Thursday, November 13, 2014

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

A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
Director: Chuck Russell
Starring:  Robert England, Patricia Arquette, Heather Langenkamp, Jennifer Rubin, Craig Wasson, Ken Sagoes, Bradley Gregg, Ira Heiden, Laurence Fishburne, John Saxon, Priscilla Pointer, Dick Cavett and Zsa Zsa Gabor.
Rated: R

Sorry kid, I don't believe in fairy tales
          ~Freddy Krueger

Oh...wait...was this the one you were expecting?

What a rush!
        ~Freddy Krueger

Okay okay, I know


While A Nightmare On Elm Street 2 banked at the box office and improved upon the first film, I think Bob Shaye and New Line sort of weren't too confident in the film and following from there.  Wes Craven was brought back in to do the third film and along back with him came Heather Langenkamp.  They were going to go back to the magic well of the first movie and try to strike it again.  However, Craven turned in an incredibly over ambitious script that was deemed to be completely unfilmable.  I don't know what that constitutes, but I'm sure it was probably far too expensive for little up and coming New Line to take on.  Something that could have sank the studio had it not been an extreme success.  So, he was brushed aside and Chuck Russell and Frank Darabont (yes, same Frank Darabont) were brought in to take some of Craven's basis and reshape it into something that worked.
Dream Warriors isn't just a great Nightmare On Elm Street sequel, its one of the best sequels of all time.  Its a one of the best sequels to anything ever.  The film manages to take the Elm Street lore to another level, fully taking the concept of Freddy Krueger and absolutely running with it.  Not only that, but it brings with it a wonderful cast of characters, and likely the best group of kids to show up in a horror/slasher sequel ever.  This film not only fills you with horror, suspense, gore, fantasy, dark comedy and so much for.  Its an absolute blast to take this journey that really isn't on Elm Street, but still in Springwood.
One oddity that will remain through this series is Nancy's house.  Let's take Freddy's Dead, which is three movies later, out of the equation (Because nothing in that movie counts at this point).  Why is this house of such importance to the series? Yes, its a noteworthy and iconic looking house. It wasn't Freddy's, he did his dirty deeds in the boiler room.  Was it because it was where he was defeated in the last movie that he resides there?  Was it because Freddy's glove was hidden in the furnace there by Nancy's mom?  Were Nancy's parents just that much more ruthless than the rest of the parents?  At this juncture and through the next film, I don't understand why we keep going back and why its the big "spook house" of the series aside from being the place where a lot of the first film's events took place.  Yes, in Freddy's Dead, they'll tell us it was Freddy's old house, but at that point, they're pulling it out of there ass to probably make sense of it all.  But in Part 3 here, that information in a later film is not true here.  Anyway, just something I've always wondered.
This third adventure takes it from the neighborhood and into a psychiatric ward for troubled teens.  Its a terrific setup as Freddy dwindled the children of the his murderer's to just these few six years after the first film (see, Jesse's coming out party happened 5 years after so it can still count).  It keeps the series' motif's taking them to new levels.  Not only do we get the eerie, creepy institution, but the dreams are more lavish as well.  For its limitations and low budget, this film goes all in and comes out quite well.  Most all of the effects work holds up.  I STILL get squeamish when Phillip (faux Corey Feldman) gets his veins and stuff pulled out and stringed around like he's a marionette.  I quiver thinking about it.   Freddy's dream world has been a bit more realized and is a scary ass fantastical place.  He's also able to morph around more effortlessly  providing many surprises and big time shock moments.  There's a point early on where he's a snake.  We open the movie with Kristen Parker's nightmare and it really sets the stage for what's to come.  It invites us back into the world, is pretty damn scary and goes for a big action sequence.
Freddy himself is pretty ideal here.  This is the film that turned a corner with his character, but this whole film isn't that way.  For the first 2/3 of the film, Freddy lies very much in the shadows and is a tormentor in the dark.  When we see him he's morphed into a giant snake, a puppet, a televison or largely in the shadows.  He doesn't speak much and is very sinister.  The dreams are taking the forefront and become imaginative, not just "well, it sorta looks normal and here's Freddy to chase you down".  When "Welcome to prime time, bitch!" happens, it doesn't become some schitcky slasher stand up routine either.  He just has some darkly comedic lines to go with his kill, like a horror James Bond.  Here you get the best of both worlds and done with much more tastes than it ever would be again regarding Freddy.  However, as funny as they could possibly be, in this installment they add to the evil because its coming as Freddy is killing off characters you've really come to enjoy and want to see survive until the end.
