Dream a grisly dream
“If you think you’ll get out alive, you must be dreaming.”
Director: Chuck Russell / Writers: Wes Craven, Frank Darabont, Chuck Russell & Bruce Wagner / Cast: Heather Langenkamp, Craig Wasson, Patricia Arquette, Robert Englund, Priscilla Pointer, John Saxon, Ken Sagoes, Rodney Eastman, Jennifer Rubin, Bradley Gregg, Ira Heiden, Larry Fishburne, Penelope Sudrow, Brooke Bundy, Nan Martin, Dick Cavett, Zsa Zsa Gabor.
Body Count: 6
Dire-logue: “In my dreams…I am the Wizard Master!”
A Nightmare On Elm Street 3 holds the dubious honour of being the first slasher flick I ever saw, way back when I was about 11 or 12, a group of kids together in a TV room at a camp site, an older brother’s video cassette, fear, horror, Freddy!!, nightmares of my own for about six weeks. Never will I watch a horror film again, I said.
Even now, parts of Dream Warriors still give me a familiar shiver as I hark back to all those “little slices of death” as Edgar Allan Poe’s quote begins the flick, the most slasher molded entry in the series and probably the best of the sequels. Attempting to pick up the pieces left by the misfire that was Freddy’s Revenge (the gay one – which has a charm I’ll explore further when I add it to the site), Wes Craven rejoined the production team as a co-writer and first act in his role was to bring Nancy back into the fold.
Nancy, again played by the lovely Heather Langenkampenfussenschmidt, comes to help out at the Springwood Psyche Ward where a group of nightmare plagued teenagers are failing to convince the staff of the existence of their mutual boogeyman and, more importantly, failing to stay alive. We’re inducted into tale with Kristen (Arquette), who has a particularly eerie nightmare where she’s stuck inside Nancy Thompson’s old house – now Freddy’s – and ends up with a slashed wrist.
The staff, primarily made up of bitchy matriarchal type Pointer, sassy porter Fishburne and Craig Wasson’s flakey but nice doc, think it’s all down to sex, drugs and rock n’ roll and just want the kids to have a good sleep. Awww…that’s it. Nancy’s arrival is followed by two grim deaths, both of which are inexplicably written off as suicides and she, somewhat a little late, tells the remaining kids about Freddy and what he did to her six years earlier.
Helpfully/contrivedly (you choose), Kristen has the ability to pull other people into her dreams and Nancy tries to turn the kids into ‘Dream Warriors’ using their most fantastical abilities of their wildest dreams against Freddy: wheelchair dork can walk and is the Wizard Master, ex-junkie chick is bad-ass punk, black guy has super strength and Kristen can backflip all over the joint. All the while, Freddy torments Nancy from beyond, scarring poor comatose Joey in the process…
Throw in a creepy nun that only Wasson can see and John Saxon’s cameo as an alcoholic Lt. Thompson and we got ourselves the best type of 80’s horror flick!
Things manifest in a joint assault against Freddy in the group dream, some of the kids die, some don’t, the creepy-ass nun seems to know a lot about Krueger (hmmm…), mute kid speaks again and there’s a sub-Jason and the Argonauts skeleton-of-death moment that hasn’t dated so well. The vein puppet sequence and “this is your big break into TV” would likely be close to the top in the Best Deaths in Slasher Movie category when the Oscar’s finally decide that this is a base level requirement ignored for too long.
Dream Warriors is definitively 80’s: the framing, the hair, the music, the general tone of the picture and it’s inventively brutal effects work, something the later films used as their hook when Freddy had become about as scary as a basket of kittens. Characterisations are sharper than Part 2 and the ensuing sequels and there’s still something grossly repellent about Englund as the villain, although this film was most definitely the turning point of the franchise from high-rent Friday the 13th competitor to all-out pop culture icon status where victims became interchangable and nobody cared about them. It was a massive box office hit (outperformed only by Elm Street 4 and, later, Freddy vs. Jason, smashing the hockey masked one out of the running.
There’s a lot to like about this charismatic and occasionally downright scary film (that kids bike that rolls into Kristen’s room – argh!!! Not the mention the best use of the creepy “One, two, Freddy’s comin’ for you”… rhyme). For one thing, it’s not afraid to kill off once important players or sympathetic victims in the name of horror and, perhaps most impressively, is the end credits song by spandex rockers Dokken, the video of which appears on the DVD as the falsetto squealings of the lead singer defeat Freddy…
Blurbs-of-interest: Sagoes, Eastman, Bundy and, of course, Englund all returned for the next film, The Dream Master; Sagoes also appeared in The Back Lot Murders. Langenkamp returned in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare with John Saxon, who had also appeared in Welcome to Spring Break, The Baby Doll Murders, Tenebrae and the original Black Christmas. Wasson was in Schizoid. Chuck Russell previously produced Hell Night. Jennifer Rubin moved into the final girl role for the very similar Bad Dreams.