A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master ★★★

Horror of 1988 / Horror of the 80's

I'm not sure there can be a Nightmare on Elm Street film without the "tensions" between teens and the adults. But that has almost always been this franchise's greatest weakness. The adults in Craven's Nightmare are constantly skating on the line between aloof and totally emotionally vacant. They were all keeping a well-guarded, thinly spread secret. But every sequel can't remake that dynamic, that would be a little like the time loop scene toward the end and the effect likely would lead to the films themselves becoming either aloof or vacant. Not that that stops The Dream Master from sticking its teens in a world where 99% of all adults are the mean, doofy stereotypes from Bubble Tape, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Apple Jacks ads. Does Your Teacher endlessly prattle on in-class about dream gates like he wants you to die? Does Your Phys-Ed Coach yell at you to hurry for no reason? Does Your Mom hate Mtv with a passion? Does Your Dad yell at you for how you dress, even when you dress like a Grandmother? So. Relatable.

The other aspect that compromises Dream Master considerably is how it handles teen inter-relationship drama. Which is entirely relegated to the unbelievably tired trope of Why Doesn't Anyone Believe Me? Though that question is pretty quickly answered here. Alice borders on being a loner with a super popular brother who is, if you remember Stephen King's IT, the artifact / memory keeper among her / her brother's group of mutual friends. The photographer, videographer. Which makes it kind of weirdly obvious that her other dark clouded friend and Freddy himself choose her to wield the Dream Power Collector ability. And to talk about it at length with people who don't want to hear about it. Like a retired psychic religious nurse, telling you first that you're going to the hospital well before you're injured, that none of the doctors will help you because it's out of anyone's hands, and then what a shame that will be because even though they prayed all they could- you're going to die.

It doesn't mix well with the film's outfit narrative of Blame the Adults. If I remember correctly, the damn parents were trying to stop a mad child murdering bastard. And other sequels confirm that Freddy when he was human was a manipulate creep with a basement torture chamber who abused and terrorized his wife. We can blame the Country Club Elite suburb parents of these teens for many things but this film takes the weepy soap opera pass out of dealing with anything real. The happy teen dialogue is great but it doesn't last long and quickly drives the film south of the Special Episode drama of a Saved by the Bell. Alice's I Feel Different speeches are pure cringe, like that time a friend/relative of yours used a Ouija board and spent weeks afterward trying to convince you they contacted a spirit, gave them a name, and that they're everywhere watching us. Kid zealotry, No Off Button.

The Dream Master is basically the Joel Schumacher Batman of 80's slashers. All flash, gorgeous gel lights, hazy colors and style- trying for substance but coming up short. Trying for drama and coming up melo. Credit due for being an originator, it's better than Joel Schumacher's Batmen. Thanks to an All or Nothing, go-for-broke ending which pays off big time and a series high point scene at a movie theater. (Alice as Creepy Elderly Waitress really brings out the deep spooky of her eyes. Her eyes are a horror movie in/of themselves.) But despite the fluffy, dreamlike music finally achieving franchise perfection (I don't think any of the first 3 films got it quite this right), this is a giant, blubbery mess. Literally. Have some Kleenex handy... To stuff in your ears.

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