‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master’ at 35 – A Highlight Reel of Classic Freddy Moments


“I’ve been guarding my gate for a long time, bitch!” This is one of many wholesome one liners Freddy Krueger drops in A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. And when we’re here talking about the 35th anniversary of the fourth film of the franchise? He’s right.

And The Dream Master only gets better with age.

An inexperienced but hungry young director in Renny Harlin facing a rushed production, a producer (Robert Shaye) understandably skeptical of Harlin’s abilities, and a (very apropos for the 35th anniversary) writer’s strike causing the entire production to basically “run and gun” the whole shoot. Not exactly the perfect breeding ground for the biggest box office return of the franchise to that point and one of the most rewatchable films of the franchise. Yet, it happened.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and pretend The Dream Master was without blemishes. Matter of fact, let’s be honest. There are moments that leave you actively clawing at your own face wondering what in the dear fuck were they thinking? We’re resurrecting Freddy with (checks notes) dog piss? We’re killing one of our coolest new characters with an invisible Freddy Karate Kid bedroom brawl? We’re tossing super powers to each other “hadouken” style? How the hell does everyone just believe Joey got himself inside of his own waterbed?

Did she just kill Freddy with a mirror?!

Yet, Harlin and company just keep on trucking through it all. That’s the genius of The Dream MasterThere is no time to stop and reflect on the head scratching moments because five seconds later Freddy is a shark or a main character is being burned alive. Wildly creative death sequences paired with unbelievably gnarly practical FX work and a performance from Robert Englund that shapeshifts between cruel and MTV Freddy with ease.

Coming off the fan adoration of Dream Warriors and just before things became stale fast with The Dream Child, Nightmare 4 can feel forgotten when fans talk of the franchise. I can even attest that personally, when I think of classic Freddy moments like “soul pizza,” “let’s suck face,” “roach motel” and “beach Freddy,” my brain wants to attribute them to one of the more talked about films. That’s not the case. These classic Freddy moments all belong to The Dream Master.

Let’s talk about em’.

Roach Motel

From John Carl Buechler to “Screaming Mad” George (his actual name), there are too many names to attribute the appropriate amount of credit when it comes to The Dream Master. But every time I watch, I’m floored. Grossed out and floored. When Freddy takes Debbie (Brooke Theiss, whose personality and charisma take an admittedly one note character on the page and make her memorable) and puts her through a more gnarly death than possibly any other in the franchise – and arguably horror as a whole.

As Debbie is doing a barbell press, Freddy shows up beside her (with an awesome camera shot of his reflection in the weights) and pushes the weight down on her, causing her arms to split at the elbows. What happens next is actually hard to talk about as I just enjoyed a meatball sub, which I immediately regret. Her skin and limbs are ripped off and replaced with those of an actual human sized cockroach. It’s so gooey. It’s just so gooey.

Then somehow, in an absolutely awesome and creative way to use Freddy’s powers, she is caught in a roach motel in the palm of Freddy’s hand. His eyeballs look through the slats like a giant as her body and face get stuck to the goo inside. Trying to escape, she rips the remaining human flesh off, revealing a full blown cockroach. All this needs is a Freddy one liner and an (easily) top five all time Nightmare on Elm Street kill is complete; “You can check in but you can’t check out.” SPLAT. Yellow gooey shit everywhere.

I will never understand how New Line achieved this scene in the movie without being slapped with an NC-17 rating. It’s THAT gruesome.

Soul Pizza

First, Freddy taunts Alice (Lisa Wilcox) using her fear of never doing anything with her life by turning her into an old woman, still working at the Crave Inn. He then pulls out a pizza in which the meatballs are actually screaming, tortured mini heads of his victims. One of which is her recently deceased brother, Rick (Andras Jones). He forces Alice to watch as he uses the blade of his glove to slowly sink it into Rick’s head, pulling it (and all of its subsequent goo) off of the pizza and chewing him with a smile like he was acting in a goddamn Fazoli’s commercial.

”MMM, Rick. You little meatball.”

The entire scene perfectly encapsulates the versions of Freddy that came before and after. The cruelness of him slowly sticking a blade the size of Rick’s head into Rick’s head and chewing him as his soul screams while his sister watches is almost too mean to think about. The dichotomy of this and the wacky nature of the “Soul Pizza” scene is one that helped catapult the series from horror franchise to pillar of the pop culture zeitgeist of the ’80s and ’90s.

