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

Granted, the phrase, “Man, that just doesn’t make sense” seems to go hand in hand with a horror franchise about a supernatural killer that haunts and then slaughters teens in their dreams. Then again, while the previous 3 “A Nightmare on Elm Street” installments didn’t exactly follow logic to the letter, there was a sense that they knew their own rules. (With, of course, the exception of the Anomaly, aka Part 2.) “NOES 4: The Dream Master” has Renny Harlin at the helm, and the man who would go on to do “Die Hard 2” and “Deep Blue Sea” brings a wealth of style to the installment. Unfortunately style is all he brings, since “NOES 4” is basically devoid of any sort of logic. And yes, I dare make note of the lapse of logic even in this outlandish horror franchise.

Although Freddy was supposedly “killed off” at the end of “NOES 3”, apparently all it takes to resurrect the mass killer is dog urine. Yes, I kid you not. Early on in “NOES 4” a dog name Jason urinates on the grave of Freddy, last seen buried in the car junkyard where his bones were re-located. (Gee, was naming the dog “Jason” a stab at the “Friday the 13th” franchise? Heh heh, I said “stab”.) Now resurrected by miracle of dog urine (in a dream, no less), Freddy returns for revenge. In short order, Kristen, Kincaid, and Joey are dispatched, making room for new Fair Hair Lead Alice (Lisa Wilcox) to step up to the chopping block. (Oooh, first “stab” and now “chopping black”. My genius astounds even me.)

You see, before Kristen met her untimely (and rather lame) end, she “transferred” her “dream pulling” powers (I guess you’d call it) to timid Alice. Frumpy and shy, highschooler Alice is prone to daydreaming, especially about hunky jock Dan (Danny Hassel), who is friends with her kung fu obsessed brother Rick (Andras Jones). Rick is also the boyfriend of Freddy survivor Kristen (now played by Tuesday Knight, taking over for the non-returning Patricia Arquette; although the other original actors from “NOES 3” do return as Kincaid and Joey). With the last of the Elm Street kids dead, Freddy now needs new victims. He uses Alice as a vessel to “pull” her friends into her dreams, thus allowing Freddy access to them. Man, being Alice’s friend sure sucks.

With five dead teens to its credit, “NOES 4” may actually be the bloodiest installment in the series yet. Despite common belief, the series has never really had an impressive bodycount. Compared to a single installment of any of the other Teen Slasher franchises, the “Nightmare” franchise looks almost tame. Aside from the five dead teens, “NOES 4” is noticeably more creative in its Freddy slayings, although less frightening in every respect. Then again, since the writers probably spent most of their time thinking of cool ways for Freddy to claim his victims, “horror” doesn’t get much attention here.

It should also be noted that subtlety doesn’t exist in the “NOES” series, and whenever you see or hear a background character mention a fear of — or an obsession with — something, that’s usually how they’ll end up dead. It’s called foreshadowing, and in this particular franchise, that particular literary technique is as subtle as Freddy’s well-worn black and red sweater.

The writers credited with this special effects-laden sequel are Brian Helgeland (“Payback”) and the Wheat brothers, Jim and Ken, who would go on to write “Pitch Black”, among others. Director Renny Harlin hits the screen with loud ’80s pop music (the film was made in 1988) and gaudy clothing and hairstyle. (Then again, everything in the ’80s was gaudy.) With Craven once again out of the picture, “NOES 4” brings a lot of the elements from the previous sequel, but of course the writers are forced to find yet another way to “kill” Freddy. This time it involves showing him his own face via broken glass. And what gave our heroine this particular inspiration? Why, a child’s rhyme about — drum roll, please — The Dream Master!

And yes, “NOES 4” really is as silly as it sounds. Gone are the scares, or even the attempts at scaring the audience. It’s all about flash, inconsistent storylines, and stuntmen/women stepping in for the actors. Although I should say that the scene where a character, who has of course expressed dislike for cockroaches, turns into a human-sized cockroach herself was very inspired, if just a tad obvious.

As a final aside, despite having survived Freddy in the last installment, Kristen, Kincaid, and Joey are still remarkably uneducated when it comes to exercising their “dream powers”. You’d think they would have mastered, or at least learned a bit more, about their dream abilities by now. But I guess not, since Freddy doesn’t even break a sweat offing them one by one by one. “Dream warriors” indeed!

Renny Harlin (director)
CAST: Tuesday Knight …. Kristen Parker
Ken Sagoes …. Roland Kincaid
Rodney Eastman …. Joey Crusel
Lisa Wilcox …. Alice Johnson
Andras Jones …. Rick Johnson
Robert Englund …. Freddy Krueger

Buy A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master on DVD