The filmmakers must have realized what a bad idea the last Nightmare on Elm Street movie was, because we’re back to dreams and nightmares in this third chapter in the franchise, Dream Warriors. Returning are a couple of members of the cast, as well as series creator Wes Craven, who co-wrote and co-produced this installment. Perhaps having him on-board was a good idea, because this film takes the series back to the roots laid out in the first film, and is much, much better for it.
This time around, the majority of the film takes place at a hospital, and once again centers around a group of teens who have a collective dream about being haunted by Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), who pulled this same stunt in the first film. The difference being that this time around, there are far more teens, and they can all be in the same dream at the same time. Nancy (Heather Langenkamp), heroine of the first film, is also back and ready to help the teens fight off their tormentor.
There are too many teenagers to mention. That’s one of the ways that Dream Warriors falters in comparison to the original. That one was so focused on what wound up being just one lead that we could sympathize with her plight. This time around, the cast consists of a group of teenagers who often have no discernible trait. Okay, one’s in a wheelchair and one wants to be an actress. Those are some deep characters, movie. There’s also one, Kristen (Patricia Arquette), who has the ability to pull them all into the same dream. She’s kind of important that way.
By taking us back into the world of dreams, creative freedom is unlocked. The last film, Freddy’s Revenge, tried to change it up by setting all of the deaths in the “real world.” That limited what the filmmakers could do with the death scenes. This one gets even crazier than the first, with some sequences that you need to see in order to believe that they happened. It has some great special effects, too, and doesn’t seem at all hampered by what’s still a relatively small budget, even if it’s the largest of the series thus far.
We move away from the teenagers at times in order to have Nancy, now a psychiatrist-in-training, and Dr. Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson) discuss the situation and attempt to find out more about Freddy. Yes, we learn how Freddy came into being in this film, which doesn’t make for a terrifying villain. The more you know about the thing that haunts you, the less scary it is. The same is true of the more you see it, and we see Freddy a great deal in this film.
He’s changed a bit from the last film. He talks more, and is funnier. His back story also makes him more sympathetic, even if he is a child murderer. Dream Warriors has some creative deaths — Freddy often morphs into real life objects and uses them to kill the victims; they’re asleep but he lazily makes the dreamscape the same as the real life area — and it’s not at all dull, but it’s also no longer scary. The first film had moments of real terror, and while we might get more creativity this time around, it’s less frightening.
It’s kind of nice to see that Nancy is still willing to combat Freddy face-to-face. So many horror victims are reactionary, while she — and most of the cast of this film, once she convinces them of the best outlook — is proactive. Of course, it comes down to entering a collective dream and trying to deal with Freddy once and for all. Or should they try digging up Freddy’s earthly remains and moving them to holy ground? A mysterious nun suggests the latter, so that becomes a subplot.
There are some great individual moments in Dream Warriors. One in particular involves the line “the bastard son of a hundred maniacs,” which deserves to be included in every movie from this point forward. Yes, even in children’s movies. Especially in children’s movies. Could you imagine? Anyway, even if you won’t care much for the teenagers in the film, you’ll be able to savor some of the creativity shown by the filmmakers in many of the scenes.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors takes the spirit of the second film and ignores it completely in favor of the roots established by the original film. It has many moments of creativity, some innovative and very impressive special effects, a slightly different take on Freddy Krueger, and far too many indistinguishable characters for any of them to matter. It’s also not at all scary, and it really could have used a central character to latch onto. Still, I’ll take this over the last chapter 100 times out of 100, as this one doesn’t attempt to stifle an ingenious premise.