Beach Freddy!

Whoever created the moment-turned-meme that featured Freddy Krueger hamming it up on a beach wearing sunglasses deserves both ridicule and praise. Ridicule, for how absolutely batshit it is to take a horror icon you want people to be scared of and make him a rock star who eats pizza and hangs on the beach. Praise, because some-fucking-how it worked.

Somehow, Freddy using his glove as a dorsal fin and cutting through not only water but sand before boot stomping the main character from Dream Warriors into quick sand worked. What could have been the literal jumping of the shark for the franchise instead became one of the most iconic shots of Freddy Krueger to exist. It’s also such a visual palette cleanser from the neighborhood and boiler room scenery we’re so used to from this franchise.

Let’s Suck Face

Sheila (Toy Newkirk) falls asleep in class and Freddy uses this as an opportunity to remind us of who they told us he was in the original Wes Craven classic. He sharpens his blades at her while making a disgusting tongue action before saying “Let’s suck face,” putting his lips around hers and sucking all the life out of her body. Her skin then turns into a deflated pool float that flops back onto her chair with a practical effect that would probably look silly in any other movie but it’s right at home in the Nightmare franchise.

It also serves as another quick but inventive kill that keeps the movie rolling at an amazing pace.

Speaking of which…

All Gas, No Brake

There are moments that work in The Dream Master and moments that don’t. Renny Harlin and company keep their foot on the gas regardless. First, we bring back the larger than life personalities of Dream Warriors (including the casting of Tuesday Knight in place of Patricia Arquette). Then….we kill them all. We’re introduced to a whole new cast of characters canonized by Freddy himself with, “How sweet, fresh meat!” who are each as loveable and easy to root for as the Dream Warriors fan favorites we’ve just watched meet their demise.

Contrary to what you’ve come to expect in most horror franchises during the time, these were good kids. Rick was an amazing brother and friend with a Christian Slater like charm and the hair of a punk rock angel. Who doesn’t love a guy who does karate in the garage while listening to Dramarama (as a whole, Dream Master also boasts one of the best soundtracks of the franchise)? I find Rick’s character underrated and feel like he could have just as easily been a main cast member of Empire Records. His character definitely would have preferred it. It’s a shame we lost him so soon and in such cheesy fashion.

Dan (Danny Hassel) plays the anything but stereotypical jock. Eschewing the expected asshole personality for a sensitive ‘aw shucks’ type just trying to protect these people he barely knows and isn’t even sure he even believes.

The same rings true for Sheila as it did for Debbie. Though the character is the one note nerdy character seen in so many other High School horror ensembles, she brings a likeability and a sweetness that makes you care. This entire crew of kids being from such different social backgrounds yet so friendly with each other makes you wonder if there’s not a Breakfast Club type prequel floating around out there we’re unaware of. Which is pretty cool to have in a movie where the script was such a nightmare to put together. There’s also the way Rick and Alice take care of their dad even though he treats them like shit. These kids were just so easy to root for.

“I am……Eternal”

While the over the top “mirror blaster” ending wasn’t the best, we were treated to a special effects spectacle watching the souls leave Freddy’s body afterwards. I‘m absolutely dumbfounded every time I see the full bodied naked human beings writhing around inside of Freddy’s body and the way the skin on the back of his head stretches backwards.

It’s not just effects, though. Dream Master will impressively jump from one elaborate set design to another with ease. From the for-better-or-worse spectacle of the junkyard scene, to Freddy’s spinning tunnel, to a look into his soul dungeon (reminiscent of the more recent look into hell Talk To Me just treated us to). The Dream Master is a movie that looks at times as though it were a hundred million dollar production. It cost less than seven million.

There’s just something about fourth entries in franchises. Movies like Rocky IV, Halloween IV, The Evil Dead, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. They all have one thing in common. They are entertaining as fuck. For better or worse, you can absolutely include The Dream Master in this conversation. It’s a movie I forever get excited about when I’m re-watching the franchise. Hell, sometimes I’ll even just pop it in as a one off if I’m in the mood for a little bit of everything the franchise has to offer. It’s truly all here. And we have Renny Harlin to thank for that.

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