Renny Harlin goes to Elm Street for the horror franchise’s fourth entry. Rod tells us why its underrated.
Who made it?: Renny Harlin (Director), Brian Helgeland, Jim Wheat, Ken Wheat (Writers), Robert Shaye, Rachel Talalay (Producers), New Line Cinema.
Who’s in it?: Robert Englund, Lisa Wilcox, Rodney Eastman, Tuesday Knight, Andras Jones, Ken Sagoes.
Tagline: “Pure Evil Never Really Dies.”
IMDb rating: 5.7/10.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master is the follow up to 1987’s Dream Warriors. The characters of Kristen (this time played by Tuesday Knight), Kincaid (Ken Sagoes) and Joey (Rodney Eastman) return for another face-off with the the seemingly immortal Freddy Krueger. This marks the first time in the series where characters from one entry actually survive and appear in the very next. This is due to the fact that A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985) didn’t have Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy Thompson as a recurring character.
The Dream Master opens with a biblical quote about dreams. Then, the opening credits begin to appear over visuals of a hand as it draws on a cement footpath. Over the top of all this plays the song “Nightmare,” performed by Tuesday Knight herself. We eventually find out that the artist is a little girl, and the subject of her art is the house at 1428 Elm Street. This is, of course, the house where Nancy and her mother Marge lived, and where Jesse and his family moved in last time. But now, the house is abandoned and dilapidated, and who can blame anyone for not moving in? Kristen is the source of this current dream we’re inside of, and she calls Joey and Kincaid in because she worries that Freddy will return for revenge against them. Frustrated by this, Kincaid and Joey remind her that they defeated Freddy permanently. But like Kristen, we know this won’t turn out to be true.
As happens in many horror film sequels, especially since The Dream Master, the surviving characters of the previous entry do not survive their second outing. Kincaid is the first to go (yes, the black guy) when he dreams about the car yard where Freddy’s remains were buried in Dream Warriors. In what is arguably one of the most bizarre, unique and funny ways of resurrecting Freddy, Kincaid’s dog Jason is brought into his dream and literally pees flames on Krueger’s remains, which miraculously reform with flesh and blood! Krueger’s first words provide one of my favourite lines, “You shouldn’t have buried me. I’m not dead.” Yes, this sequel marks the occasion where Freddy became even more of a jokester villain who spouts one-liners. As Kincaid bites the dust he says, “I’ll see you in hell,” and Krueger dutifully responds, “Tell ‘em Freddy sent ya!”
Joey is next on Freddy’s hit list. He falls asleep as he watches MTV, and has a dream about the sexy blonde model with a great body who is front and centre on the poster he has in his room. She escapes the confines of the poster and appears inside his water bed, completely naked. Now, if you remember in Dream Warriors, Joey often dreams about attractive women who want to get nekkid around him (no real surprise), and Freddy uses this to his advantage in both cases, except this time around, Joey won’t be put into a coma and winds up dead. Freddy materialises out of the water bed, pulls Joey down and delivers another killer one-liner, “How’s this for a wet dream!?” before gutting him like a fish.
So, with two Dream Warriors down, Freddy has one to go. Kristen’s mother Elaine (Brooke Bundy) spikes a drink she prepared for her daughter with sleeping pills. Even though Kristen found out on the same day that both Kincaid and Joey were killed by Freddy, Kristen’s mother doesn’t seem to have any sympathy regarding this, and instead just focuses on the fact that Kristen hasn’t been getting enough sleep lately. Interesting to note that Bundy’s daughter, Tiffany Helm, played Violet, the character who does the “Robot Dance” in Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985), which is another connection between the two franchises.
After Kristen falls asleep, she uses some advice that Alice Johnson (Lisa Wilcox) gave her and dreams about a happy place. So, Kristen dreams up a lovely beach on which she’s sunbathing in a bikini. But this moment of respite is short-lived because Freddy naturally invades. His entrance, in what could be considered a reference to Jaws (1975), has his glove gliding through the water like the fin of a shark. It then moves through the sand, too, and stops underneath a castle that the little girl from the beginning of the film has built. In an explosion of sand, Mr. Krueger appears in full. Kristen tries to escape but naturally gets stuck in the sand. Krueger stands over her and then places some sunglasses on, further adding to the jokester persona but not quite as over-the-top as it becomes in Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991). He pushes Kristen down into the boiler room and into a a new layer of the dream.
