Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Every day is like Tuesday


"Mind over matter."


After a brief stint in juvie hall, the next foray into the world of  Elm Street would take us out of the asylum and back to the 'burbs. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) finds Kristen Parker and her vodka-infused mom living amongst the common people of Springwood, Ohio. She’s got a groovy boyfriend, Rick, who is a master of karate and thrift-store shopping (Rick had that Twilight hair long before it was en vogue). He has a sister named Alice who loves her friends much more than she’d ever be capable of loving herself.  Alice has stringy hair and wears lots of layers; she’s prone to falling into reveries rather than confronting the issues at hand.  Rick and Alice have an alcoholic father and a dead mother, but at least they have each other.


"I don't spend hours working out to have some night-stalker beat me."


The sets are bigger.  There are more friends with better shoes, but don't be tricked - we've been here before.  The only business that's ever booming in Springwood is the local mortuary.  Even though they're well defined and purposeful, The Dream Master wastes no time in killing off its protagonists.  Unlike Friday the 13th films, Elm Street sequels are incredibly mindful of one another.  The X-Men motif of The Dream Warriors is carried over along with its surviving characters.  This is especially beneficial to mousy Alice.  Unbeknownst to her, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 is the story of Alice finding self-reliance.  Reality over reverie.  It sometimes takes seeing all her friends slaughtered by the son of a hundred maniacs for a girl to realize that she had strength, brains, and sex-appeal laying dormant in her all along - even that freak ability to drag people into her nightmares!   Alice is the Dream Master...how clever. 


"You ever take a look at our town's history? It's not exactly a safe place to be a teenager."


The cast of this movie is stellar. They genuinely enjoy each other. In Elm Street films teenagers look like teenagers, they don't look like fucked-out coke-heads (Sorority Row, I’m looking at you!).  The magical difference between these movies and their contemporaries is that the Nightmare films required more from their actors than just rock-hard abs and a vacant expression. Nightmare movies were witty and conceptual.  They were bombastic dreamscapes realized through meticulous production design and direction required actors who have an understanding of tone and context.  Thusly launching the careers of Johnny Depp, Cowboy Curtis, Joey Seely...


Twenty years later, I don’t know if you can fully appreciate the cognitive dissonance engendered by the transition from Patricia Arquette to Tuesday Knight in the role of Kristen Parker. It still makes me shake.  In addition to being super-glamorous, Patricia Arquette was the best screamer in horror movie history.   Hands down.  Patricia was a natural blonde, she was adept at making papier maché Popsicle stick houses, and she enjoyed Dokken. What’s not to love? Patricia fumbled through scenes with an emotional rawness that made the proceedings a matter of life and death, striking the perfect tone for a horror narrative! Tuesday Knight is not Patricia Arquette. Tuesday Knight sang the theme song for A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: Dream Master. I’ll give her that.


Plot convolutions aside, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 was onto something.  This film is by far the most imaginative and visually striking of the Elm Streets.  While not at all frightening, this is the most successful film in establishing the visual landscape of a dream.  Interior doors lead to exteriors that can turn from night to day with the blink of an eye.  Light sources pop from every nook and cranny.  Colors abound.  You can say many things about the film's director, but Renny Harlin is never subtle.  New Line cared about the quality of these films and it shows; this movie looks expensive.  Loaded with elaborate set pieces and musical montages (the soundtrack to The Dream Master far and away the best in the series), this movie walks a precarious tightrope between being clever and being in bad taste.  It's definitely not the most consistent film in the series.  Despite the fact that The Dream Master would go on to be the highest grossing film in the series, the seams were beginning to show.

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