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

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #346

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Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: August 19, 1988
Sub-Genre: Eighties Slasher
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $13,000,000
Box Office: $49,300,000
Running Time: 93 minutes
Director: Renny Harlin
Producers: Robert Shaye, Rachel Talalay
Screenplay: Brian Helgeland, Scott Pierce
Story: William Kotzwinkle, Brian Helgeland
Based on Characters by Wes Craven, Bruce Wagner
Special Effects: John Carl Buechler, Screaming Mad George, Bart Mixon, Brian Wade
Cinematography: Steven Fierberg
Score: John Easdale, Craig Safan
Editing: Michael N. Knue, Jack Turner, Chuck Weiss
Studios: Heron Communications, Smart Egg Pictures
Distributor: New Line Cinema
Stars: Robert Englund, Lisa Wilcox, Andras Jones, Danny Hassel, Rodney Eastman, Tuesday Knight, Ken Sagoes, Brooke Bundy, Nicholas Mele, Toy Newkirk, Brooke Theiss, Jacquelyn Masche, Linnea Quigley

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Suggested Audio Candy:

Divinyls Back to The Wall

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I know what many of you will be thinking right now. The Dream Master, isn’t that about the time when the Elm Street series became utterly insipid? Widely regarded as the first entry in which Freddy Krueger lost any sense of the mysterious, Renny Harlin’s effort has shouldered much of the blame for the dream weaver’s ailing fortunes and the blame has been squarely shouldered squarely upon it. Admittedly, it is a departure and not necessarily a good one for those spooked by his earlier outings, but the figures don’t lie and A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master went on to become the most lucrative of any of the Elm Street movies, financially at least. It’s hard arguing with logic when the stats speak for themselves but what of the actual film? Was it really that heinous?

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Of course it wasn’t, The Dream Master was a lightning-paced slab of throwaway fantasy/horror and far more entertaining than many of the other installments. It just moved the goalposts. New Line Cinema vetoed a proposal by Wes Craven to introduce a time travel concept and were far more interested in those green dollar bills. So ensued a number of drafts and eventually they settled on bringing back the three surviving teenagers from Dream Warriors. Patricia Arquette was heavily pregnant and had to decline so a replacement was brought in and the roles of Joey and Kincaid effectively transformed into mere cameos. As for the overall tone of the film, that changed entirely and Robert Englund finally attained top-billing. That turned out to be something of a clue as to exactly where the studio were looking to lead this.

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The Dream Master was essentially a slasher for the MTV generation and replaced consternation with flashy effects and numerous elaborate set-pieces, peppered with a smattering of audio evocative of popular culture at the time. Freddy no longer clung to the shadows and instead basked in his own ego and attempted to wear the audience down with numerous well-placed quips and humorous interjections. Keeper, more than anyone, should have been appalled by this change of direction and, admittedly, any tension was effectively squandered as a direct result of his clowning around. However, there’s no point crying over spilt milk, and looking back nearly thirty years down the line affords a somewhat different vantage. It’s all about weighing up positives and negatives and the former outweigh the latter on this occasion, regardless of whether or not our favorite nightmare maker was descending steadily into becoming an industry laughing-stock. Who’s laughing now bitches? The guys at New Line are as they count their Benjamin Franklins.

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The plot was simple. While Kristen and pals returned for a brief jaunt (this time played by Tuesday Knight while Rodney Eastman and Ken Sagoes reprised their roles), the focal character now was Alice (Lisa Wilcox), her brother Rick (Andras Jones) and the usual eclectic mix of colorful friends, each of which were to be shit out of luck once the Klonopin kicked in. As was customary with Elm Street films, parents just didn’t understand and were utterly superfluous to proceedings other than consigning their own kids to their fate. This, in itself, provided possibly the only modicum of unease as their distant, neglectful nature meant the kids of Elm Street had nobody to turn to once their dreams were infiltrated. Alice was an intriguing character and her fascination with Aristotle’s philosophy about the soul being free while in dream state and how to control your phantasms (hence the title) made her far more thoughtful than the rest of the fodder on exhibit, while linking in nicely with Dream Warriors and the whole super-hero aspect explored there.

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If you thought shit was about to get preachy then you were pissing up the wrong tree. Speaking of which, a throwaway instance between Harlin and James Cameron where he explained that Freddy’s resurrection would be instigated by a urinating pooch tickled the director so much that it made the final cut. While evidently metaphorical, this signalled Harlin’s intent to broaden the appeal of the franchise and drag slasher from the mire it was increasingly sinking into. Freddy Krueger was big business and this film’s success would allow New Line to branch out. Indeed, the theatrical success of The Dream Master bankrolled the spin-off series Freddy’s Nightmares although that may not necessarily have aided the series’ plight. The short running series was reasonably fun but remember this was way before TV could dream of matching its silver screen cousin. The point I’m making is that everybody won except for the loyal fanbase. This Grueheads is where perspective is so vital to a film such as this.

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Being au fait with shooting an action sequence, Harlin provided a rollercoaster ride as his personal apology for squashing the dreams of so many but that’s not to say that there weren’t other factors to mull over other than the endless puns and rigorous pummeling of our senses at every turn. Alice was a strong female lead, something synonymous with the brand, even in Freddy’s Revenge where Jesse may well have been a whining bitch but his girlfriend was a smart cookie. Here, our lead had to undergo a rite of passage, channel her inner Ju Ju and call on her feminine instinct in order to evade her wise-cracking antagonist. She anchored the film rather well and without her this would have been memorable only for a few audacious dream sequences and a couple of icky kills.

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I know what’s up and I get that Elm Street aficionados were annoyed at the transition. Hell, I wasn’t best pleased at the time either although I always prefered my slasher in a wooden cabin but that’s just personal preference. However, time heals should you allow such, pain subsides, scars become cherished, and films such as The Dream Master become little nuggets of nostalgia to cherish and nurture. The franchise would go on to commit many other atrocities in years to come but minus the charm of Harlin’s entry which makes them far more culpable than this if you really want to point your finger blade. It’s no Dream Warriors, let me make that abundantly clear, and neither does it even attempt to chill its audience like Craven’s original did so conclusively. But there’s not one exploding budgerigar. That has to count for something right?

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 2/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Wanna suck face? Not particularly gory, The Dream Master never really went for excess in regards to grue. However, a couple of typical outlandish dispatches courtesy of a lingering kiss with a little too much tongue and the transformation of Debbie into a pin-up even Seth Brundle would think twice about tossing his salad over raised it above anaemic. Hell, it even had Linnea Quigley in it although I would rather have seen her in a more active role than playing one of the souls in Krueger’s crispy chest plate. Fuck it, I’ll take all the Quigley I can get, and gladly still give him a lick on her presence alone, however fleeting.

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Read A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) Appraisal

Read A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge Appraisal

Read A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors Appraisal

Read Wes Craven’s New Nightmare Appraisal

Read A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) Appraisal

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3 Comments

  1. Read variances of your dark poetry here …. do your readers all know how bloody brilliant this is?! Again, I’m awed ~

    S.

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