Monday, October 15, 2012

Final Girl Film Club - A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

Throughout October, Cody will be participating in the Final Girl Film Club SHOCKtober event with articles posted on a different movie every day of the month.

Today, Cody's favorite Elm Street movie.

Freddy Krueger is dead, buried, and consecrated. Unfortunately for the teenagers of Springwood, Ohio, the film in which he was killed off was a huge hit and boosted the Elm Street series into the international mainstream, so of course it wasn't long until the dream stalker was brought back again.

The way Freddy comes back in the fourth film is one of my all time favorite horror villain resurrections - a dog (named Jason) in a character's dream urinates fire on Freddy's grave, cracking the earth open and revealing the killer's body in the ground. That's awesome enough in its nonsensical genius, but then it gets even cooler - since Freddy has decomposed down to a pile of bones, we get to watch his body reform and the muscle and burnt flesh grow back onto his skeleton.

Freddy Krueger then rises from his grave and sets out to finish his mission to kill the children of the angry mob who burned him alive (for killing their children), the Elm Street children, but by now he's figured out that simple revenge won't be satisfying enough for him, now he wants to branch out beyond his initial targets and start going after all of the youths in Springwood.

Once he's managed to wipe out all of the surviving characters we loved from Dream Warriors, he can turn his focus to a new bunch of high schoolers, and again we have a good group of likeable characters to watch go up against Freddy, from bug-phobic tough chick Debbie and asthmatic geeky girl Sheila to Rick, who practices karate and has never found Kafka and Goethe to be irreconcilable, and his sister Alice, who grows over the course of the film from being meek and introverted to being strong and capable. As played by Lisa Wilcox, Alice is one of my favorite horror heroines. Dan, the boy Alice has a crush on, isn't all that interesting, but he's a nice enough guy.

Fittingly, since Freddy gets his best resurrection in this film, in the end he gets his greatest destruction as well.

While the first movie, Dream Warriors, and New Nightmare are the ones most often referred to as the best in the series by fans, over the years The Dream Master has become my favorite. Of Freddy's solo adventures, it's the one that I find to be the most purely entertaining.

The series was riding high after the success of Dream Warriors, Freddy Krueger had officially earned his place as an '80s pop culture icon, and this movie is a rock 'n roll celebration of his newfound celebrity. It's Freddy at his peak in the MTV glory days.

Freddy had become so popular that The Dream Master director Renny Harlin wanted his film to focus on the character even more, to let the viewers root for him and have fun with the kills. As Harlin saw it, Freddy was the hero now, "the James Bond of horror". There's even a piece of promotional art that reflects this idea:

Thanks to Harlin, the film is packed with style. He wanted it to look like the movies that were coming out of Hong Kong at the time and shot it like an action film, full of dynamic camera moves and quick cuts. And explosions. Lots of explosions. Harlin makes sure to blow up anything he possibly can, which has stirred up a running joke among Nightmare fans that may have reached its ultimate punchline with the movie The Final Destination, in which an audience watching a 3-D movie, actually stock footage from Harlin's The Long Kiss Goodnight, are caught in an explosion originating behind the movie screen. A Harlin movie blows up its own audience.

The Dream Master brings back everything that made Dream Warriors great and takes it one step further. Dokken's "Dream Warriors" theme song had been very successful, so Dream Master has a ton of songs in it. The dream sequences in Warriors had been bigger and more impressive, Master features more very inventive and memorable nightmares - characters getting caught in a loop, a boy imagining a nude model is swimming inside his waterbed, a girl getting turned into a roach, etc. The character of Freddy had gotten more humorous lines in Warriors, now (much like Roger Moore as Bond) he's got a quip for every occasion. Robert Englund says he was exhausted when filming began, but he never comes off as giving any less than 100% on the screen.

In the wrong hands, The Dream Master could very well have turned out to be a total disaster. The script was cobbled together by several writers - including brotherly duo Ken and Jim Wheat (Pitch Black, The Fly II) writing under a pseudonym and most notably L.A. Confidential's Brian Helgeland - and wasn't finished when a Writers Guild strike hit in March of 1988, so Harlin had to make up some sequences himself during production as filming took place in April and May for an August release. Additional photography was still happening just two weeks before opening day.

It could've been a mess, but with Harlin's style and efforts, the fact that the unfinished script was still a solid base, a dream team of artists handling the special FX, and a good cast portraying enjoyable characters, it all came together quite well.

The reward for a job well done in a very short and complicated period of time: The Dream Master did even better than Dream Warriors did at the box office and, until the release of Freddy vs. Jason in 2003, was the most successful movie of the entire series.

As the end credits play out, we get to hear a bit of the song "Are You Ready For Freddy?", in which Freddy raps with The Fat Boys. The '80s were magic.

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