Tuesday, October 9, 2012

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

I don't even remember how or when I watched this as a kid. Most likely my older sister (still into horror movies) rented it and I watched it before she returned it. I remember liking it, but not really finding it scary.

Click here for a list of all other films reviewed and considered for this October 2012 series of horror reviews.

You need only note that Robert Englund had top cast billing for A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master to see the direction the series was heading. Freddy had become the driving force behind the series’ success. Without a mask to hide behind, he was given personality along with dialogue riddled with jokes and quips that grew hokier in this fourth installment. Directed by Renny Harlin, one of only a handful of horror film directors to actually go on to a sizable Hollywood career, Nightmare 4 begins the real downward trend of the series, though it is still reasonably fun if hardly ever frightening.

Before dispatching the three survivors – Kristen, Kincaid, and Joey – from the previous film, he pressures Kristin into bringing her new friend Alice (Lisa Wilcox) into the dream so he can feed on some “sweet, fresh meat.” Remember they were the last of the Elm Street children. Freddy obviously craves more and finds it in the next group of kids from the neighborhood.

Alice is a quiet daydreamer prone to zoning out during school or her shift at the local diner. Because Kristen imbues Alice with her power to bring people into her dreams, Alice develops a habit of accidentally bringing her friends – the asthmatic Sheila; the entomophobic Debbie; Dan the jock; and Alice’s brother, the martial arts and Zen-centered Rick – into her dreams to become Freddy’s next victims. You would think any teenagers in this town would be familiar with the Freddy legend, but the screenplay by Scott Pierce (a pseudonym for Jim and Ken Wheat) Brian Helgeland (yes, that one) based on a story by Helgeland and William Kotzwinkle condescends to idiots by having Kristen explain the whole thing to her new friends. Did they think anyone in the audience would be unfamiliar with the history? Can you imagine if each successive Friday the 13th film explained that Jason killed a bunch of people in the woods?

The general silliness of the movie is found in Alice’s ability to acquire her friends’ traits and powers when they die. This is represented with a bit of clumsy symbolism of Alice shaking off her shyness: as each friend dies, she removes their photos one-by-one from her bedroom mirror until she’s able to fully see herself. Then she’s ready to face Freddy. Too bad for her friends, I guess, that they had to die for her to achieve self-actualization. But still, there is something about the basic premise of a killer taunting his victims in their dreams that remains more interesting than the standard slasher films of the 80s. At least Freddy and his methods are inventive.

Harlin’s direction of the dream sequences, many of which border on the action genre, keeps things moving at a breakneck pace (at least for a horror film). And the special effects are quite good. Considering they seem to be the star of the show, it would be a real downer if they weren’t. Some of the highlights include a girl having all the air sucked out of her body and another who mutates into a bug so she can get stuck and squished inside a roach motel. These particular instances set up the popular stylings of Freddy’s wit with remarks such as, “Wanna suck face?” and “You can check in, but you can’t check out.”

Finally, it’s almost some kind of rite of passage that horror films have to pass through to have a glut of poor acting talent on screen, and Nightmare 4 is certainly no exception. Unlike the presence of Johnny Depp, Patricia Arquette and Kevin Bacon in A Nightmare on Elm Streets 1 and 3 and Friday the 13th, respectively, there is no future star you can point to and say, “This is where it started for him and you can see the talent even at that early stage.” There is an early dialogue scene between Alice and Kristen that is so poorly delivered I was tempted to just stop the film. I suppose it was a morbid interest in Freddy’s cult of personality that kept me going.

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