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List Inconsequential: A Nightmare on Elm Street Series Pt. 2

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

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Renny “Cutthroat Island” Harlin was brought in to helm this slick and glossy re-envisioned Freddy picture. How ironic that he would later become the nightmare of so many Hollywood producers who could never quite understand that if you keep hiring someone who consistently loses you money, you’ll keep consistently losing money.

Anyhow, there’s no question that the effects in this one are some of the best of the series, particularly a sequence involving a possessed fire-pissing hell dog that literally urinates Freddy’s remains back to life in a junkyard. You’d think the script would be a little bit better, being that the film was the first by Academy Award-winning writer Brian Helgeland who wrote LA Confidential and Mystic River, but no. It’s horrible.

Freddy’s not the only one to return, as we also have Joey and Kincaid–the two surviving Dream Warriors–back again to help out Kristen… who was also in Part Three, but is now played by Tuesday Knight instead of Patricia Arquette. No one seems to care, however, mainly because they don’t have time: these three returning characters soon lose their lives and souls to Freddy who, along with everyone else, doesn’t notice that star-cross’d Springwood has miraculously repopulated itself with bevies of buxom babes who, as usual, have all forgotten or chosen to ignore the fact that there have been countless gruesome murders here over the past four years.

Now it’s Freddy versus Dream Master Alice Johnson, played by Lisa Wilcox. Alice has some kind of confusing dream controlling power. I really couldn’t follow what made her a “dream master,” but it was fun to see her jump into a black-and-white movie a la Sherlock Jr. Also helping the medicine go down is the famed, ghoulishly delicious sequence in which Freddy, grabbing a bite at the “Crave Inn,” pokes out the heads of his lost souls on a pizza.

You know what did not help, however? That whole sequence in which Alice and her boyfriend kept going around in circles with their car. This might’ve been a fantastic concept, but executed, it was really aggravating and made me want to fast-forward the film to its conclusion… but, I had to stay strong. As strong as Alice, who beat Freddy by, uh, realizing he wasn’t real or something, thus closing the dream door on him for good. Or, you know, until the next film. Freddy is eternal… at least until the grosses went down. Which they did, relatively, after this, the highest grossing of all the Nightmare films (not including Freddy vs. Jason, which may have been slated as Nightmare on Elm Street 8, but is not included here because we just wouldn’t have been able to handle it.)


A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child
(1989)
*
Freddy’s Revenge may be the outright worst of the series, but this one’s just plain

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boring. The Dream Child must be the most flat and dull of the series, with sequences that would simply not die. I believe 20 minutes went by, and only two sequences had been played out. Someone needed to do a bit of slicing of their own on this one, directed by Stephen Hopkins (Blown Away, Judgment Night, The Ghost and the Darkness).

Lisa Wilcox is the one to return this time, back again as Alice Johnson who I don’t think is the Dream Master anymore. But, you can never be sure. Equally befuddling is the fact that the producers seemed to have forgotten the whole trope of the series in which Freddy can only come out in people’s dreams, when they are asleep. I believe it was some time around the middle of the third one where they ostensibly just threw that whole idea out the window and decided, “Fuck it. Have him come in whenever we need a fright beat. Why not?” Of course, to rag on these guys for artistic integrity or even some semblance of continuity would be akin to saying, “Hey Adolf, I know we all gotta dress the same here, but the material your guys have chosen for our uniforms is frickin’ heavy and I really want to wear Hawaiian shirts again, you know?”

I will hand it to the makers of Dream Child, however: they finally figured out how to make Freddy’s metal claws scraping across walls really sound scary. I admit that the sound effect they use in the first film is kinda scary, but it really sounds more like a squealing mouse or a train whistle than anything else. Now we get a full-fledged metal on metal scraping sound that really makes one’s flesh crawl.

Costing only six million to Dream Master‘s five, this installment still made quite a hefty amount–$16m–but nowhere near the last flick. Clearly, Freddy’s power was already dissipating by this point. I’d say, in fact, that the makers of this picture would be the only ones Freddy would kill: they really made him a frail, enfeebled, bungling clown who could seemingly be easily taken out throughout this one. And with a completely random Kool Moe Dee song as ending credit music, it’s clear audience members weren’t the only ones who were beginning to no longer give a damn about Freddy Krueger.

Fun film fact: both Stephen King and Frank Miller were offered the chance to write and direct this one. Smart guys.


Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare

***
Corman-schooled Rachel Talalay, one of the producers from the first few Freddy’s, makes her directorial debut in this “last” (ha) installment, before moving on to Ghost in the Machine and Tank Girl. Written by New Line Cinema golden boy Michael De Luca, the film is also scored by able-minded Brian May who is not the guy from Queen, but does give us something that at last is rather hauntingly beautiful and… er, “rocks.”

The opening sequence (shamelessly lifted from Escape from New York) tells us that all of the children of Springwood, Ohio are finally dead… except for one. From there, we’re shown said lone survivor, who is flying away from his home to a place where not all of the kids are constantly getting killed all the fucking time. We swiftly transition into a nightmare, and then it’s a direct pastiche of Wizard of Oz, complete with house falling out of the sky and Freddy doing his best Margaret Hamilton: “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little soul, too!”

Clearly, there’s no question anymore: gone is the silent film horror villain from the original Wes Craven film. Now it’s just Freddy the Clown, Freddy the Laughing Buffoon. Oh well. At least they had some fun with this one. Heck, even Roseanne and Tom Arnold–in happier days–stop through Springwood for a quick chuckle. We’re even granted a somewhat shoddy but still interesting 3D sequence at the end of this film in which we literally travel into Freddy’s brain and go to war with him along with what ends up to be–sorry for the spoiler, folks–his daughter come back to put an end to his bloodbath. Really, with the 3-D glasses they give you with the box set, everything just looks red and blurry, but there are definitely a few moments where the thing actually works, particularly with the dream demons who greatly resemble the talking fish from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.

