Synopsis: Born the bastard son of a hundred maniacs, demented killer Freddy Krueger is back for fresh victims in this hallucinatory shocker co-written by original creator Wes Craven (Scream, Scream 2).
The last of the Elm Street kids are now at a psychiatric ward where Freddy haunts their dreams with unspeakable horrors. Their only hope is dream researcher and fellow survivor Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp of the original Nightmare), who helps them battle the supernatural psycho on his own hellish turf.
Starring Patricia Arquette (Ed Wood, True Romance) and Academy Award®-nominee Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix, Hoodlum) and directed by Chuck Russell (The Mask, Eraser), “Dream Warriors is both a horrific and hysterical trip!” (L.A. Herald-Examiner).
eyelights: Lawrence Fishburne. its nightmare sequences. its core concept.
eyesores: Heather Langenkamp. Jennifer Rubin.
After the debacle that was “Freddy’s Revenge“, New Line Cinema wasn’t sure what to do with its ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street‘ property. But the series was such a money-maker that they just had to keep it going. So they enlisted the help of Wes Craven, its creator, to course-correct it with a script of his own.
The end result was 1987’s ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 3’, which retained some of Craven’s plot and character suggestions, but was later adapted by Frank Darabont and director Chuck Russell. Subtitled “Dream Warriors”, this picture was an even greater box office success than its two predecessors.
This time the story is set at Westin Hospital, a psychiatric facility. Dr. Gordon is supervising a small group of teenagers who all claim to have nightmares revolving around a burned man in a hat and red and green sweater… wearing a knifed glove. But no one pays any mind to this unusual coincidence.
Then Kristen is admitted to the psychiatric unit and immediately bonds with Nancy (from the first movie), who is now an intern there. They become allies in trying to ward off Freddy before he kills all of the teenagers. Meanwhile, Nancy tries to convince a skeptical Dr. Gordon that the threat is very real.
Without a doubt, ‘ANOES3’ is a significant improvement over the second installment in the franchise: for one, it has a proper plot, something “Freddy’s Revenge” could hardly boast. Secondly, it somewhat returns the series to its roots, with sleep and dreaming being the central elements of its horror.
Unfortunately, I doesn’t benefit from the element of surprise as the original did; we already know what the series’ gimmick is. Further to that, it doesn’t blur the lines between reality and fantasy as cleverly (if at all!); whereas Craven frequently left his audience guessing, Russell knows no such subtlety.
Having said this, there are nonetheless some remarkable nightmare sequences in “Dream Warriors”, mostly due to their set design and overall aesthetic. The most notable ones are set in a dilapidated version of the Thompson house, in which children play and Freddy lurks; it has a Burtonesque quality.
However, the other sequences aren’t especially chilling. The series had by then taken on a nearly-PG 13 Grand Gignol quality that negates its dark origins; one gets the impression that the filmmakers wanted to be macabre without actually offending its audiences. So they made jokes out of most scenes.
A perfect example of this is the sequence in which Taryn confronts Freddy in a dark alley. Tapping into her hard-won sobriety, Freddy opens up track marks on her arms and offers syringes on each of his fingers. Sadly, this devastating psychic nightmare is decimated by the little open mouths on her arms.
It’s an intriguing, grotesque, but ultimately silly, moment.
Similarly, there’s a scene in which a tricycle rides into Kristen’s room, leaving trails of blood in its path. The next thing she knows, she’s back at the creepy house, finds a ghoulish buffet on the dinner table, is assailed by weird occurrences… only to be swallowed whole by a wholly ridiculous Freddy worm.
WTF… way to spoil a moment, folks!
The one that runs it for me, however, is when Jennifer is trying to stay awake all night, burning a cigarette on her arm and watching TV. Then Freddy takes over for Dick Cavett, kills his guest Zsa Zsa Gabor, extends metallic arms out of the wall-mounted TV, grabs Jennifer an smashes her head into the screen.
“Welcome to primetime, bitch!”, Freddy’s protruding head shouts.
The problem with this scene is that it’s really silly-looking, what with the arms and Jennifer just hanging from the telly, with her head wedged into the screen. Perhaps the humour was intentional, but it threw me off. The fact that no one at the hospital wonders about her odd demise makes it even worse.
Whereas the deaths in the original were utter madness, they weren’t farcical – they were scary.
Now, each death is merely a joke.
Sadly, the kills aren’t the only thing casting (!) a shadow on the proceedings: there’s the actors. Since most of them are teenagers, the caliber is hardly stellar. Yes, these characters were perhaps more relatable to most audiences, but the bulk of this lot must have been fresh out of high school drama class.
By far the worst is Jennifer Rubin as Taryn. In all fairness, it was her first role, but she still reeks to high heaven; every single line is delivered with the subtlety of a Humvee. The same can be said of Heather Langenkamp, whose return as Nancy would be welcome if only she didn’t have to act.
The only bright spot in the cast is Lawrence Fishburne, who has a minor part as one of the interns but who imbues Max with a smoothness, an effortless cool that compensates for the chaos around him. John Saxon is also very good, except that his cameo is marred by a worn out and near-irredeemable character.
One thing I found interesting is that the picture did delve into the no-small-matters of teenage drug addiction, self-harm and suicide. Though it doesn’t discuss these issue at any great length, just showing them on the screen back in the day was a bold move; these matters were still avoided in our culture.
There’s also an interesting subplot about a nun that Dr. Gordon keeps seeing or bumping into. She provides him with clues on how to defeat Freddy, and also expands our understanding of the supernatural villain’s origins. Unfortunately, the payoff was the old cliché of using Holy Water to fend Freddy off.
‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 3’ is filled with excellent ideas that simply don’t come together well. Perhaps it’s a question of too many cooks (apparently, Craven’s original script was different in tone), or maybe it’s just a product of the ’80s, which unfortunately infected pop culture with a galling corniness.
Whatever the case may be, the end result is a picture that’s visually appealing, has a spatter of substance, but unfortunately doesn’t have enough class or cleverness to make it noteworthy. Ultimately, “Dream Warriors” is a low-brow horror film that’s relatively entertaining – if you switch off your brain.
Unlike its progenitor.
Sadly, this would become the standard for the series until Wes Craven’s return in 1994.
Date of viewing: August 9, 2017