Alice is asleep in her bed when she gets sucked into Kristen’s dream. This gives Krueger the opportunity to continue to invade people’s psyches to kill them. In Dream Warriors, it was established that not only is Kristen endowed with this dream power, she can also perform acrobatic moves. We don’t see her even try to fight inside the dream world, and it would appear that Kristen is a weaker character than she was in the previous entry. But I can let that slide because her fear of Freddy became stronger as time went by, and so it is plausible that she wouldn’t be as confident in herself against Freddy. As Kristen burns inside the furnace that she was thrown into, she passes onto Alice her ability to bring people into her dreams. But not only that, she also gives Alice the ability to absorb – after someone else dies in her dream – the traits they possessed and uses them to her advantage. With the last of the Dream Warriors whacked, it is now Alice who takes the lead as the main protagonist.
Alice is a girl who has daydreams, conveyed in the film as visions within her own imagination, wherein she imagines the kind of things she wishes she could say to people but doesn’t have to courage to actually say. This is shown twice in the film in two different contexts. The first is when she sees her crush Dan (Danny Hassel) and imagines telling him, “You are one major league hunk.” The second instance, and a really good display of emotion, is when she serves her father dinner and he shows his ungratefulness to her. Alice imagines smashing the bowl of food on the table and saying, “Yeah I can think. I can think of how sick I am of watching you drink your life away and taking it out on me.” When it comes to the Final Girls of this franchise, Langenkamp’s Heather is still at the top of the list. I would position Alice Johnson second, and this is partly because of Wilcox’s ability to convey the shyness and awkwardness of the character. Alice goes through a definite character arc throughout the film where she overcomes this shyness, and becomes emotionally stronger than she is at the beginning. I can relate to her character being an introvert, and it’s another part of the reason why I like the heroine and how Lisa portrays her. I saw something of myself when I was a teenager.
I absolutely cannot review A Nightmare on Elm Street film without mentioning the actor this franchise isn’t omplete without, and that is, of course, Robert Englund, who once again reprises his role as “dream demon” Freddy Krueger. In spite of people not liking how comedic the bastard became, I think it is undeniable that Englund was the best actor for the role and truly made it his own. By now, he is in full-swing as the character, not that he didn’t have a handle on the role before, but he is clearly very comfortable in the role during part four. He is definitely in top (comedic) form here, and is clearly having fun with the role. Englund has had cameos in the previous films as completely different characters, too, and in The Dream Master, he continues that tradition dressed as a female school nurse seeing to Kristen. It turns out, of course, that Kristen is in a dream and the school nurse is actually Freddy himself, but she wakes up before he can do anything to her. Another cameo is by Robert Shaye, the film’s producer and then head of New Line Cinema. He plays a teacher (his sister, actress Lyn Shaye, also played a teacher in the first film) who talks to the class about dreams and dreaming. What he says is quite interesting:
“Every society dating back to the ancients has had theories regarding dreams. What they mean, how to control them. Aristotle believed that during sleep your soul roams free. What it sees are dreams. The skilled dreamers? Well, they’re able to control what they see. There’s in fact a myth that there’s two gates your soul can enter. One is a positive gate, the other a negative gate. A key element is that there’s a dream master, someone who guards the positive gate and in fact protects the sleeping host. Taken all together, they offer a fascinating perspective on ancient history.”
I really like the idea that there’s positive and negative gates in the dream world because dreams are considered good and nightmares are considered bad (although, I personally like nightmares, but that’s just me). It is reasonable to connect the idea of there being a negative gate in the dream state with Krueger, and you could imagine it being tied to what he’s actually able to do. After all, when you think about it, Freddy could be considered the guardian of this negative gate, and as he says to Alice in the final scene, “I’ve been guarding my gate for a long time, bitch!”
The new characters introduced in The Dream Master are Rick Johnson (Andras Jones), who is Alice’s brother and is into martial arts. Debbie (Brooke Theiss) who enjoys working out and watching the show Dynasty. Sheila (Toy Newkirk) who is an intelligent young woman that suffers from asthma. And finally, there’s the aforementioned Dan, who is a jock and friends with Rick who Alice has a crush on. Each of these new characters, excluding Dan, have specific traits which are setup to be paid off later as abilities for Alice to absorb. Since Freddy has the ability to invade the dreams of those he wishes to kill, it allows him to learn that person’s fears and manipulate their nightmares to torment them. This is something that wasn’t introduced until Dream Warriors. Krueger gets intimate with his victims through their dreams, and this is why he knows their weaknesses. For instance, Debbie is afraid of cockroaches, and Alice is afraid that she will be working in the Crave Inn diner all her life (yes, the diner’s name is a reference to franchise creator Wes Craven).
