A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Sequels tend to be an inferior breed of movie, especially in the horror genre. However, sometimes, when you get the right mix of talent together, and especially getting the input of series creator Wes Craven, you can create one the most beloved films in the entire franchise. Freddy’s Revenge fell off-track with the ideas and mythos of Freddy Krueger, but this film, Dream Warriors, got it solidly back on track in stellar, awesome ways.
The last of the Elm Street kids are now at a psychiatric ward where Freddy Kruger (Robert Englund) haunts their dreams with unspeakable horrors. Their newest fellow patient is Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette) who has the ability to pull others into her dreams. Their only hope is dream researcher and fellow survivor Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp), who helps them battle the supernatural psycho on his own hellish turf.
From the beginning, you can see that this film is again embracing the atmosphere and surreal qualities of Craven’s original. It feels directly in synch on numerous levels. The opening dream sequence is very nerve-racking and visually captivating. The first ten minutes of this sequel is better than anything in all of Freddy’s Revenge. Overall, it features a great and imaginative collection of nightmare sequences that are all shot and lit in very interesting and moody ways to evoke mysterious and frightening feelings from an audience. This is also a greatly paced film balancing its attention amongst this ensemble cast exceptionally well, and moving the story forward tightly.
Bringing back Nancy was a stroke of genius, and it continues her story purposefully and smartly. She’s grown and matured to a point where she can truly help these troubled kids band together and fight Kruger and their own fears. Heather Langenkamp does a lot of great work reprising this role bringing confidence and compassion to Nancy. Teaming her with Patricia Arquette results in a strong pairing that work excellently off one another. Kristen grows stronger through Nancy, as does everyone, but she is clearly the highlight. Nancy fully passes the torch to Kristen in many ways, and Patricia Arquette does a truly standout acting job here. I love that this movie isn’t just about Nancy. It’s about all of these great, dimensional characters coming together to combat Krueger as a force to defeat him in grand fashion.
One of those notably great characters is Dr. Neil Gordon. There is a lot of heart and compassion in Craig Wasson’s performance. You can see how much Dr. Gordon cares for these kids, and even Nancy to an extent. I like that he has an arc of sorts here having his mind open to new possibilities, and growing into a stronger character when he deals with Donald Thompson. He becomes more than just a caring doctor. He becomes one that will fight for what he believes in. The subtle subplot with Sister Mary Helena helps evolve his character in clever ways so he can believe in more than just science to lay Freddy Krueger to rest.
Also returning is John Saxon as a much more down-and-out Donald Thompson. No longer a Police Lieutenant, he’s a drunkard security guard who did go into a downward spiral after the events of the first movie. It’s a stark contrast of a performance, but Saxon is such an incredible actor that he achieves it remarkably well. The progression of the character is handled with appropriate weight and integrity. This film takes its characters seriously and treats them with respect. Thus, it makes for a film with serious weight and integrity on the whole, which I really respect.
The rest of this young cast is absolutely superb. They embody each character’s distinct personalities with a great deal of dedication and talent. It’s a golden example of putting together a great ensemble cast for a horror movie. While each character has emotional weaknesses, they have greater strengths which are expertly bonded together to become the titular Dream Warriors. It’s also a great treat seeing a fairly young and slender Larry Fishburne as the upbeat and charismatic orderly Max. He is very charming showing great energy and enthusiasm.
Now, this film was where Freddy started to become a little lighter in tone and throwing out a few wisecracks. Even the low, deep voice is not consistently present, likely to accommodate that variation in tone. However, he’s still an effective, threatening villain due to Robert Englund’s performance. He still commands the frame, and has a great, imposing presence. While there seems to be less screentime for Freddy here, the fear of him permeates throughout the film, and the threat of him is almost omnipresent. The movie builds him up, and in a way, gives him more impact when he does strike. He is far more powerful than ever before, and that makes for much more elaborate dream sequences and scenarios. Dream Warriors also begins to unveil a little of his back story in regards to being the “son of a hundred maniacs,” which is great stuff.
With the imagination back in full force, the practical and visual effects shine through excellently. There is plenty of gore on display that is effectively designed to unnerve. The most memorable work, both in make-up and visual effects, are when Freddy uses Phillip’s own tendons to walk him to his death like a marionette, and the full-on Freddy serpent that attempts to eat Kristen early on. Even in the climax, we get some really good stop motion animation, and some all around solid visual effects composites. Where the previous sequel was very lacking in imaginative nightmares, this film is packed with them, and they all tie in perfectly with the story. They are all crafted with solid suspense and smart scares. I will grant that this film has more of a fun factor than the first, and that does require a little loosening of the horror tone. However, this movie still delivers on the horror and frightening visuals due largely to the excellent effects work, and the talent of director Chuck Russell.
We are also treated to a greatly shot film. The cinematographer uses subtle camera movements highlighting poignant moments, and the dream sequences all have great visual vibrancy. Shadowy blues are used for the more haunting or mysterious scenes, and fiery reds are utilized when in the depths of Freddy’s surreal boiler room. The look of Dream Warriors is not as dark and frightening as the first film, but instead, uses visual atmosphere to great effect. Director Chuck Russell really approached this film seriously, not deteriorating it into silly, indulgent territory, and how it is photographed entirely reflects that intention.
Dream Warriors also features some great music, starting with the score from Angelo Badalamenti. He works in the Charles Bernstein theme very well, and builds a great atmosphere beyond that. He reflects the tone of dramatic weight and chilling horror with exceptional skill. It is such a damn good horror film score, as should be no surprise from David Lynch’s regular composer from Blue Velvet onward.
And of course, the classic songs from Dokken helped break the metal band into a wide audience. This film entirely exposed me to them between Into The Fire and the title track Dream Warriors. They are two excellent songs, and they complement this more MTV styled sequel that hits you with more vibrant and stylized visuals. You can definitely tell that Dokken was involved early on as Taryn is wearing one of their T-shirts in her first scene. Of course, there songs are a small part of the movie, and it is Badalamenti’s score that drives the atmosphere and weight of the picture.
This sequel is the proper follow-up to the original. Beyond just bringing back Nancy and her father, this just builds upon the original core ideas, and progresses them into a very exciting new place. Nancy learned how to overcome Freddy in the first movie, but now, she teaches others how to fight him with their own set of strengths. Some do parish, but others live to fight in another movie. Wes Craven did early drafts of the script, and thus, had some creative input on this sequel. Regardless of how much or little of his ideas made it there, I think his presence is still felt. It is a smartly written film with a great cast of stellar young talents, and it still delivers on the scares and horror aspects. Certainly none of the sequels measure up on a pure horror movie level to the original, but in terms of doing what a sequel should do, A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors does exactly that. It expands the ideas and universe to have a fuller, more imaginative experience that entertains in new ways while still being respectful of where it came from. This is an undeniable classic to franchise fans, and is certainly one of the most well loved slashers of all time.