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

Or, The one where they dropped the word “Part” from the title. Most of the the Slasher series that chose this  route tend to go downhill rather fast. Except when they already hit their nadir (and gaydir) in Part 2. Things just had to improve after that, right?

Right!?

Hell yeah! That’s what I’m talking about. Taking the series back to its roots by rehiring my favorite original Final Girl. The one who handed Freddy his ass…before the studio ordered a twist ending tacked on…not that there’s anything wrong with that…and I’m willing to forgive anything now. Nancy’s back. It’s officially On in a manner similar to Donkey Kong.

We open with a crazy girl working on her paper mache and see right off that this fucker has an all star cast. “Larry” Fishburne, Zsa Zsa Gabor…other people who’ll have to wait ’till the end credits…and Robert Englund, well-grown into the role that had already defined his career by the time this film dropped.

It's the rabbit ears that really get me.
It’s the rabbit ears that really get me. Every time.

Do me a favor. Imagine a world where Freddy’s Revenge didn’t make a boat load of money. Englund would’ve had no reason to do this film. He could’ve made 976-Evil in 1986 with a proper budget and no studio heads harping at him to get back into makeup. 976-Evil might’ve even wound up being good. Englund had already reinvented the Slasher Movie protagonist by the time he reported to makeup for Dream Warriors. If Dream Warriors never existed, Englund might’ve pulled the same trick as a director, reinvigorating the horror genre even as it struggled to cut its own throat, setting a pattern Action Movies would follow a decade later…and some say Superhero films are following even now.

What? Oh, right. Crazy girl. This is Spider-Man‘s distant cousin, Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette) and she’s building a paper mache model of 1428 Elm Street while waiting for her mom to come home. Since it’s the late-80s, mom’s divorced and coming home from a date and…well, I’ll let them explain

Kristen’s Mom: I’ve got a guest downstairs–

Kristen: And you don’t wanna keep him waiting.

The Amitiville Dollhouse has gone back in time to kill George Luntz's mother before...wait...that doesn't work at all...never mind.
The Amitiville Dollhouse has gone back in time to kill George Luntz’s mother before…wait…that doesn’t work at all…never mind.

Man, just going by these horror movies, parenting in the 1980s sucked. No wonder everyone managed to raise a generation of socially-retarded, technofetishist man- and womanchildren. So Kristen falls asleep only to fake-wake in front of…1428 Elm Street, which is looking a lot worse now that Jessie’s family has moved out. Kinda like the Myers’ house in Halloween. Except that would be shamelessly derivative, and Nightmare films are nothing if not famous for creativity, right?

So Kristen strikes up a dialogue with one of the creepy kids we always see in these dream sequences. Creepy Kid trikes into the Thompson’s house and Kristen follows so we can go…back to that damned basement. “This is where he takes us,” Creepy Kid says. Quite a nice opening, reestablishing the series important tropes and overall aesthetic in record time, right down to the false-awakening that ends with Kristen passed out on the bathroom floor, looking like a plain ol’ suicidal teenager.

This is a conscious call-back to the Fred Krueger we knew and loved in the original Nightmare. No longer stricken by the need to possess someone, Freddy here gets along just fine by hiding his victims in plain sight, even as he hides in their dreams. This extra, metaphysical dimension to Krueger’s modus operendi always made him a more dynamic antagonist than his spiritual brothers in Texas, Haddonfield, or Crystal Lake. He’s not some external threat, born of backwoods, stumpwater magic or a global, economic Apocalypse. He’s a dude in a Christmas sweater. Someone you’d pass on the street and not notice until he kidnapped your child. And now he’s a supervillain: Dr. Destiny meets Carnage, picking off the children of his murderers one by one. The renewed emphasis on all this – essential elements of the story Part 2 cast aside so it could rip-off The Exorcist – is evidence of Wes Craven’s hand in the screenplay. Enjoy that while you can, since Dream Warriors is last time Craven lowered himself to actual care for the series he abandoned in favor of its older brother, The Hills Have Eyes and its younger cousin, Shocker. (At least until the 1990s…but we’ll get there…oh yes…)

He's a saa-aad New Meat. I would be, too.
“But doctor… I am Pagliacci.”

