Thursday, October 20, 2016

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: Nightmare on Elm Street 4 & 5: The Dream Warrior Trilogy Conclusion

Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Warrior Trilogy part 2: The Dream Master
Set an indeterminate time after the events of Dream Warriors, the kids who survived - Kristen, Joey and Kincaid - have been released from the psychiatric hospital and are enjoying life as regular high school students. That is, until Kristen starts having nightmares again - and begins to be afraid that Freddy is coming back.

It's always a bit distracting when a character in a series is recast. Tuesday Night is... okay as Kristen, but hers is a substantially different version than Arquette's - enough that it feels like a different character. Not that character really matters here.

Kristen is right, of course, and Freddy IS back, and still after the remaining Elm Street kids. Kincaid and Joey are dispatched pretty quickly. Kristen is next, but not before dragging her friend Alice into her dream. Freddy is delighted to have a new set of kids to stalk and murder - but Alice has absorbed Kristen's ability to bring people into her dreams. AND to absorb their unique qualities if they die in dreams.

There's actually a lot to enjoy in Dream Master, spectacle wise. Debbie, the weight lifter friend is deathly afraid of bugs and the sequence in which Freddy slowly turns her into a cockroach before trapping her in a roach motel is pretty epic. The final confrontation between Alice - all 'roided up on her friends' powers - and Freddy in a dream church is also pretty well done.

They check in, but they don't... oh, Freddy does that exact line? Okay then.

There's an idea introduced earlier in the movie about the guardians of dreams - the dream masters of the title. One to guard the nightmare gate, the other the regular dream gate. (The gates of horn and ivory, to borrow from Gaiman.) Freddy even has a great line, "I've been guarding my gate for a looong time." There's something interesting and possibly awesome there - a titanic struggle between supernatural forces, with Alice maybe locked in combat with Freddy for all time. It's not followed up on, however, and is dropped in the next movie.

Freddy is finally at his zenith with the over-the-top murder sequences and constant quips. He's no longer truly frightening and instead is a figure of sinister mirth, more interesting by far than the interchangeable teenagers he's set against.

Not sure those shades work for him, though.

Alice has a zero to hero arc which feels a bit unearned, but I do like her 'A-Team' moment of gearing up for battle. How she defeats Freddy seems cheap - a half-remembered line about mirrors - but it's better than being beaten up by a fetus. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Bottom Line
The series takes a sharp lurch in a downward direction here, with less emphasis on story and character and more (much more) on the effects and Freddy himself. Dream Master is still fun, and definitely not a waste of time, but the few moments of real interest are few and fleeting.

As a complete tangent - I watched this movie in the theater specifically because the story was co-written by William Kotzwinkle. Most folks may know him as the guy who wrote the novelizations of ET and Superman III, but at the time the movie came out I was in a play he was directing based on his book Herr Nightingale and the Satin Woman. I like to think he was the one that inserted the stuff about the dream guardians.

Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Warrior Trilogy part 3: The Dream Child
Not the nadir, but close. The Dream Child is a darker Nightmare, but it's just not very good. Alice is back, with the same actress playing her this time (Lisa Wilcox). She has a new group of friends, that I can actually (mostly) differentiate this time around, though the acting is generally poor. And Freddy, of course. Can't have a Nightmare film without him.

Alice is having nightmares (of course), but not about Freddy - at least not directly. She dreams that she's a nun trapped in a tower with roughly 100 maniacs. That's right, she's dreaming about Freddy's mother, Amanda Kreuger. Alice tells Dan, her boyfriend (and the only other survivor from the previous film) and he reminds her that she's a dream master, and can control her own dreams.

Therein's the rub, though. The dreams aren't hers, and they get progressively darker and soon she sees a monstrous Freddy baby born. She chases it through the dream until it finds the clawed gloves left behind by Freddy after his defeat in the previous movie. And just like that, Freddy's back, baby! (Sorry.) And Alice is unable to control any of it.

What's up with the long arm, though?

So, as usual, much of the film is taken up by the set pieces as Freddy takes out Alice's friends. They're... I don't know, they just feel cheap and flat. In fact, the whole film feels that way. The story, the characters, the effects. There are some moments that feel meant to be deeper - I mean there are themes of teen pregnancy, eating disorders, abortion - but they aren't used in any meaningful way except as set dressing, except for Alice's pregnancy.

Which is the big 'twist' of course - despite the title giving it completely away. Alice's unborn child is dreaming, and that's how Freddy is getting back in. On top of that, he's also feeding the child with the souls of his victims, hoping to turn the kid into a sort of Mini-Me of Freddy.

And why does a fetus look like he's six years old, anyway?

There's a nicely dark tone, almost gothic, in the film that I like. And an M. C. Escher inspired chase sequence that's kinda fun. Generally, however, the film drags and the set pieces are neither as epic nor as interesting as in previous installments. When the child finally turns on Freddy (more for plot related reasons than any character driven choices) it's a relief.

Bottom Line
Another step or two down in quality, unfortunately. There are the bones of a good movie here, but it all feels both heavy-handed and cheap. Freddy seems to be just going by the numbers and none of the characters are really worth remembering. If it wasn't the final film in the loosely related Dream Warriors trilogy I'd suggest skipping it.

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