Alice Cooper also pops in makeup-free as Freddy’s abusive adopted father, we’re given a quick cameo by Johnny Depp mocking those ineffectual “This is your brain on drugs” ads from back in the day, and Breckin Meyer begins his career as a long-haired stoner who finds his untimely end in a videogame that even a Power Glove-sporting Freddy has to admit has “great graphics.”

In the end, Freddy’s Dead, even with its incredibly unsatisfying quick-fix ending, is probably the most fun of the series and the closest–though still quite far off from–in quality to the first. Making double what the last picture grossed, Freddy’s Dead is surely the one sequel of the series I would maybe possibly consider thinking about seeing again. Of course, had Peter Jackson’s draft of the project been used, who knows what would have happened…


New Nightmare
(1994)
*

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All right, now we’re just in it for the money. Still, though this one did make its dollars back–at least for production–it was also the lowest grossing of all the sequels, by far, with a measly return of only $14m from a $7m budget. Yikes.

The premise is a simple one, one that Craven tried to employ in the third film without being allowed by his producers. Basically, Langenkamp is back as herself, the actress who played Nancy. She’s joined by her fellow cast members, Robert Englund and John Saxon who played her irate and drunken father from Parts One and Three. Wes Craven also plays himself, some of the worst acting to date in any of the films–which is saying a lot–along with a few of the producers and crew members from all of the pictures in order to present us with what would happen if Freddy were to pop out of his films and come into the real world.

Again, an interesting idea but poorly executed. What we end up with is something that is a bit of a mish-mash of Lifetime Channel fare and Craven’s own struggling with the contemporary horror genre. Thankfully, he came back with guns blazing in Scream, but New Nightmare screens as more of a eulogy than a rebirth. Though Englund’s back yet again, we’re short-changed with a Freddy who looks awful and weirdly juiced on steroids. He’s traded in his signature chapeau for an early Columbine-style black trench coat and is, I swear, wearing Jim Morrison black and tight leather pants.

Why they made these changes, we’ll never know. But, on the film rolls, interweaving a storyline that happened to Langenkamp in real life: apparently, she was actually stalked by someone in a similar fashion as this film’s premise, and Craven had to ask her permission to use said thread in his script. The idea of constant LA earthquakes was also eerily real, as only a few weeks after production, the big earthquake that hit Northridge happened.

Freddy has decided to come out into the real world and stalk Heather, with son played by the adorable “Boys have a penis, girls have a vagina” boy from Kindergarten Cop, and now Heather has only one thing she can do: keep going back to her fellow cast mates Englund and Saxon, who are apparently her only friends in the world for some reason. Throughout, there’s a lot of over-the-top religious subtext (“God wouldn’t take me,” says Heather’s son after trying to jump off of a towering playground toy), and there’s much too much here about Heather’s own psychological journey. Is that really what we’re looking for in a movie with a dream monster with claws?

Oh well. In conclusion, they finally do it: they kill Freddy… again… by burning him… again. Though I may miss the loveable guy, I’ll certainly never miss his filmed antics.

Springwood High Honor Roll
Best Film: A Nightmare on Elm Street
Worst Film: Freddy’s Revenge
Best Actor: Hell Dog, The Dream Master
Worst Actor: Mark Patton, Freddy’s Revenge
Worst Freddy Entrance: Blowing up out of sand castle, The Dream Master
Most Likely to be an 80’s MTV VJ: Joe Seely, The Dream Child
Most Likely to Succeed: Johnny Depp, A Nightmare on Elm Street
Best Music: The Dream Master
Most Alcoholic Mom: Nancy’s Mom, A Nightmare on Elm Street
Least Understanding Father: Nancy’s Father, A Nightmare on Elm Street/Dream Warriors
Best Cameo Appearance: Zsa Zsa Gabor, Dream Warriors (Honorable Mention: Wally George, The Dream Child)
Worst Fright: Nothing; scene where Alice turns to nothing and screams in The Dream Child
Most Gratuitously Long Intro Sequence: Graduation scene, The Dream Child
Most Masochistic Freddy Moment: Pouring acidic champagne on arm, ripping arm off, fusing arm to ceiling of truck, The Dream Child
Most Cliché Action Line: “Come on Krueger, this time it’s for keeps!,” Alice, The Dream Child
Funniest Quote: After reading a Freddy-ized map scratched with the words, “You’re fucked,” Carlos tells us, “The map says we’re fucked!,” Freddy’s Dead
Coolest Effect: Freddy torn apart by his souls, The Dream Master
Most Memorable Dismemberment: As Freddy shoves a barbell down on a struggling Anne, her elbows rip open, she turns into a Kafka-esque cockroach, ends up in a roach motel, and is squished by a giant Freddy, The Dream Child
Most Disgusting Dismemberment: Greta’s mouth is shoved full of what looks to be herself until her cheeks puff out horribly and she chokes to death, The Dream Child
Most Comical Dismemberment: Freddy slices off Carlos’ one good ear, runs around behind him in mockery of the boy’s deafness, then gives Carlos an ear that makes everything too loud and by scratching a chalkboard, blows Carlos’ head off: “Nice to hear from you, Carlos!”, Freddy’s Dead
Homecoming Queen: Greta Gibson, The Dream Child
Homecoming King: Daniel “Dan” Jordan, The Dream Master/Child

BY MATHEW KLICKSTEIN

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