Review – ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master’

The fourth 'Nightmare' is a visual treat for the series!

Review by J.T. Johnson

ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: August 19, 1988
DIRECTOR: Renny Harlin
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Steven Fierberg
WRITERS: Brian Helgeland, Ken Wheat, Jim Wheat
MUSIC: Craig Safan

After “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors” took the box-office by storm, another sequel was already a forgone conclusion. For the next film, producer Robert Shaye hired a relatively unknown Renny Harlin to direct the next film in the series. Shaye initially didn’t really care for Harlin’s ideas and only hired him because he was a big guy that Shaye thought could handle a quick production and long hours. Later on, though, he saw what Harlin was trying to do with the film and completely supported him.

Harlin also had to deal with a writer’s strike, meaning that most of the visuals come straight from him. Also, writers would sneak in to help with the script as well. Thankfully, despite a tight schedule and the strike, the movie was delivered on time and released to a massive box-office fueled by fans that had been waiting for more after “Dream Warriors”.

“A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master” is pretty damn strong as far as the “Nightmare” sequels go, though over time I have found that I enjoy “Dream Warriors” a little bit more. The big reason for this is the fact that the film goes back to the lone survivor model with the character of Alice (Lisa Wilcox). Instead of a team of teenagers getting together to battle Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), Alice has the ability to absorb other teenagers’ dream abilities after Krueger kills them.

Don’t get me wrong, Alice is a strong protagonist and I enjoy Wilcox’s performance, but this ability of hers sort of makes the other teenagers simple cannon fodder for Freddy’s claws. Yet again, though, I still find myself caring for these teenagers more than I ever did for the numbskulls that you normally find in a “Friday the 13th” film.

Like in its predecessor, “The Dream Master” does contain some highly inventive scenes and plenty of great dreamlike visuals. For example, there is one scene that seems to repeat when Alice and her love interest Dan (Danny Hassel) try to save one of their friends. Eventually, they realize that they are asleep and Freddy has put them in a looping dream. Meanwhile, Freddy’s victim is going through a grotesque change into a cockroach, something that the victim has a fear of earlier in the movie.

The film’s climactic battle between Alice and Freddy is also a highlight in the movie. Alice has absorbed a lot of powers, but as Freddy points out, he’s been guarding his gate for a long time and the two duke it out for the ultimate control over the world of dreams and nightmares. It is here that you see just how visual Harlin is and the movie is a fun ride overall.

“The Dream Master” is really the last of the great sequels. This was when the series had reached its zenith and the studio was still having fun making the movies. “Dream Warriors” may be the superior sequel, but as far as fourth entries go, “Nightmare 4” is one of the better sequels out there and definitely worth the price of admission.

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