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

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This has always been my favourite of the Nightmare sequels though I can see why it isn’t widely regarded as such. It’s easily the most 80s entry, with a soundtrack of bangers to boot, but it’s also the glossiest and most action packed. Renny Harlin brings a haywire MTV eye to the whole thing and I love the sense of kinetic pop style running throughout everything. After the success of Dream Warriors, New Line felt confident enough to crank everything up to the max and offered Harlin a hefty $13 million dollar budget, which is more than the Dream Warriors and Dream Child budgets combined! Luckily though, a lot of that money was put to good use and is up there on screen.

The Kevin Yagher/Screaming Mad George make-up effects are the peak of the series and Englund – who I’m sure snagged a big chunk of change for this one with Freddy mania hitting overdrive – is clearly loving every second. While not remotely scary, a lot of the blockbuster dream sequences are creative and memorable with the Debbie bug sequence being another franchise highlight of squishy, wince-inducing thrills. You have car crashes, explosions, massive church sets as well as dilapidated diners and theatres. Plus who can forget Jason the dog pissing fire to resurrect Freddy? The dark comedy tips a little too far into campiness for the most part – which the darker, more gothic-tinged Dream Child would quickly try to rebel against – but come on! Dead-head pizza? Freddy shark? “Wanna suck face?” It’s fun! And in keeping with what the audience wanted. Don’t forget Freddy was a bonafide rockstar at this point.

The only thing that really lets this down, beyond the dumb script ofcourse, is the young cast who are mostly bland and forgettable. It’s even more painful given how good the ensemble of Dream Warriors was. The replacing of Patricia Arquette with Tuesday Knight is tragic (what I wouldn’t give to see a version of this film with Arquette’s Kristen) and dilutes the presence of returning dream warriors Rodney Eastman and Ken Sagoes to disappointing first-act Freddy fodder. Joey’s water-bed demise to the sound of Billy Idol is fucking aces though so I’ll let it slide.

I’ll always have a soft spot for The Dream Master. I first discovered these movies on VHS when I was around ten or eleven (2000, 2001) and while the first three films were widely available in a box set, the only way I could track down the remaining sequels was by scouring local video rental shops. This was just before the internet was a widely used tool so I wasn’t even fully aware of how many Nightmare movies there actually were. It took me a good few months but Dream Master ultimately became the last entry I tracked down. The excitement I felt of finally being able to fill in this missing chapter as I inserted the tape into the player seems to have become forever hardwired into my experience of the film. After seeing it, my Freddy journey was complete. Until Freddy vs. Jason appeared a few years later at least. To this day the Nightmare series is my favourite horror franchise and this is still my favourite of the non-Craven sequels. Are you ready for Freddy? Always.

Watched on blu-ray.

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