Monday, October 17, 2011

“Tell ‘em Freddy sent ya.”

1988, A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. Direct sequel of the story of the previous movie. Made a lot of money. Let’s just get into it.

So the three kids who survived the last movie have been released from Westin Hills and move out of Elm Street to a new high school where they live normal lives and develop a new circle of friends one year later. Naturally, this idyllic life comes to a crashing end as Freddy returns to haunt teens in their dreams. He wants to tie up loose ends, so he goes after the Elm Street survivors, finally finishing off Kristen, but not before she passes some of her dream power off onto new protagonist Alice, who tries to find a way to stop Freddy as he starts killing off all of HER friends.

The Three Survivors of the last movie:

Kristen Parker: Tuesday Knight instead of a pregnant Patricia Arquette this time. Kristen starts off as our main character and a gateway to the next set of characters. She still has the power to suck her friends into her dreams and I have to admit, I didn’t see the switch coming with Kristen’s death. It kind of works, but on the other hand, I don’t think Alice is a better protagonist than Kristen. Oh, and I guess she smokes now too.

Roland Kincaid: Ken Sagoes again, and he’s still got super strength in his dreams. Remember how he’s a black character who survived the previous horror movie? This time he’s the first to die, but at least he goes down swinging.

Joey Crusel: Rodney Eastman again, and since the events of the last movie, he can speak again. His dream power is a powerful voice/sonic thingy. He’s kind of a perv now, being a horny teenage boy, and gets drowned in a waterbed.

Alice Johnson: Lisa Wilcox plays our new protagonist. Her dad’s a drunk and she’s a meek girl who is a compulsive daydreamer. Alice tries to advise Kristen that when she dreams, to make happy dreams. Naturally this doesn’t work. After she gets Kristen’s powers, this turns out to be a bad thing, since someone who involuntarily daydreams is able to pull friends into said dreams (yeah, they lump daydreams in with regular dreams here). This isn’t so bad by itself, but its compounded by the fact that A) Alice isn’t exactly guilt-ridden or even realizes that her being able to bring people into her dreams is exactly what Freddy wants, and B) she continuously gains new powers from her friends that die, so that in essence, she gets more powerful and less useless the more people around her die. I find that…problematic in a hero.

Sheila Kopecky: Toy Newkirk plays a glasses nerd with asthma. Could they have made a more vulnerable character? Anyway, she gets dragged into one of Alice’s daydreams and Alice uselessly watches Sheila get asphixiated.

Debbie Stevens: Brooke Theiss plays a somewhat bitchy girl who’s into fitness, big hair and a fear of bugs. She dies the most Kafkaesque death in the series.

Rick Johnson: Andras Jones plays Kristen’s boyfriend & Alice’s sister. He likes martial arts. Alice ends up pulling him into a dream and again, Freddy slaughters him too. But Alice ends up getting his leet kung-fu, so its okay!

Dan Jordan: Danny Hassel plays the tall jock that Alice has the hots for. He’s loosely connected to the circle of friends at first, but progressively gets more involved as Alice starts to absorb the positive traits of her friends.

Freddy Krueger: Robert Englund is the best part of this movie. The puns are ramped up a bit further in this film, but I think that works here because the stereotypes and cheesiness of everything else is also broadened. Here’s also the point in the series where Freddy’s personality completely outshines the heroes, who become broadly realized archetypes who only serve as symbolic humans and are therefore much more difficult to feel bad for. Freddy’s plot, that of using Alice as a fishing lure to draw fresh souls for him to feed on and torment is kind of neat, but nothing spectacular. And its just funny seeing Freddy burst out of a sand castle on a sunny beach and put on shades.

Renny Harlin? The man who would go on to direct Die Hard 2: Die Harder, Cliffhanger, and Cutthroat Island? Yes, he directed The Dream Master early in his career. Sure, it would be easy to make jokes, but honestly, the cinematography is fine in this and the pacing works reasonably well. The movie does swap protagonists, essentially splitting it in two parts, which is a bit odd, but nothing horrid. Moreover, the effects remain impressive and the dreamscapes continue to be highly imaginative. Despite its flaws, several of the sequences are really iconic, like the roach motel and the waterbed. My favorite scene has to be the part where Alice and Dan try to rush to Debbie’s rescue but are caught up in a dream that loops over and over until if slowly dawns on them. That's actually really inventive. And I will admit, the final showdown between Alice and Freddy is actually kind of kickass in a music video sort of way. Oh, and Freddy gets resurrected in a dream when Kincaid’s dog Jason pisses fire on his grave. Don’t see that every day.

Characters by Wes Craven, Story by William Kotzwinkle & Brian Helgeland, and Screenplay by Brian Helgeland, and Scott Pierce. I think its here that the movie really suffers. From inconsistencies with the previous movie to ill-defined characters and really vague plot elements like some kind of a spell to stop Freddy and turning him and Alice into guardians of the gates of bad and good dreams respectively. It makes The Dream Warriors’ super powered institutionalized teens seem restrained and plausible in comparison.

Original music by Craig Safan, which continues the whole “it’s the 80’s” thing quite well. There’s also a significant licensed soundtrack, featuring the Divinyls, Dramarama, the Fat Boys, Blondie, Sinead O’Connor and a bunch of bands I hadn’t heard of. The theme song “Nightmare” is actually kind of nice, and its sung by Tuesday Knight.

If there’s a slippery slope for the Nightmare series, its definitely The Dream Master. Freddy remains as entertaining as always, but you can tell that various ideas were thrown around to see what stuck. Despite the marked downturn in quality from Dream Warriors, this one’s still fairly entertaining and really maintains the quality of the dream sequences, which are the bread and butter of the series at this point. It’s just that anything outside of Freddy and the dreams doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny.

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