7 Days of Nightmares: 1988’s The Dream Master

The Dream Master is the first Nightmare movie to be more of a sequel to a previous film than it is to the 1984 original. What will that do for its quality?

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Freddy Krueger is back again, resurrected by a stream of flaming piss sent straight to the bowels of hell, in perhaps the most telling metaphor in all of cinematic history. He’s ready to take his revenge on the past films, by quickly killing off the last remnants of their existence. And so begins the downward slide of Elm Street.

This film is an example of just how right paranoid delusions always are; people should listen to me more often. Shortly after Kristen demonstrates the sick pleasure she gets from calling Kincaid and Joey back to Freddy’s house, after they assure her how paranoid she is and how dead Freddy is, he does the unspeakable. I’m not talking about returning; it should be obvious by now that Freddy doesn’t die. I’m talking about going above and beyond the call of duty and appearing in two dreams the same night. Despite his year-long vacation (more than that, if the number of Kristen’s new friends is any indication), it seems Krueger is eligible for overtime – something he never bothered with before. In this movie, he dream-jumps like crazy, especially during the climax.

This is the last Nightmare film to (briefly) feature the stop motion effects that made the earlier movies great. Freddy’s return is, as far as I can tell, the last example of such effects in the series. It is also, at the end, the first Nightmare film to include the animation which drastically brought down the entertainment value of the next two movies.

Beyond that, the only real noteworthy use of effects in The Dream Master is the infamous Roach Motel murder. From “I believe in you” all the way through to the squish, the scene is a classic, and the effects are great. Beyond that, The Dream Master comes off as a lot more people-based than the earlier movies, with a lot less emphasis on the effects. Gore, also, loses a lot of its focus. The goriest kill in the movie (besides the roach motel) is Dan, and guess what: he doesn’t die! The Nightmare franchise has to be one of the few series where you get less gore as you go along. Many slashers started off with minimal gore, and added more as they caught mainstream appeal. Not A Nightmare on Elm Street. They started off with Johnny Depp turning into a fountain of blood and devolved into video games.

The only thing that really caught my attention with the acting, good or bad, was Lisa Wilcox’s change as Alice throughout the movie. She changes slowly, until at one point you look at her newfound confident attitude and listen to her voice and realize she’s not the same shy, quiet girl Kristen pulled into her dream. Despite the fact that other characters are constantly pointing out this change (starting with the relatively subtle change of picking up one of the victims’ smoking habit), I still think it’s an accomplishment; certainly more than many people would be able to pull off.

Another strength this movie has is its ability to actually be scary, which later sequels seem to have lost. The opening dream, despite its lack of Freddy, is one of the most haunting portrayals of the old house (complete with chains that carry implications all their own ). The scream when Debbie finds a fly on her food is convincing enough that the first time I watched it, I thought Freddy had created the fly. Scenes like this are indicative of horror that really knows how to set a mood. The first movie used a lot of ideas like this, twisting things to be scarier or more disgusting, and it’s a trademark of authors such as Stephen King.

On the other hand, I can’t throw too many compliments in the direction of writers who also thought that such a common phrase as “mind over matter” is a brilliant discovery. What’s coming next, “Slow and steady wins the race”?

To make my last point, I’ll touch on the ending. Alice’s preparation for and final confrontation with Krueger roughly summarized the movie. The only thing that rubbed me the wrong way was the betrayal of the jump rope girls. If Alice was so familiar with that rhyme and using it to control her dreams, why did the girls need to start it for her? And why did they? If I were Freddy, I would start looking for some new help, and quick. Kids these days, ya know?

All in all, The Dream Master was the last movie named A Nightmare on Elm Street that was worth of the title. While not as good as its predecessor and a far cry from the original, it’s still a good watch. If only they had gone that brief scene without the shrill annoyance of Kristen’s mother.

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