MARCH 29, 2010
I still remember begging my mom to take me to see Nightmare on Elm St 4: The Dream Master in theaters, but it was not to be - not only was it too nice out (I asked while we were in Maine at a summer campground/resort - I think sitting on the beach or by the lake would be far more preferable than driving 30 miles to the nearest theater for a movie called Nightmare on Elm St 4: The Dream Master), but at that point she was not taking me to R rated films. She’d rent them though, and thus like all good moms, rented the film for me when it hit VHS six months later (you see kids, back in my day, we’d have to WAIT to see a movie on video if we missed it in theaters, whereas nowadays anything over 3 months after its theatrical release is considered “too long).
But had I seen it in theaters, I probably would have been blown away. I didn’t go to the movies much (based on what I can remember, I only went to the movies four times in 1988 - Beetlejuice, Roger Rabbit, Big, and Twins), and thus every movie I did go see I usually loved (I think Hook was the first movie I went to see that I didn’t like). And Nightmare 4 is filled with the type of stuff that would have appealed to me as a kid - “funny” wisecracks, a few boob shots that were brief (and out of nowhere) enough for me to see before my mom made me cover my eyes, a fast pace, and a bright, colorful aesthetic that must have seemed like Speed Racer did to children twenty years later.
However, as I said in my review for the first film, Freddy was never as appealing to me as the other icons, and I think it’s pretty telling that whereas I liked Dream Master OK enough then, I still preferred Dream Warriors, and now, twenty plus years later, I STILL like Dream Warriors, but don’t see myself ever wanting to watch Master again. Even if I quit HMAD (something that would appease this gentleman or lady) and thus had time to revisit films more often, I doubt Dream Master would ever entice me; if anything, I like it less and less each time I see it, so it’s in its best interest for me to ignore it from now on.
The biggest problem is obvious - Freddy was no longer scary. The opening nightmare, and even his resurrection (which I never realized doesn’t make any fucking sense - the idea is that Kristen’s belief in him being alive actually made it so - but why would he return in Kincaid’s dream, when Kincaid DIDN’T believe he could return?) has some minor tension and scariness, but it’s all thrown out the window soon after that, as the new, largely boring lot of kids take over from the original Dream Warriors and Freddy begins wisecracking like Fletch, often tossing out 2-3 zingers in a row without doing anything evil/scary. Christ, I don’t even like it when Fletch does it (like when he enters Stanwyck’s garage - “Must have cost you hundreds. That’s a good idea, I should frame mine. Pope be in later?” - shut up and move the plot along!), I sure as hell don’t appreciate a once-scary (and interesting) monster doing it.
But it’s got more problems than Freddy’s new career path. The re-casting of Kristen is particularly troublesome (like in the opening scene, where she has to awkwardly say her own name in order for us to know it’s supposed to be the same character), especially when she is “shockingly” killed at the end of act 1. With a new actress in the role, we aren’t given enough time to give a shit about her, making her death as “eh” as any of the other new folks. Kincaid and Joey don’t fare much better - not only are their death scenes quick and largely unimaginative, but their roles are diminished even before that point. You’d have to be a complete goon (or, fine, an 8 year old) to believe that the Dream Warriors were important to the film, because even before they are killed we are spending more time with Alice. Christ, we see her house/family before Kristen’s! And learn about Debbie's crush on Dan, and Sheila’s bookishness, and Rick’s karate... I appreciate that they wanted to have a connection to the previous film to lead us into this one, but it should have just been Kristen (and maybe Dr. Gordon - where is he?), which would allow the film to spend more time with her (and still introduce the new characters), and maybe give the audience a chance to care about the new actress before she was dispatched (it doesn’t help that Tuesday Knight is a pretty lousy actress anyway).
It also makes the same mistake that Freddy's Revenge did, with not really drawing the line between the real world and the dream world. But at least in part 2 it was part of the plot - Freddy wanted to get free and become “real”. Here, however, Freddy doesn’t really have an actual goal this time around (in fact once he kills Kristen he doesn’t even need to kill anyone anymore - his revenge on the Elm St parents is complete), and there is no “pull him out of the dream” or any of that other stuff, so all of the "world-breakers” are left completely unexplained and pointless. At one point Alice wakes up and sees that Freddy has left a photo on her mirror - huh? And it also fails to develop the Freddy mythology, something EVERY OTHER SEQUEL did. Dream Warriors introduced the “son of a hundred maniacs” thing, Dream Child further explained his mother’s plight and what his birth was like, and Freddy's Dead had flashbacks to his father abusing him and stuff like that. Dream Master has Freddy wearing sunglasses and eating a pizza.
