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.
After the horrendous Freddy’s Dead, New Line Cinema was willing to entertain ideas from series creator Wes Craven on a new entry to the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. This film is partly a return to form for the series, but also ventures into a completely and radically new direction. The entire film is set outside the realm of the franchise in our reality. Many of the main characters and cameos are people playing themselves, to a degree. Heather Langenkamp, the heroine from the first and third films in the series, plays herself. We also have appearances by Wes Craven, John Saxon, and Robert Shaye – all playing themselves with some creative licenses. Robert Englund is of course here, playing both a more eccentric version of himself and the demonic incarnation of Freddy Krueger.
Heather Langenkamp lives a content life with her husband Chase Porter (David Newsom) and son Dylan (Miko Hughes). However, her sense of safety is compromised by a series of unsettling phone calls which Heather believes are from an anonymous stalker. Coupled with this is some increasingly strange behavior from Dylan. Heather gains little comfort from her former co-stars Robert Englund or John Saxon about either her paranoia or concern for her son. While she does not allow her son to watch any of the A Nightmare on Elm Street films, with her promoting the ten year anniversary of the original, she cannot escape its looming shadow. She soon finds out that Wes Craven is planning on making the definitive Nightmare movie, and that he has been plagued by nightmares of his own. It has practically become an epidemic as the same disturbing dreams have come to Heather as well as Robert Englund himself. Craven eventually tells Heather that what is haunting them is an ancient demon that has been roaming from story-to-story since the beginning of time, but has come accustomed to Freddy. Now, it wants into our world, and Heather is the perceived gatekeeper betweens the realms of fantasy and reality since she was the first to defeat Freddy. Dylan is a key focal point of this demon’s plan to lure in Heather. As all the elements begin to converge, the world around Heather starts to transform into the twisted existence of this guised Freddy Krueger.
New Nightmare is a creatively successful film that was not a financial success in 1994. I don’t think New Line Cinema knew quite how to market this concept in a way that was concise to an audience. It’s a far more cerebral concept than had been introduced into the series prior, but even then, it still requires a good amount of exposition to get a handle on. It’s very strange that at the time of release I had never even watched any of these films, and hadn’t spawned my horror movie fandom, yet. Still, I was entirely aware of this film while no one else seemed to be. Thankfully, time has given it the respect and admiration it deserved.
Wes Craven absolutely wrote an ambitious and smart screenplay. I think this shows a maturing of his artistic sensibilities. This is very high concept employing ideas that could not be competently handled by just anyone. There have been plenty of poorly conceived and/or executed reality-bending films, but only a special few that have done it with inspiring results. While that’s mostly true of any genre, this is one that doesn’t have as high of an output, and is usually only tried when a filmmaker feels ambitious. Most fail because they don’t have the right intellect behind them to pull it off without becoming pretentious, contrived, or fall into a style over substance trap. The films that do succeed have visionary filmmakers behind them who know how to convey the concept smartly and effectively. In New Nightmare’s case, it connects you directly with the characters, and invests you in their plights while methodically building up its premise with fine dashes of foreboding tension and suspense. It treats its horror and gruesome deaths with real human emotion and grief. These are real people experiencing real terror and pain. Thus, it increases the dread and danger of their situation with a heavy weight that an audience can truly feel.
This film is exceptionally solid while it’s not so much slasher horror as supernatural, psychological horror. Craven relies more on subtle atmosphere and a series of creepy, unexplained events, much like a haunted house story, to scare an audience. There is some gore, but it is only in a few scenes. So, on a slasher film level, New Nightmare does feel very starved for gruesome bloodletting, and that does detract from the film for me. There’s not enough visceral pay-off for the building up of suspense and atmosphere. Heather is truly terrorized by what this demon does to her life, tormenting her at every turn, and claiming the lives of a few people closest to her as well as traumatically manipulating her son. Those elements are executed outstandingly well. You can feel her fear and frayed psychological state increase throughout the movie. Freddy has very restrained screentime, which is a pleasant change from his overexposure in previous sequels. Wes Craven instead uses the screentime to intelligently and clearly setup the reality transcending premise before unveiling the revamped Freddy Krueger.
