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Franchise Friday - A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors

As a word of warning, this is gonna be one of those openings where I share too much.

There’s always that one movie, isn’t there? You know what I mean. If you’re a straight guy, it’s that first pair of on-screen boobs that make you realize yep, I want those…and I’ll spend my entire life pursuing them. I’m sure there are similar circumstances and films for women or LGBTQ+ folks, but I can only write from my experience. The weird thing is, it’s not like these were the first pair of naked breasts I’d ever seen. Heck, I’d discovered my older brother’s porn stash before I’d ever seen A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors…but at the time, my young brain really didn’t process what was going on in the images before me. However, once I’d hit the nurse scene in this movie, all those years ago, the connections clicked and…well, perhaps it’s best described as a title from a G.I. Joe cartoon: Arise, Serpentor, Arise!

So thank you, Nurse #1 as portrayed by Sally Piper, for having a pair of bazoombas that would launch a thousand failed attempts at getting a girlfriend.

Still here? Okay…synopsis time:

Freddy Krueger has returned to claim the last of the Elm Street kids…and they’re all locked up in the same mental institution. When a plague of suicide attempts emerges in the teens of Springwood, mental health professionals are stumped, writing off the surviving teens’ nightmares as survivors’ guilt. But Nancy Thompson, now a graduate student in psychology, has seen this before. She knows the man in their dreams…and she’s the only one that can bring the remaining kids together to face their fears. But will she get the chance? Or will conventional thinking and treatments kill these Dream Warriors before their battle can even begin?

There are two things that can happen after a poorly received sequel: either the series continues down the rabbit hole or producers and studio heads stop, take a good look at themselves and realize that need to right things before the franchise goes completely off the rails. With Nightmare 3, fortunately New Line opted for that latter option. Their first step was to try and lure Wes Craven back. This worked to a degree, even though he was busy with other projects (he was neck-deep in Deadly Friend at the time), he was still able to pair with Bruce Wagner to create a script. However, this script would end up being nixed by producers for two reasons: it skewed pretty dark and it sought to end the franchise. Further searching for a script would result in attempts from stars Robert Englund and John Saxon. Ultimately, the gig would go to director Chuck Russell, this being his first feature, and a then unknown writer named Frank Darabont, now of Shawshank Redemption, Green Mile and Walking Dead fame (to name only a few!).

To continue on a bit of film theory, as it were, sequels themselves can fall into let’s say two main categories: either more of the same with just better effects (or in the case of horror movies, more graphic kills) or taking the characters from the previous movie but deepening their circumstances, in other words, allowing the characters to grow beyond the initial film in a way that feels right. The last franchise we focused on, Friday the 13th, tended to follow the former while Elm Street 3 here takes the latter route. In this film, we learn Freddy’s origin (the bastard son of a thousand maniacs), we learn what gives him power and we learn a way to, hopefully, defeat him forever (which, of course, never works!). Just as important though, we get to follow up on Nancy and her father since the events of the first film. There’s an interesting thing that happens while watching this film in that you realize just how much the second film needed a stronger tie to the original instead of just simply occurring in the same 1428 Elm Street house. Allowing Nancy’s story to continue, especially in the way that it does…with her past Freddy experience driving her into a career in psychology…well, in some ways it makes Part 2 feel like the Halloween 3 or the Friday the 13th Part 5 of this series in that a vital component is missing. Of course, in those instances it was the franchise slashers themselves, Michael and Jason respectively, whereas here Freddy was indeed present for Part 2 but Part 3 really drives home the point that even though Jesse’s story was interesting, Freddy’s only at his best when paired up with his nemesis, Nancy.

It's the culmination of these factors that is perhaps why so many regard this as the best film in the series and while it’s certainly too early in this series to jump to such a conclusion, I can certainly see the argument for that sentiment. Freddy here feels like more of the natural progression of the character from the original film than he did in the second. Gone is the almost-comical sculking around and this is the film that really gives us that first taste of the brutal sense of humor the character has. Englund’s performance here and the material he’s given to work with ends up creating the Freddy that 90% of people think of whenever the character is mentioned, walking that razor’s edge of black humor that still ends up just as terrifying as it is funny. This film also starts the trend that Freddy is too powerful for any one teen to deal with. Even though the series does adhere to the slasher trope of a final girl (although not so much in this entry), each film going forward sees a group of teens facing Freddy as opposed to the way Nancy took him on solo in the original.

It's also important to give a shout out to the effects crew here…all of ‘em. You see, usually in horror films you just give accolades to the make-up guys and gals…as they do end up carrying the bulk of the responsibility of how the film will be received. They’re in charge of how good the kills look after all! In this film though, you can just tell that all crews were charged with doing a lot…likely with little in the way of funds…and most of it works. There’s the giant Freddy worm/snake thingy, the stop-motion Freddy skeleton, the melting tricycle, the hall of mirrors…so on and so on. Most of these prove successful although some haven’t aged well. The sheer diversity of the types of effects however does display that New Line continued to have faith in the series and was doing their best to support it, even if those means were meager compared to the funds available from larger studios. Of course, the make-up folks do need their mention, as this film has a couple of scenes that still creep me out, most notably during Taryn’s death where her track-marks become hungry little mouths yearning for the drugs Freddy is about to pump into her. Ew. Just…still ew.

If I have to levy one criticism toward Dream Warriors, it’s kinda the Dream Warriors themselves. There’s just A LOT of 80s cheese here and it’s aged like a fine Velveeta. Whether it’s Taryn’s ‘beautiful…and BAD’, Kindaid’s constant black rage, Will’s stereotypical D&D nerd…even Kristen’s gymnastics, there’s something about it all that just feels silly. These ‘powers’ feel insufficient for facing Freddy on his terms, in his territory. In some ways, it feels like how superheroes were handled back in those days. I can think of more than a few double page spreads from either Marvel or DC at the time where team members would do little more than state their name and powers in speech that was also hinting at their personality. It’s functional dialog that just feels flat or tinny on the ears, providing cheese in place of needed depth…so fair warning, bring some tortilla chips and prepare to cringe in a few parts.

A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors does what the best sequels do: tie up threads from previous films while deepening the lore and characters and opening up further possibilities for future films. Englund’s Freddy Krueger comes out of this film fully formed into the wise-cracking killer we all know him to be and viewers to this point in the series will realize just how much they missed Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy. Even though only bits and pieces from Wes Craven’s initial script were used, Part 3 still feels like his work, and that’s high praise for the writing team of Russell and Darabont as well as Russell’s direction (who is criminally underrated, given his work not only on this film, but also the remake of The Blob [1988] and The Mask [1994]). As I make my way further into these films, it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if this does end up being the best entry as it certainly feels like in this film we see Freddy finally become the horror icon we know him to be.

Plus, there’s a killer set of boobies too.

Ahem. Getting back on track, in terms of a rating, the 80s cheese does hold this film back from greatness, but it’s certainly a high-end Happy Cat and a welcome return to form after a lackluster Part 2.

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