Renny Harlin has not made many great films, oh sure, he is no Uwe Boll*, and he can at least lay claim to directing Die Hard 2: Die Harder (until a Good Day to Die Hard, the least of the Die Hards, yet still quite entertaining). But with NoES 4: the Dream Master, he helped push the Nightmare Franchise farther down the goofy tracks it was put on by the third film. At this point, Freddy is more a prankster whose punchlines always end in a cruel death for the audience. Kind of like Larry the Cable guy, but all crispy.
Kristen (Patricia Arquette unwisely did not return…look what that choice did to her career. But Tuesday Knight-not kidding- stepped in to take over the role. Blondes are pretty interchangeable, right?) and the other survivors of the last film have been skating along okay and are in school, making friends. Kristen even has a boyfriend, martial arts enthusiast Rick (Andras Jones). The film wastes no time, because the audience sure isn’t going to care about the new characters, they want to see Freddy get all stabby.
For no discernible reason, Freddy does get back. First he kills Roland Kinkaid (Ken Sagoes), whose tough guy exterior fades real fast when he wets his pants. Then Freddy pays a visit to Joey (Rodney Eastman)…now if you saw the last Elm Street, you know Joey cannot refuse a attractive topless blonde. He is also delusional enough to think these women want him-rather than he is in a dream. Here, he looks at a pin-up on his wall, and the water bed starts to shake, and when he looks up, the poster is blank. Yeah, Joey, that is not a good sign. He pulls back the sheets to see the hot blonde in the water waving to him. Yeah, not a good sign either-especially when she swims away. Joey’s last incident with a hot almost naked blonde went badly…this one goes worse, because Freddy pops through the mattress and cuts little Joey to ribbons. Now, usually, the movies try and make the death “appear” natural…not this one…mom walks into the room pulls back the sheets and Joey is trapped under the plastic-drowned. Huh? Is this a danger of water beds I was previously not aware of?!
Anyways, Kristen freaks out, she starts telling her friends about Freddy. This time around, it is not the adults, but the kids who laugh Freddy off. Kristen’s gone nuts! Just because her two friends died overnight is nothing to be weirded out by. But Rick’s shy sister Alice (Lisa Wilcox) tells Kristen about a poem that speaks of the Dream Master-but she can’t remember how it ends, and that sucks for Kristen, because she might have been able to defeat Freddy…and the audience would have benefited, as the movie would have been shorter. Alice recommends that Kristen just go to her happy place if she finds herself in a nightmare. Ah, yes, that will do the trick. In the meantime, Alice daydreams about boldly hitting on her brother’s football buddy Dan (Danny Hassel). Alice is teased by her buff, weightlifting friend Debbie (Brooke Theiss) who also has the hots for Dan. Hen there is the bookish friend Shelia (Toy Newkirk).
Kristen has an argument with her mother after work and discovers that her mother has drugged her (a very popular move by parents in the Elm Street films). After yelling at her mother “You just murdered me, mom!” (Heh, kids can be sooooo melodramatic) she stumble into her bedroom and finds herself at Freddy’s dream house. Crap. She remembers Alice’s recommendation and goes to her happy place-the beach! Of course, if you see a little blonde girl you do not know building a sand castle? It is not a good sign. Apparently Freddy can find Kristen’s happy place. Freddy is not actually ready to kill Kristen, as it turns out, if he does so now? He can’t keep killing. Kristen is the last Elm Street Kid. Lucky for Freddy, Kristen has a dream power to pull other people into her dreams, allowing Freddy a loophole.
And that means poor, shy Alice is pulled into Kristen’s dream, Kristen passes her power on to Alice, making her the new dream conduit Freddy needs. And Alice is not empowered enough to stand up to Freddy…at least, not before a bunch of her friends are dead. Freddy works his way through her friends and brother, and each time a friend dies? She gets their dream power. No wonder she does not try to hard to save them! Anyways, after Shelia and Rick get killed by Freddy, Alice Dan and Debbie decide to fight back. Alice picked up her brother’s martial arts abilities, so she isn’t any wimp.
Unfortunately for Debbie; Freddy traps Alice and Dan in a repeating dream loop so they cannot get to her. This, of course, lets Freddy enact another gruesome kill. It turns out the dream loop was happening in a vehicle and Dan ends up in the hospital (you can see where this is going, right?). Alice is in full bad ass mode and flies into Dan’s dream to save him from being diced. The doctors, being somewhat more efficient than in other Elm Street films, save Dan-leaving Alice to fight on her own. It takes the whole movie-but she remembers the end to the poem-evil is going to see its reflection and will die. Yes, she shows Freddy his face in the mirror and that is how she defeats him. Seriously, all the souls he collected over the years from Elm Street (apparently it is a really, really, really long street) crawl out of Freddy just leaving his clothes on the ground. Then Alice and Dan start to date and forget about their dead friends.
Unlike three, the Dream Master has a somewhat less pedigree behind the camera. The writers include William Kotzwinkle (this was his first movie), Brian Helgeland (okay, he did go on to write L.A. Confidential) and Jim & Ken Wheat (who wrote the Ewok Adventure: Battle for Endor and wrote Elm Street Four under a single pseudonym) and the previously mentioned Renny Harlin. This is certainly a slick and imaginative film, with extravagant dream sequences where girls turn into cockroaches, a girl gets the life sucked out of her and a kid gets sucked into a water bed. But it is just not good. The story is very on the nose. Alice has a mirror crowded with photos, as her friends die, she removes them and sees more and more of herself in the looking glass (get it?!). The special effects are the strongest part of the film, and in the end the dream sequences overwhelm any story and character development possible.
Oh, and by the way, if you are going to create a poem? Show some freaking originality, people. Seriously, this is the poem that Alice has trouble remembering:
“Now I lay me down to sleep,
the Master of Dreams my soul to keep,
in the reflection of my mind’s eye,
evil will see itself…and it shall die!”
I remember that one from:
“Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
And If I should die, before I wake
I pray all my toys break so none of the other kids can play with them.”
This addition of the reflection theme just does not work…and it never returns to the franchise…because previous films had Freddy able to look at his reflection and…well, not die.