For the first time in the Nightmare on Elm Street series, I felt compelled to look away from the screen. One particular death scene finally caused me such a level of discomfort that I didn’t want to watch it happen. And while I don’t want to spoil what it is, suffice to say that it involves appendages being bent in ways they’re not meant to bend. I’m not sure if that’s supposed to make you want to skip or see A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. It probably depends on what type of person you are.
The film also marks the first time that Robert Englund, the man behind the latex and ugly sweater of Freddy Krueger, receives top billing. This time, it’s “Robert Englund in …,” which is kind of neat. It does seem like he has now become the star of the series. He has to, though, doesn’t he? I mean, we’re four movies in and he’s been the only constant factor throughout. None of the original cast is still alive, and this film even begins by killing off the three survivors from the third chapter, Dream Warriors.
However, in order for installment #4 to have anything to do with the other films, we need some sort of tangential link between them. That link comes in the form of Alice (Lisa Willcox), who has befriended Kristen (now played by Tuesday Knight, not Patricia Arquette), the girl from the last movie who has the power to bring people into her dreams. Before Kristen dies, she brings Alice into her dream and transfers that power to her. Now Freddy, killer of people while in their dreams, has a new method to find victims.
See, like most teenagers, Alice knows other people. Freddy uses her as a portal into the dreams of her friends and then kills them. I wouldn’t think too hard about how all of this works, as I don’t think the filmmakers gave it too much consideration. Alice also, for some reason, absorbs personality traits from Freddy’s victims. Again, trying to make sense of why any of this happens is wasted brainpower. You’re just supposed to sit back and enjoy, I wager.
The problem with this basic setup is two-fold. First, all of the supporting characters exist literally just to show off their designated personality trait so that when they die, Alice gets it. One kid practices martial arts, while another’s personal mantra is “mind over matter.” That’s all there is to these people, and while it means we can tell them apart, they exist just so that when the inevitable Alice v. Freddy showdown occurs, we’ll know why Alice has transformed from a rather quiet individual into someone capable of going toe-to-toe with Mr. Serial Killer.
The second part of the issue is that the inevitable showdown doesn’t even really require Alice to use most of these traits. She gets her fist fight, sure, and that’s about as fun as it can be, but the conclusion winds up being based on none of the things Alice has absorbed from anyone else. It means that all of these things have gone to waste, and that the film tried to justify its body count with this method but didn’t really think it all the way through. But, hey, that’s better than not even trying to give these characters a reason to be here except as cannon fodder, right?
Freddy Krueger is the main draw of the series at this point. His punny, taunting method to killing is so different from most other slasher villains, and that’s one of the things that elevates the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. Every time Freddy appears, you’re unsure of what he’ll do, or how he’ll do it. He is instantly watchable, and Robert Englund still looks like he’s having a good time behind the latex face.
The Dream Master has a significantly larger budget than any of the previous Nightmare on Elm Street films, and it shows through in the effects, which are top-notch and rather intoxicating. The film isn’t particularly bloody, but it aims to gross you out instead of overwhelming you with gore. It’s successful. Bodies transform into more gruesome characters, that death scene I mentioned earlier made me want to turn away from the screen, and there are more than a couple of scenes which are uncomfortable viewing, to say the least.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master might not make the most sense and might only be tangentially related to the other entries in the series, but it’s worth seeing anyway because of the effort put into the kills, the visual effects, and Robert Englund’s work as Freddy Krueger. At this point, there’s not a whole lot to of intellectual stimulation going on, but at least there’s enough innovation to the proceedings to keep them from getting dull.