New Line Cinema recruited a barely known Finnish director whose only American credits were a couple of low-rent exploitation pictures to helm its fourth Freddy Krueger picture. Two years later, after DIE HARD 2 went through the roof, Renny Harlin was on Hollywood’s directorial A-list.
With genre stalwarts John Carl Buechler (TROLL), Kevin Yagher (THE HIDDEN), Screaming Mad George (PREDATOR), and Christopher Biggs (GALAXY OF TERROR) working on the many icky prosthetics and makeup effects, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER became the top-grossing Freddy flick of all time. It opened at number one at the box office and stayed there for nearly a month.
A dog pees fire in an auto graveyard, and Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) is resurrected to kill three surviving teenagers from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3. Kincaid (Ken Sagoes) and Joey (Rodney Eastman) go fairly quickly. Kristin (Tuesday Knight, replacing Patricia Arquette), the last surviving Elm Street Child, lives just long enough to call her best friend Alice (Lisa Wilcox) into her fatal dream—some friend, huh—and pass along to Alice her power to share dreams.
Writers Brian Helgeland (L.A. CONFIDENTIAL) and Jim and Ken Wheat (THE SILENT SCREAM) are more interested in spectacle than logic—the town barely notices the deaths of four teenagers in two days—and so is Harlin, whose visual style is clearly influenced by music videos. What’s fresh is that Alice also takes over various facets of the personalities of her friends that die, though it isn’t explained how this could be. So, for instance, when Alice meets Freddy for their final battle in the dream world, she can use martial arts skills acquired from her dead brother (Andras Jones).
Frankly, the narrative is a real—ahem—nightmare. Harlin and his writers seem confused about Freddy’s powers and motivations, and Englund is just phoning it in. I don’t think he has any dialogue that isn’t a cheesy one-liner, which does little to build his character or make him scary. Krueger is just a clown in funny disguises (Englund even dresses in drag) at this point.
While NIGHTMARE 4 is a creative bust, it was, as mentioned above, the most financially successful Freddy film and would stay that way until FREDDY VS. JASON came out in 2003. You can hardly blame producers Robert Shaye and Rachel Talalay for making number five next.