Wednesday, October 19, 2016

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Warrior Trilogy part 1: Dream Warriors

Nightmare on Elm Street movie releases were event films in the 80's. The original's heady combination of slasher flick and dark fantasy had proven a hit for New Line Cinema and they were quick to build a franchise. The sequel, Freddy's Revenge, had done okay box office, but for many - including myself - it didn't really feel like an Elm Street movie. Freddy and the rules of the nightmares all seemed drastically different and, while an interesting movie in its own way, it just wasn't much fun.

That changed with the release of Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, which once again put the focus on Freddy and the Elm Street kids. It also ramped up the special effects and gave Freddy a lot more screen time. It was really the start of the more over-the-top, Freddy-centric nature of the later films. This proved to be box office gold, but it led the series down a path that ended up in self-parody and emphasized spectacle and one-liners over characters and story.

First step on said path.

The Medium
Some time ago I purchased the Nightmare on Elm Street blu-ray collection. This is actually the first time I've dug it out to watch these entries in the series, though! They're excellent, if not quite as good in either the quality or extras department as the first and last films. It's much better than the old DVDs, though, and can usually be found at a decent price.

The Movie
Dream Warriors. Admit it - the theme song is already in your head. This was probably the first of the Nightmare films I got to see in the actual theater and for a long time was my favorite of the bunch. Time has dampened my enthusiasm somewhat - the first and the seventh are my favorites nowadays - but it's still an enjoyable entry in the series and manages a better balance between story and spectacle than the later entries.

That song really does get in your head, though.

Nice to see Wes Craven's name on the screenplay, and I'd forgotten that Frank Darabont had also worked on it.

Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette) is sent to the Westin Hills psychiatric hospital after an apparent suicide attempt. There she meets several other patients who are experiencing the same issues she is - namely persistent and terrifying nightmares featuring a disfigured killer sporting knives on one hand. The kindly Dr. Gordon is sympathetic, but disbelieving and it's not until a new therapist - Nancy Thompson - arrives that anyone will listen to the kids, and even with her arrival it'll be too late for some.

I'd forgotten Patricia Arquette was in this, and the guy from Body Double. And Laurence Fishburne as an orderly (and billed in the credits as 'Larry' Fishburne)! It was also a great idea to bring back both Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon to reprise their roles from the first film.

Yeah, that's pretty much what I'd be doing too.

This is probably the last of the main Nightmare films where I'm really invested in the characters. They're broadly drawn and more defined by their character quirks (so that Freddy can more easily terrorize them), but they're still sympathetic and interesting. I also like the venue change - putting the kids in a psychiatric hospital rather than a high school affords a more contained setting and forces them to interact with each other in different ways. Less "he-ing and she-ing" (in the words of my old acting teacher) and more friendship and support.

Or support group, anyway.

I'm less enthused about the 'origin story' for Freddy. A nun raped in a tower,  the 'bastard child of a hundred maniacs' feels like something out of a much earlier (and cheaper) sort of film.

The big twist for this movie is that Kristen actually has the ability to pull people into her dreams, an ability that allows for the kids to (eventually) work together in an effort to defeat Freddy. The scene where she first does this - hauling Nancy into a nightmare version of the old house on Elm Street - is a nicely horrifying set piece. Freddy appears as an enormous snake and begins to swallow Kristen alive. Nancy is pulled in to the dream and stabs the Freddy-snake in the eye. He turns and, upon seeing his old nemesis, growls "you..." before disappearing. It's a good effect and the moment of recognition is creepy as hell.

Do you really want THIS guy to recognize you?

None of the supervisors at the hospital believes any of the kids, of course. That's part of what makes it a true Elm Street film, when the adults are essentially obstacles to the kids rather than helpers. After a few deaths Kristen ends up sedated and Nancy leads the survivors into Kristen's dreams to try and save her and another kid, Joey. At the same time, Dr. Gordon forces Nancy's father (Saxon) to lead him to where Freddy's bones are buried in a bid to lay Freddy to rest for good.

It proves more difficult than expected.

I'm always a little bothered when the rules of a series are broken, and the Elm Street rules - Freddy can kill you for real in your dreams, but only your dreams - are broken constantly here. Jennifer ends up head first in a TV set with no visible way for her to have gotten there by sleep walking (without a trampoline that is), another character being controlled by Freddy by his veins (like puppet strings) simply walks through a set of locked doors. Most egregiously, Freddy's bones rise up like he was in a Harryhausen movie and kills Nancy's dad. There's always been a little bit of that - Nancy dragging Freddy's hat out of her dream in the first movie comes to mind - but it's the blurring of a line that makes the stakes seem less important somehow. If he can get you in the real world, what's the point of trying to stay awake in the first place?

Avoiding this. Right. Forgot.

This is picky, though, and asking a lot of what's essentially a jumped up slasher series. And to be fair - some of that real world crossover is pretty cool (all the cars going berserk in the junkyard, for instance).

This could have been a nice end to the series, with heroic sacrifices, last minute defeats and resurrections, and the feeling like more than one spirit has been laid to rest. Alas, box office returns and studio bottom lines dictated otherwise.

Shoulda taken the blue pill is all I'm sayin'

The Bottom Line
Dream Warriors a fun movie overall, with great set pieces, decent characters, fun Freddy bits and it even manages some occasional scary moments. Something that would get harder to come by in later installments.

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