A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

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.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream WarriorsNot 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.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 4th, 2008 at 3:58 pm and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

7 Responses to “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors”

  1. Bill Maher was awesome in this movie

  2. Don’t know where else to put it but I recently got the special edition soundtrack of THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, which could very well be Thomas Newman’s masterpiece. The film itself has it’s own special place in my heart, but the music is about half the reason why.

  3. The skeleton roars in triumph after beating Bill Maher and it’s hilarious.

  4. I’m a little shocked Vern didn’t like this more than he did (but alot can change in the 11 years since this review). I just rewatched it and was honestly blown away by how good this was. I’m going to say the unthinkable – I think this is the best part 3 behind Step Up 3D. It’s a “perfect” sequel that does everything a sequel should do – expand the story and concepts of the series, give us great new characters we actually care about, provide memorable show-stopping setpieces, and set the template for how the rest of the series will go. (Seriously, I think the criticism that Freddy turns into a Willy Wonka poetic-justice jokester instead of the silent slasher of the first one is a fair one, but it’s also like saying Step Up 3 is a betrayal of the series since Channing Tatum never got into a dance battle in Part 1)

    I can also see the complaint that it’s too slick and prepackaged, but after the DIY roughness of the first two, I thought the slickness was a breath of fresh air. It’s nice to have a teen horror movie with scope and ambition and creative props and sets. With sharp cinematography, a great score and a classic theme song. Plus a script that has structure and escalation and actual setups and payoffs (look, it’s not Back to the Future or anything, but I think this is actually one of the best popcorn 80s scripts out there – this Frank Darabont guy might possibly be a better writer than whoever it is that wrote Part 2. I’m just throwing that out there). I appreciate the ROTJ-style battle on multiple planes this movie climaxes with, but I’m mainly just glad that we finally get an Elm Street ending that makes a lick of sense.

    This actually feels less like a quickie sequel that came out 3 years after the original, and more like a Force Awakens, “20 Years Later” rebootquel. Not just because of the quantum leap in production value and the more mass-market, 4-quadrant crowd-pleasing feel, but Nancy even comes back Han Solo-style to pass off the torch to the next generation before being dispatched. Her death is a giant bummer – Patricia Arquette really goes for it when crying and cradling her dead body – I was actually kinda shocked how emotional I was at the end of a freaking slasher movie! But at least Nancy went out like a boss, fighting to the end and taking Freddy down with her. I actually want to just skip to Part 7 now and see if the Heather Langenkamp trilogy is the best “series within the series”, a la Star Trek II, III, and IV.

  5. Yeah, I must have been showing it some tough love when I wrote this. I believe the criticisms are valid, but I think of this as a favorite, which doesn’t come across in the review. And I remember hearing ads for this on the radio and I think that might’ve been when I rented the first two and became obsessed with Freddy and horror in general. So you’d think it would be protected by a nostalgia force field like people have for THE GOONIES and shit.

  6. I rewtched it yesterday (instead of doing the whole series, I just did the Nancy trilogy) and I do agree with the “This movie both elevated and ruined the series” criticism. But it’s the classiest of the jokey FX driven Freddy era. They obviously still tried to keep it scary, although with varying results. The marionette murder is maybe the most successful, thanks to the creepy stop motion puppet and the concept of being puppeteered by your veins (?) into a doom that you not just can’t avoid, but also will make you look like you did it to themself!

    I hate how some of the kids get dispatched in half-assed ways though. As great and surprisingly tragic the concept of her death is, mohawk girl really deserved a longer fight against Freddy.

  7. Yeah, I was thinking about what I would say about this movie, and then I saw Vern’s opener: “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.”

    That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. This film definitely blows out and expands into a Freddy-verse and is interesting in giving a window into Freddy’s reach as an entity. I also think the kids are charming, and the DREAM WARRIORS concept is pretty fun. I also though Amanda Krueger was good and creepy and mysterious, and I dug Craig Wasson, Larry Fishburne, etc. There are some classic moments here. Joey’s stolen moment with the nurse is a non-guilty pleasure. I also love the heel turn that John Saxon takes and his redemptive arc. I dig all the dream warrior interactions and cool Freddy set pieces. It’s easy anachronistic to hate on them on-account-a how they kind of milked it in the subsequent sequels, because it was pretty fresh here. Freddy snake; “Welcome to Primetime, bitch!”; Freddy puppet; Freddy puppet master; hypodermic needle-fingers Freddy; souls of the children in his chest Freddy. That junkyard.

    Someone was talking about Heather Langenkamp being so much better in NEW NIGHTMARE than in this, but I liked her in this when I saw it at least.

    Can’t honestly say how it’s aged, but this movie was clutch af in its time and pretty pivotal in me going all the way in as a slasher movie dude.

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