Today August 19th 2012 is the 14th anniversary of Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. The film is often cited as one of the weaker films of the series and by many Freddy fans its outright hated but today I’m going to sing its praises!
While Nightmare 3 certainly introduced Freddy as a wise cracking ghoul, it was Nightmare 4 that truly embraced that role and ran with it. For me Nightmare 4 has a very special place in my heart. One Hot and muggy afternoon in August of 88′ I went to my local theater with my best friend and watched Nightmare 4 with glee! I was only 11 at the time and it was the first horror film I was allowed to go see in theaters.
The influence of music videos and pop culture of the late 1980’s is dripping off the screen in this film. The nightmare sequences play more like action set pieces and pop music is played throughout the film. Nightmare 4, directed by Renny Harlin who went on to make Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, Long Kiss Goodnight and so many more, is truly the MTV Nightmare. The whole movie has a very music video look about it, espcially the nightmare sequences. It was the movie that gave Harlin his career and sent him on to big Hollywood action blockbusters just 2 years later.
The Survivors of part 3, Kristen, Kincaid, and Joey are trying to get on with normal teenage lives. Kristen has a boyfriend, Rick, and lots of new friends at school. But she’s still having dreams about the Elm street house though Freddy doesn’t seem to be home… yet. Kincaid has a nightmare and finds himself in the same junkyard where Freddy’s bones were finally consecrated to the earth in part 3. In one of the weirdest sequences in any of the nightmare films, a dog pisses fire that cracks open the ground and resurrects Freddy. Yeah really, that totally happened. Freddy picks off the remaining Elm street children but not before using Kristen to introduce him to some new kids to terrorize.
Nightmare 4 continues the dream warrior conceit of the previous film where each kid has a dream power that they can use against Freddy. But Alice (Lisa Wilcox) is able to absorb these powers whenever her friends die. Nightmare 4 has some pretty memorable nightmare sequences. THe most memorable is probably the character who’s fear of bugs causes her to become a cockroach that gets caught in a roach motel. Its one of the more disgusting death scenese of the whole series. My favorite however has always been the dream sequence where Alice goes to a movie theater where she is sucked into the screen. She lands right back at the diner she works at, the “Crave Inn”, where she finds her Old self working behind the lunch counter. Freddy shows up and gets a “Soul Food” pizza with human headed meatballs which he eats with his razor glove. It was a sequence that really stuck with me.
The ultimate showdown between Alice and Freddy is, in my view, the best of the series. Freddy gets torn apart by his “chest of souls” in a pretty amazing f/x sequence. It feels like a far more fitting end to Freddy than his actual screen death in Freddy’s Dead three years later. The production value of Nightmare 4 is pretty amazing even by today’s standards, especially if you consider the reported budget was just 7 million. It was a flashy movie with lots of pyrotechnics and f/x and Freddy is far removed from the dream stalker of the original film. He was deeply entrenched in being a wise cracking jester of horror rather than a boogey man to terrorize your nightmares. For this reason most people really dislike part 4 and I can understand that. But I was 11 years old when I saw the movie and I loved the bad quips, I loved the creative deaths and I loved the flashy 80’s production values.
Craig Safan was responsible for the film score and it was a big improvement over the synthy mess that was the score to Part 3. The music was fairly fitting for every scene and it put the original nightmare theme to good use when it was necessary. But, watching the film today, Nightmare 4 doesn’t hold up too well. It almost feels like caricature of the 80’s like “The Wedding Singer” or “Romy and Michelle’s High School Renunion”. The film feels like it is consumed by the decade it was made in from the fashions, music and the music video direction. Its like those elements are material aspects of the films reason for being. And that’s part of the reason why it will always be my favorite of the Nightmare sequels!
It wasn’t just a TV series though, Freddy was also on MTV with a pretty bad music special of his favorite videos (Watch the Promo here.) There was a behind the scenes special on the making of Nightmare 4 that I still remember watching before the release of the movie. It played very late on a local fox affiliate and its burned in my memory because they show one of the actresses that pushes through Freddy’s Chest of Souls death scene topless in a behind the scenes video. I still have no idea how that made it past censors. 1988 was also the year there was a BOOM in Freddy Merch. There were dolls, hats, costumes, gloves, masks, poster, t-shirts, and much more. Amazingly it was marketed heavily to kids which is just insane when you consider Freddy liked to kill kids. The talking Freddy doll with its pull string in the back has got to be the most insane product from the marketing push. Its just crazy that it ever existed.
Of course Freddy’s popularity burned out pretty fast and but it was a wild time when a child killing character became a pop icon. I doubt we’ll ever see something like that happen again.