Film: Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
Directed by: Chuck Russell
Written by: Wes Craven, Bruce Wagner, Chuck Russell, Frank Darabont
Starring: Patricia Arquette as Kirsten
Craig Wasson as
Heather Langenkamp as Nancy Thompson
John Saxon as
Larry Fishburne as Max
Tagline: If You Think You’ll Get Out Alive, You Must Be Dreaming.
By: Bo from Last Blog on the Left
Pre-screening memories: A Nightmare on Elm Street is an American horror classic. Wes Craven’s original chiller took horror into the dreams of teenagers, threatening audiences with a terrifying mantra: If you die in your sleep, you die for real. It was effective and genuinely disturbing.
Unfortunately, there was a sequel.
The follow-up, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge was done without the involvement of Craven, and boy does it ever show. Enter A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Wes Craven and Bruce Wagner were given a polish by Chuck Russell (who also directed) and Frank Darabont, and the result was a movie I must have seen a half dozen times during my youth.
There were images that stuck in my mind, mostly that of a wonderfully gratuitous nude scene and the Harryhausen-esque battle with a skeletal Freddy Krueger at the film’s conclusion. By the time Dream Warriors came along, I was already a horror fan, but this was one that found a place on the video shelf, recorded from HBO back in the old VHS days, and watched on many a dark night. There was something appealing about it, and I had very fond memories of the inventive uses of Krueger as dream villain in the movie. In particular, Freddy as a giant snake stuck out as a particularly fun moment, including the creature almost swallowing a victim whole.
I was apprehensive about seeing this again, mostly because I liked remembering this movie fondly. There is nothing more disheartening than returning to a movie that has so much nostalgia value, only to find that it has lost all its appeal, and you have lost a tiny piece of your childhood.
New memories: As I watched it as an adult, with more than 15 years between viewings, I reminded myself that even if it lost its sheen, it still held a place of honor in my memory. What I realized halfway through the film was that I was having a good time. The plot is clever enough: Kirsten, played by Patricia Arquette in a very early role, if not her first, is having dreams of the burned and malicious Freddy. What’s worse, Freddy’s modus operandi is to kill children in such a way that the kids appear to have committed suicide. Kirsten is interrupted before Freddy succeeds, but she gets some wicked cuts on her wrists that lead to her institutionalization. There, she meets a group of fellow Freddy survivors who insist they are being hunted in their dreams, but the doctors overseeing them, led by Craig Wasson in the role of Dr. Neil Gordon, aren’t buying it. In steps Nancy Thompson, the survivor of Elm Street 1, now a therapist specializing in dream research. Assigned to the hospital, she takes up the kids’ cause in an attempt to save them. More interestingly, Dr. Gordon is having visions of a nun who reveals the secrets of Freddy’s past and the method of his destruction. As he pursues the remains of Freddy, the adolescent patients discover that Kristen can draw them together in Freddy’s dream world, and that they possess special powers there, powers that may save them.
It’s actually a pretty compelling plot, not without some goofy turns, but it feels ambitious and complete. I’d be curious to know just how much Frank (The Shawshank Redemption, The Mist) Darabont contributed to the script, but it’s a decent effort and head and shoulders above the previous sequel. There are some downsides, of course. Heather Langenkamp just isn’t a great actress, and her turn here as Nancy is frequently awkward. Craig Wasson appears to be forever teetering on the brink of confusion. The kids, on the other hand, are pretty damn good. Patricia Arquette has a shrill scream that belongs in this sort of film, and an early performance by Jennifer Rubin as Taryn is also noteworthy. Throw in Laurence Fishburne as the kindly orderly Max, and the return of John Saxon as Nancy’s pop is a blast.
The effects hold up well, too, especially the creative uses of Freddy in various forms, the first time in the series Freddy finds himself morphing into a variety of guises to stalk his victims. The whole movie plays down the straight horror of the original to tell a more fun adolescent adventure. The themes of youth versus authority and faith versus science pop up, but the movie never feels distracted from moving the plot along to the fairly satisfying ending. The revelations of Freddy’s parentage leads to the best line of the film (“The bastard son of a hundred maniacs.”) and don’t feel like a reach, and the moment when Freddy reveals the fates of his victims is sufficiently creepy. Also, there’s a hokey reunion between Nancy and her father that ends in a nice, dark surprise.
I feel like Dream Warriors is one of the more successful sequels in the realm of horror, if flawed and a bit dated. The schlocky subtitle aside, the series could and should have ended here. It was a fitting resolution and offered real fun. This isn’t a movie I see myself returning to again and again, but every decade or so, it may just find its way into the DVD player to remind myself that not every film from childhood is worse than you remember, and that Dokken still rocks.
Find out why Bo still suffers from night sweats after so many years after Dream Warriors by listening to the podcast below, downloading it here, or heading to iTunes! (Welcome to team Natsukashi , Bo!)