MOVIE REVIEW : 'Nightmare on Elm 4': Witty, Gory, Best Yet

Times Staff Writer

"A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master" (citywide) is by far the best of the series, a superior horror picture that balances wit and gore with imagination and intelligence. It very effectively mirrors the anxieties of the teen-age audience for which it is primarily intended.

Typically, the special effects are ambitious and grisly but are in the joking Grand Guignol mode and are made integral to the film's overall visual bravura. Director Renny Harlin, his four writers, cinematographer Steven Fierberg and a raft of special-effects virtuosos have achieved a level of sophistication unusual for the genre.

As those who have seen the earlier films know, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) is a figure of pure evil who will without doubt remain invincible as long as he sells tickets. He's a child-killer, who when acquitted on a technicality, was burned to death by parents of his victims.

He's risen from the dead with supernatural powers as a hideous mass of scar tissue (with razor blades on the fingertips of his right-hand glove), and he's intent on revenge, striking down his victims in their nightmares as they sleep. To sleep is to die if you're targeted by Freddy.

There's only one child, Kristen (Tuesday Knight), left on Elm Street whose parents participated in Freddy's execution. But when her friends turn up in her dreams, in which she senses Freddy's imminent return, she is endangering them as well as herself.

It matters not to Freddy that these kids' parents had nothing to do with his torching. In essence, however, the film is about how a shy, lovely teen-ager named Alice (Lisa Wilcox) with a widowed alcoholic father gradually gathers the courage to assert herself in taking on Freddy--and in the process wins the love of the handsomest boy (Danny Hassel) in her school.

If the nightmare sequences are impressive with their Inferno-like images, the film's young cast is no less so. "Nightmare 4" provides Wilcox with an exceptionally challenging screen debut. Among the other youthful actors, Andras Jones (as Alice's brother Rick), Toy Newkirk (as Sheila), Ken Sagoes (as Kincaid), Rodney Eastman (as Joey) and Brooke Theiss (as Debbie) are all believable as individuals as well as typical teen-agers.

The few adults in view are ineffectual or worse, which of course is the whole point of this and many other youth films: in today's world, kids can only count upon themselves and each other.

'A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4:

THE DREAM MASTER'

A New Line Cinema presentation in association with Heron Communications and Smart Egg Productions. Executive producers Sara Risher, Stephen Diener. Producers Robert Shaye, Rachel Talaly. Director Renny Harlin. Screenplay Brian Helgeland, Scott Pierce; based on a story by Helgeland & Scott Pierce; based on characters created by Wes Craven. Music Craig Safan. Camera Steven Fierberg. Production designers Mick Strawn, C. J. Strawn. Makeup effects by Steven Johnson, Magical Media Industries, Screaming Mad George, R. Christopher Biggs. Freddy Krueger makeup by Kevin Yagher. Mechanical special effects Image Engineering. Special visual effects Dream Quest Images. Costumes Audrey M. Bamser. Associate producer Karen Koch. 2nd unit director Peter Chesney. With Robert Englund, Lisa Wilcox, Andras Jones, Toy Newkirk, Tuesday Knight, Ken Sagoes, Rodney Eastman, Brooke Theiss, Danny Hassel.

Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.

MPAA-rated: R (under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian).

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