This ancient demon has decked Freddy out in a generous use of leather, and a frightening new glove of razors. It’s no longer rusted, but very shiny and skeleton like showing off Krueger’s burned hand. The new make-up design is certainly fresh, but still looks like prosthetics instead of an organic piece of burned flesh. It’s certainly better than the very rubbery appearance we got in the last few films, but I’ve still seen better burned flesh effects elsewhere. Generally, the redesign does give the character a darker edge which supports the premise of the film, and that this is not actually Freddy but a demon taking on his appearance and persona.
All the actors are as great as could be imagined. Langenkamp is even more beautiful here than ever before, and her performance is very true to the situation, despite its fantastical nature. I refer mostly in regards to the parent-child relationship, and how she does whatever is necessary to protect her child. Now, while this film blurs the line between reality and fantasy, this applies to the presentation of the people. Much of the stalking elements in the story were taken from the real Heather Langenkamp’s own experiences with a stalker, and so, there’s a personal element to this story for her. Overall, she brings a great weight of maturity and strong emotion to a role that was likely challenging for her to grasp. It was bold and brave of her to put as much of her personal life on screen like this as she did, and if it wasn’t Wes Craven asking her to do so, I don’t think she would have done it. On a related note, Miko Hughes shows a wealth of talent, and is really endearing. Most kids in horror films tend to be annoying or worse, but he managed to be very likable and endearing.
Robert Englund, as always, clocks in with all he has. This time, his Freddy performance is intimidating and fearsome. There’s not a wisecrack to be had, and he still remains engaging as a dark villain. His screentime is quite limited until the final act of the film, but enough is done throughout the picture to increase his menace and power. I know for a fact that Englund did prefer portraying Freddy as darker, but most directors preferred the comical approach. Thankfully, Craven brought the character back to where he works best, and Englund did a great job there.
John Saxon also returns in a supporting role, and I’ve always had a fondness for him. He’s just such a captivating and marvelous actor with a very fatherly or commanding aura about him. He always inspires confidence, and consistently does solid work. I thoroughly enjoy every bit of work I have seen of him. Tracy Middendorf stars as Julie, Dylan’s babysitter, and really comes off as sweet and caring. She’s definitely the ideal babysitter. I could easily go on and on about the cameos and solid acting, but to sum it up, the acting in this movie is wholly satisfying and exceedingly far above slasher genre standards, as is everything with New Nightmare.
This is definitely one of Wes Craven’s best and most modern looking films. Director of Photography Mark Irwin gave the film a lot of visual integrity, firmly grounding it in a dramatic reality. There’s a nice use of blue tones that add to the atmosphere that Craven nicely crafted. This looks like a serious, intelligent film for a more mature audience, contrasting the more juvenile sensibilities of previous Elm Street sequels. Mark Irwin really showed a great ability to artistically shoot a suspenseful film, and it’s great that Wes Craven used him again on Scream. It’s only a shame that most of Irwin’s filmography after this were comedies, many of them rather stupid comedies.
The story behind the inception of New Nightmare is also interesting. The concept was spawned from a meeting between Wes Craven and New Line executive Robert Shaye. He wanted to know, from Wes, what he thought was done wrong with the series, and if the company had offended Wes in anyway. Craven made a number of valid points about Freddy becoming a comical buffoon, and Bob offered Wes the chance to rectify these errors. I’ve always liked that cordial mentality from Mr. Shaye who never cared for burning bridges, only building a better company built on professional integrity and respect. With that, New Nightmare came into being.
Even without comparison to the wreckage that was Freddy’s Dead, this film shines and soars high as one of the best of the series right behind the original film. The only major drawback of the film, I feel, is that this demon-as-Freddy is not dispatched in a very clever way. There’s really no fantastical element to it, as one would expect from such a fantastical concept. It is more of a physical method of defeating him instead of a supernatural, metaphysical, or psychological one. And even though I’ve never taken much note of J. Peter Robinson’s score, it is widely recognized as one of the best horror film scores around. Ultimately, this is still one to highly recommend alongside the 1984 original and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Those are the definitive classics of the franchise, and those reputations are rightly earned.
