With 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.
Kristen 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.
The 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.
With 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.