As you’re all no doubt aware Halloween is just around the corner, barreling down on us like some sort of annual happening and I’ve had the big telly all to my self for a couple of days. I’ve used this time constructively by re-watching the first five Nightmare on Elm Street movies.
The thing about being a fan of a certain type of horror movie which was popular during the 70’s and 80’s is sometimes I have to be slightly apologetic, something along the lines of “Yes I know the script, acting, directing etc are awful but…” One of the exceptions to this rule I believe is Nightmare on Elm Street, part 3: The Dream Warriors, now if you’ve got a minute or two take a seat and I’m going to tell you why.
By way of pre-text, when it comes to Nightmare sequels it’s this “Pretend Part 2 never existed (Like Indie 4, or Star Wars 1 through 3).” It’s a pretty poor movie which ignores a lot of the lore created by the first movie. A discorporated Freddy Krueger possesses teenager Jesse Walsh to kill for him in the waking world rather than doing the killing himself in the dream world. Critics hated it, Wes Craven hated it, fans of the first film were kind of ambivalent, no one seems to like it but it still made a healthy return on it’s budget.
Dream Warriors sees Kristin Parker troubled by dreams of Freddy Krueger, following a dream-world chase through the now derelict house on Elm Street where Freddy was originally defeated by Nancy Thompson in the original movie Freddy catches Kristin and slashes her wrists with his claws. These wounds are mistaken by Kristin’s mother for self-harm and has Kristin committed to Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital where she is placed on a ward with several other teenage patients all suffering from sleep disorders caused by a certain man in a hat. As luck would have it Westin Hills has recently recruited a young psychology who specialises in dreams and sleep disorders, Freddy’s original nemesis Nancy Thompson, she reveals to the patients that they are “The last of the Elm Street kids” and does what she can to assist them in over-coming their dreams and once again defeating Krueger.
Wes Craven returned to take on writing duties of Nightmare on Elm Street 3 after being unhappy with the first sequel. After his original idea of having part 3 act as a meta-film where Krueger invaded the real world was rejected by New Line (Later made as New Nightmare.) Craven’s intention was that this film would be a conclusion to the Nightmare series and end the Franchise (Which he had never wanted in the first place), indeed it brings together and then ties up many of the loose ends from the original movie.
Along with the return of Wes Craven, Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon returned as Nancy and Donald Thompson, they are joined by an impressive cast which includes Oscar nominee Laurence Fishburne and Emmy-winner Patricia Arquette in her cinematic debut. Robert Englund returns for the second time as series-antagonist Freddy Krueger riding the fine line between menace and dark comedy with evident relish.
Dream Warriors is the first of the Nightmare sequels to move away from the more traditional stalk and slash scares it’s genre in favor of the effect driven set-pieces of the later films although here it is used with some level of restraint unlike abominable scenes from later entries in the series such as “Super Freddy” or “You forgot the Power Glove”. there are some great practical effects on show some memorable death scenes including Freddy emerging from a Television to claim a victim and another victim being used as a living marionette strung up by his ligaments.
Easily dismissed through association with the later Nightmare sequels Dream warriors is my favourite entry in the series and probably my favourite horror movie. It does everything right, in my opinion setting the gold standard for both the Nightmare franchise and the horror movie genre itself. It is well written, thanks to the return of We Craven and later revisions by Frank Darabont with both memorable one liners and good dialogue. The characters are (for an eighties slasher-movie) well developed and believable. The practical and make-up effects are great and with the exception of some of the stop-motion work have aged well. The acting on show is well above par for a movie of this kind with good performances from Arquette and Langenkamp as well as possibly a career best performance from Robert Englund as begins to take Freddy further down the comedic path while still retaining an element of threat.
Unfortunately as the Nightmare series continued the set-pieces became more elaborate but also more slap-stick turning the character of Freddy Krueger into something more akin to an imitation or satire of the original portrayal before Englund’s final appearance as the character to date in Freddy V’s Jason returned some of the menace for one last hurrah.
While I’m the first to admit many films in the horror genre that I like and enjoy tend to be justified with the precursor “I know it’s bad but…” This is not the case with Dream Warriors I believe it is a genuinely good fantasy-horror movie which is since been repeatedly hamstrung by the diminishing quality of it’s own sequals.
By way of a post-script to get the most out of the Nightmare franchise consider watching 1, 3 and Freddy v’s Jason. three as I’ve already mentioned is pretty much a direct sequal to the original and FvJ contains many plot devices which recur from Dream Warriors including the return Westin Hills Psychiatric hospital and the use of dream suppressant Hypnocil, originally advocated in Part 3 by Nancy. Viewing of New Nightmare remains optional, It once again reunites Wes Craven, Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund and John Saxon I like it, many don’t.