After the large critical and commercial success of A Nightmare on Elm St. 3: The Dream Warriors (1987), New Line Cinemas did what every creative and innovative movie studio does: they tried to make the same exact movie all over again!
The Dream Master is the second in a three part movie set within the overall series. This review will have spoilers from The Dream Warriors, so fair warning. The film opens with the three remaining Dream Warriors having transferred back to sane living at Springwood High School. Kristen Parker (Tuesday Knight, taking over for Patricia Arquette ) has the sneaking suspicion that Freddy (Robert Englund) is coming back. Surprising no one, he does, and proceeds to kill all three of our returning characters.
That’s right, director Renny Harlin pulls a Psycho (1960) and kills the heroine halfway through the film. Enter Alice (Lisa Wilcox), stage left. Alice daydreams entirely too much, accidentally pulling her friends into her nightmares, making them convenient fodder for Freddy. As Freddy kills his way through Alice friends, she gains their dream powers, thereby becoming strong enough to stop Freddy once and for all. We hope.
NoES 4 was the most commercially successful of the original six NoES films. Harlin stripped down the story and characters to the barest of essentials, added lighting effects the likes of which would make Joel Schumacher envious, and injected more goofy humor in Freddy. Though Freddy is still performing terrible acts, he’s not particularly scary in this film. And how could he be? He’s wearing Wayfarers, dressing in drag, eating pizza made of people, appearing on postcards, and being resurrected by flammable dog piss (has to be seen to be believed). Worse still, upon rewatching the film for this review, I noticed that the majority of Freddy’s scenes are not only brightly lit, more often than not he’s in direct sunlight!
And yet this installment is genuinely not one of the “bad” NoES films even though it does feature the third silliest method of dispatch Freddy. Mirrors! Who knew? There is a high body count, well-paced murder scenes, grotesque imagery like the souls pulling themselves out of Freddy’s body (the only thing worse than seeing the sequence is seeing the behind the scenes explanation) and Freddy does the worst. Thing. Ever.
Debbie (Brooke Theiss) is the last of Alice’s friends to die in the film. Debbie’s identifying character traits are a love of body-building and a hatred of insects. As a result, Freddy breaks both of her arms, replaces them with cockroach legs, rips off her skin, revealing a full cockroach body underneath and then crushes her. I’ve only gone into such detail because the sequence is still astonishingly cruel and graphic. And Debbie was barely a main character! (Incidentally, Mezco ‘s Cinema of Fear action figure line features a toy based on Half-Roach Debbie.
What saves the film is that it’s genuinely entertaining. The Dream Master is essentially the Summer Action Romp version of an Elm St. picture that features solid performances from Englund and Wilcox, and some truly terrifying imagery.