Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

Director: Chuck Russell

“Director” Jack Sholder had simultaneously been chatting on his cell phone, reading the newspaper, reprogramming the radio, and scarfing down a Big Mac moments before just falling asleep entirely while behind the wheel of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 when Wes Craven decided enough was enough, shoved Sholder out of the moving vehicle, and vowed he would from that moment on always keep the keys to his precious franchise in a safe and secure location. A dazed and disoriented Jack Sholder would later be quoted as mumbling, “Wuh hoppun?” when he eventually regained consciousness weeks later in a ditch on a lonely stretch of highway. Unlike Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street wasn’t ready to succumb to the temptations of the obvious 3rd film in 3-D gimmick. No, they had enough will power to hold out until the 7th film in the series. Hey, they tried. However, they did use the popular “let’s all pretend that the previous film never happened” vow of silence when penning this particular script. At any rate, a re-enlivened, back-to-basics approach to A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors makes this edition to the franchise almost tolerable. Umm... Hooray!?

Kristen (Patricia Arquette) will be Freddy’s new adversary. She’s a tossing and turning, gifted teen who encounters Freddy in her feverish nightmare. When she awakes she finds that she’s sporting a pair of slit wrists, which her boozy mother attributes to a suicidal cry for help. Kids today with their “iPods” and “hoodies”, and “suicide attempts”… don’t get me started. Once in the hospital/asylum, Kristen encounters a fellow band of sleep-wary teens. There’s a “rebel without a clue” chick named Taryn (Jennifer Rubin), a fat black kid named Kincaid (Ken Sagoes), a mute Dawson’s Creek reject named Joey (Rodney Eastman), and a standard-issued, bespectacled and be-wheelchaired, token D&D dweeb named Will (Ira Heiden).Tossed in for good measure are a young Lawrence Fishburne as a hip orderly, and a few other ancillary dopes that are merely fish in Freddy’s barrel. Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) returns as a grad student who’s familiar with the childrens' mysterious symptoms. God bless Heather for being a good sport, but in this role she looks more like a young girl wearing her mommy’s business suit as she “studies” the patients. The patients are the children of those who burned Freddy alive in what feels like 20 movies ago. Together, they are the last surviving “Elm Street Kids,” or, for purposes of this film, “The Dream Warriors.” With the help of Nancy and one of those “skeptical, but eventually enlightened” characters in the form of the psychiatrist/Nancy’s vague love interest, Neil (Craig Wasson), the team of kids uses group hypnosis to defeat Freddy as a team by using their “dream powers." Kristen’s powers include being a super-tough gymnast/fighter, and having the ability to enter and exit the nightmares at will. In dream land, Will is the magical “Wizard Master” (a deviously clever name used to prevent litigious corporations from finding similarities between it and the copyrighted “Dungeon Master”). He also looks a little like Harry Potter if you squint. The other dreamland alter-egos are as follows: Kincaid is super strong, and Taryn is a switch-blade swinging, punk-rocker chick with a “Savage Dragon” inspired Mohawk. Joey just has a super loud voice… I guess.

Meanwhile, Freddy has been dispatching the b-list characters. A girl who wanted to be “on T.V.” gets her head smashed into an actual TV that grew arms and a neat Freddy head. Joey wanders into Freddy’s path when he’s lured by a sexy nurse who felt that topless was the best clothing choice. Joey gets tied to the bed with the nurse’s tongue. Get it? He was “tongue tied.” Freddy now has a witty remark to go with every death. He’s growing into the classic killer that he eventually settles into. Joey actually survives this initial encounter and is held captive until the climactic rescue. Freddy turns a kid into a human marionette before snipping the strings and sending him plummeting off the asylum roof. After all that, we get the most inspired exposition these films have ever offered. Neil encounters a ghost-like nun wandering about the asylum. She gives the ghastly details of Freddy’s conception. Freddy’s mother was an employee who got accidentally locked in the asylum for several days. Within those few days she saw more action than Paris Hilton on a bender. She was tossed around from psycho to psycho; each one having his way with her. Freddy’s conception was the result of this perverse game of Russian Roulette. Here’s where the best line of all Nightmare on Elm Street films is uttered by the somber nun. She sums up Freddy thusly: “He was the bastard son of a hundred maniacs.” Beat that, Jason!

The last act has Nancy’s father re-entering the series to divulge the location of Freddy’s remains. The nun told Neil that Freddy needs a proper burial. Neil and Nancy’s father head off to the dump, where many years ago Nancy’s father and the other angered parents of Elm Street hid Freddy’s remains. Simultaneously, Kristen is sedated, and the team of dream warriors heads into dreamland to rescue her. Taryn and "wheelchair boy" are dispatched first. Will gets run over by his own wheelchair, and Taryn get two handfuls of hypodermic needles to the arms. In the dump, Nancy’s dad and Neil battle a Jason and the Argonauts-style Freddy skeleton that the parents had locked in the trunk of a Cadillac for some reason. Remarkably, after all these years, the Cadillac AND Freddy's skeleton are still there. And on top of all that, Nancy’s dad still remembers the exact location of the car in this supposedly gigantic junkyard. Eventually, Neil gets Freddy's lively skeleton into a grave that they dug, and douses it with holy water. Once that’s done, Freddy fades out of the dreamland, and Joey, Kincaid and Kristen all survive the ordeal. But not before Nancy takes the BIG sleep. Freddy offs Nancy, but by this point it doesn’t really make an impact. At Nancy’s funeral, the nun makes another appearance. Before Neil can catch up to her, she vanishes behind a headstone. And what name do you suppose is on that headstone? Yes, it was that of Freddy’s mother, Amanda Krueger.
This film was meant to be the cap on the Nightmare on Elm Street series. Wes Craven came back to write an unusually interesting backstory, and a refreshingly new take on battling Freddy to end it all. Needless to say, it wasn’t that last film of the series. Interestingly, this is the first film in the series to use the fictional nightmare suppressant "Hypnocil", which will pop up later in Freddy vs. Jason as a major plot element. Despite its problems, I still enjoyed this film. It has everything you need for an enjoyable horror flick. It’s not as good as the original, which comes as no surprise, but it’s also much better than the second film, Freddy’s Revenge, which also comes as no surprise. If you’ve heard tales of these films and want a good introductory course, make sure you see this film and the first one. Each one uses the seamless blending of nightmare and reality in different but equally effective ways. This film definitely gets proportionally goofier as its ambition constantly outweighs its capabilities, but at least it's a descent effort. Freddy now has something to say, and the death toll rises gradually. I’ve said before that Freddy’s killing technique involves quality not quantity. So, the pattern is set. The films will go: good, bad, good, bad. That is, until Wes Craven stops leaving this franchise unlocked on the street for homeless people to sleep in.

Best Death: Girl gets her head smashed through a TV/Freddy hybrid.

No comments: