Film Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

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Come on. COME ON! You know you have me with the third installment in the Nightmare series, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, when you start the film off with an Edgar Allan Poe quote:

“Sleep. Those little slices of Death. How I loathe them.” – Edgar Allan Poe

The third installment came a little bit longer than was customary. The first film came out in 1984, with the second following a year later, and this one broke the mold by being a whopping … two years later, being released in February 1987. And not even a full two years since the second released in November 1985 and this in February 1987. A nice, albeit belated, Valentine’s Day gift, huh? A little chocolate, a bouquet of roses, and Freddy Krueger.

What’s notable about this one is that unlike the second one, Wes Craven is back to help with the story and script (he wrote and directed the first), and just as interestingly, Frank Darabont (yes, that Frank Darabont of Stephen King adaptation fame, and AMC’s The Walking Dead). Plus, you have Chuck Russell directing, who did two of my favorite flicks (not of all-time, just in general), 1994’s The Mask, and an underrated one, 1996’s Eraser. What a stacked behind-the-scenes line-up for a second sequel in a 1980s horror franchise.

But that’s not all. In front of the camera, you have three franchise regulars return in Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger, of course; but also a returning Heather Langenkamp as Nancy Thompson, the heroine of the first film; and John Saxon, who played her dad and police officer Donald Thompson.

In addition, the cast line-up includes Patricia Arquette (notable for 1993’s True Romance, 2003’s Holes (a favorite of mine) and the short-lived CSI spin-off CSI: Cyber), who plays Kristen Parker; and a 25-year-old Laurence Fishburne (1999/2003’s The Matrix trilogy, the 2017-ongoing John Wick film series, and also was on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation for three years), who plays Max Daniels.

In my last review of the first sequel, I actually gave what is probably a hot take that I enjoyed that film more than the original film and found it scarier. Well, apparently, that really is a hot take since the film has a 43 percent on Rottentomatoes:

“An intriguing subtext of repressed sexuality gives Freddy’s Revenge some texture, but the Nightmare loses its edge in a sequel that lacks convincing performances or memorable scares.” – Rottentomatoes critical consensus

Whelp. This isn’t the place to re-litigate the sequel, but it’s a launching pad for this fact, per Bloody Disgusting: New Line Cinema, which produces the series, almost didn’t do another sequel because of how bad the second Nightmare bombed critically. This despite it making 10-times it’s budget of $3 million with nearly $30 million in box office receipts. Ha. Whatever, they were definitely making another one, and with it coming out only 15 months after the “bomb,” I seem to be right on my skepticism.

Freddy

That said, sure, they may have felt they needed to bring Craven and Langenkamp back, and change the direction of the franchise, which they do here in the second sequel, but I’m not buying that they weren’t going to continue cashing in on Freddy.

Well, something worked right with this second sequel because on a budget of $4 million, it again made more than 10-times t’s budget with $44.8 million at the domestic box office. I never realized how successful these Nightmare films were.

Anyhow, this one in the series is often considered the best, besides maybe the original. I also think it’s the only one besides the original and 1994’s New Nightmare that I’ve seen in full before tonight’s viewing.

Once again, at the beginning, one of my phobias is manifest with Kristin Parker running into the sludge as she tries to get away from Freddy Krueger. I have had nightmares before about trying to run from scary people and my legs just go in slow motion or, like in this case, I get stuck in something that prevents me from running fast or moving at all.

That takes us into the overall premise of the film, which is a bunch of suicidal kids (not actually suicidal to the extent of that existing free from the context of Freddy Krueger, I don’t think, but being tormented by Freddy Krueger) are sent to Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital under the care of Dr. Neil Gordon, played by Craig Wasson.

This premise then — that because of that care, the doctors, who rightly, mind you, are trying to help the kids and get them to sleep — might be the most terrifying yet. It’s one thing in the earlier two films where the teens are using coffee and pills to try to stay awake of their own volition. Here, they are stripped of any autonomy, and are being forced to go to sleep, and therefore, face Freddy Krueger! It’s madness and terrifying.

But the brilliant part, too, is that Nancy is back as an intern therapist at the hospital, so those kids aren’t alone, and have someone who understands Freddy Krueger, and importantly, what they are going through and trying to prevent. Plus, it’s a great and obvious (in a good way) character progression for Nancy that out of high school, she would become a therapist and steeped in psychology.

She also has a great introduction in the film, which I’m not going to lie, gave me chills. So, Kristin is flipping out because the nurses want to sedate her and help her sleep, so she has a scalpel and is fighting back against them. She starts singing the Freddy Krueger nursery rhyme:

One, two, Freddy’s coming for you
Three, four, better lock your door
Five, six, grab your crucifix
Seven, eight, gonna stay up late
Nine, ten, never sleep again

Only, Kristin can’t finish it, “Nine, ten, never … never …”

“Never sleep again,” Nancy finishes for her, entering the room, and shocking Dr. Gordon and the others.

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A hallmark of this series so far is that Freddy Krueger does some gross stuff. After all, he’s a child molester and serial killer. Poor Kristin, in one of the grossest scenes to date, Freddy Krueger turns into like a giant black worm and begins slurping her up. Yeah. Right? Fortunately, she’s able to pull Nancy into her dream, and that saves the both of them.

