DREAM WARRIORS is the most popular of the Elm Street sequels, the one that set the pattern for most of them and, to be fair, the roots of everything that’s bad about them. It makes Freddy a little less mysterious, less scary, more jokey. The dreams become less surreal and more gimmicky. But still pretty good.
After skipping out on part 2, Wes Craven decided to co-write this one, although his script was then rewritten by Frank Darabont (who would go on to direct SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION) and director Chuck Russell (who would go on to do crap like ERASER). I think the reason for the movie’s lasting popularity is Craven’s “dream warriors” concept. In the first two you had one lead character who has to take on Freddy pretty much by themselves, with only a girlfriend/boyfriend trying to help them. In this one Craven has a girl who for some reason has the power to pull other people into her dreams. So you have a group of teens all in a mental hospital because their Freddy attacks have been misinterpreted as mental illness. They not only share the belief in Freddy, they share the same dream world, so they can work together to fight Freddy.
Not only that but Heather Langenkamp returns as Nancy, now a grad student with a shock of white in her hair from her encounter with Freddy. She’s like Obi Wan coming back to share her veteran’s knowledge with these kids. And it’s pretty cool when Freddy is surprised to see her in Kristen’s dream. “YOU!” he says.
The genius of the concept as far as appealing to young people is that young people all like having friends. Even if they think they are outsiders they often have a group of similar friends who they think are like their family. They have stupid nicknames, they hug alot, sometimes they wear giant pants and clown makeup. Misfit kids travel in packs, they are gonna like Dream Warriors better than Nancy fighting Freddy on her own.
When the group sits together for group hypnosis or sleep and enters the same dream, it’s almost like a precursor to THE MATRIX, or even to the internet. They’re extending from their bodies to enter another realm with different rules. Another gimmick is that each Dream Warrior has one special talent or power. The quadriplegic Dungeons and Dragons nerd can turn into a wizard. Kristen (Patricia Arquette) can do flips. Kincaid has super strength. The heroin junkie has a huge mohawk and two switchblades (or as she puts it “in my dreams I’m beautiful… and bad.”
It’s a fun idea but it doesn’t make much sense. Why do they only have one power? Wouldn’t it make more sense if, realizing they’re in a dream, they all can do various weird things? In dreams if you figure out you’re dreaming you take advantage of it – you fly, you kill people, you drop everything and start fuckin. You’re not just given one power, you’re liberated from the laws of reality. You don’t just get a choice of do a flip or have a mohawk.
This is also the introduction of the ELM STREET series’ corniest weakness: the characters who have one broad defining characteristic that Freddy uses against them in a dream. So there’s a girl who wants to be a TV star, Freddy comes out of the TV while she’s watching it and bashes her face into the screen. There’s a girl who used to do heroin so his fingers turn into syringes, her tracks turn into little mouths and he shoots her up to death. The disabled kid can walk in his dreams but he gets chased by a giant wheelchair covered in spikes.
They’re clever scenes and the effects are great, but they’re too obvious to be taken very seriously. It’s way scarier when the killings are just weirdness from the subconscious and not a thematic dream customized for the victim like a caricature artist who asks you what your hobby is and then if you say baseball he puts a baseball uniform and a bat on the little cartoon body attached to your giant head. So one of the best dreams in this one is the giant penis-like snake with a Freddy head that almost manages to swallow Patricia Arquette. I mean maybe the Freddy head is overdoing it but for a girl to have a dream about getting eaten by a giant penis makes sense in dreams more than in reality, and that’s what we’re looking for here. And she probaly just thinks it’s a snake. So naive.
For the third time in a row Freddy comes out of dreams into reality. John Saxon is back (still a cop, but also an alcoholic and estranged from Nancy) and Craig Wasson (the guy from BODY DOUBLE who looks exactly like Bill Maher) convinces him to go find Freddy’s remains where they were hidden in a junkyard and give them a proper burial, because supposedly that will kill him in the dream world. But then the bones come to life JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS style and fight back. It’s great to have Saxon back, and everybody loves a good stop motion skeleton, but come on dude. Hard to take the movie too seriously after this part. Pretty fuckin silly.
Another addition to the formula is that they have to reveal more about Freddy’s backstory in each sequel. In this one you find out about his mother, Amanda Krueger, a nun who was raped by “a hundred maniacs” in an asylum, making Freddy “son of a hundred maniacs.” Which I’m not sure is all that biologically accurate but it’s been a long time since I was in school, maybe they have learned some new things. Anyway I guess her being a nun is why he can now be hurt by holy water and crosses and shit. If your mother is a nun be careful, please. I don’t want to see any innocent people getting burned. Only Freddy and vampires should have to suffer from that.
I like this movie, I enjoy watching it, and I do think it had a little bit of a zeitgeist type deal going there, it hit on something with the group dreaming concept. But in my opinion it’s not real horror anymore as much as it’s just some fun gimmicks. At this point in the series real horror is a nostalgic memory from Freddy’s carefree younger days. If you want to compare it to the third FRIDAY THE 13TH, it’s definitely alot more imaginative, more slick, and more ambitious (except for not being 3-D). But in my opinion FRIDAY 3 still has a little something that ELM STREET 3 doesn’t. Freddy said in part 2 “you’ve got the body, I’ve got the brain.” As far as dumb slasher movies go ELM STREET does have the brain, but FRIDAY PART 3 still had the body – the brute strength that a horror movie uses to lunge at you and make your heart beat a little faster. You can pick which is better, I guess.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.