I love the cast of Dream Warriors.  These kids are awesome.  Its a wonderful group of up and coming actors, but they have an incredible amount of charisma and massive chemistry with one another to make this whole thing work better than anyone could have imagined.  Patricia Arquette is the one who shot out from this into stardom, but the rest are pretty fun too.  They all are given great attention, back stories and depth to have you gravitate toward them.  There's also a sense of comradery with one another that seems to be the cast themselves elevating the material.  Its almost Breakfast Club-like, as there seems to be at least one that a teen in the audience in '87 could relate to.  Its also super cool to see them start to realize their powers and then be outfitted in the dream world as if they were a super hero bunch.  It makes me wonder what the two who didn't make it to that point in the movie would have been.
There's also a solid group of adult characters intertwined here to ground some things and the two groups mix perfectly.  Priscilla Pointer is a scene chewer as the evil doctor who just won't accept what's going on.  Craig Wasson I had always thought of as the poor man's Matthew Modine is such an interesting performer.  He's not been in much I've seen (Schizoid, Body Double), but he really works here and is an adult character you really find yourself building this whole movie to root for.  John Saxon returns for a little bit, but knocks it out of the park, as he's been driven to drinking and rent-a-coping following the first film.  And I must say, the cast they've surrounding Heather Langenkamp with in this movie helps her out a ton too.  She's improved quite a bit from the first movie.  She's nothing excellent, but she's pretty passable for the most part with some actual great moments here and there.
I gotta point out that I'm an old soul here (which probably isn't surprising to you readers by now) in that I love the final battle with Craig Wasson, John Saxon and Freddy's skeleton.  Its an old tip of the hat to Ray Harryhausen.  I know some may say its dated or something like that, but I think the skeleton at least looks rough and detailed and the stop motion effects on it make it even creepier to me.  This bones subplot also elevates Freddy Krueger a bit to "classic monster" status with a more gothic and legendary storyline.  Its akin to that of garlic or stake in the heart with vampires and feels a exquisite tip of the hat to the Hammer Dracula stuff.  This is the sort of added back story that enhances and helps the character rather than being hokey mythology or putting on too much to demystify a character.  This doesn't explain away any evil, its only adding to a way that he can be sent away (until the next movie).
The imagination is all over with Freddy's fantastical world (that mirror room is pretty cool).  Its more than just a boiler room and your regular house with a weird prop or two.  The world here is just completely opened up and not holding back.  Its so well done, that how Freddy goes out seems like "Oh...that was it?" But in the context of the story its satisfying enough, there's no reason to harp on it, the film earned the right to do it.  Chuck Russell and Frank Darabont really went for broke with Freddy and its very rewarding what turned out on screen.  Wes Craven may not have gotten to fully see this through, but you gotta credit that he gave the bump, the set and then these two guy threw down a massive spike.  As we go through the series, there's an obvious difference in focus and quality whenever he has his hand in one of these films.  He's not fully involved here, but he got this story off the ground and brought Nancy back.  Also returning is the theme music (as well as many other pieces of that score).  With having more time off than the last time, Shaye and Co looks like they took a good look back at what wasn't working in Elm Street 2 and WAS what people wanted from the original film.
There's an element here that I think works greatly for this movie whether its scary or not anymore.  I've always mentioned that I think even when most 80s horror movies don't work or aren't "scary" anymore they are still a whole lot of fun compared to other decades.  Dream Warriors I think due to some great writing, competent direction and well built and shot sets still works with its scares.  But its also a great horror-fantasy adventure.  Its the story of a group of outcasts, different from each other that must join forces, learn their newly discovered powers and band together to help stave off an evil force.  The film works so well on that level and pretty much on the level of a superhero origin story as well.  So, it also works in turn as a horror-superhero movie then too!  Maybe its not scaring you, but the character work and journey this film takes with them is good enough to work on its own merits that it doesn't really matter anymore.  Its a fun ass movie!
Its pretty obvious I love this movie.  Dream Warriors is one of the greatest sequels in the history of sequels.  I honestly think you could come into this movie cold and pretty much get the gist of the past and enjoy it just as much as the guy who saw 1 & 2 before coming in.  That it works as a great sequel and a stand alone is another detriment to its greatness.  Its tempting to say that if you only see one Nightmare movie, to make it this one, even over the first.  For common modern movie watchers, this is a better production than the first in terms of acting, effects, script and direction.  I LOVE the first movie, but I can see issues younger audiences and people who don't know how to watch old movies will have.  Dream Warriors is also the film that catapulted Freddy Krueger into the pop culture lexicon and made him big time.  The emergence was on its way to coming full circle in terms of Freddy's dominance.

NEXT TIME:  Patricia Arquette morphs into Tuesday Knight (No, not the day of the week).

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