Back in 1988 the slasher film was nearing death. The meteoric rise of characters like Freddy Krueger was beginning to tail off and would soon take a nose dive, and no amount of snarky catch phrases could break their fall. Quality control had completely gone from the genre as anyone looking to make a quick buck copied the formula and churned out their own low budget horror. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master accelerated Freddy's disappearance from our cinema screens by focusing on set piece special fx laden death scenes and turning a blind eye to the wooden acting and non-existent plot.
The film follows the three remaining characters from Dream Warriors (the third nightmare film) as they once again face Krueger and his razors in their nightmares and he attempts to slice them up. Kristen still has bad dreams and, as in Dream Warriors, she can pull her friends into her dreams to help her, so up pop Kincaid and Joey to reassure her that Freddy is really dead.
Now this brings us to one of the main problems that slasher films began to suffer from as they ploughed on into endless sequel territory; how to resurrect the killer? At the end of each film, when enough blood has been spilled, the killer always has to be defeated by the irritating virginal heroine and, short of an end scare reveal which shows they are still alive, the next film will begin with a dead villain. The Friday the 13th series developed this resurrection into a fine art of comedy, making the killer come back in ridiculous circumstances (my favourite is part 6 where Tommy has nightmares Jason is still alive so he digs him up and stabs him with a metal fence post only for lightning to strike it and resurrect the killer). Nightmare 4 aims for the same tone but falls miserably short as Kincaid dreams he is back in the scrapyard where they buried Freddy at the end of part 3. Kincaid's dog pees fire onto Freddy's grave and this presumably washes away the holy water and allows him to come back to life.
Krueger wastes no time in hunting down his old enemies and dispenses them quickly in death scenes reminiscent of Dream Warriors. With her old friends gone Kristen pulls some of her new friends into her nightmares and gets them killed too. Kristen's friend Alice takes up the virginal heroine role when Kristen finally gets killed and continues the same pattern bringing her friends into her nightmare so Kreuger can kill them. Some of the death scenes are quite imaginative and there was clearly a big fx budget, one of the girls transforms into some kind of cockroach, another is literally sucked out and all the while Freddy quips away.
With Patricia Arquette off to better things they cast Tuesday Knight in the role of Kristen Parker and this was a big mistake. Tuesday is completely lifeless as an actress; she doesn't engage you at all. She is backed up by a bunch of 80's Breakfast Club rejects with a similar lack of charisma or acting talent and so the film feels entirely flat except when Freddy is on screen, played as always by Robert Englund.
This film also has little to do with Craven and was directed by Renny Harlin. It has a similar look and feel to Dream Warriors but the death scenes don't play out so well and the overall impression is that they had a bunch of deaths in mind and tried to fit a story around them. The whole sorry affair has a seriously daft ending which makes no sense and Freddy is laid to rest once more, until part 5 at least.
Amazingly this was the most successful Nightmare film at the box office but it never comes close to capturing the visceral fear of the original film. Watching A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master it is easy to see why these films slid into terminal decline. Scares and thrills are completely absent from this flat effort as the studio humped the life out of the Krueger franchise and disappointed fans began to look elsewhere for their thrills.