You didn’t think I could let Forever Horror Month go by without a look at old Fred Krueger, did you? I think A Nightmare on Elm Street came out at just the right time. The slasher film craze had exploded, but then, began to water itself down with all the imitators. There were still good ones out there, but it was already time for something fresh to shake up the genre. Something to bring it back to a terrifying and original concept that was conceived by a master in Wes Craven. Where the effectiveness of some other horror films have diminished over time for me. A Nightmare on Elm Street still holds a chilling nerve in my spine.
In the town of Springwood, on Elm Street, Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) and her friends are experiencing violent nightmares where they are stalked by a badly scarred man with a clawed glove of razors. When Nancy’s friend Tina (Amanda Wyss) is brutally murdered in bed one night, Nancy believes that it wasn’t Tina’s boyfriend who killed her, but the man who terrorizes their dreams – Fred Krueger (Robert Englund). Unfortunately, her claims are dismiss by her father, Police Lieutenant Donald Thompson (John Saxon), and her alcoholic mother (Ronee Blakley). So, Nancy, aided by her boyfriend Glenn (Johnny Depp), Nancy fights to stay awake to discover the truth behind Krueger, and find a way to stop him for good or never sleep again.
Right from the start, the film sets a dark, gritty, frightening tone with Freddy’s construction of his bladed glove. This film truly is a nightmare come to life with the shadowy boiler room being the perfect backdrop for Krueger. It’s damp, steamy, and filthy – a dangerous industrial environment for a sleazy, twisted killer. From there, the film haunts you with creepy, surreal images that touch your deepest fears. Once you are in Freddy’s realm there is no safe harbor. He wants you to know you’re trapped and ensnared in his sick, demented reality. He’s the master of the domain that is your dreams, and that’s what’s most frightening of all. He can violate you deep within your mind, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t go forever without sleep. Eventually, you are going to fall asleep, and that’s all he needs to have his way with you. Unlike other slashers, Freddy doesn’t just stalk and kill. He gains vast pleasure by psychologically tormenting his victims so that when he finally goes in for the kill, it will be all the more sweeter for him. Freddy is a glorious sadist. He both literally and figuratively feeds off your fear. It’s what gives him his power and pleasure. The glove was also a brilliant idea by Wes Craven. Most slashers just kill with whatever’s handy, but Freddy puts his own signature mark on his victims with a weapon custom built for himself. It’s a direct and distinct extension of his twisted personality.
Robert Englund instantly created an icon here built off of Wes Craven’s imagination. He absorbed himself into the weight and feel of this character through the amazing make-up effects, and the dingy, distinct wardrobe. The body language alone conveys a sickening individual who takes perverse pleasure in everything he does. Every little gesture with the blades, every wiggling of the tongue, every slinking movement creates a terrifying performance that burns itself into your psyche. The fact that Craven keeps Krueger so secluded in shadow, and only highlights certain aspects of his figure or face, enhances the intimidating power of him. This is the most vile rendition of Fred Krueger we have ever gotten, and I think it’s a real disservice to horror audiences that he became so campy and cheesy in the later sequels. I know Englund preferred going the darker route, but most directors preferred the comical punch. I cannot fathom why because Freddy proves to be his most frightening in his purest form.
Beyond just Robert Englund, the film is packed with a great cast. Heather Langenkamp steps into a strong lead role as Nancy. I love that the film sets up Tina as the potential protagonist, but swerves the audience when gruesome tragedy strikes. This allows Nancy to overcome her own grief and build herself up to a confident, smart heroine. Yet, she never loses her honest sense of compassionate emotion. Nancy does feel fear, very intensely, but she fights to conquer it every step of the way. Langenkamp looked and felt like a genuine fresh faced girl next door which made her performance vulnerable and realistic. The strength she brought to Nancy was incredible making an audience believe in Nancy through every terrifying moment.