By the way: teenage suicide? Don’t do it. Kristen’s mom shares that philosophy but, as is usual for parents in horror movies, she has a more draconian way of going about it. Like committing Kristen to the Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital, which has become a dumping ground for Springwood’s teenagers between films. Morpheus presides over the hallways, posing as an orderly named Max, while Dr. Bill Maher makes the rounds and introduces us to some of our New Meat. Should we bother to remember any of their names…? Nah.

Dr. Maher is actually Dr. Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson), and he’s starting the day off right by being pissed that some “grad school hot shot” is coming down to have a look at his “kids.” One of those kids is now Kristen, who starts the day off right by going apeshit at the thought of sedation. Even Morpheus has to take a step back once Kristen gets hold of a scalpel. Smart move, dude. Those Arquettes are a vicious clan and they won’t hesitate to cut a bitch.

Thankfully, that “grad school hot shot” turns out to be Nancy With the Not-So-Laughing Face. And props to St. Heather for even approaching this project at all, let alone agree to it, considering all the crap she went through being Nancy. Calming Kristen down gets Nancy on Dr. Neil’s good side, so he doesn’t make anything of the little prescription bottle that falls out of her purse…or of the spectral nun he sees after Nancy departs…

This is your life...good to the last drop...
This is your life…good to the last drop…

…which is good, since it’s time to meet and greet the New Meat. Philip (Bradley Gregg) is the white sarcastic bastard who makes dolls. His roommate, Kincaid (Ken Sagoes), is the rarest kind of Token Black sarcastic bastard: one who actually survives the film unharmed! Emo Joey (Rodney Eastman) (pictured above) used to be a debater, but he lost his voice once he gained a Nocturnal Visitor. Will Stanton (Ira Heiden) is in a wheelchair, and he’d come out as the Token Nerd if his glasses hadn’t already done that for him. Jennifer Caulfield (Penelope Sudrow) has a remarkably-subtle (for this series, anyway) surname and dreams of being on TV. Finally we have Taryn (Jennifer Rubin, whom you might remember from her latest film, Transmorphers: Fall of Man). We don’t learn much about her, save that she’s a recovering junkie, a girl…and actually willing to join Emo Joey and Will’s D&D game…making her awesome. Especially in 1987, when gamer girls were rare as dodo eggs.

Since Nancy’s still technically an intern she gets stuck with the shitty grunt work…like interviewing Kristen’s mom…who couldn’t be more of a helicopter-parent if her last name were “Hilton.”  Nancy Drews about Kristen’s room and finds the paper mache model of her old house. Meanwhile, Dr. Neil uses…the…um…internet-less computer in his house…to find out about Nancy drug of choice. Turns out she’s one of those unfortunate people for whom pot just won’t cut it, and whenever that’s the case, choosy Final Girls choose Hypnocil. Helps repress strong nightmares twelve ways! Ask your Dr. Boyfriend, or generic, dream-guardian deity, if Hypnocil is right for you!

Back at the hospital, Kristen falls asleep and ends up (of course) in Nancy’s old house. I love how Freddy tricks her into it too. It’s not enough for the creepy tricycle to peddle itself into her room. It has to leave trails of blood on the floor and then melt like a model tank in a Godzilla’s film. That’ll get anybody moving. Then we get to the rotten roast pig on the kitchen table. Honestly, this is one of my favorite nightmare sequences in this entire series, and the only one that authentically scared me a child.

Nightmare on Elm Street: Generations (1987)
Nightmare on Elm Street: Generations (1987)

But the real prize…the thing that won me over…comes when Kristen screams for Nancy’s help and pulls Nancy into her dream. In my Friday the 13th Part VII review, I identified Tina Shepherd as a proto-Buffy, a horror movie Final Girl imbued with superpowers prior to 1992, thus avoiding the traps Buffy Rip-offs have fallen into ever since. Kristen Parker is Tina Shepherd’s immediate cinematic predecessor…and I’m sad to find Kristen so flat after all these years. But with a cast this large the Final Girl’s bound to loose out…especially when she has to share time with this franchise’s Captain Kirk. Tina held her damn movie together all by herself. She didn’t need some Obi-Wan to explain the plot to her, damnit. Clark Kent analogue: good; superpowered pseudozombie: bad. There you go. No fuss. Shut up. Kick ass.

