A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

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

Let's go kick the motherfucker's ass all over dreamland.

The rightful sequel to the first Nightmare and arguably where the franchise reaches its apex of creativity and storytelling; Dream Warriors stands tall as a continuation of the gothique, perverted sense of terror and fused with teenage populist aspirations. Fantasy and horror have never been more interrelated and interchangeable than in this, where the nightmares erupt from what's hidden into what's evident, truly embodying the full extent of the fantastical. Chuck Russell's Dream Warriors represents the dreamily warring portrait of rebellion and freedom from past history, dark desires, and the aggressive establishments that attempts to drown who we are and what we can be. It's inspiring as it's lined with heroism, deeply tragic due to the inevitable horrors that followed, and finally blossomed by the first-rate hands that guide it all. From its imaginative writing, decent performances, stylish cinematography, and reliable direction, there's little doubt that Dream Warriors is the most well-rounded and balanced film in the franchise ever since Craven's first involvement. Sure, there are a few hiccups there and there yet compared to the positives it manages to reap I'd say they pale in comparison.

Welcome to prime time, bitch!

Developed from a story and screenplay by the returning Wes Craven and Bruce Wagner, though managing to survive through rewrites by fellow horror peers Chuck Russell (Hell Night, Dreamscape, The Blob) and Frank Darabont (The Blob, The Fly II, The Mist, The Walking Dead), it's not a surprise that the story of this Part 3 comes out as great as it's, truly a child of masterminds and unyielding craftsmen. Far from being a standard slasher feature of its time, this is where the plot critically matters and represented as a particular element through which it becomes a modern classic capable to be said in the same breath as Craven's original. Concerning the affliction of Dream Warriors, the narrative takes a The Goonies or John Hughes in mental institution type of setting where a new group of hospitalized Elm Street children are being targeted by Freddy sumbitch Krueger (this guy's so lovable to hate), in which they're subsequently found by now dream psychologist Nancy Thompson and who teaches them the power of dreams in order to resist the claw-wielding maniac the way she did years ago. First of all, reintroducing Nancy back as the leader of the new generation of the Elm Street children is such a great character work, almost working as an atonement to the fact that she couldn't save her own friends in the first film. Now, having the second chance to do just that and lay her life on the line against the purest evil is instrumental in evolving who she's as a person, and perhaps, even offering a closure to her hateful and vindicated rivalry with the Springwood Slasher. For me, I love Heather Langenkamp (even though she feels a bit off here either due to the script, direction, or just her stiff performance) and seeing her back on as Nancy again is really comforting after her original open-ended conclusion. Plus, I do like how she's always ready to stab Freddy at first sight, just the right amount of unafraid and vintage tactical Nancy that we all admire. Though I suspect Craven had a lot to do with handling her in this.

However, Dream Warriors isn't strictly a Nancy-centric tale and it practically expands the Nightmare universe beyond old houses and Springwood into Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital, alongside various threats other than Freddy. It's not a one person battle anymore and it doesn't have to always be a final girl versus the villain, and I believe that aspect of Dream Warriors with an S is what makes Part 3 an innovative addition to the slasher genre. The new Elm Street batch and so-called titular Dream Warriors, with their distinct personalities and resourceful attitudes, are similarly better introduced here than any of the previous characters aside from Nancy. Among the best of them would be Patricia Arquette's (while her appearances are surprisingly limited, she compensates by adding a whole lot of haunting atmosphere, the best screamer, and primarily being the dark heart of the young Warriors) Kristin Parker, (the co-lead and who's supposed to act as the torchbearer to Nancy's main heroine status, though the writers did a good job at adapting her with the rest of the group as to not override the attention given to them) making her debut as the Punk Rock listening, coke drinking and sleeping pill consuming teenager plagued with suicidal tendencies, Taryn White's recovering heroin addiction yet having even feistier fighting spirit to the point of getting it down and dirty against the Human Pizza, and Roland Kincaid's shit-talking and having the strength to prove it. Others like the wheelchair bound Will who's a proto Harry Potter, Joey the banshee with a weakness for hot women, Philip the Puppet Master (who should've had more screentime or at least have the chance to join in the fight against Freddy), and Jenny the movie star, are less memorable/likable characters if we're only going by their characterization, but each of them do contribute to a certain special something that makes the movie so much fun. Story-wise, I think the idea of a group of Elm Street children constantly terrorized by Freddy and which presumably led to their "treatment" in a mental institution, being deemed as crazy and with nowhere else to go, is one of the ultimate examples of tragedy, completely undeserving of their fate and just reeks of sadness even after the entire ordeal ends. One huge exception is that this time they're actually aware of who they're up against, and even possess a weapon aka the dreamworld itself to duke it out against their tormentor, instead of accepting their status as victims like the previous movies have depicted. In that case, Russell & Darabont ensure the narrative isn't just going to play out typical slasher style, rather heavily incorporating fantastical elements that eventually wrap the outlook of it all in a more "mainstream" cloak of collaborative subgenres. As a viewer, you truly want the protagonists to succeed, for the killer to get his stupid comeuppance and for the whole thing to settle graciously with a happy ending. Bar the underwhelming ending (which I believe Dream Master did better), Dream Warriors is finally written to be unpredictable, fun, empathetic, eccentric, scary (still so), full of character-driven heart whilst balanced with appalling menace one would feel familiar to its predecessors. A massive step-up next to the symbolism-heavy Freddy's Revenge and almost an equal to Craven's masterpiece, regardless. Although personally, I'd have rated this a five stars if Freddy's fate in Dream Master is switched with this one's.

