Lisa Wilcox, Andras Young, and Tuesday Knight star in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER, directed by Renny Harlin for New Line Cinema.

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

The Dream Master has a really lame final scene, which is too bad since the second half of the film actually gets rather good. The script–from Brian Helgeland, Jim Wheat and Ken Wheat–is impressive for a couple reasons. First, it gives Lisa Wilcox a great hero arc across the traditional gender lines–she’s the nerd crushing on Danny Hassel’s hunk, but she ends up saving him. Sure, all of their mutual friends and her brother had to die for her to magically inherit their individuality and let it fuel her own, but she does use the power for good.

Wilcox is enthusiastic and sincere, which makes up for her performance being a tad light.

The story arc doesn’t really need Robert Englund or Freddy Krueger, but he’s a decent enough addition as far as the villain of that piece. It’s just not the only thing going on in Dream Master, which opens with continuation of the previous film. The film starts with the previous entry’s three survivors–Tuesday Knight, Rodney Eastman and Ken Sagoes–making a new life for themselves (in high school). Knight (taking over for Patricia Arquette) is dating Andras Jones, who’s Wilcox’s sister. Brooke Theiss and Toy Newkirk are also part of the group. And even though this group is somewhat aware of Knight and company’s previous troubles, they don’t experience it. Not until about halfway into the picture, because Dream Master takes the very awkward–but thoughtful–approach of handing the film off between sets of characters.

Knight’s okay, so are Hassel and Jones. Everyone’s likable enough, which seems to be intentional (Theiss, the jock, and Newkirk, the nerd, tease each other but are still besties).

Bad music from Craig Safan. Decent photography from Steven Fierberg. He shoots it a little dark, but once an effects sequence gets going, he’s careful to make sure to show enough. The effects sequences are fantastic, whether they’re large scale set pieces or just the gross-out stuff.

As for Harlin’s direction–it’s a mixed bag. Some of it’s really good. The dream sequences he can play like action scenes, those scenes do well. The ones he does for horror? Not so much. He tends more towards the sci-fi handling, wanting to make sure the audience understands exactly what’s going on. It works out well enough–there’s not much horror in the screenplay, which instead relies on neat narrative tricks and devices.

Dream Master takes a while to get going, but once it does, it works out quite well. Until that moronic last scene, where it cheats the audience out of seeing Wilcox as a “regular” hero, not just a dream one.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Renny Harlin; screenplay by Brian Helgeland, Jim Wheat and Ken Wheat based on a story by William Kotzwinkle and Helgeland and characters created by Wes Craven; director of photography, Steven Fierberg; edited by Michael N. Knue, Jack Tucker and Chuck Weiss; music by Craig Safan; production designers, C.J. Strawn and Mick Strawn; produced by Robert Shaye and Rachel Talalay; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Lisa Wilcox (Alice), Tuesday Knight (Kristen), Andras Jones (Rick), Danny Hassel (Dan), Brooke Theiss (Debbie), Rodney Eastman (Joey), Ken Sagoes (Kincaid), Toy Newkirk (Sheila), Brooke Bundy (Mrs. Parker), Nicholas Mele (Mr. Johnson) and Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger).


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