Home > Reviews > Review: “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors”

Review: “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors”

Director: Chuck Russell
Produced by: Wes Craven, Robert Shaye
Written by: Wes Craven & Bruce Wagner (also story), Frank Darabont, Chuck Russell (screenplay)
Starring: Heather Langenkamp, Patricia Arquette, Robert Englund, Laurence Fishbrune, Priscilla Pointer, Craig Wasson
Music by: Angelo Badalamenti, “Into the Fire” by Dokken
Year: 1987

 


If the first film in the Nightmare on Elm Street series was a metaphor for the perceived innocence of childhood and American suburbia, then the third film kind of represents the opposite side of the same coin, as it centers on the inability of adults to understand the problems their kids are facing and address them accordingly.

Subtitled Dream Warriors, you’d be forgiven for thinking this would be some campy Aliens knock off, with people being jacked into a dream network to take out Freddy Krueger once and for all…. Actually, that kind of sounds awesome. Anyway, no this isn’t that kind of film. Dream Warriors doesn’t repeat the scares and themes of the first film, but rather expands upon them and delves deeper into the mythology. If you were among the people who scolded me for my ignorance of the series and suggested this to me, then, congratulations. You’ve got me. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 is not only a pretty good movie, I actually like it better than the first!

Six years have passed since the events of the first Nightmare on Elm Street. By the time the third film starts, several kids have already fallen victim to constant visions of an undefeated Freddy. This continues the events in the second film, where enough kids fell victim to Krueger’s violence that it’s plausible for nightmares to be instilled in the minds of several of that film’s survivors. Here we are introduced to the latest, a girl named Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette of Medium making her film debut).

Kristen’s mother comes home to find her daughter still awake past midnight and insists that she go to bed. Her intentions are not entirely based on concern, but also because she has invited a man over. Kristen, who’s been seeing a shrink due to her troubling dreams, protests her mother’s demands, but her mother is insistent that she go to bed. Kristen ultimately loses the argument and, that night, she dreams of entering a familiar-looking model house that she’s been constructing. Inside, she discovers that Freddy has held captive the souls of many Elm Street children.

Kristen starts up in her bed and heads to the bathroom, but Freddy appears again and slashes her wrists. When she finally awakens, her mother discovers her in the bathroom with a razor in hand and blood dripping from her wrist. Kristen has seemingly attempted to commit suicide. Giving up helping her daughter herself, Kristen’s mother sends her to a psychiatric hospital, where it turns out that several other Elm Street children with similar stories have also been committed… and, of course, all of them are also afraid to sleep thanks to their visions of Freddy.

The third film, once again with Wes Craven behind the scenes (as producer and writer), also brings back the original heroine, Nancy (Heather Langenkamp, reprising the role), who it seems has spent the past six (movie) years channeling her experiences toward a positive purpose, earning a degree in psychology, specializing in the study of dreams, and interning at the hospital Kristen has been committed to. Nancy’s been able to cope with her unique sleep disorder thanks to a helpful but unapproved drug called Hypnocil, which suppresses dreams while allowing the user to sleep. Nancy believes that this drug is the key to helping the children stay safe while they sleep, but the doctors are unwilling to allow it. Nancy, unlike the doctors, understands these kids, but none of the other adults will put their trust into the unproven intern, and insist that the kids just need to be sedated and confined to their rooms. Unfortunately, it isn’t  long before the nightmares and mysterious deaths begin all over again.

I admit, I had trouble gaining any appreciation for the way Nancy was portrayed in the first film. There, I felt as though Langenkamp was herself sleepwalking through the role. That might seem like it would have been appropriate, given the material, but the changes she was going through came suddenly, like the flip of a switch, instead of being gradually developing. With Nancy in the third film, I’m more likely to chalk the first film’s problems up to that film’s script and pacing than with Langenkamp’s performance.

The first didn’t really provide her character with enough screen time to grieve for the losses of her friends and just felt like it moved her from one scene to another. Here, with a significant six year jump forward in time, she’s given a lot more purpose, weight, and logic for her actions, and Langenkamp portrays her as an intellectually strong caretaker and role model. It’s not a Sarah Connor-like transformation from meek waitress to mercenary (which isn’t to say that I had any problem with that), but that wouldn’t really be appropriate here. Her experiences have left her with more empathy, not anger, and it feels as though she’s a character the teenagers could relate and look up to, instead of screaming alongside he. That makes Nancy a lot more interesting this time around.

Arquette, as Kristen Parker, fills in for the necessary scream queen role, and she does a really good job of it, too, though I have to point out that the story allows for her to be a bit stronger in willpower than the younger Nancy was afforded. That was necessary because we didn’t really know the nature of Freddy the first time around. Had the direction been better, the question of Nancy’s sanity would have been an effective source of tension, but it really wasn’t. Because we as an audience already know that Freddy is a very real threat to these characters by this point, this film wisely doesn’t lead us down that path yet again, but instead has us screaming at the adults to just listen to these kids instead of simply dismissing and punishing them.

Similarly, each of the teens is given their own troubled pasts, interests and, within the dream realm, special abilities that reflect their individual characters’ hopes and pasts. And, yes, each character death is ironically appropriate for each of them. I would be taking away from the film if I were to point out who lives and who dies and in what way, but if you’re into slasher films at least in part to watch the creative ways characters can be killed off, then Dream Warriors isn’t going to disappoint.

While that’s in part because of the well executed special effects, but the deaths also serve a rhetorical purpose, expanding on the theme that Freddy embodies in this film: that kids are facing a dangerous world that can and will destroy their hopes and dreams, and adults need to communicate and take these problems more seriously if they are going to ensure their safety. It sometimes takes a special person, like Nancy, to remember what it was like to be a teenager and relate their own pasts to others’ in order to prevent self-destructive lifestyles.

We even find out from a mysterious nun that Dr. Gordon (Craig Wasson) runs into throughout the film that even Freddy comes from a troubled past. Freddy’s mother used to be an employee at the hospital. She originally tried to help kids herself, but when she got locked into the facility over the Christmas break, she was discovered by a group of men who raped her continuously, eventually resulting in Freddy’s birth. The explanation is a bit over dramatized, in my opinion, and more than a bit gratuitous, but it certainly serves a purpose in illustrating the kind of destruction we inflict upon others. It isn’t until Freddy is properly laid to rest and the evil purged that the troubles seem to subside. That we have (let me count a sec…) five more films in the series, not counting the remake of the first film, already shows you that Freddy, and our problems, are never really destroyed in the end.

Dream Warriors is an effective continuation of the first two films’ themes of adolescent issues, and even manages to improve upon its predecessors in technical quality and acting ability. It’s a bit goofy at times, and maybe a bit more heavy-handed, but I definitely felt that it was the rare third entry that bests its sequel, let alone matches it in quality. For me, I know that doesn’t necessarily say much, but take this 3.5 as a glowing seal of approval and have a good time. A Nightmare on Elm Street as a series may not be the best entertainment out there, and this third entry isn’t really a masterpiece, but you could definitely do worse in the scary monster movie genre than this, and you’ll learn that even silly sounding horror films have something truthful to say about life, if anything.

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 3.5 / 5

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