Not that there’s anything wrong with Obi-Wans. Particularly when they kick this much ass. Recognizing Freddy immediately – even in slimey, Freudian, house-snake form – Nancy wastes no time stabbing him in the eye with the nearest sharp object at hand. ‘Cuz that’s how she rolls!

The girls escape and each comes clean to the other with no preamble and no futzing about. Nancy just walks in with the paper mache model and tells Kristen the story of Part 1. Kristen spills the beans about her power to pull people into her dreams, which she’s had since birth. In keeping with the innate conservatism of the American horror movie in these last years of Regan, Kristen’s power crapped out as soon as her parents got divorced. But now Nancy’s here to be surrogate Big Sister so everything’s okay again. Funny thing is, the Nightmare on Elm Street films make a great case for abortion. But we’ll get to that later.

Why is this man smiling?
Why is this man smiling?

First, Morpheus has to break up Will, Joey and Taryn’s D&D game. (Nerds!) Elsewhere, Nancy and Dr. Neil have the most awkward date ever. Goddamnit, you don’t start off by talking about work. At least wait until after you order. And what is he doing dating her anyway? She’s an intern for Christ’s sake. Is Dr. Neil trying to get sued? And why is he making a big deal out of her drug habit now, in public? What’s next? You gonna bring up her dead mom? Her drunken Sheriff of a father? Or how about all those mysterious deaths she witnessed back in high school?

Elsewhere-elsewhere, Phillip dies. It’s the one death in the series everyone remembers fondly for good reason, gloriously executed. It’s the most literal dream sequence we’ve seen in these films, and the best we’d see for quite some time afterward. It’s no Roast Pig Come to Life, but it exemplifies everything that is the Nightmare on Elm Street series in one image: Freddy marching Phillip out a window on puppet-strings made from limb tendons. This is Fred Krueger, Dream Warriors says, this is what he does, hope you all enjoy it. And fuck off if you don’t. It’s the best kind of sequel, informing newcomers of everything they need to know without hitting us in the fucking face…except for those few times it smacks us with gore effects.

I love Jennifer’s death scene, too, though for completely different reasons. Phillip’s is the last really good death in the series and it’s as if the filmmakers knew they couldn’t top themselves. So they decided to center each subsequent death scene around some increasingly-stupid gag, pun, or bit of self-conscious snarkiness. Part 2‘s writer is all too quick to say he came up with Freddy’s wisecracking, but Craven, Bruce Wagner, Frank Darabont, and Chuck Russell really cement that here…by having Freddy kill Zsa Zsa on The Dick Cavett Show. His “Welcome to Prime Time, bitch!” is one of the most famous lines in 80s horror…which can be unfortunate when you’re trying to convince someone that, no, really, the genre can provide mature and worthwhile illuminations of the human condition and the depths people will go to in the face of extraordinary circumstances. Shit fire, they’ll even try hypnotherapy.

"Can I ask you something?"
“Can I ask you something?”

So Dr. Neil agrees to dope the kids up with Dream-Be-Gone and gets another visit from Ghost Nun at Jennifer’s funeral. The death rate in his ward is starting to draw some attention, so Dr. Neil uses this as an excuse to ask Nancy over for dinner. She comes clean about Freddy and, the next day, convinces the entire Therapy Group to try an experiment.

It succeeds, and Kristen pulls everyone into a singular dream, where they can all gain superpowers because the plot says so. Will can walk again and become the Wizard Master; Taryn becomes a punk badass; Kincade gains superstrength; and Kristen learns gymkata. Here we see Dream Warrior‘s major innovation. All else has failed, so why not turn the entire cast into proto-Buffys? While Freddy can affect the real world, the real world can also affect dreams – or at least the dream-self-images of these characters. It’s The Matrix over a decade before The Matrix came out, and with substantially less kung fu by volume. It’s the antidote to Part 2‘s conceit that Freddy needed someone real to kill “for” him. Too bad the movie never goes anywhere with this idea. Too bad it’s not even all that important to the plot. Certainly not instrumental to Freddy’s ultimate defeat. No…that comes courtesy of a sub-plot that’s not even introduced until an hour in. But we’ll get to that, too.

