A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master ★★★

Hooptober 8.0, pt.36- In which Ethan finds that learning with Freddy can be fun!

17/6 Countries (Australia, Belgium, UK, USA, Japan, Italy, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Austria, UAE, Finland, Spain, Germany, Iceland, Czechoslovakia, France, Sweden) (COMPLETE)
11/8- Decades (1980s, 2010s, 1960s, 1990s, 1970s, 2000s, 1950s, 1930s, 1940s, 1910s, 1920s) (COMPLETE)

3rd Renny Harlin (after Cliffhanger and Die Hard 2)

I had a whole list of ideas of what i wanted to see after I finished my initial Hooptober list, and this had been on the back-burner until I read ironcupcake's effusive review where she explained how much she loved it.* While I can't share her enthusiasm, I was pleasantly surprised by Dream Master's brio, especially in the first third. This is the section which deals with the characters from Dream Warriors as they try to deal with the fallout of the previous film months on. It's really quite sad seeing characters you cared for in the previous film get swept aside with no problem at all, similar to the death of Nancy in the previous instalment. It's fatalistic and relentless, elevated by Tuesday Knight's really quite good performance. The problem is that after this really quite well-plotted opening, the film degenerates into a series of narrative peaks, namely the kill scenes. While extremely impressive and beautifully executed (bar the kung-fu death, that's faintly laughable), they come too rapidly in succession, leaving not enough downtime for the kills to really have any effect. That means that when we get to arguably the most disturbing death, Debbie's Kafka-like trip into the roach motel, it ultimately feels more exhausting than exciting. The emphasis on these carnivalesque set pieces also cramps the character development, which especially hurts in the case of Alice, our ostensible heroine. There's a big gap in her arc between being paralysed with guilt at her role in the death of her friends by dragging them into the dream world and her becoming a self-possessed figure who is crystal clear in her desire to beat Freddy. It also spoils the side characters, turning them into single note figures when they could have been extremely interesting; the young black girl, for example. It's a triumph of style over substance, though that style is exceptional; props to Screaming Mad George for his wonderfully gloopy creations.

Having laid out my concerns with this entry, I'd like to draw some attention to a really quite interesting thematic element of both this and the series as a whole. Even if the ANOES series has a historically jocular approach to its horror, there is an acknowledgement of the more serious elements of its emphasis on the effects of trauma in its use of a quotation at the start of the later films- Nietzsche in 6, a line from the Book of Job here. Despite, or perhaps because of, all of his wisecracks, Freddy is an incredibly scary character, able to slice his way into the subconsciousness of vulnerable young adults and tap into their most profound fears with effortless ease. Because he does not exist in the corporeal world, no-one but those who see him believe in his existence; adults merely dismiss what they cannot see themselves as the ravings of the disordered. Those parents, especially those who were responsible for Kruger's death, attempt to repress their collective guilt in their hand at his demise by simply refusing to acknowledge the act. But like any repression, Freddy reappears, twice as powerful as before, to take revenge.

And that's to say nothing of Freddy's own past (something that isn't at all mentioned in the instalment of the series), himself the result of a traumatic incident. Violence begets violence, trauma begets trauma, in an endless cycle that the series offers no answer for. And that's what make the A Nightmare on Elm Street Series so depressing; these teens are trapped between the rock of familial abuse and the hard place of a psychotic sadist, with no way to get out of their situation. Maybe that's why I prefer the Friday the 13th films I've seen so far to the Freddy films. They are, unmistakably, better made films (so far), but something about their sense of the carnival doesn't appeal to me as much as the aggressively blunt and serious films of Jason. Whatever the case, the aim is now to see all of both Freddy and Jason, until I get to their final big battle...


Renny Harlin in Order:
1. Cliffhanger
2. Die Hard 2
3. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

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