A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

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

Horror of 1987 / Horror of the 80's

If you had asked 16-year old me what I thought of this film, there is no question in my mind I would have told you it was the best of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. But, then again, 16-year old me didn't have too high an opinion of John Carpenter's Halloween. Or Romero's Dawn of the Dead, when he finally saw that. And he made sure to be kind enough to say something about Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre like "it was probably a masterpiece in 1974 but in 1999 it just kind of sits there."

After all the buckling down and really carefully rewatching these films and finally starting to open my eyes to horror and becoming addicted to that feeling when I realize I had been a fool for so long... I'm not that keen on putting much stock into what 16-year old me thought.

Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street is undoubtedly to the me who has spent the most significant amount of his life thinking critically about horror the only singular film in New Line's runaway hit franchise that matters as an original work and as a defining moment in horror as an artform... but, I've also come to the realization that the me of my 30's wasn't always very careful with A Nightmare on Elm Street as a franchise. And I clearly respect franchises, since for me Paramount's Friday the 13th can only be described as a drug. Ever since becoming fascinated by it as a tween through Cinemax and TNT and USA network re-runs in the mid-90's, I like many other horror fans wanted that feeling repeated with other franchises. Though it's hard to be critically loyal to them when the truth of the matter is that in the case of most franchises, business interests and fan clamoring for sometimes unreal expectations to be met by films made before they were born have served to distort a good director's important work on an original film. There's no denying that sequels typically do not measure up to the artistic merit and intent of originals as lofty as Halloween, Chainsaw, The Howling, The Evil Dead, Psycho, Carrie, and, yes, Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street.

But... there's also no denying that a good filmmaker creating their own vision of a previous film idea should be given the benefit of doubt by people who care about ideas in the first place. Consideration of what that filmmaker does to a previous film property should be separated from the taint of business interests and the cynical inclination to damn sequels or remakes because fans can be unrealistic or unappreciative.

Though, in the case of my last rewatch of the film 4 summers ago, I had to face some unfortunate truths with this sequel. Small things like bad music cues (the horns during the bathroom sink scene, that awful thing that was happening on the soundtrack while Kristen was falling asleep staring at the popsicle dream house) and the kind of cosplay lameness of recasting The Last of the Elm Street Children as generic dream superheroes, as well as pretty substantial things, such as the plot hole of the Hypnocil drug and Dr. Simms promising to put in an order for some (where did that go???), and the Sister Mary Helena subplot and what the entire ending represents. Wes Craven didn't write "5, 6, grab your crucifix" into the lore of Freddy as a literal recipe for how to stop him. This film perverts that and forces religious articles into the story, seemingly because... well, if Freddy is alive in dreams, he is supernatural. Therefore, supernature must exist on the same intellectual plane as spirituality. Maybe so, as there are many ways to interpret and represent spiritual forces but who equates that reading of spirituality with holy water, consecrated burial, and using a crucifix over Freddy's newly blessed grave site like a cherry on-top?

I'm not going through this alone either, I want every fan to really think this one over. It may be ominous, and therefore feasibly a great idea to have Freddy's mother (who would know and all) warning Dr. Gordon in such grave tone: "If your only faith is science, Dr., it may be you that's laid to rest..." I mean, Freddy in this instance is a lot like Pennywise from IT- you don't have to believe in him for him to believe in you. Freddy has to exist otherwise there is no film. And if Freddy exists in dreams, of course there is supernature. But what about the discrepancy between fiction and reality? While horror films have to delve into and elaborate upon our real world fears, the overwhelming likelihood of reality is that God and a higher power never did exist. It's not a definite fact but it's the reality of the extent of our perception.

And to have films piously telling us we're stupid not to believe... that kind of message can't be taken very seriously, to say the least. It cripples the objectivity of believing in two possibilities. Which is why Dream Warriors is not in the same league as Craven's original. Even if it is a better horror fantasy than his 1994 follow-up, New Nightmare, Craven wrote about characters' belief in God and how it changed them as people. Without trying to confirm their belief. Dream Warriors is partially a fantasy about seeking proof. Turning Freddy into more than a boogeyman, he becomes a literal demon from hell and now only the power of Christ and Christian symbols can stop him. Using Freddy as a metaphor for hell as proof of heaven ("I'll dream you into a beautiful dream forever and ever"), demons as proof of angels (it's implied at the end that Nancy's spirit is the one who turned on the light in the popsicle dream house on Neil's bedside table), therefore, of-the-devil as proof of God.

Meanwhile... this film is also such a knockout on every technical level. Every self-respecting intellectual outlet from The Academy Awards to The Criterion Collection recognizes the inherent value in special effects and how effects-driven work can forward a story as though its telling the story. Which is really the legacy of the Nightmare sequels by this point out. Dream Warriors handles the effects in a storytelling capacity by localizing the details to the limits of Freddy's power, which are unknown to the teenagers as they very slowly come to wield any control over their dream abilities. For a film with a marketing campaign and theme song that suggest the whole film will be a superhero battle, the plot smartly keeps the deck stacked in Freddy's favor. At one point, everyone realizes they never really had a chance to stop Freddy with dream magic- making it again disappointing that it takes a random doctor who must learn to believe in Christianity tooling around an auto salvage yard with holy water and a burlap sack of bones to save the day. But this is still a noteworthy triumph of dark, creepy, imaginative 80's horror filmmaking and a big leap forward for low budget special effects.

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