The first of the new characters to bite it ends up being Sheila. Before her death, she had created a device that emits ultra-high soundwaves that irritate cockroaches, intended as a gift to give to Debbie, which will come in handy later. Alice falls asleep in class and brings Sheila, who was tired from staying up all night studying for their current test, into her dream. Before killing Sheila, Freddy asks her, “Wanna suck face?” He then gives her the kiss of death, sucking all the air out of her lungs and causing her body to shrivel up like a dried prune. To top it all off, Freddy says, “You flunk!” It then returns to reality and Sheila’s death is made to look like she died from an asthma attack. In the previous film, Freddy made it appear that Kristen had slit her wrists in order to get her sent off to Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital, not named as such until 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason, so it has been previously established that Freddy will cover his tracks. He even does this in the first film when he kills Rod Lane with a garrote to make it look like he committed suicide.
When it’s time for Rick to meet his demise, it’s during a dream he has after falling asleep in a toilet cubicle at school. It is then revealed that the cubicle is an elevator. The doors slam shut and it falls down the shaft really fast before it abruptly stops. Rick exits and finds himself in a martial arts dojo, wearing a Karate Gi. Here, he faces off against an invisible Freddy. After getting hit a few times by Krueger, and missing with his own attacks, Rick eventually lands some hits. He manages to knock Freddy’s glove off and make it fly through the air, where it then lands on the ground. Rick thinks he’s won the fight, but he ends up being dead wrong when the glove flies back and stabs him in the stomach.
At Rick’s funeral, Alice has a daydream about her brother where he gets out of his coffin and talks to her, but she ultimately tells him, “No more daydreams.” Alice has now passed a threshold, and true to her statement, she no longer has any daydreams for the rest of the film. Alice has definitely changed a lot since we were first introduced to her. After she tells Debbie and Dan, “This is it. Mind over matter,” Debbie remarks about how Sheila used to say that, and Dan realises that Alice changes after each death. At the beginning of the film, Alice had all these photographs covering the mirror in her room, but now she has removed enough to see her face. This symbolises that Alice no longer hates the sight of herself, and has lost her inner awkwardness and has become mentally stronger than she was before. Since Rick was capable of martial arts and could use nunchucks skillfully, Alice now has this ability, too.
She later visits a cinema that is showing an old time movie of some kind. She presumably falls asleep, and the picture then becomes that of the Crave Inn diner where she works. A wind begins to blow and eventually sucks Alice into the screen. Upon entering the diner, Alice sees an older version of herself behind the counter, confirming her fear of being stuck there forever. Freddy then appears right next to her and says, “If the food won’t kill ya, the service will!” In one of the most memorable moments, Freddy is served a pizza covered in meatballs which are actually the heads of those he has killed, and he singles out Rick’s head before stabbing it with one of his finger blades and eating it.
Freddy asks Alice to bring her more people, and this is when he sees Deb working out in her room. Since Freddy doesn’t need Alice for now, he forces her out of the dream world and she wakes up in reality. She leaves her house to go to the real diner where she meets Dan, and they hop in his car. But it turns out that Alice wasn’t forced out of a dream but was placed in a looping one by Freddy, and Dan is dreaming as well. While all this happens, Debbie is visited by Freddy, the next on his smorgasbord of victims, in what is one of the most disgusting and painful-looking death scenes in the franchise. Remember how she’s afraid of cockroaches? Well, while she’s asleep and doing bench presses, Freddy appears and pushes against the crossbar of the weights, causing both her arms to break at the elbows. If that wasn’t enough, Deb is slowly turned into a cockroach with insect arms sprouting through her own. She falls onto the now sticky floor on all fours and then her face gets stuck before the entire thing is ripped off to reveal the head of a cockroach. This is very much in the vein of The Fly and I love it! Freddy then finishes her off by crushing her inside a miniaturised version of a roach bait device, aka a roach motel, followed by a customary burst of orange goo.