Johnny Depp, in his very first acting role, is also great showing off the charm and talent we’ve come to know from him. As Glenn, he’s funny and sweet. I also believe casting John Saxon is always a rock solid choice. He brings a fatherly warmth to Donald Thompson showing concern for his beloved daughter. He’s also entirely believable as a commanding police officer with a fine screen presence which just exudes strength and confidence. Ronnie Blakley is quite remarkable as this drunken mother who is clearly unable to cope with the crime she helped commit. Amanda Wyss puts in a great performance selling the intense fear of Tina, and showing the subtle terror that trembles underneath. Overall, everyone in this cast does an immensely solid and greatly admirable job. They make this a film filled with character you can genuinely cared about, and thus, seriously fear for.
Wes Craven shows such a talent for suspense here. He carefully unnerves an audience with subtle sounds and glimpses of terror, firstly. Then, when Freddy finally reveals himself, it’s a truly scary sight as he torments Tina with a grin and a despicable laugh. Just as Freddy torments his victims, Craven uses those moments to freak out his audience to build up the suspense and tension. He prolongs the fear with masterful skill so that the pay-off will be frightening beyond your imagination. The kills are gruesomely brilliant with no lack of gore or blood. The screen is soaked in crimson many times in the movie., and the violent impact of those four blades slicing into flesh is always terrifying and shocking.
All of the special effects in A Nightmare on Elm Street are absolutely impressive and truly ambitious. Today, as the lackluster remake proved, a lot of these effects today would be done with severely unconvincing and unimpressive CGI. Back in 1984, everything was done practically, and the results are just astonishingly excellent. Even knowing how they did it takes away nothing from the viewing experience of the film. The movie magic is still there, and it is still massively effective. From Tina being dragged up the wall and ceiling of her bedroom to Freddy’s form pushing through the wall above Nancy as she sleeps to all the subtle tricks and slight of hand to achieve so much, these are timeless, classic images that are the result of talented, innovative minds. They entirely sell the chillingly surreal qualities and power of Krueger. It’s amazing that they achieve so much on a budget that was less than $2 million. Compare that with the $35 million budget of the 2010 remake which couldn’t pull off the same effects with even a fraction of the artistic quality or effectiveness.
Charles Bernstein beautifully score this film with just the right approach. The main theme is instantly recognizable with its sort of nursery rhyme melody, but has a haunting, foreboding quality lying behind it which is purely brilliant musicianship. The score, in general, is purely enveloping with a wide, rich range using synthesizer in gorgeous fashion. It disturbs and unsettles at nearly every dark turn. The sound design works in tandem with the score by fully immersing an audience into Freddy’s world. The sounds of the boiler room come to magnificent life in a full surround sound experience. I think it’s one of the best audio presentations of any horror film I’ve ever heard.
Again, what really sets this film apart from its slasher brethren is the psychological aspect. Freddy isn’t a killer you can simply outrun. He’s lurking in the dark recesses of your dreams, waiting for you to fall into his clutches. It’s amazing to me that Wes Craven is such a sweet, easy going, regular guy, but is able to delve so vividly into the chilling imagery and nature of nightmares. Scary experiences from his childhood forged many of these inspirations, but so much touches a frightening nerve, such as the bloody corpse of Tina in the body bag beckoning to Nancy, that it demonstrates Craven’s creative brilliance. He taps so deeply into the mechanics of horror, and is able to craft beautifully gruesome images that could dig their way into your own subconscious. I think Craven is at his best when he’s pushing horror to a higher level beyond the visceral. Whether it’s the psychological aspects of this franchise, or the mystery aspects of the Scream films, he has a unique quality to inject into horror films that I really enjoy.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is a horror classic that goes beyond just the slasher genre. It was created by a team of greatly talented and dedicated individuals in front of and behind the camera. No other film in the franchise quite matches up to the dark, pure horror quality of Wes Craven’s original. While there are sequels with their own enjoyable and respected qualities, there are many which simply lost sight of what horror was, and diluted the powerful and effective tone of fear the franchise was built upon. Regardless of disappointing sequels or poor remakes, the 1984 original will always stand as an eternal horror classic.