Only Joey, Dr. Neil and Nancy are denied obvious powers since Dr. Neil’s already the film’s Scientist (he even says so when Ghost Nun asks him what faith he follows), Nancy’s already a Bad Ass Mofo, and Joey’s kidnapped by Freddy as soon as he fake-wakes.

Here’s where the movie falls apart for me. Instead of killing Joey outright – the way he’s killed every other non-Final Girl in the film up to this point – Freddy leaves Joey comatose. Why? It doesn’t affect the plot anymore than the teams’ superpowers, and we know less about Joey now than we do any other piece of New Meat. Christ, he’s the one with no dialogue! We’re suddenly supposed to care about him just because his Naughty Nurse fantasy went horribly wrong? Well, I’m sorry, son, but…sometimes these things just happen. Sometimes one of you just chickens out or you forget the safe word at a critical moment. Unless you’re a teenager in Springwood, Wherever, you live and learn.

After careful consideration, I'm gonna go with "radical!"
After careful consideration, I’m gonna go with “radical!”

Relieved of duty in the wake of Joey’s coma, Dr. Neil and Nancy despair. Luckily, Ghost Nun arrives and guides Dr. Neil to an old wing of the hospital. There she forever endears this series to nun-fetishists by revealing Fred Krueger’s origins. Turns out he’s “the bastard son of a hundred maniacs,” fated to be evil from birth, his mother having been a nun accidentally locked in the asylum over the holiday break and…you know what? This actually doesn’t explain a damn thing. It’s grotesque, sure…but so was making Freddy a child-murderer in the first place. Now he’s supposed to be some kind of naturally-occurring evil force just because his mom wore a habit and his dad got committed? Way to absolve him of all personal responsibility, movie.

Also, Jennifer’s death-by-TV breaks with Freddy’s established pattern. I can see pulling kids into hypnogogic states where the slit their wrists without even knowing about it…but honestly, what idiot’s gonna mistake that for a suicide? You’d need a flying leap from across the room just to crack a TV like that, forget about wedging your whole head in. I can just hear the medical examiner clucking his tongue over Jennifer’s body (buh-dum-tish). “Well, detective, she was the most determined depressive I’ve seen in my fifteen years of medicine.” And here I go thinking again. This is exactly the kind of stupid decision that got Freddy’s Revenge in such hot water, symptomatic of a horror movie-making philosophy that lets special effects set-pieces dictate your “scares.”

The Dungeonmaster's back to kick ass a roll them bones...and he's all outta twleve-sided die.
The Dungeonmaster’s back to kick ass and roll ‘dem bones…and he’s all outta twelve-sided die.

Like the ones that fill Dr. Neil’s arc through the Third Act, after Ghost Nun sets he and Nancy after Fred Krueger’s bones. You’re telling me the fire department didn’t haul them out of that factory? Or did Nancy’s dad, the town Sheriff (John Saxon, also reprising his original role), walk out of that crime scene with Freddy tucked under his arm, wrapped in a tarp?

Whatever the case, movies need a plot device and, since Freddy’s incorporeal, his bones are the only game in town. Except Freddy can be as corporeal as a he likes whenever the film needs him to…oh, say…bring a stop-motion skeleton to life. Allowing director Chuck Russell to rip off The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. Already Freddy’s fallen into this bad habit of pulling powers out of his ass. Not even a late-80s Superman could get away with things like that and he rebuilt the Great Wall of China with a casual glance.

And I’m sorry, but I can’t allow St. Heather to get away with a performance like this. Her intonation is flat, making her dialogue stilted, and making her sound like she spent the time between appearances in this series being rushed about by hack TV movie directors. (Like Wes Craven, he said, deliberately baiting the fanboys.)

"Huh? What?"
“Huh? What? Another sequel? Oh for God’s sake, please, no.”

But I don’t want to end on a negative note. I actually like this Nightmare. It’s got great ideas that fall apart when you think about them, but it’s paced so well you only really get the chance to think about them during the Climactic Battle, when genre conventions make sure all the interesting characters die. It becomes more about how Freddy will counter the Warrior’s dream-powers, rather than how they will counter Freddy. But I still love them for trying.

