Following hot on the heels of fan favourite and second sequel, Dream Warriors, 1988’s (’89 in the UK) The Dream Master had a lot to live up to. Where A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s third instalment saw a star-making turn from Patricia Arquette; the return of Heather Langenkamp’s scream queen, Nancy Thompson from the classic first Elm Street movie; and horror’s new favourite villain, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) adding to his bloodthirsty slayings with cheeky puns and one liners, you couldn’t help but wonder where the increasingly popular slasher series would go next. Fortunately, The Dream Master added to an impressive first few films (well, aside from the ever divisive Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge) with an intriguing enough story, strong female lead, and more creative kills to make this third sequel almost as enjoyable, entertaining and of course, brutal as what had come before.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master begins a year after the events in Dream Warriors, and true to form sees us in a dream/nightmare sequence. The first thing viewers may notice is the absence of Patricia Arquette, who went onto bigger things after her starring role as Kristen Parker in Dream Warriors, making a name for herself in films like Uncle Buck, True Romance, Lost Highway and Stigmata. Instead, we have the brilliantly named Tuesday Knight, who does a fine job filling in as Kristen Parker, the main difference here being that Kristen isn’t the female lead in The Dream Master. This time that honour belongs to Lisa Wilcox’s Alice Johnson; the high school girl who appears shy and in her own world a lot of the time initially but actually possesses powers to enter peoples dreams and control her own. Something she is unaware of at the start and also, more dangerously, something that the freshly returned from the dead Freddy Krueger can use to his advantage. Alice teams up with the survivors from Dream Warriors, Kristen, Kincaid (Ken Sageos) and Joey (Rodney Eastman), and hopefully they can stop Freddy before it’s too late and he not only kills them but their closest friends too.
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Freddy Krueger’s return is something that is rather well done. In a nightmare sequence involving Kincaid and the car junkyard where they thought they had killed Freddy in Dream Warriors, Kincaid’s dog starts scratching at the grave where Freddy has laid supposedly dormant for the past year. But it seems he was recharging his evil batteries, as he is soon regenerated, thanks to some fine special effects for the time, and stalking Kincaid in the junkyard, seemingly right back to full power. There were hints at his return from the start, now they’ve been proved and if the end of this scene with Kincaid was anything to go by, they are all well and truly fucked!
Freddy’s deaths and returns will always be a talking point among fans of the Elm Street series. They need to be pretty conclusive deaths for the finale, but then the returns need to look pretty spectacular too, and something that fans will buy into. In the case of The Dream Master, Freddy’s return, and later death (if you want to call it that – hey, this is Freddy) hit the spot courtesy of the likes of Nick Benson, Screaming Mad George, Steve Johnson and John Carl Beuchler, who all did a fine job creating and executing the effects for the various nightmare scenes throughout the film. And The Dream Master does contain some memorable nightmare scenes including the ‘Soul Food Pizza’ scene and the brutal weight-lifting scene where friend and fellow student Debbie Stevens (Brooke Thesis) has her arms broken on the weights-bench by Freddy who then turns her into a cockroach before squishing her! The final fight scene between Freddy and Alice (who has now become a kick-ass heroine, Lisa Wilcox doing a great job with Alice, turning her from a shy wallflower into a strong and confident young woman) is also memorable as we see the souls of the children Freddy has killed flying out his body. One such soul belonging to B-movie legend, Linnea Quigley, fact fans!
Watching The Dream Master again reminds you that despite the majority of the sequels’ reputations for not living up the original, they can actually be quite an enjoyable watch. The kills are always creative and Freddy’s one liners aren’t as frequent as you think. Yes, they are there but not overbearing and Robert Englund’s performance in The Dream Master could be up there with his best as he is still sinister. The one liners and puns do mostly work and it’s clear the actor is having fun with the role here too, which is why this is the role Englund will be most remembered for. He relishes every aspect of being Freddy Krueger and with the poorly received remake of the original not hitting the spot and talk of which other actors could play Freddy being almost constant within horror circles, performances like this in The Dream Master prove that no other actor should even attempt to recreate this classic horror character.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master certainly has its cheesy, 80’s, unintentionally funny moments, but they are few and far between and for the majority of horror fans that’s part of its charm. The Dream Master certainly charmed audiences as it was the franchise’s biggest entry so far. Sure, it had to contend with classics and cult favourites such as Child’s Play, Hellraiser 2: Hellbound, Maniac Cop, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, The Blob remake, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and its biggest slasher rival at the time, Friday 13th Part 7: The New Blood. But The Dream Master more than held its own and with its fun, fast-paced feel, creative kills and dream sequences – and of course it’s scary and quick-witted razor-gloved killer it’s really no surprise. It might not be best of the series but it’s still an entertaining and worthwhile watch that was a joy to revisit.