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

   The Elm Street sequel train keeps rolling with this 1987 entry in the franchise. Considered by many (yours truly included) to be the best of the sequels, this is, arguably, the film that turned Freddy Krueger from great horror villain to true horror icon.

   Wes Craven was back though he was sharing story and screenplay credits with Bruce WagnerFrank Darabont and director Chuck Russell. (Spoilers abound)

   Also making a return to the series alongside Robert Englund were Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon which gave the film a sense of being a truer sequel than Freddy’s Revenge.

   This time round it’s seven years after the events of the first film and we are informed that there has been a spate of teenage suicides. A number of troubled teens are residing within Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital. With issues ranging from self-harm to drug addiction the common denominator is a so called “group delusion” that their lives are in danger from a “boogeyman” that is terrorising them in their sleep. We’re even told of a teenager who cut off their own eyelids just so they could stay awake.

   The most recent arrival is Kristen (a young Patricia Arquette) who we first meet as she is building a house out of lolly sticks and felt tip pens. It’s a house that is very familiar to us already and one that Kristen is transported to upon falling asleep. Escaping from a chasing Freddy she wakes and goes into the bathroom but this is a dream within a dream. The taps turn into knives and cut Kristens wrist as her mum storms in and sees what looks like a suicide attempt which buys her a ticket to the psychiatric hospital.

   The staff: Dr Simms (Priscilla Pointer), Dr Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson) and, orderly Max (Laurence Fishburne, who I nearly always forget is in this movie) attempt to calm Kristen down as she starts singing a very familiar nursery rhyme. “Nine, ten never…..never…” before a returning Nancy Thompson walks in and finishes the line, immediately disarming the traumatized girl.

   Nancy (sporting a luxurious mop of 80’s hair) has just graduated and is an expert on nightmares though still suffers from them as she is taking an experimental medication to suppress these and is initially at odds with Neil Gordon who doesn’t accede to her wish to administer this to the kids.

   It seems that Nancy has made an immediate impression on Kristen as, when the girl is attacked in her next nightmare by a giant snake with Freddy’s head, she cries out Nancy’s name and brings the woman into her dream. Freddy snarls at his former nemesis, recognising her as he hisses “You” before Kristen takes both of them back to their waking worlds.

   Turns out that Kristen has always had this ability and used to bring her dad into her nightmares when she was little before her parents divorced.

   We now go to the group session where Nancy finally gets to meet all of the victims, sorry, kids, which gives us just a little bit more meat to the bones of the characters.

   There’s Philip (Bradley Gregg) who sleepwalks and makes puppets, Jennifer (Penelope Sudrow) a self-harmer and aspiring TV actress, Taryn (Jennifer Rubin) a recovering drug addict, Will (Ira Heiden) a role playing enthusiast and paraplegic (following an accident that we’re told was caused by Freddy), Kincaid (Ken Sagoes), the angry one and Joey (Rodney Eastman) a former debater who now rarely talks but has a teardrop tattoo on his face and a crush on one of the nurses.

   It’s Philip who first succumbs to Freddy in a scene that sets up the franchise going forward. The kills from here on out throughout most of the films would now be more elaborate than what we had previously seen. In this instance, Philip is turned into a human puppet, his tendons/veins becoming the strings as he seemingly sleepwalks off the hospital tower (we see a giant Freddy cutting the strings) and falls to his death.

   Next to be crossed off the list is Jennifer in another one of the more memorable kills from the series. Despite using her arm as an ashtray the poor girl falls asleep and seemingly wakes to a malfunctioning TV. Attempting the tried and tested method of giving it a good whack, two arms burst from the set and Freddy’s head (with antennas on his bald scalp) smashes Jennifer into the screen, quipping “Welcome to Prime-Time, bitch!”

   Again we have a moment here that would inform the next three films and how Freddy would be portrayed. Now that he likes to wisecrack the character would become a lot more diluted and a lot less menacing.

   With more imaginative kills and a greater sense of humour from this jolly child murderer there was also a piece of lore introduced in this film that gave us some backstory to Freddy and explain what may have led him to become the monster he did (before he became the monster he did).

   Over the course of the film Neil keeps seeing and eventually speaks to an old nun (Nan Martin) who he assumes is a volunteer at the hospital . As well as telling him that the unquiet spirit needs to be put to rest, she also tells him of an event that occurred in a now closed wing of the hospital. This wing was home to the criminally insane and,on one terrible night a young, female member of staff was accidentally locked in overnight (there’s oversight and then there’s this!!) and she was raped hundreds of times. Her name was Amanda Krueger who, following this horrific ordeal would give birth to Freddy the “son of a hundred maniacs”. Pleasant little tale there!!