I love how Dr. Neil acts like a man who’s actually seen a horror movie in his life, never mind his devotion to Science. A few Ghost Nun visitations and he’s right there in church, stealing flasks full of holy water and crosses right off the walls. And I love how Nancy symbolically passes a torch off to the next generation, which is more courtesy than Alice Hardy or Laurie Strode ever received. And I love the few scenes where Langenkamp sheds her TV-elocution and really becomes Nancy again. In all, it’s better than the next three Nightmares combined. Raised to the power of Friday the 13th Part VII.

GGG

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8 thoughts on “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)”

  1. Not perfect but I still like it better than the original. Yes, Heather Langenkamp acts like she’s in a George Lucas movie. She’s much better in New Nightmare…

    Rodney Eastman looks like Neve Campbell.

    1. As far as St. Heather goes, we’re agreed. Then again, there’s little if any excuse for not playing yourself well.

      I don’t quite see Neve Campbell, but I tend to stop seeing these review images after a few days of monkeying around with them. My knowledge of late-80s, proto-emo bands is purposefully vague but, to my VH1-trained eyes, Emo Joey looked a bit more like some deflated reject from the CBGB scene, circa 1986. Someone who tried to join The Cure but, darnit, no matter how many layers of black hair dye he applied it just wouldn’t stick. “Too blond,” Robert Smith said. And that’s how Emo Joey really lost his voice: shame.

  2. The original is the best film of course, but this one takes the series in such a different direction to more of a fantasy film where Freddy does indeed become a supervillain. If the characters had been about ten per cent better or the plot a bit more centered this really could have been a true classic. As is, it’s a fun film who’s only real fault is that this direction will fall into cheesier and cheesier camp in the next films.

    Lazarus Lupin
    http://strangespanner.blogspot.com/
    art and review

    1. Exactly! It’s hard to really center a film with dual protagonists unless they’re Batman and Robin (and even that can create massive problems in its own right). The film needlessly complicated things by adding a third protagonist in Dr. Maher. Not that I mind Nancy getting an Action Scientist for a boyfriend…but in the first film Freddy liquefied her lover, and he wasn’t nearly as annoying (from Krueger’s perspective) as this film’s Good Doctor. Frankly, I smell group-think. Writers and marketers in some smoke-filled room, crafting this series for maximum demographic exposure. Nancy brings the fans, Kristen brings the target audience, and Dr. Neil is a two-for since males in the audience can want to be him, while the dates we dragged along (female horror fans being as rare as female gamers at the time…so far as anyone knew) can get off on him. And, hey, if that’s not their cup of tea, there’s Larry Fishburne and his beard.

  3. I still remember the song, and the video, that went with this movie: “We’re the Dream Warriors / Ain’t gonna dream no more !/ And maybe tonight, maybe tonight, maybe tonight You’ll be GONE !” Freddy wakes up screaming. “Whew, what a nightmare.” I think he may have been sleeping with a teddybear.

    1. For anyone who doesn’t know, here’s the video sandra describes, by the most famous LA hair band no one’s ever heard of: Dokken! Even Freddy asks, “Who were those guys?” Indeed, Krueger. Indeed. (Featuring the most “metal” lead guitar in the history of Ever. Seriously, you guys; I just found my next birthday present.)

  4. As a kid, when I saw bits of these films, it was always when they were fighting back in their dreams; and just once I wanted one of the fighters to go all Matrix on Krueger and fight back as well as he could. Yeah, they kind of do that a bit with the “Dream Master” (was that the right one?) and in New Nightmare, I think I’m remembering right, but I guess since Mr. Kreuger is the real draw of the series, and it’s his party, his constant and immediate defeat of his opponents makes sense, even if it was disappointing at the time.

    Or maybe they just never had the cash money behind it they needed.

    1. Nah, this series never had problems with lack of funding. I’ve come around to thinking their real problem (and its a systemic problem with most movies that deal with dream worlds) is/was a lack of imagination. Renny Harlin and Kristen Parker Mark II proved that in Dream Master (yes, that was the right one) when she finally went Ralph Macchio on Freddy’s burnt-out ass. But you’re right to point out that, with Dream Warriors the producers just up and made Freddy the series protagonist and pretty much stopped caring about characterizing his victims. After all, why bother? They’re just going to die anyway. That’s what people want to see…right? Thanatos on parade?

      Of course not, but by 1987, that type of thinking became conventional “wisdom” in the halls of New Line. So the House that Freddy Built began, in its ignorance, destroying him.

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