But we’re just getting started with this film. The last film had one kill and it wasn’t even gory. It was straightforward. This film is getting right to the action: One of the most disgusting and disturbing kills of the entire franchise so far occurs here. Phillip Anderson, played by Bradley Gregg, who is a sleepwalker and into puppets, is led by Freddy Krueger, the puppet master, by the veins in his arms and causes him to fall off of the building. It’s a gross and disturbing visual. As a teenager, this scene disturbed me a lot, but even as an adult, it holds up well. Damn.

Whew, I could get into a whole righteous diatribe about Dr. Gordon, in the way of the “suicide,” saying Phillip did the cowardly thing and “let all of us down.” But suffice it to say, so as not to derail this post, that is completely wrong. That’s like saying someone who dies of cancer was cowardly and “let us all down” by dying. It’s incoherent and ridiculous.

But again, though, you can’t blame Dr. Gordon and Dr. Elizabeth Simms (played by Priscilla Pointer) for trying to get the kids to sleep. Of course they don’t believe that someone is attacking them for real in their nightmares! Of course they want to help them get to sleep. That’s what makes the tension and premise of this film so brilliant.

To Dr. Gordon’s credit, though, he begins listening and opening his mind to Nancy’s way of doing things.

So at about the 40-minute mark is when we get what I would surmise is the divisive, no-turning-back moment in the franchise: Funny Freddy Krueger. Which, again, he’s a child molester and child serial killer, so it’s pretty interesting that he becomes known as a quipping, cool icon, but when he kills Jennifer Caulfield (played by Penelope Sudrow) by smashing her head into the TV, he says (and apparently Englund ad-libbed this), “Welcome to primetime, bitch!”

At that point, you either like the direction Nightmare is going or don’t. I personally don’t find that egregious in terms of making any of this film so far less terrifying. Even that scene was still awful and a horrific visual.

Once Nancy gets a chance to talk to the kids, we learn that the kids housed at the hospital are the last of the ‘Elm Street kids,” those whose parents killed Freddy Krueger and he’s making the kids pay for the “sins” of their parents. I’m glad they made that thread between the hospital and Elm Street, otherwise the namesake of the series is … tenuous.

The other half of what makes this a brilliant premise is that the kids who haven’t been killed off by Freddy Krueger realize the flip side of dreams: tapping into their talents inside dreams to be able to take the fight to Freddy Krueger inside the dream and together, hence “dream warriors.” But of course, as we find out later, Freddy Krueger is pretty omnipotent when it comes to the dream world, and he separates all of the kids when they come itching for a fight.

As an example of this that’s just sad to watch: Will Stanton (played by Ira Heiden), who in the real world is in a wheelchair, can walk in his dreams and also believes he has wizard powers. He tries them on Freddy Krueger to no avail. Freddy Krueger quips about not believing in fairy tales and then kills him.

Also, I’m sad to report that the gross tongue from the previous installment has made its return. Joey Crusel (played by Rodney Eastman), who is mute, thinks Nurse Marcie (played by Stacey Alden) is hitting on him, and starts making out with him, only for the nurse to turn into Freddy Krueger and a long, disgusting tongue goes down Joey’s throat. Yuck.

The worst part is, he can’t even scream in terror because he’s mute.

This is also the film where we get more mythology behind Freddy Krueger: His mother, a staff member at a different wing of the hospital where criminally insane people were kept, would be raped hundreds of times by those inmates. The result? The “bastard son of 100 maniacs,” aka, Freddy Krueger. That’s an iconic line from the franchise.

We also learn that the souls of all the children Freddy Krueger has killed give him strength, again, making him virtually impossible to kill.

If you’re going to give more backstory on Freddy Krueger that’s exactly the perfect way to do it: two details that are horrifying, make sense and adds (rather than detracts) from the mythology, but also that isn’t too much detail so as to water down the mystique.

For my tastes, the reason the Halloween franchise will always be ahead of Nightmare is because of scenes like the end here, where Dr. Gordon and Donald Thompson are attempting to burn Freddy Krueger’s bones to destroy him and … Freddy Krueger’s skeleton begins fighting them. Putting aside the special effects of this particular bit not holding up as well as others in the film, it’s a bit too goofy. To be sure, the mark of Thorn and psychic connections between Jamie Lloyd and Michael Myers get a bit silly too, but there’s nothing as goofy as a skeleton fighting two people. It doesn’t hurt the overall movie for me, but if I’m comparing it to my favorite horror franchise, it’s going to fall a bit short. As I think more about it, though, maybe I’m being too harsh. After all, the entire franchise is premised on the absurdity that can occur in dreams. Maybe if the effects held up better then.

See, these reviews are a bit more stream of consciousness than anything, as I’m arguing with myself.

I’m a bit surprised that they seemingly killed off Nancy at the end. Maybe it’s a way of continuing to take the franchise in a new direction with new characters to follow.

Overall, I still think the first sequel is the most horrifying film of the series, but I’m back to joining the consensus: Dream Warriors might be the best film of the series (that I’ve seen so far). Yes, even better than the original because the overall premise I’ve discussed is brilliant and horrifying.

One final note, I mentioned in the original that Langenkamp was no Jamie Lee Curtis. Well, she still isn’t, but I will say, she’s better in this sequel (acting-wise) than she was in the original. I found that she struck a nice balance between well-earned confidence since she’s battled Freddy Krueger before, and still exhibiting trepidation because, well, he’s Freddy Krueger.

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No, this is not an image from Harry Potter.

 

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