Sunday, February 28, 2016

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

When franchises begin going past the trilogy mark, there are only a few reasons why. Some of this is either because the series has a loyal fanbase, the series itself has likable characters or a well written narrative or it just makes a ton of money. There are also times where the reason consists of all three of these combined. A few years back, Wes Craven had created a new kind of horror that people would literally see in their dreams and his name was Freddy Krueger. The series itself up to this point had gone through a rollercoaster in quality and approval by viewers. The first is considered to be the best (which is usually the case), the second had most people scratching their head and the third had more people satisfied than before by bringing the story back to its original roots. For this entry, there are definitely parts of the script that worked as well as other components but it isn't as great a comeback as A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987). Most people would probably say this is between the second and third film.

Joey & Kincaid return!
For this sequel, Renny Harlin who was a relative newbie at the time, sits in the director’s chair. Writing the screenplay however was by a whole new set of people. One of which, Brian Helgeland, was their first time penning a theatrical script. Helgeland would later write for L.A. Confidential (1997), Payback (1999), Man on Fire (2004) and Legend (2015). The other two writers were Jim Wheat and Ken Wheat, who are now best known for creating Vin Diesel's Riddick role from Pitch Black (2000). The story picks up some time after the third where it seems even though the last of the Elm Street kids finished off Freddy, he's still around. Kristen Parker (now played by Tuesday Knight instead of Patricia Arquette) keeps having bad dreams and dragging Joey (Rodney Eastman) and Kincaid (Ken Sagoes) back into them. Soon Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) is resurrected and the fight for survival begins all over again and this time, the dream warriors bring in more characters.

Joining the group is Kristen's boyfriend Rick (Andras Jones), her sister Alice (Lisa Wilcox), smarty Sheila (Toy Newkirk), muscle punk girl Debbie (Brooke Theiss) and not so cocky jock Dan (Danny Hassel). Of these group of characters (old or new), they all carry something about them that make them likable and that's appreciated. Most horror films just give teen roles the "no crap given" attitude but here, they aren't the typical bunch of high school teenagers. They are certainly not as magnetic as the original dream warriors but the audience can still get attached to them. Aside from characters though, not all of the script does its job. For one thing, Krueger's explanation for coming back to life feels weak and brushed over. It undoes all the effort that went into the third film but oh well. Also the continuity lacks a bit. Sure what’s left of the original dream warriors are still around, but why don't they teach the new group how to fight in their dreams? Instead it all goes to Alice (aka the Dream Master).

For that, it just feels extra lazy because what good is it to learn something important only to not show anyone else when needed? What's the sense in that? It’s not only this but it straight up insults the intelligence of the characters from the prior entry. Surely they were smarter than this. However, that's about it for errors within this film. Even the method here of killing off Freddy is still mostly acceptable. The gore and scares to this horror film are effective most of the time too. If you’ve seen enough horror movies, this won't be scary but there are definitely some gross scenes that can be hard to look at. Some limbs just shouldn't bend certain ways...yuk. The special effects incorporated to make these scenes and the dream sequences work are sufficient in their purpose. There was probably only one scene an effect look blatantly pasted over an actor but that's it. The rest looks like practical effects in its glorious 1980s appeal.

"Welcome to wonderland...Alice!"
Steven Fierberg was the director of photography to this picture. For the shots on screen, Fierberg doesn't have a look that he gives all his own, but he does keep the scenes clear and visible to a point. He also tries to recreate the visual style of the prior movies with keeping Krueger in the shadows for a bit. Finally is the musical score composed by Craig Safan. It feels as if the Elm Street series can't seem to find a permanent composer. Thankfully, they have managed to keep the main theme concrete. Just like Angelo Badalamenti’s score, Safan sticks to Charles Bernstein's memorable Nightmare cue with music box and electronic synths. Here however, the score doesn't sound AS cheap as Badalamenti's. There are times where the sound of the music feels more wholesome than the previous film. Then again, it still has that 80s quality to it as well. Safan could have also expanded the score to focus on the characters and important scenes but for now it at least keeps it simple.

Most entries at this point get pretty bad, but this passage maintains some of the better quality that made A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) an entertaining sequel. The music is still creepy and the characters remain unorthodox to the usual high school teen tropes. Just don't expect any good reasoning behind Freddy's return or some decent common sense at times.

Points Earned --> 6:10

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