A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

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

Part of Hoop-tober 2018

Would you believe I used to tell people this was my favorite Elm Street movie? I'm sure part of that was just me being contrary, since no one ever seemed to get too excited about this one, but it was also the first one I saw in a theater and that must have contributed, too. It represents a weird point in the franchise, tethered by its teen characters to the ones that immediately preceded and followed it, and in hindsight, it doesn't do much to stand out as its own entry. The survivors from Dream Warriors are back to tie up loose ends, and the first clue that this is a lesser outing is when it opens with Kristen having been recast with the more traditionally glamorous but much blander Tuesday Knight. Of course, they're all decimated by Freddy, whose revival is infamously silly here, but upon this rewatch I noticed that the DWs stick around a lot longer in the movie than I remembered. This leaves Kristen's uninteresting friend Alice (Lisa Wilcox) holding the bag as the main heroine for the remainder, only to learn a similar lesson to what Kristen and pals learned last time about using your trauma to fuel your fight with Freddy... except now there's a nursery rhyme and a mirror involved?

More than the middling story or the pure fan service of franchise continuity, the dreamtime sequences are what made The Dream Master such a blast as a burgeoning horror kid, and they're what keep it entertaining today. New Line was so flush with cash from the previous three Nightmares that they hired a multitude of cutting edge SFX crews, resulting in an eye-popping variety of elaborate fantasy violence. The kung fu fight is bunk but still not as cheesy as the comic book and video game kills in the following installments, while Kristen's sunny beach Krueger confrontation, Alice's time loop, the pizza topped with screaming faces and Brooke Theiss' cockroach workout rank among the series' most memorably bizarre moments. I can agree with the consensus that Robert Englund's no longer the slightest bit scary here, but he's grown so comfortable in his razor-gloved role, his hammy wisecracks have a different sort of appeal, as much the confidence of a horror icon in full swing as it is the comfortable tactic of a property that had entered autopilot mode. I can understand not liking The Dream Master, but for all these reasons - and, let's face it, nostalgia - I can't help but give it a pass.

SIDE NOTE: The mid-marathon screening where I rewatched this included an appearance from Tuesday Knight herself, who treated the crowd to two entire runs through her opening credits tune before actually performing the song, with two people in cheap Nightmare Feddy masks gyrating away behind her through it all. I cannot begin to tell you how awkward this presentation was. Almost more fun than the movie itself!

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