Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

Directed By: Renny Harlin
Written By: Willian Kotzwinkle
Robert Englund
Rodney Eastman
Lisa Wilcox

It’s rounding 10:30 at night — a thick fog has rolled in, surrounding my apartment. Normally when I look off my balcony I see a city ninety-feet below me, expanding infinitely in all directions. Tonight it’s different… like being caught up on an enourmous weird cloud and drifting off into some unknown world. It’s eerie: the sky is pink from city lights, and there’s an unusual quiet that seems so foreign to life in a heavily populated area. Looking outside, it feels like I’m being carried away into an ominous and uncharted world. A dreamworld.

So I close the door to my balcony, pour a new drink, and sit down to write about horror films — specifically, the fourth installment of the Nightmare on Elm Street saga: The Dream Master. And to be perfectly honest, I don’t even know where to begin with this one.

The horror community seems to be split: while most can at least agree thatFreddy’s Revenge was an embarassment to the series, the concensus is less-than-unanimous on Dream Master. Why is this? Well let’s examine a few of the gruesome details, starting first with the man himself: Freddy Krueger. If you compared the Krueger of the first film to the Krueger of part 4, you’d pretty much be looking at two very different Freddies, physically and personality-wise. In the first film, his crisped flesh was almost dripping off his skull, and so much attention went into creating a grotesque but realistic impression of a burn victim. By part 4, Freddy is looking stylized, appearing in well-lit scenes and displaying the roughly sculpted skin and exposed muscle tissue that we have since come to recognize as his trademark look. Furthermore, in the first film he barely spoke, grunting a few guttural phrases like “this… is God” or “I’ll kill you slow.” Over the course of the sequels, Freddy got increasingly vocal — and also honed his skills as a savagely dark comedian. In Dream Master, the amount of one-liners is almost ridiculous.

It should be clear that the tone of Dream Master is obviously much different than the other films, verging on the comical (though not pushing it quite to the extremes that Freddy’s Dead went to). This is the main cause for the split decision: Freddy purists seem to prefer him when he’s at his darkest and most sadistic; others however don’t mind the tongue-in-cheek humour and the lighter side to this slasher franchise.

I’ll tell you what I do like about this one: Alice Johnson. Starring as the Dream Master herself, actress Lisa Wilcox really stepped up to the plate and brought a strong new heroine into the Elm Street saga. Not since Heather Langenkamp did we have a likeable, powerful female lead who really commands attention and had us rooting for her all-the-way. Her scenes, when playing off against Robert Englund, were really the best part of the film to me.

At this point, one can’t possibly have high expectations for the fourth film in a series — particularly an 80s slasher series. I love the Nightmare movies as much as the next person (and personally this is my favourite slasher franchise), but part 4 is really a typical slasher, through and through. While not unenjoyable to watch, it has the least amount of substance and, as I said, is saved mainly by the acting of Ms. Wilcox.

Surprisingly, this is more than I originally thought I had to say about the film. Peering outside, the fog is still heavy, and the city is still quiet. The kind of night that demands one drink whiskey and watch a classic horror film. Which is exactly what I’m going to do now.