SEQUELISED: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

The greatest nightmare of all? 

Who made it?: Chuck Russell (Director/Co-Writer), Wes Craven, Bruce Wagner, Frank Darabont (Co-Writers), Robert Shaye, Sara Risher (Producers), New Line Cinema.

Who’s in it?: Heather Langenkamp, Craig Wasson, Patricia Arquette, Robert Englund, Ken Sagoes, Rodney Eastman, Jennifer Rubin, Bradley Gregg, Ira Heiden.

Tagline: “If you think you’ll get out alive, you must be dreaming.”

IMDb rating: 6.5/10.

After many years of re-watches, re-purchases on different formats, and reading reappraisals by the horror community, I’m still not entirely sure why the third Elm Street outing is the greatest for me. Wes Craven’s 1984 original is a rightful landmark and is one of the most genius terror pictures ever made (his ’94 meta reworking, New Nightmare, isn’t bad either). Yet, for this reviewer, Charles “Chuck” Russell’s 1987 threequel is a superior work in every possible way; a bold, startling and highly competent work that utilises it’s heavily-upgraded budget to create a fully-realised dream universe.

I mean, this film has the gall to begin with an Edgar Allan Poe “quote” that never existed. They were actually trying here.

Some time after the events of the gay-metaphor-cum-slasher-film that was Freddy’s Revenge (one day), all is still not well for the kids of Elm Street in sleepy, suburban Springwood. Teens are still dying off or winding up in the local psychiatric ward, which is the fate that befalls Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette, yes, that Patricia Arquette), who, after a bravura opening sequence where she meets the delectably evil Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), winds up slitting her own wrist and being tossed into the loony bin by her overbearing mother. There, she meets former Freddy combatant Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp), who is now a specialist in dreams (figures). She knows who is butchering the kids one-by-one, and convinces them to fight the bastard dream demon with their mental weapons. It’s the perfect set-up for a sequel seemingly limited only by imagination.

Since New Line Cinema and the press weren’t too keen with the last outing, there was a lot riding on the appropriately-titled Dream Warriors. Producer Bob Shaye wanted a return to the darker, more intelligent quality of part one, and there was even attempts to bring Craven back on board as director. That obviously didn’t happen, but it did result in an intriguing script co-written by Craven with Bruce Wagner. The ambitious screenplay would then be retooled by Russell and Frank Darabont (yes, that Frank Darabont), resulting in the highly-inventive sequel fans are enjoying to this day.

One of the biggest issues with most horror follow-ups is the characterisation, or usually lack thereof. Aside from the original, Dream Warriors easily has the best ensemble in the franchise, and it really does help the horror when you actually like the protagonists. These kids are also deeply troubled, giving the actors definable personality traits and mental scars for Krueger to exploit. Aside from Kristen, who is played sensitively by Arquette, there’s the mute Joey (Rodney Eastman), the volatile Kincaid (Ken Sagoes), ex-druggie Taryn (Jennifer Rubin), and the wheelchair-bound Will (Ira Heiden) who has an affinity for Dungeons & Dragons. You don’t want any of them to perish as horribly as they inevitably do, and when they really start to bring the fight to Freddy, you can’t help but cheer them on.

Russell also has a great deal of fun with those disbelieving adults, with Craig Wasson’s naive Dr. Neil Gordon slowly being convinced of the demon’s existence, and Priscilla Pointer doing her best Nurse Ratched as the out-of-her-depth Dr. Simms. You’ll also spot Laurence Fishburne (yes, that Laurence Fishburne) and John Saxon returning as Nancy’s unlucky father. It’s a shame, then, that Langenkamp’s reprisal of Miss Thompson is so flat. She’s sadly the weak link here, and although it’s great to see Nancy again, the actress is a little stiff with none of the passion she would later bring to New Nightmare. That said, you’re still shouting for her to duck and cover when pizza face comes calling.

Those all-important kill sequences are astonishing for their creativity and verve, from Freddy ripping out a victim’s veins to use him as a marionette to Krueger spouting hypodermic needles to make a junkie overdose (“What a rush!”). This film is such a fine marriage of ideas and special effects, and though certain shots are understandably showing their age, Dream Warriors is a defiant example of why old-school opticals never lose their appeal. This film absolutely trumps Craven’s predecessor for overall panache if never being as outright disturbing.

So, what of Freddy himself? Englund was more than comfortable with the character at this point, and though part three is the moment he began to incorporate more ad-libbed humour into his repertoire, Krueger is still an antagonist to be feared and not the Looney Tunes-esque joke he would later become. Englund has a ball being bad, no doubt spurred on by the script’s added background for the fiend and his fate as the “Bastard Son of a Hundred Maniacs.” There’s simply no horror icon as charismatic as this Fedora-wearing monster.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 is a cracking slasher film with real intelligence behind those gory set-pieces and a sense of fun that makes it my personal favourite in the seven-episode series. These movies always had more vision and ingenuity than the average Halloween or Friday the 13th entry, and number three continues to be proof that not all money-hungry genre follow-ups are to be dismissed.

You could say this is the sequel dreams are made of…

Best Scene

One of the coolest (and most painful) deaths in the entire franchise. Freddy, you’re one sick pup.

Useless Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • The original premise of the film involved Freddy invading the real world and haunting the actors and crew responsible for the Nightmare on Elm Street films. This idea was rejected by the studio, though Wes Craven later used it for New Nightmare (1994).
  • The original UK cinema poster for the film was withdrawn due to complaints regarding the image on it, showing the “Freddy Snake” eating a woman. It was replaced with a less “offensive” one.
  • For one week during filming, Robert Englund was working 24 hours every day. By day, he was wrapping up filming on his TV series Downtown (1986) and then would report to the Dream Warriors set at nights.
  • For the scene where Freddy kills Jennifer, his line in the script was “This is it Jennifer, your big break on TV!” Englund said this line for the first two takes, but on the third take changed it to “Welcome to Prime Time, bitch!” Director Chuck Russell couldn’t decide which version to use, so he edited the two together.
  • When Taryn is first seen in the hallway she’s wearing a Dokken shirt. Dokken wrote and performed “Dream Warriors” (below) for this film.

Dave James

Editor-in-Chief at Film freak, music minion, professional procrastinator, podcaster, video-maker, all around talented git.

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