Tuesday, August 28, 2007

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

Director: Renny Harlin

Following the standard “good, bad, good, bad” sequence of films in this series, we now find ourselves deep within the chasm of the “bad” section of this particular frequency. I should have known that this film wouldn’t work. Even putting aside that Renny(Deep Blue Sea) Harlin is at the helm, on paper it amounts to nothing more than a losing lotto ticket. The remaining “Elm Street Kids” return, one of whom is played by a different actress, and the rest of the kids have nothing to do in the story. Joey and Kincaid from the first film are quickly dispatched as though they were merely a nuisance to the screenwriter. They appear in the film so that there can be a quick handoff to another set of dopey teens. It would have been better to just start fresh. The success of the previous film, however, anchored this film with a set of unnecessary plot "requirements".

Kristen (Tuesday Knight, yes that’s her real name) and her friends notice that nightmares are quickly becoming the latest trend among teens at their high school. Here, Kristen is friends with a daydreaming chick named Alice (Lisa Wilcox). There’s a Karate Kid reject named Rick (Andras Jones), who also happens to be Alice’s brother. There’s also a chick named Debbie (Brooke Theiss) who’s straight out of the 80's with her huge, hair sprayed chrome-dome hairdo, and purple workout leotard. And let’s not forget the token-iest nerd this side of Urkel, named Sheila (Toy Newkirk). Let’s see, Sheila has huge glasses, overalls, a love for technology, an inhaler… I know I’m forgetting something. Let’s just say she would have a better life expectancy as a drummer for Spinal Tap. First, Freddy needs to be awaken from his slumber to get this ball rolling. In Kincaid's nightmare he finds himself in the junkyard from the previous film. Freddy returns from the dead when Kincaid's dog pees a stream of fire onto his grave. I can't believe I just typed that. Anyway, Kincaid is the first to die. Next, Joey meets his demise when his fantasy about a pin-up girl on his wall turns deadly. The girl appears swimming in his now translucent waterbed, and Freddy pops up out of the water in homage to the young Jason in the first Friday the 13th film. Two down, one to go... or so it seems.

Kristen is now the only Elm Street Kid left, and her boozed up mother drugs her secretly to help her get some sleep. In the resulting dream, Kristen calls out to her friend Alice in a last ditch effort. Alice had previously told Kristen about the "Dream Master." Apparently, you can control your dreams if you recite a certain rhyme. Pulling Alice into the dream is of course a dumb idea, and now Alice is added to the deadly mix -- guilt by association, I guess. Kristen is tossed into the boiler furnace and killed, but not before she magically, and literally passes her powers to Alice. The powers pass through Freddy, and he now has a new employer. Alice wakes up, and now she’s the new “last girl.” That was a long way to go in order to set this story up. It's like they would rather sail around South America, than use the Panama Canal. Alice mistakenly pulls HER friends into her dreams and they become Freddy’s newest buffet of victims. He wants to keep Alice alive, however, in hopes of using her to pull many more victims into her dreams for Freddy to devour. Of course, Alice wants no part of this. It at least makes the story a little more interesting, and solves the question of why Freddy never kills the main girl, despite numerous opportunities. Unfortunately, it also excludes Alice from the drama, and uses the “loved one in peril” device to create a less than thrilling climax. First, Debbie, the 80’s chick, gets squashed in a roach motel after turning into a bug herself. Rick goes a few rounds with Freddy in a dojo, before losing the bout… and his life. The dweeby Sheila sucks face with Freddy, and is literally deflated. Here’s an interesting twist: Alice is endowed with powers from her friends after they die. She gets techno-smarts from Sheila, karate abilities from Rick, and I guess she just got Debbie’s fashion sense. Alice also teams up with the dreamy jock, named Dan (Danny Hassel). Dan had been eyeing her through most of the movie, and was apparently just waiting his turn to step into the action. Now, Freddy cranks it to eleven and goes after Dan. Dan is injured in a car wreck and is taken to the hospital, where he insists on not being put under in fears of entering dreamland. While all this is going on, Alice gears up in one of the most ridiculous scenes in all of Freddydom. In her room, she suits up with a leather jacket, chains, and spikes, and whatnot, various weapons (including nunchucks) and gadgets, and gives a few sly looks into the mirror. I thought I was in a nightmare at that point. Freddy and Alice wage a lame and forgettable war in a church. The thing that ultimately subdues Freddy is when Alice recites the entire “Dream Master” rhyme that she tried to teach Kristen oh so many scenes ago. Freddy is ripped apart from the inside by all of his victims. Alice wakes up and Dan recovers. The two walk by a fountain and Alice tosses a coin in to make a wish. Freddy’s reflection can be seen briefly as the water ripples. The two then walk off, and the shrill 80's soundtrack pounds through the speakers.

Yeah, it’s THAT bad. The arbitrary ties to the previous film make the story seem like one of those kids in high school who thought he would be cool if he just hung in the vicinity of the cool kids. They should have just gone off and done their own thing. The deaths are imaginative, but opt more for the gross-out factor than using a psychological, nightmarish touch. Freddy’s personality is growing, as he tosses verbal barbs with much aplomb at his victims. The franchise seems to be out of steam, though. Is it a bad sign when the characters in the film get stuck in a time loop, and I didn’t even notice that the scenes were actually repeating themselves at first? I would say, “Yes.” At that point in the story I think I had just given up. The characters are brainless and would better be described as “fashion victims” than “Freddy’s victims.” Lisa Wilcox is hot in the role of Alice, however. She makes a better “last girl” than the replacement Kristen. The whole film is a half-hearted attempt, and ultimately drowns in its own tepidity. The atmosphere drove right past terror and went straight to over-the-top, goofy camp. Whereas the first film made people afraid to go to sleep, this film will make them afraid to go to the video store.

Best Death: Totally 80's chick gets turned into a bug and squashed in a Roach Motel.

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