Hell even if you take the dream world out of it the movie doesn’t make a lot of sense. I love that all of his victims are buried together in the same cemetery, with Nancy and Donald Thompson’s graves sitting just behind the ones for Kincaid and Joey. And how can teenagers STILL be disbelieving in the idea of Freddy after so many folks have died? One even comments that Springwood isn’t a good place to be a teenager, yet the concept of Freddy still seems to be unknown to everyone. Also - how many close friends/family members of Alice need to die before the girl takes a few days off from school?
It also fails as an R rated horror movie (maybe if it got the PG-13 that it would probably get today (save for the boob shots) my mom would have taken me after all!). Apart from some red water during Joey’s death, there isn’t a single drop of blood in the entire film, and the kills all seem trimmed (Kincaid’s to the point of confusion - he yells “KRUEGER’S BACK!” without Freddy there, and then Freddy is next to him, bloodlessly stabbing him). I’m sure the MPAA had something to do with this, but I’ve never heard of there being a problem with them on this film, and the MPAA is traditionally more lenient toward horror films that skew toward the comedic side. And Halloween 4 came out just a month or so later and that had plenty of gore (thumb to the forehead!).
So is anything good about it? Well, it’s watchable, that’s for sure. Even though the kills suck, there are plenty of them (six by my count, plus Freddy’s gonzo demise and Dan’s major injury), and the film never slows down for more than a minute or two before someone falls asleep again. And Alice is a pretty great heroine - the scene where she realizes she knows kung fu (with Dramarama’s “Anything, Anything” playing in the background - yes!) is still a crowd-pleasing delight, as is her later scene where she takes on the identity of all her dead friends before battling Freddy (I guess she can only wear those things in her dream if she has them on in real life?). And Renny Harlin stages some great fantasy/dream scenes, such as when Alice is sucked into a movie screen.
And this shouldn’t be something to praise, but I liked that it was consistent visually with the other films. They were all shot in Los Angeles, and the house always looked the same. Crystal Lake never looked the same from film to film, and while Halloween 4-6 were all shot in the same town, the series as a whole never had any consistency for the Myers house, which figured into many of the films. It’s nice that even though the writers and producers were running their character to the ground, the production designer was giving it his all.
Speaking of the writer, half of the story and half of the screenplay credit is given to LA Confidential writer Brian Helgeland, continuing and ending the tradition of Nightmare sequels being written by future Oscar nominees (after Shawshank’s Frank Darabont wrote 3). Oddly, he isn’t mentioned in any of the articles in Fangoria about the film’s production, and the writers THEY do credit (Jim and Ken Wheat) use the name Scott Pierce on the film (original writer William Kotzwinkle isn’t mentioned in Fango’s pieces either), so maybe this movie just never had a chance for real creativity or coherency with so many folks in charge of its basic structure. And of course, it goes without saying that the more or less universally agreed “good” Nightmare movies - 1, 3, and 7 - all had scripts (or at least stories) by Wes Craven, who had no involvement whatsoever in this film, unless you count the horrible “Crave Inn” gag.
Like Halloween 5 (which also killed off its supposed heroine in the first act!), Nightmare 4 has some decent scenes, and has high production value not afforded its predecessors, but had the misfortune of following up an above average (best?) sequel, and more importantly, began what would be its series’ downfall. In Halloween 5’s case it was the Man in Black, but at least he’s a relatively minor aspect of what is otherwise a decent followup. My problems with Nightmare 4, however, are threaded throughout the entire film - a few edits couldn’t have saved this one, it’s simply made with all the wrong intentions in mind. And the next two sequels fare no better, by my recollection (I haven’t watched either of them since 1999 either), because this one is at least largely coherent (unlike 5) and connected to the other films (unlike 6). So it’s either the worst of the best Freddy movies, or the best of the worst. Neither is a ringing endorsement.
What say you?