What happens when the bad guy who lurks in the shadows of your franchise becomes a fully fledged leading man?
In a mere four years, Freddy Krueger – Robert Englund’s murderous alter ego – had gone from a legitimately terrifying bogeyman to counter culture icon to a household name whose scarred visage was popping up on board games, talk shows and everything inbetween. The character was edging ever closer to the mainstream, with the balancing act of his third movie reaching an impressive middle ground between blood curdling and out and out cool – but then along came A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 4 and spectacularly fucked all that hard earned balance right in the ear.
It’s a short time after the smoke has cleared from Part 3 and the trio of survivors are enjoying life where their dreams are safe territory again, however Kirsten (now played by an actress with the kickass name of Tuesday Knight – because being called Wednesday Morning would just be stupid) isn’t so sure that their down time is going to be so permanent. Sure enough, Freddy resurrects himself with the rather undignified method of having his grave urinated on by a dog with napalm piss (not exactly the choice of resurrection I’D choose, but different strokes for different folks, I guess) and starts getting some enthusiastic payback on the woefully unprepared Dream Warriors. However, while in the midst of eliminating Kirsten, she utilises her dream power of pulling others into her dreamscape and bestows her ability to her best friend Alice, a mousey, timid day dreamer and so Freddy finds a way to start manipulating the girl to bring in new kids for him to slaughter.
As Alice’s christmas card list grows alarmingly short after Krueger has his way with them, she gathers the confidence and strength obtained from each death to face down a Freddy who is at the height of his powers thanks to the absorbed souls of his victims.
As you probably gathered from the synopsis above, brains isn’t high on the list of talents that The Dream Master possesses, but then, that’s never really been an issue for Hollywood super-hack Renny Harlin, who leap-frogged on from this to go on to helm mega blockbusters like Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger. Featuring a script so basic, you start to think they actually filmed using only the original treatment instead; The Dream Master doesn’t so much as have a plot and a vague sense of story that strings all the set pieces together (more on those, later).
The reason for this massive shift to style over substance can be summed up with 3 little letters: MTV. Truly a horror film for the MTV generation (this was back when they still actually played music), the movie wilfully shoves all that “boring” stuff like subtle character development and nuanced screenwriting to the side and sets it’s sights on out doing all the other Elm Streets when it comes to brain warping dream imagery. It’s a massive testiment to the virtual army of latex slingers and puppeteers that make up the MULTIPLE effects houses they somehow actually succeed.
Virtually nothing more than an almost unbroken string of super imaginative set pieces and montages and not much else (techinally making it the Rocky IV of the Elm Street franchise), the fact that Nightmare 4 is as incredibly watchable as it is remains thanks to the eye bulging work of such legends as Kevin Yagher, Steve Johnson, Greg Nicotero, John Carl Buchler and Screaming Mad George (his actual name) who have crafted such Dali-esque images so extreme, it’s impossible not to sit there an gape in awe. Watch dumbfounded as the flesh melts back ONTO Freddy’s skeletal remains as his organs inflate in his ribcage. Gasp in disbelief as a character who’s terrified of cockroaches is horrified to find giant bug arms erupt from her broken forearms. Prepare reak the fuck out as all the souls Krueger has collected finally seek to escape turning his very body into mass of grasping arms that stretch his frame like taffy and all without a single computer pixel to be seen.
Such rampant imagination doesn’t always pay off, however, especially when your movie plays like a 99 minute music video written and directed by 15 year olds and in amongst the all ferocious, unrestrained fantasy the movie often puts the odd foot wrong. A scene where Rick, a hedgehog-haired martial arts enthusiast, fights to the death against a completely invisible Freddy sprawls drunkenly into stark stupidity and another includes Englund, sans prosthetic burns, in full drag as a school nurse for seemingly no other reason than it just seemed funny on the day.
The cast do what they can when faced with both Englund’s godlike rise in popularity and the huge amounts of special effects that dominate the entire film but manage to still remain likable despite every line in the film oddly (and very noticeably sounding like it’s been looped in a booth). Extra brownie points go to new heroine Lisa Wilcox whose transformation from nerd to super powered dream enforcer made convinced for years that the role was played by two people and to Tuesday Knight (who also crowns the opening theme tune) whose thankless job of taking on of a role that was previously owned by Patricia Arquette was as shameless as Don Cheadle filling in for Terence Howard in Iron Man 2.
It’s all gaudily coloured fun and games, for sure, but when Freddy raps with The Fat Boys over the end credits, you know Pandora’s box can’t be closed and the franchise has reached a place that there is no way back from. Freddy was never going to be a credible threat after this and despite being aggressively cool and scoring big at the box office, actually caused irreparable damage to the franchise that began with a downward spiral that ended up with Krueger dressed as the Wicked Witch Of The West…
But for this last, shining moment – Freddy was a bonafide blockbuster star, a bankable name like James Bond or Arnold Schwarzenegger and even though it could never last, it was one hell of a ride.
Just like the film…