October Nightmares #28: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)


Saying that horror movie sequels are a bit crap, is like pointing out that alligators are not the best cuddlers. That's two pieces of knowledge which should have been evident without you needlessly sacrificing your arms. Perhaps those worst afflicted by this law of diminishing returns are the slasher franchises of the Seventies and Eighties. Series that, despite beginning with strong premises, soon ended up scraping the bottom of the barrel like the retainer of a careless McDonalds worker who ill-advisedly leaned over the deep-fat fryer. Look at A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), a film about a horrifically burnt child molester returning from beyond the grave to kill young people in their sleep - via their subconscious dreams. It's the quintessential Daily Express headline in movie form.

The studio saw what a roaring success the film was and, deciding they wanted more money for their cocaine parties, just had to make a sequel. A movie that couldn't have been further from the mark if it worked as a Uber driver. This was followed by a further seven movies of fluctuating quality, but all of which (with one or two exceptions) were pretty excruciating. There's a sense of overwhelming desperation once the studio starts bringing out an endless parade of sequels, like an 1800's era father desperately trying to marry off his daughters to the local rich guy: "She may not look like much, but our Nightmare on Elm Street 2 will make a loving wife." "Did that kid's gym teacher just towel whip his arse until it was as red as Boris Johnson's cherub face?" "...erm, well how about if she sucked you off?" Luckily for us, after the ropey first sequel creator Wes Craven (alongside director Chuck Russell) reined it for the third movie - A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Also known as, I Hope You Fucking Well Like Dokken.

Part of the reason I think Dream Warriors is the best sequel (alongside New Nightmare) is that it consciously takes what works about the concept and runs wholeheartedly with it. After two movies, it was already clear what the Nightmare films were all about - a flippant killer stalking hapless victims in bizarre dreamscapes. Although the first movie was arguably the darkest and most gruesome, there was an inherent silliness underlying the experience - the man's body moves like Lee Evans and he quips like Les Dawson, for Christ's sake. Freddy's Revenge (Nightmare 2) went full retard, over-dosing on the stupidity - resulting in it being neither amusing nor horrifying. Dream Warriors sought to rectify this by bringing it in line with, say, The Evil Dead series - a fun romp with plenty of strong horror elements. I mean there's a fucking Dungeons and Dragons dweeb who tries to kill Freddy Kruger (Robert Englund) with magic, that should tell you all you need to know.

Dream Warriors immediately wins points for serving as a continuation of the first film's storyline. Set a couple of years later the story follows a new batch of kids who, after being traumatised by the Freddy nightmares, are institutionalised in a psychiatric hospital. The sole survivor from the first movie, Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp), returns as a new member of the hospital staff who attempts to help the victims survive Freddy by teaching them their 'dream powers'. The film employs excellent use of dream logic, with the central concept being, in essence, weaponised lucid dreaming - progressing the 'dream' concept to its natural conclusion. This also means we get 'themed' characters whose fears and powers serve to conjure up their ironic fate - such as former drug addict Taryn, who is killed via a heroin overdose administered by Fredward Dirty Needle Hands.  

There are more than a few weird aspects to this story. The whole Freddy being the bastard son of a thousand maniacs doesn't sit right with human biology, unless his mother happened to be a cat on sperm collecting day. Likewise, it's rather incongruous how each film simply keeps adding more descendants from the parents who committed the original arson murder of Kruger - no less than a small army must have killed the poor bastard. Perhaps he was burned alive by ISIS? Craig Wasson, playing Dr. Neil Gordon, meanwhile occupies the typical role of somewhat questioning authority figure determined to get to the truth - a role he achieves by stealing crucifixes and preforming impromptu burials for the remains of murderers. He's one of the few adults trying to help the children, as is par for course in an Eighties slasher. The rest employ a don't ask don't tell policy and medicate the kids to hell.

I remember seeing this film and initially disliking it. Something about it just didn't click for me. Maybe it seemed a little too cheesy compared to the original. For example, Taryn's (Jennifer Rubin) 'dream power' is being an Eighties punk chick who carries around switch-knives and makes statements like "In my dreams I'm beautiful. And bad!" The characters are painted in broad strokes, and the dialogue in the group therapy is rather lame. Kristen (Patricia Arquette) is constantly told she is the key, as though we're in a parallel universe where locked doors can only be opened by dumb blond girls, and it's done with such reverence I'm surprised there isn't a Jesus comparison. If you love her so much Nancy, why don't you just bloody marry her.

But if you are capable of appreciating Dream Warriors for what it is and respect its internal logic, then it's a fine entry in the A Nightmare on Elm Street series. The 'Dream Warriors' aspect isn't as cheesy as it first seems - especially compared to the karate scene in the 4th film, The Dream Master. The score is, of course, rad as hell. Dokken were/are an excellent metal band and sear the film with a definitive time-locked Eighties vibe. As is most often the case with Eighties horror, the gore is the real selling point. I believe it's the goriest of the series. Even if that isn't the case, it's definitely the most visually inventive - one kid is turned into a marionette with his flesh forming the strings, a girl gets partially consumed by a TV set that transforms into Freddy (Welcome to prime time, bitch indeed), Kristen is swallowed by a giant, snake-like creature. Joey (Rodney Eastman) gets knobbed by Kruger, who disguises himself as a sexy nurse - like that bastard Dr. Frank N. Furter from Rocky Horror Picture Show. All of these effects are a mixture of puppetry and stop-motion, the antidote to modern obsessively polished CGI. How does that saying go? You can polish a computer generated effect turd, but it's no substitute to physically blocking up a toilet?