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

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

You shouldn’t have buried me, I’m not dead

Kirsten still believes that Freddy Krueger is still alive, despite the ‘dream warriors’ defeating him. But Freddy is accidentally resurrected and gets his revenge, claiming the lives of Kirsten and the remaining Elm Street children. But before she dies, Kirsten passes on her dream powers to her best friend, Alice. Now Freddy has a new target and new meat to hunt.


In my opinion, this is the film where the A Nightmare on Elm Street series started to go down the pan. The first is a genre classic. The second is underrated. The third is a masterpiece in horror special effects and treaded a fine line between scary seriousness and overloading with dreamland set pieces. But through the course of the first three films, Freddy Krueger had slowly transformed from a disfigured (and genuinely frightening) boogeyman into something of a nightmarish Japanese game show host- an anti-hero who taunted victims in outlandish scenarios, firing off one-liners and then killing them off in wacky fashion. The last sequel, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, was the one in which this formula was streamlined. In finding a winning formula for a sequel, it was inevitable that the rest of the series would follow the same route and here we have its immediate follow-up, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master.

It does literally continue straight on from the previous film, bringing back three surviving characters (but only two actors reprised their roles – Patricia Arquette had already gone on to bigger and better things) to add some continuity. This also means that the film can skip a lot of exposition and get to Freddy’s antics as quickly as possible. But here’s the main problem – there’s no real story. Freddy just moves from one group of kids to the next and the script writers hope that the bombardment of special effects and wacky dreams will hide the fact that there isn’t a meaty script beneath it all. For a start his resurrection smacks of laziness – who knew that dog urine would be so potent in bringing back undead boogeymen?

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master is also a sign of the cheesiness that had plagued late 80s horror. Chock full of pop culture references, blatant commercialism, and daft comedy, it’s the a-typical early MTV film which probably was designed to sell more records (the film contains plenty of pop tunes), film memorabilia and Freddy merchandise than provide true thrills and spills. The dream worlds appear more surreal and fantastical here, as opposed to the nightmarish, perverse visions that Craven provided in the original. The seriousness had been replaced by a cartoon-like quality where the imagination is unleashed in a collection of increasingly-bizarre and silly sequences. In some of the dafter moments, Freddy’s glove appears in the water like a shark’s fin and in another, he turns a girl into a beetle, proceeding to squish her inside a giant matchstick box. Let’s not talk about the souls of his previous victims, represented as meatballs on top of a pizza. Its daft things like things which promote laughter and ridicule as opposed to fear and fright. I can’t knock the implementation of the special effects however and Kevin Yagher does a good job in coming up with imaginative ways to dispatch the teens.

Arguably the only characters worth emotional investment are those that return from the previous film and they’re taken from the film too early. The new characters are stock slasher victims, full of hairspray-fuelled 80s chicks and pumped-up jocks. The script gives us nothing to care about and the dialogue is both poor and lazy. Which is where we then come to the star of the show – Freddy. Everything and everyone else are just side attractions. Here, Freddy quips and puns his way through the slaughter and whilst some of his lines are amusing, they’re amusing for the wrong reasons. We remember how chilling the character was in the original and look at how he’s been turned into an anti-hero. This wisecracking Freddy Krueger divides fans. Some see him as the anti-Christ – a terrible waste of such an originally terrifying character, now resorting to stand-up comedy. Others see the character as something of a goofy uncle, the kind who makes bad jokes at funerals.

Robert Englund does the best he can with the role, in fact he’s the best thing about any of the sequels after the third film. He chews the dialogue and he’s got good timing in the jokes. When he needs to be nasty, Englund is capable of going down that route. But you get the sense that the character is only a moment away from saying something ridiculous at any given time. It’s not Englund’s fault, it’s just the direction that the character was taken. It’s also one of the reasons why these later sequels all blur into one – there’s nothing really memorable from them (unlike say, the previous film with the marionette scene) and they tend to repeat the same formula too rigidly.


More of an assault on the senses in only the way that the late 80s and early 90s could do, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master a big come down from the previous sequel. The dreams have become silly, Freddy is too much of a cartoon character and it’s just not scary anymore.





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