend, and their alcoholic father (Nicholas Mele). Her other companions include the outgoing Debbie (Brooke Theiss) and the asthmatic-ridden Sheila (Toy Newkirk), whilst Alice quietly obsesses over one of Rick’s friends, the popular jock Dan (Danny Hassel). That night, Kincaid slowly falls asleep on his bed whilst Jason lies by his side, but soon enough he wakes up to find himself in the boot of a car in the old salvage yard where they had buried Freddy. Jason starts digging in the centre of a clearing before urinating fire which starts to destroy the ground around it, revealing Freddy’s remains. Slowly, blood and muscle begin to form and Freddy comes back to life, promptly sending his knived fingers into Kincaid’s stomach. Joey is lying half asleep on his waterbed when suddenly he finds a beautiful naked woman floating under the sheets. Freddy jumps up out of the water and drags him down below, quickly filling the bed with blood.

dream-master-2The next morning, Alice tells Kristen about the dream master, a rhyme which allows you to be in control of your dreams. Soon afterwards, Kristen herself is killed by Freddy and Alice awakens to know something is wrong. One-by-one, both her friends and her brother fall foul of Freddy, forcing Alice to fight back. With her the only survivor, she starts to practice martial arts like her brother had and begins to further explore her dream powers, preparing to play Freddy at his own game. With the help of Dan, she tries to discover the truth about the dream demon that has been terrorising her friends and finally destroys him by reflecting his own evil back at him with the help of the dream master, which causes all of the souls which were trapped inside of him to force their way out, tearing him to pieces. With the nightmare behind them, Alice and Dan are finally happy, but as she tosses a coin into a wishing well Freddy’s reflection is cast in the water.

Whilst The Dream Master‘s increased budget ($13m as opposed to The Dream Warriors‘ $5m) allowed for plenty of inventive set pieces and elaborate effects, that is also its undoing. Whereas the previous films had explored the fear of being trapped inside a dream, unable to escape, director Renny Harlin instead used this as an excuse to fill the screen with endless prosthetics and bizarre locations. Freddy is no longer the menacing monster he had been, now he had become a humorous and likeable character who lacked any real threat. The deaths themselves are ridiculous, with one victim being turned into a giant bug whilst weight training. New Line may have finally gained the kind of funds that just five years earlier they could only have dreamed of, but mindlessly throwing money at a movie is not guaranteed to make it effective.

dream-master-3With Patricia Arquette unable to reprise the role of Kristen after The Dream Warriors, the filmmakers were instead forced to cast newcomer Knight which, whilst she handles the role effectively enough, she lacks the charisma of her predecessor. Eastman, no longer the mute but now a talkative charmer, is fails to be the intriguing character he had been in the third film, whilst Sagoes tragically falls into the token black character, mouthing off to Freddy during his death sequence like a homeboy. Englund is on top form as usual but his irritating one liners and camp mannerisms prove that music videos and a TV spinoff dilute the disturbing aspects of his personality. The screenplay lacks any real style, with each character being generic and their dialogue run-of-the-mill. The Dream Master would mark the turning point in the franchise when Freddy Krueger was no longer marketed at horror fans but at those brought up on MTV.

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14 Responses to “ A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4: The Dream Master (1988) Review ”

  1. They should have left Kristen alone, the change of actress made it terrible.

  2. This was when nightmare on elm street started to suck and continued to suck, the only cool stuff this franchise did after part 3 was the tv series, which needs to come to dvd in a box set, patricia arquette believe it or not was in my homeroom class back in 83 she went to my school for a few months, 2 yrs later im watching dream warriors and i got so pissed that i didnt make my move back in 83 damn she coulda been mine.!!!

  3. I grew up in la and also played a roadie alongside tuesday night in a film called one down four up that never came out it was supposed to be an after school special true story, i guess i have a connection to nightmare girls in a way.

  4. It’s still a better film than the dreadful part 2…

  5. I really can’t find anything I actually like about this movie

  6. PLEASE part 2 is way better, part 4 was like a cartoon and it wasnt scary at all at least in part 2 freddy was still scary and raw

  7. christian, you cant find anything you like about 4 cause it stinks haha

  8. Summed up perfectly Christian. Freddy became like a pop culture icon after part 4, not the freaky child murderer he used to be. I must admit I watch it every once in a while for old times sake.

  9. This film (and to a lesser extend part 3) illustrates exactly how you water down a scary horror series – literally shine a light on the villain.

  10. “You can check in, but you can’t check out”. That pretty much sums up the entire movie and possibly the rest of the franchise, doesn’t it? I did like the Alice character with her brother Rick and the alcoholic dad. It was a nice shift of the franchise to a new set of characters. I do however agree that Freddy no longer could be taken seriously. It’s too bad as I really enjoyed 2 and 3. I did like the pizza with all of the souls Freddy had taken, however.

  11. I really love the second one and don’t understand why so many fans hate it. The first three are excellent (well, the first two and a half, as the third falls at the last hurdle with an appearance from Harry Potter) but this film is too cheesy and lame to even work as a guilty pleasure.

  12. From this movie on freddy became waaaaay to cartoonish.
    He went from being such a creepy / scary character to a comedian.
    Blame the directors….blame the writers….blame the fact that after the 3rd entry the whole franchise should have been laid to rest. When you’re between the ages of 12 and 16 living in the 80’s it was cool to see the new nightmare film that was coming out. When you get older and revisit those films you can understand why they were made. They were aimed at the young audiences who didnt know any better.

  13. Nightmare 4 was good and enjoyable! Renny Harlin is a very capable director. True, this one became more comical and less dark but on an entertaining level it succeeds. And Freddy was already using one-liners in part 3 so people can’t say it started here. Part 2, 5 & 6 were boring. New Nightmare was okay. I love 1, 3 & 4 the most.

  14. This wasn’t the first Elm Street movie I saw, but it was the first I saw in theaters. Loved it then, loved it now. Very stylish, inventive, and creative. Love it.

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