Alice and Dan eventually break free of the looped dream and see Freddy in the middle of the road and attempt to run him over. However, in reality, they crash into a tree instead. Alice is fine but Dan needs medical assistance. The paramedic that arrives on the scene wants to put him under but Alice demands that they don’t, and lies by telling him that he’s allergic. She tells Dan not to let them put him to sleep. After they take Dan into the E.R, Alice steals her father’s keys and gets into his car to drive home and “suit up,” removing every photo from her mirror in a symbolic gesture. She takes the gadget, places Rick’s bandana around her hand, swipes the nunchucks and the studded wristband, and is ready to roll. “Fucking A.” There’s a great piece of music used in this moment, too.
They eventually put Dan under, forcing him into a dream state, and when Freddy appears he exclaims, “Krueger!” to which Freddy responds, “Well it ain’t Dr. Seuss!” Alice sees this and jumps through the mirror, landing in the dream version of the hospital. They then materialise in a round tunnel with Freddy appearing at the end of it. He then spins it around, which makes Alice and Dan lose their balance and fall through glass to a cathedral. Since Dan is being brought out of his anaesthetised state by the doctors when he starts hemorrhaging in real life, he fades and then disappears, leaving Alice alone to face-off against Freddy. Alice utilises her fighting and acrobatic powers received from her brother Rick and Kristen respectively. During their fight, Alice takes out the roach device created by Sheila, pulls out some wires from a wall, and combines the two to create a beam of electricity that punches a massive hole in Freddy’s chest, revealing his still beating heart. But Freddy makes the gaping hole disappear and proclaims, “I… am… eternal.”
As Freddy goes in for the kill, a choir of kids sing the Dream Master rhyme. “Evil will see itself and it will die!” This tells Alice what she needs to do to destroy Krueger, so she grabs a shard of a mirrored window and shows him his reflection. Freddy is then attacked and overpowered by the the souls he has killed, which jut out of his body in a rather brutal fashion. They grab at him and his lower mouth, and then rip open his face, releasing all the souls of Freddy’s victims. So, Krueger is dead once more, but he will naturally be back at the producer’s discretion. Alice’s last words to him are, “Rest in hell.” Like Dream Warriors, this sequel has a happy ending but with a hint that Freddy may not be fully defeated. Presumably the next day, Alice and Dan are walking by a water fountain when Dan asks her to make a wish. He flips a coin into the fountain wherein a bit of the the Elm Street theme plays, and Alice sees a glimmer of Freddy in the water before he disappears in the ripples.
This time, composer Craig Safan provided the score, which has some great cues that I enjoy, such as his “Dream Master” theme. Certain cues from composer Charles Bernstein’s original A Nightmare on Elm Street soundtrack are reused at various moments. Safan does well with creating new themes, and I really like the “Dream Master” cue. One of the things that most likely appealed to audiences at the time were the songs used. Aside from Tuesday Knight’s opening song “Nightmare,” there’s also a Billy Idol song called “Fatal Charm” heard in Joey’s death scene, and a Sinead O’Connor track titled “I Want Your Hand on Me” played by Deb as her workout song.
I’ve mentioned a lot of the things I like about this sequel, but it isn’t without flaws, such as the claw marks from Freddy’s blades that supposedly cut into Kristen’s locker, with a red light shining through them. This doesn’t make sense considering that it happens in the real world, let alone the fact that Freddy hasn’t even been resurrected at that point. Another is after Alice has received Kristen’s powers, where for some inexplicable reason, she has a cigarette even though she has never smoked before. That’s something which could have been fixed if they actually showed how Alice got it. But in all honesty, for me, these flaws are minor. Overall, I do think this is an okay sequel. It’s better than A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989), though Dream Warriors is still the best sequel in the franchise to me. But The Dream Master is a guilty pleasure of mine. It has its fair share of hiccups that prevent it from being an amazing continuation, but due to grand photography, detailed production design and the efforts of Mr. Englund, it is one I am always happy to revisit.
Classic, memorable death scene and a quintessential Freddy one-liner. What’s not to love here?
- This was the highest-grossing entry in the Elm Street series (not counting Freddy vs. Jason). It earned $49 million in the US.
First film in the series where Robert Englund receives top billing in the opening credits.
During the writing of the film, director Renny Harlin and some of the producers by chance happened to bump into famed director James Cameron. Cameron somewhat facetiously asked Harlin, “How are they gonna bring Freddy back to life this time?” To which Harlin (also somewhat facetiously) replied, “A dog pisses fire on him and he comes back to life.” The idea ended up being used in the film, although in a more metaphorical manner than in a literal sense.