   Back to the diminishing group who Nancy informs are the last of the Elm Street children; their parents being, ultimately, responsible for the plight they’re in. Nancy states it’s time they fight back as, she believes, having witnessed what Kristen can do, that they all have certain “powers” in their dreams and it is these that have enabled them to stay alive for as long as they have.

   Using Kristen’s ability, Nancy joins them in a shared dream to have a look at these powers. As well as being able to bring people along for the ride, Kristen also has the ability to do acrobatic flips. Kincaid has super strength, fantasy fan Will is able to walk in his guise as the “Wizard Master”, Taryn, sporting one hell of a Mohican and two switchblades is “beautiful and bad” and Joey….

   Well, we don’t get to see what Joeys power is as he leaves the room before they realise they’re in the dream world and is lured into a trap by Freddy who is masquerading as the nurse that Joey is attracted to.

   Rather than killing the boy (as he easily has the chance to) Freddy uses the unconscious teen to send a taunting message to Nancy back in the real world as the words “Come and get him bitch” appear, carved into Joeys chest by an unseen Freddy.

   Nancy wants to do just that but Neil, who now knows that Krueger’s missing bones need to be buried in hallowed ground, suggests they follow up on this before attempting that drastic measure. Together they go to the one man who knows where these remains are.

   We get to catch up now with the former Lt Donald Thompson who is now working full time on drinking himself to death and part time as a security guard. It’s good to see John Saxon again in this role for the few minutes he’s on screen as it’s another reminder that this film is a truer sequel to the original than Part 2 was.

   Estranged from his daughter, Donald doesn’t want to listen to her pleas and she leaves to return to the hospital to deal with Freddy herself. Neil, who has, of course, began a romantic relationship with Nancy, is less inclined to take no for an answer and, with a little confrontational coercion, convinces Donald that, for the sake of his daughter, it’s best he lead the doctor to where Freddy’s bones are hidden.

   Nancy and the remaining teens re-enter the dream world to rescue Joey while Neil and Donald travel to an old salvage yard to quieten the evil spirit.

   The final act of the film bounces back and forth between these two places.

   Having waited over an hour we finally get to see some Dream Warrior action though it’s not the special effects laden slugfest we may have been hoping for.

   Separated early on, both Taryn and Will are dispatched in quick succession (particularly disappointed that the Wizard Master had only one mildly effective trick up his literal sleeve) and the remaining Warriors, having rescued Joey end up in a small fight with Freddy but nothing like the spectacle I thought we may get.

    Neil and Donald aren’t faring much better themselves. Turns out that Freddy’s remains aren’t too keen on being disturbed and in a scene that resembles “Jason and The Argonauts” the skeleton is reanimated and we bid farewell to Donald Thompson (at least for a while) before “Dem Bones” turn on Dr. Gordon.

   John Saxon isn’t the only returning cast member we say goodbye to.

   Trapped in a room of mirrors and multiple Freddy’s, Nancy, Kincaid and Kristen are saved by Joey who finally reveals his dream power. The ability to shout “No!!” really, really loudly. Not the most exciting power I admit but, in this instance it looks like it’s worked a treat as the mirrors explode and Freddy vanishes.

   What looks to be the ghost of Donald Thompson then appears to say goodbye and sorry to his daughter and as Nancy embraces him, it’s revealed that it’s actually Freddy.

   Farewell Nancy (at least, again, for a while). She dies in Kristen’s arms just as Neil manages to sprinkle holy water on the bones and, back in the dream world a Krueger shaped whirling dervish explodes in a ball of righteous light, vanquished at last.

   The survivors attend Nancy’s funeral and Neil sees the old nun one last time where she reveals her true identity and the final scene, in true horror fashion, indicates that, somehow, the nightmare will return.

   With a story that adds more to Freddy’s origin, returning cast members, interesting new characters (given that little more roundedness than you often get for horror villain fodder) and a good dose of imagination that elevates “Dream Warriors” above a lot of the standard slasher fare of the time, it’s not difficult to see why this film is regarded as one of the better sequels.

   Nearly all of the cast play their roles well and Robert Englund has hit full stride in his characterization of Freddy and though he was well on his way to becoming a cartoon version of himself here there’s still enough viciousness to keep him the right side of parody.

   One of my favorite horror sequels I admit my bias here (that’s gonna change in a sequel or two (cough…5…..cough) but you could contentedly watch the original followed by this, giving Part 2 a miss altogether (and in all fairness skip to New Nightmare next) and be thoroughly entertained.

    Next up we visit Part 4 of the franchise and take one big step away from the horror of the original and one step closer to Looney Tunes territory.

   Until then: sleep tight.

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