A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

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

Its mad how quickly and completely this franchise bounced back after its mediocre and strangely disconnected second entry. This film is Elm Street at its most unrestrained and fun, thanks to the return of Wes Craven in the writer's seat and the adoption of new director Chuck Russell. Russell gives the film a darkly playful, expressionistic visual identity that almost feels Burtonesque at times (and we're talking down-and-dirty, 80s-era Burton). Unpopular opinion, but this is my favorite Elm Street flick, right here.

This film benefits from a grossly inflated budget that allows Russell to really revel in the gonzo weirdness of Freddy's nightmare-world murders in a way the franchise had never been able, with fantastic sequences involving things like Freddy turning himself into a giant Robert Englund-faced Beetlejuice sandworm and eating a girl, or a stop-motion Freddy doll coming to life, severing a boy's tendons, and using them to puppeteer him about, marionette-style. The effects are universally creative and magnificently-realized. These over-the-top, almost cartoonish kills coupled with the premise of the Elm Street teens awakening their own dream powers to fight back against Freddy almost elevates this film out of slasher territory and into full-on dark fantasy. This is the original superhero horror movie.

The return of original film stars Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon reinforces the film's connection to the first installment, and having Langenkamp's Nancy serve as Freddy's personal nemesis and a mentor to the new batch of teens is a stroke of genius, letting Elm Street have its own Dr. Loomis figure, however briefly. This is also the first Elm Street movie to let Freddy be a proper character unto himself, rather than just a boogieman figure. Russell wisely eases off the deep, Vaderesque pitch-shifting on Freddy's voice from the previous movies, letting Englund's performance stand on its own. And stand he does: Freddy is a grotesque, misogynistic, child-murdering bastard, but he is also a deeply entertaining and effective villain who anchors the whole enterprise. But even without these returning personalities, the film would still work, thanks to being that rare slasher feature to have a batch of teen victims-to-be who are actually all-around well-realized and likeable, and who you care enough about to actually give a crap whether they live or die.

And as always, in the grand tradition of A-list slashers, this is a movie where in the end you get to see some kickass, resourceful women hand the "all-powerful" woman-hating baddie his ass. It has rarely been as satisfying as it is here. And refreshingly, there's no series-trademark copout "gotcha" ending to undermine the victory. The movie is occasionally corny, if endearingly so (the wizard kid is super cringe), and is often far too whacked out and fun to be genuinely scary, but as a full-on realization of the bizarro potential of the first movie, it can't be beat.

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