A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors ★★★½

Dream Warriors was highly influential to me as a child, as I recall it being one of the films that got me into horror. Not old enough to originally experience any of the now legendary slasher franchises in chronological order, Dream Warriors became my particular introduction to Freddy Krueger. I was blown away at the time by its wit, its humor, its ability to blend state of the art effects with outright horror, and its inventive kills, a few of which I have to admit, almost a quarter of a century on, are still impressive.

So why the low rating? Try as I might I cannot rank this higher than the original. For every perceived advancement of the slasher genre, and the series itself, it also puts a chink in its armor, surprisingly not in the special effects department, but in its creaky narrative and acceleration of future diminished returns.

Freddy is no longer scary, we must accept, but in the natural tendency of each subsequent installment of a series to attempt to outdo the previous one, instead of merely trying to one-up the last dream death we end up with a truly annoying runaway game show host as a killer, whose calling card isn't menace, but a barrage of one-liners. Dream Warriors is also the first film in the franchise to introduce Freddy's misogynist tendencies, calling women "bitches" with such manic glee it feels like a wink to the audience, and betrays a sexist bias that I don't recall from the first two films.

Story-wise this film is a nightmare also. The logistics of the dream therapy group make no sense, and the more the film mires itself in details the more frustratingly lost it becomes. There are too many characters and too many evolving subplots for a ninety minute horror movie, that by the time the very, very late second act incorporation of the film's subtitle appears it feels tacked on and rushed through, a last minute addition before a final string of murders. Parts of this make me long for the clean simplicity of camp counselors just getting butchered for walking through the woods.

But when the film works it really works. In retrospect Dream Warriors took the series as far as it could go, as each future film would just become a paler imitation of what director Chuck Russell and effects master Kevin Yagher accomplished here. The marionette death is still probably one of the top ten kills in slasher history. And Angelo Badalamenti's score is a keeper, one of his few attempts at genre work, and I always forget that this came out after Lynch's Blue Velvet, an odd left turn after such a career high point. Dream Warriors represents a true watershed moment in the slasher genre, I just wish for all the chances it took, it was able to do so with a better constructed story, and without sacrificing its integrity.

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