As with most horror franchises, the more sequels are pushed out, the faster they lose their novelty. It’s no secret that the ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ franchise suffered from this pretty early on, with some fans believing that the start of the decline began with the fourth film, while others believe that it began afterward with the fifth film. Although the first two films had a few jokes, mostly highlighting Freddy Krueger’s sadistic nature, they were still stories deeply rooted in horror first and foremost. To me, beginning with the also-excellent third film, ‘Dream Warriors’, the comedy and one-liners became more frequent, and as the series went on, the comedy aspect escalated, causing the series to lose the horror elements that made the first film great to begin with. They were embracing the character as an icon, and as such, Freddy transitioned from antagonist to anti-hero.
Regardless of this shift in tone in the later installments, there’s still something that I love about this series as a whole. When I watch the ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ films, I watch all of them, even the painfully bad ones – well, at least the ones that I consider to be the worst of the bunch, namely ‘Dream Child’ and ‘Freddy’s Dead’ – and for the most part I have a good time re-visiting them. There’s no film in this series that I refuse to re-watch; I just love these films, some better than others.
Before I dive into my love for ‘The Dream Master’, I feel obligated to point out the fact that I do recognize that Wes Craven’s original film IS the best in the series. There’s really no argument there from me; Wes Craven’s ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ is a horror classic that deserves every bit of love and praise that it gets.
That said, I rarely watch these movies in sequence. I do watch them chronologically from time to time, but usually when I’m in the mood to randomly watch one of these movies, I almost always go with ‘The Dream Master’ first, and then bounce around between the rest afterwards. Does this mean that I like this film better than the first? No, not at all. But, for me, ‘The Dream Master’ is the most re-watchable out of all the films in this series. It’s a fast paced and fun popcorn movie that entertains from start to finish, and has a visual energy unmatched by any other entry in the series.
There’s a charm to this movie, and in my personal opinion, I consider this to be the last great Elm Street movie, and I feel that it sits with the first three as the best of the bunch. As far as story goes, it’s not quite at the level of the original Wes Craven film or ‘Dream Warriors’, but I do feel that this film makes up for that in a lot of other ways.
The direction and cinematography give this film a jolt of energy that sets a tone unlike the previous installments, and enhances what could have been a flat and uninteresting sequel if put in the wrong hands. While this film, often described as the MTV ‘Nightmare’ movie, sacrifices the horror for visual flair, it succeeds as a sequel with its own unique style. The way its framed; the way the camera is angled or placed; the way the camera moves in specific scenes; the sharp colors – this film is just visually appealing to me.
Speaking of visuals, the effects in this movie are outstanding. Sure, Freddy being resurrected in the dream world by Kincaid’s dog, Jason, pissing fire is a little out there as a concept, but the visual effect of Freddy’s body reforming is a great example of practical effects. Other examples of great visual effects in this movie are: Sheila inflating during the “Want to suck face?” dream sequence; the “Rick, you little meatball” sequence; the moments where Freddy’s chest displays the souls of the children; the scene where Debbie experiences a metamorphosis; and Freddy’s final destruction in the finale. Although not related to practical effects work, I also enjoy the visual gags of Alice being sucked into the movie screen, and the loop her and Dan enter as they try to get to Debbie. These are just fun sequences that display Freddy’s control over the dream world in ways that we haven’t seen in previous movies.
The characters themselves are quite likable, at least to me, but this wasn’t always the case. Growing up, the two major horror franchises I was most familiar with were the ‘Halloween’ films and the ‘Child’s Play’ films. I knew of the ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ films and Freddy Krueger, but I never watched any of the them. This changed back when I was in middle school, when, as all friendships should begin, I accidentally kicked a soccer ball into the nuts of a classmate who just happened to be big into the horror genre, and after apologizing for my shitty physical prowess and aim, we soon became pals. This now-long-time friend of mine just so happened to have the old VHS box set collection, the one where each case of the seven films formed a picture of Freddy on the sides, and curious to watch them, I borrowed each film knowing very little aside from Freddy’s character design and weapon of choice. I first watched these films in order, one per day, and instantly fell in love. Riding from the high of ‘Dream Warriors’, I was pleasantly surprised to see the surviving characters, Kristen, Kincaid and Joey return – and was a little taken back when they each died early on in this movie. One big pet peeve of mine is when a surviving character is killed off early in the next installment, and because these three were very likable characters from the previous entry (aside from one of them being a noticeably different replacement actress), I was a little bummed that they were taken out so early in favor of these new characters.
The more I’ve re-watched this movie, however, the more my opinions have changed. In a way I feel like this movie gets a lot better and a lot more interesting without the three remaining Dream Warriors in the picture. Don’t get me wrong, I still like those characters and it’s a shame to see them go – and I often wonder about what the movie would have been like if Patricia Arquette reprised her role (nothing against actress Tuesday Knight, by the way. I just easily get annoyed by recasting, as I feel that recasting’s usually makes sequels feel less seamless.) – but I found myself liking Alice, Rick, Dan, Debbie, and Sheila. They’re not spectacularly written characters with layered development, but I feel like once the movie focuses on Alice, the movie itself becomes more focused and finds its own identity within the franchise.
I am particularly fond of Alice Johnson, played by Lisa Wilcox, who is my favorite “Final Girl” in horror cinema, which may come as a shock to my friends who primarily know me for my love of the ‘Halloween’ films, but there’s something about Alice that I latch onto more so than any other horror character. She begins as this meek and shy day dreamer who evolves into a confident dream warrior herself, taking on the specific traits each of her friends possess as they die. Lisa Wilcox delivers on this transition of the character and is totally believable. I will actually dare to say that I like Alice as a character more so than Nancy Thompson.
It should go without saying that Robert Englund is amazing as Freddy Krueger, but I’m just going to go ahead and say it: Robert Englund is amazing as Freddy Krueger, not only with his body language, but also with the personality he brings to the character. It’s his performance that gives this character and these movies life, and he is especially great in this movie, where he has a lot of more fun things to do and say.
The bottom line here: I love this movie. It’s not a horror classic by any means, and it’s far from perfect, but it’s a movie I can throw on anytime and still have fun with it, and in my opinion, it’s not nearly as bad as some people make it out to be.
If I was to rank this film with the rest of the series, excluding Freddy vs Jason and the 2010 remake, this is how it would place:
- A Nightmare on Elm Street
- A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
- A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors
- A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
- Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
- A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
- Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare
So how do you feel about this film? Do you consider this to be the one that started the series decline? Or do you feel that it stands as one of the better entries in the series? Be sure to let us know!