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Tuesday 4 February 2020

Burl reviews A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master! (1988)

Weaving through your dreams like a wisp of blackened smoke, it’s Burl, here to review the first of the worst of the Freddy Krueger pictures! It was one of the Late Summer Horrors I religiously attended in my teens, but had the misfortune of being released around the same time as The Blob, a far better movie! I’m talking about A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master! Ha ha!
Yes, this is where the series turned stank! A Nightmare on Elm Street was of course a very solid genre picture with a villain no one had seen before! A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 was not a very good movie, but with its exploding parakeet, gay subtext and S & M angle, it was at least trying something unusual! A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 was more conventional but still weird and compelling, and was among the peak achievements in the 1980s makeup effects parade!
By the fourth one, the special effects had taken over, and Freddy Krueger himself had turned into a sort of Ronald McDonald of the subconscious! The young characters are there simply to dream and die, and while there’s some imagination shown in the oneiric sequences, more often they’re either recycled from past entries (the waterbed scene is too dedicated a callback to the Johnny Depp demise in the first movie) or, like the knife-glove shark fin, just too darn silly! And won’t Freddy ever shut up with his gags and puns?
No, he will not! And here’s what’s a little bizarre about the script, which is such a very bad script: it was put together by people like William Kotzwinkle, a novelist of whose work I’m fond - he wrote The Fan Man, Doctor Rat and Jack in the Box! Another writer on the project was Brian Helgeland, who later wrote the L.A. Confidential screenplay! And of course those Wheat brothers put a hand in, just as they did with The Fly II! And all this to create a screenplay of paper cutout people being sliced by a fedora-wearing dreamaniac!
The direction by Renny Harlin, who later brought us Cliffhanger, does the material no favours! Ha ha, it’s inexplicable to me that this somehow led directly to the big-budget shenanigans of Die Hard 2! Or maybe it led directly to The Adventures of Ford Fairlane; who knows? That it led to anything other than a career in direct-to-video horror sequels is extraordinary! There’s nothing frightening in the movie at all, nothing memorable (save maybe the bug arms), nothing transgressive or startling! And there’s nothing to distinguish it from A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, except that the fifth one might be even worse! (I haven’t seen The Dream Child since 1989 or whenever it was released, and after rewatching The Dream Master am in no great hurry to reacquaint myself with it!)
Ha ha, it’s not like me to be so negative about a picture, but this one rubbed me the wrong way somehow! I hate to see things squandered, I guess, and Wes Craven’s original conception is potentially a marvelous mine of horror gemstones! Renny Harlin and his motley band of scriptwriters leave those gems in the ground, and so I find myself in the unhappy position of giving A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master only one half of a tumbling tricycle!


  1. At the time, there were complaints that the special effects guys might as well have been directing horrors like these (and some of them did!) given the elevation of the gore sequences to the only point in making them. But now, you could say the same of CGI, and I'm more nostalgic for those old school effects. The lady turning into a cockroach sequence is pretty inspired. I mean, overall it's still junk, but I grew up with junk like this!

    1. As did I, and I too am fond of the old-school makeup trick effects! I was always interested in those movies that had four or five different makeup effects crews working on different parts of it, which is the case with this film! But the apotheosis of the form, to me, is probably FROM BEYOND!