And What She Found There

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (Renny Harlin, 1988)

Popular culture relies on repetition with difference and there is perhaps no subgenre that is quite so repetitive as the slasher – the crime in the past, the discrete/isolated setting, the gender ambiguous and curiously mobile villain and their double the gender ambiguous final girl, the increasing number of unmissed teen victims… except here one of them notices that they’re dropping like flies.

Of course this begins with spoilers — three of the original children of the parents that killed Freddy survive from Part III — Kincaid (Ken Sagoes), Joey (Rodney Eastman) and Kirsten (Tuesday Knight — replacing Patricia Arquette, who has presumably gone off to solve the civil rights problem) — and these three have to be removed for the plot to develop. I wonder if this was an inspiration for David Fincher and Alien3? Meanwhile Robert Englund gets pushed to top of the bill and given more lines. Here he is on the turn from evil villain to Arnie-style quipping antihero. He’s brought back to (un)life by a dog pissing on his skeleton — there’s an allegory there if you look for it. The dog is called Jason, because we can do intertextuality.

This is more clearly a 1980s film — big hair, pounding rock soundtrack, rap interjected into the closing credits, ray bans, nods to Jaws and motorbikes, as well as calls backs to the 1950s and a diner with a jukebox and Reefer Madness on the neighbourhood cinema. In the scripting corner we have to blame William Kotzwinkle — a novelist who had done an ET novelisation and sequel — Brian Helgeland, who is showing none of the talent you’d imagine would produce LA Confidential (Curtis Hanson, 1997) and Scott Pierce (Jim and Ken Wheat, hiding under pseudonym). Apparently Helgelund wrote the script in a week. That long? They are clearly pushing the dream logic, as the characters’ deaths become more and more extreme. Kincaid is killed in the car graveyard where Krueger was buried, whereas Joey is drowned in his waterbed, seduced by a woman of his dreams, having not learnt from the seductive nurse monster of Part III.

There are plenty more teenagers Krueger can go after — an asthmatic moped rider, a sexy boy, a female weightlifter with big hair who turns into an insect… And then there’s Alice (Lisa Wilcox), Kirsten’s new best friend since she returned to the school from the asylum. Having watched or sensed her friends die, she finally fights back by breaking her way through the mirror; “Welcome to Wonderland!” cries Freddy, because by now we’re too brain dead to spot the reference. Having collected mementoes of her dead friends, she can imbibe all of their skills and fight back — and at last we have girl kicking demonic ass, in an anticipation of Buffy (whose filmic introduction was four years away). She (spoiler) wins…

… but the generic imperative wins out and we see a familiar reflection.

Lots of the teens here smoke — marking them for death — and there’s plenty of gratuitous nudity and more swearing here than the other films put together. Teens sneak out of upstairs bedrooms as if the film is parodying the genre. I suspect it is — clearly well enough to gain the highest box office of the sequence until Freddy vs. Jason (Ronny Yu, 2003).