Five, six, grab a crucifix.

On the directing side, Chuck Russell certainly has his charms and quirks, achieving a Nightmare sequel so skillfully maneuvered that its reputation grows to be considered as second only to the original. While he lacks Craven's artfully minacious craft, Russell's rarely ever looms insignificantly and definitely isn't one for obliviously inserting unnecessary themes or irrelevant scenes that mean nothing. In contrast, Dream Warriors appears to be a work of the prime craftsman, adhering to both the confines and growing expansion of the script as it goes on and on, albeit advancing their visualization to optimal condition as they can get. His direction slick without being too stylish to the point where it grows apart from the actual story, moving at a medium pace that feels patiently satisfying throughout, and above all, painting justice to each and every one of the nightmare sequences and taking their special/practical effects to the forefront (very well is his speciality considering his later effects heavy projects including The Blob and The Mask) particularly with a limited budget: the first nightmare of which is the atmospheric "Kristen and the Little Girl" again resumes the sequel tradition of starting the film with an incredibly intense opening, both the "Puppet Master" and "Snake Freddy" (that Nancy's chair swallowing effect still amazes me to this day) sequences which wittingly show how bigger, meaner and wilder the extent of the surreal dreams are going to be taken, and who can forget the iconic awesomeness of "Television Freddy"? Although the stop motion "Junkyard Skeletal Freddy" is super weird and I don't really know what to make of it besides being extremely campy that I just blurted out a laugh whenever it's on-screen. Frankly, they're all amazing and nothing short of being inventive products of '80s spooky machine.

Then, in regard to Russell's treatment of the Sweater Devil himself is handled cleverly, increasing his savage quips before killing his victims while still preserving the terrifying aspect of who he's and what he can do by the end. The humor is far from the type of comedy for comedy's sake but they make sense and specifically add unto the utterly demonic sadism inside Freddy, resulting in a perfect blend of creepy and comical until Dream Master starts to turn his head towards the latter. Altogether, Russell really directs and elevates Dream Warriors like a true horror-fantasy blockbuster that's supremely fun, fun and fun as all hells! Additionally, DP Roy H. Wagner replaces Jacques Haitkin as the third film's cinematographer and his shooting work considerably eliminates much of the made-for-TV look that Freddy's Revenge seems to have at times. The inspired and bombastic visuals are terrifically complimented by Wagner's gothic lens, with highlights including (but not limited to) the dominance of dark blues in the "Kristen and the Little Girl" nightmare, the dynamic camerawork in "Snake Freddy", as well as the final battle in Freddy's Hell-like lair dipped in saturated crimson red.

Overall, if A Nightmare on Elm Street makes you cower underneath your dirty blanket and Freddy's Revenge encourages you to dance like it's nobody's business to its Fonda Rae's tune, then Dream Warriors' theme in Dokken will definitely cause you to cheer, shout and applaud because WE'RE THE DREEEEAAAMMM WARRIORS!

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