1980s, 2/4, Horror, Renny Harlin, Review

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

#4 in my ranking of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.

Wes Craven was done again with the series, and New Line producer Bob Shaye kept things going by hiring the young, Finnish filmmaker Renny Harlin to find a way to continue the series. It’s an odd situation. The script by Ken and Jim Wheats, with additional work by Brian Helgeland, it takes a handful of the characters left over from the last film, closes out their story, and then tries to extend that to a new cast of characters. It also seems to want to do something with the idea of a Dream Master that ends up shockingly mundane in execution. Some of the visuals are really quite good, Robert Englund is obviously having fun, and it keeps moving well enough, though. It’s far from a complete failure.

Kristen (Tuesday Knight, replacing Patricia Arquette) is still having trouble sleeping even though she, Kincaid (Ken Sagoes), and Joey (Rodney Eastman) had finished Freddy Krueger (Englund) off in the previous film. She’s seeing the same settings, bringing in her friends to the dreams using her powers, and yet there is nothing there other than bad feelings. Meanwhile, Kristen has come back to high school and reintegrated well enough to be part of a circle of friends including her boyfriend Rick (Andras Jones) and his sister Alice (Lisa Wilcox).

However, Freddy comes back because…reasons. Kincaid dreams about the junkyard where Krueger’s remains were buried at the end of the last film where his dream dog pees fire on the spot which brings Krueger back from the dead dead. That no one seemed to consider the idea of a cult worshiping Freddy to bring him back (and then Freddy instantly killing all of the cult because he’s evil) boggles my mind. That they settled with dream dog peeing fire for no reason is weird. Anyway, Freddy comes back to finish off the final three children of the adults who killed him after he got off on a technicality during his trial for child murders. Off go Kincaid and Joey in one night, leaving Kristen by herself. When he finally gets into her dream, she brings Alice in right before Freddy kills Kristen.

And, then what? Is there literally nothing else to Freddy that he’s a bad guy who wants to kill teenagers in their dreams now? He had a pointed motive, but now that this film introduces the idea that Freddy has completed his task, he just goes on to kill more? All it seems to indicate is that the writers and director really put no thought into the story beyond, “How do we get Krueger killing more teens based on some rule that we made up?” I don’t expect Krueger to sit down with a therapist to work through his issues, or anything, but an acknowledgement from him that he’s done but he just wants to keep going might have been the bare minimum to get from someone who considered him as a character rather than merely a movie monster. What if it’s all actually torture for him? Nah, killing teens just makes him stronger or something.

Anyway, we’re about thirty minutes into the film when the third film finally comes to a close and we really focus on the fourth. Alice becomes the main character instead of the now dead Kristen, and we just get a quick repeat of the first film where Freddy attacks Alice’s friends until she’s the only one left. The innate joy of these films is on the technical side because it can never just be Krueger hacking someone to death. It has to be more inventive than that, so when Sheila (Toy Newkirk), the boy shy asthmatic, gets attacked, Freddy kisses her and then sucks out all of the air in her body, causing her to become unable to breathe in real life but becomes a shriveled up husk in the dream. That’s neat.

The Dream Master bit, though, is a bit of a disappointment as well. I keep expecting Freddy to come up against someone who can lucid dream and fully take control of the situation. With the idea of a Dream Master, that seemed to have been where it was going to go. Instead, Alice just picks up her friends’ dream powers, whatever that means. So, she just becomes a one-woman fighting machine against Freddy, which is mundane and not very dreamlike. The actual resolution also ends up feeling like a last second idea to quickly find a way to end the film, though I’ll give it props for being different.

So, out of all four so far, this is the Nightmare on Elm Street film that most fully rests on the strength of its visuals with nothing else to pull it together. None of the ideas work or extend the narrative capabilities further, and the start and stop nature of the story as the third film’s characters get dumped at the thirty minute mark don’t do it any favors either. However, those visuals are really quite good.

Meh, it’s not the worst of the series.

Rating: 2/4

3 thoughts on “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master”

  1. And here we complete our jump from horror into gory fantasy.
    It has nothing to say, it kills off the survivors from the last movie, undercutting everything good about that ending. I hate that. (Also looking at you, Alien 3. You can GFY)

    Freddy is well into ‘funny Freddy’ territory and Robert Englund is the glue holding the series together, now and for all films going forward.

    The first three movies work as a trilogy, I think. I’d have ended things there, creatively. And as Fred Gywnne said once: sometimes dead is better. But…Hollywood. They will milk the cow until it’s dead.

    Related, I watched a long, long but good documentary on 80’s horror called ‘In Search of Darkness’. It’s not exhaustive but it’s good and has lots of interview with some big names from the era.


    1. Yeah, this is really the territory where the films just become nothing but cash grabs. They’re aiming for the lowest common denominator, hitting high notes, and making them as fast as they can. It at least allows for some creativity here and there, but any effort to find reasons for this story to continue to exist at all have been cast aside in favor of release dates.


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