Kevin: In my review of “It” last week I briefly mentioned how lame Freddy Krueger would have been as a villain if, rather than killing his victims in imaginative and gruesome ways, he followed the Pennywise model of making empty threats and then letting them easily escape ad nauseum. To put that assertion to the test I decided to revisit the adventures of Elm Street’s most “problematic” resident in his biggest box office hit: 1988’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master”:
Not only was the fourth entry the highest earner in the Wes Craven-created franchise – opening number one against the previously released “Young Guns,” “Die Hard,” “A Fish Called Wanda,” and “Cocktail” – but it’s also notable for its pedigree behind the camera: Co-written by future Oscar winner Brian “L.A. Confidential” Helgeland and directed by future “Cliffhanger” helmer Renny Harlin, whose work on this film was considered impressive enough to put him in the director’s chair for “Die Hard 2.” Harlin also directed “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane” right after this as well, so it’s possible that without “Nightmare on Elm Street 4” we wouldn’t have such landmark cultural treasures as the David Fincher-directed video for Billy Idol’s “Cradle of Love,” Andrew Dice Clay hiding out in the sorority of every boy’s fantasies, and Ed O’Neill singing “Booty Time”:
But getting back to Freddy, the fourth chapter picks up shortly after the events of “Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors,” which ended with Krueger being defeated and his remains consecrated and buried for all eternity. But since you can’t keep a dependable box-office-earning villain down, Freddy is resurrected after a dog pisses fire on his grave. Seriously that’s about as much of an explanation as you’re going to get, but who cares, all that matters is our main man Freddy is back!:
Now while his first kill of returning cast member Kincaid is pretty basic (stabbing him in the stomach), Freddy gets much more creative when he lures his next victim to his doom with a naked model and that most ‘80s of inventions, the water bed:
As you can see from his “How’s this for a wet dream?” line, “Nightmare on Elm Street 4” doubles down on the trend in the series of turning Freddy into a pun-loving Borscht Belt comic (“Why don’t you reach out and cut someone?”). No one loves Freddy’s jokes more than he does though, as most of his dialogue in this movie consists of “Ha ha ha ha!” or “Hee hee hee hee!” I still have no idea why the hell Freddy says this while drowning poor Joey:
Later Freddy finishes off Lisa, the last of the survivors from Part 3 and the last surviving child of the parents who burned Freddy to death in his home. Now that he has finally gotten his revenge you’d think Freddy would be done killing, but like a highly paid columnist at a failing newspaper, he has to find new ways to justify his job, so Freddy just moves on to killing high schoolers he has no connection with just to be a dick I guess. First though we see probably the scariest thing in the entire “Nightmare” series, and way more terrifying than anything Pennywise could conjure up: Robert Englund in drag.
I’m guessing the filmmakers saw the nightmare fuel that was Gene Simmons in drag in “Never Too Young to Die” …
… and figured they could top it with Englund in a wig and nurse’s outfit, and they were right! Although I don’t know what is creepier, Robert Englund as a woman or his big hairy manicured hand caressing Lisa’s face:
Either way Freddy then moves on to book-loving nerd Sheila, who if this had been released today would have the same annoying fan base as Barb from “Stranger Things.” Now you’d think if he was really going to exploit her greatest fear he would give her nightmares about flunking out and enrolling in junior college, but I guess Freddy just assumes that making out with Robert Englund is at the top of everyone’s fear list, and he’s probably right:
After killing new Final Girl Alice’s brother in a karate inspired dream, Freddy really ups his game and shows why he is way more creative than Pennywise in the nightmare department. First, after confronting Alice with her greatest fear (working as a diner waitress forever!) …
… Freddy presents his favorite meal: a sausage pizza made up of the souls of his victims. The only way that would be more fucked up is if he liked pineapple on his pizza too:
However, Freddy saves his creepiest and most gruesome kill in the movie – and possibly the series – for cockroach-hating Debbie at the end. Not only does he turn her into a cockroach, but he imprisons her in Roach Motel that he proceeds to squash in his fist, while not even having the courtesy of coming up with a less obvious zinger than “You can check in, but you can’t check out”:
Now I haven’t seen “Nightmare on Elm Street 4” since I was a kid, but I’ve still never gotten that scene out of my head, whereas I just saw “It” last week and I can barely remember anything Pennywise did apart from constantly running at a bunch of twerpy kids and not ever being able to catch them. So sorry creepy clown, while your movie is poised to outgross the entire “Nightmare” series all by itself, you’ll never have the showmanship of the real nightmare-maker, Fred Krueger.
Thanks for joining the discussion, and to get regular updates on all our content hit the Follow button and check us out on Twitter.