The Test of Time: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they remain must see? So…the point of this column is to determine how a film holds up for a modern horror audience, to see if it stands the Test of Time.

Director: Chuck Russell

Starring: Patricia Arquette, Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Larry Fishburne, Craig Wasson

By the unanimous accounts of most to many – vaunted horror authorities and casual frequenters alike – the third A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET film - DREAM WARRIORS - is the most superior sequel in the unevenly decorated two-decade long franchise. And if not, it’s damn close! I certainly concur with the sentiment, for many reasons we’ll expound upon below, but have always considered DREAM WARRIORS my favorite Freddy flick outside of the untouchable original. How about you? Where does DREAM WARRIORS stand in your pantheon?!

The more pertinent a query though, how does DREAM WARRIORS stand the Test of Time? After-all, believe it or not, Chuck Russell’s feature debut is about to celebrate its 30th anniversary later this month (February 27th). But has it aged well over the past three decades? Poorly? Can and should this chapter still be considered the best tour down ELM STREET since 1984? All this and more as we officially pit DREAM WARRIORS against The Test of Time!

'Sleep, those little slices of death — how I loathe them - Edgar Allen Poe


THE STORY: After the woefully lame, tame and badly missed aim on FREDDY’S REVENGE in 1985…A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET creator and horror hall of famer Wes Craven decided to return to the keys for DREAM WARRIORS. He did so reluctantly, as he never thought ELM STEET was rife enough for a bona fide horror franchise. That said, one of the key reasons DREAM WARRIORS ranks so highly among all ELM STREET avenues is because Craven took back ownership of the story. And honestly, DREAM WARRIORS began more along the lines of A NEW NIGHTMARE, as Craven originally conceived of the idea to have Freddy Krueger stalk real life cast and crew members of the initial ANOES film. As we know, Craven tucked that idea away and saved it until 1994, when he more or less rejuvenated the all but moribund franchise.

But back to DREAM WARRIORS. The premise is a novel one, setting the action away from the suburbs and into a mental hospital. Our sexy blond heroine Kristen (Patricia Arquette) is wracked by Freddy-filled nightmares, and is soon committed to the Westin Psychiatric Hospital. There she meets a ragtag cadre of misfits that comes to be known as the Dream Warriors, who we learn make up the orphaned offspring of Freddy’s long list of killers. Kristen, with the help of the returned heroine Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) from the original, now a dream expert and knowing Freddy foil, must help the Dream Warriors defeat the odious scorched-faced, knife-knuckled maniac. Of course, this can’t occur until a host of disturbingly perverse, nastily invasive and abusive slayings take place!

WHAT HOLDS UP: A lot of good that was perceived about DREAM WARRIORS in 1987 still holds true today, but we’d argue there are three main factors that have sturdily propped the flick among the top of the franchise: The cast. The Kills. The Script.

By any measure, the cast of DREAM WARRIORS far exceeds your run of the mill 80s horror joint. In her film debut, future Oscar winner Patty Arquette gives a heartfelt turn as Kristen, our main conduit into Freddy’s sick somnolent hell. Roger Ebert famously bashed the film for not generating enough sympathy in its characters, but we’d argue the precise opposite. Without Arquette’s pure pathos, as well as the other cast members’ sympathetic contributions, we’d likely end back up with FREDDY’S REVENGE.

Add to the proceedings the great Larry Fishburne as Max, the mild-mannered orderly who lends instant credibility to the acting troupe. Then we have Dr. Neil Gordon, played by Bill Maher lookalike Craig Wasson, whose role in De Palma’s BODY DOUBLE is slyly nodded to by director Chuck Russell here in the way he’s tossed in a grave and buried by a partial skeleton. Of course, bringing back original leads in Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon only further strengthens the sense of familiarity, which in turn breeds believability. Simply put, without the high quality of acting – the highest of any other in the franchise – the nightmarish set-pieces would hold no weight. They sell it, we but it!

But really, we need to talk about said set-pieces and some of the profligate fatalities in the film. Wow. I suppose one can’t start without mentioning the freaky Freddy snake, which was so unintentionally phallic upon initial construction that it had to be covered in dark goop in order to shroud its shiny pink façade. Still, like all the FX in the film, made during the nascent period of CGI, most of the sequences are done practically in a way that feels real and organic. The snake scene included.

How about the scene in which Freddy gorily puppeteers Philip the sleepwalker? Yikes! Fred rips tendons and ligaments out the kid’s body, strings them up and steers the kid through the hospital corridors before launching the hapless bastard out of a second story window…in front of all the Dream Warriors no less.

Not to be outdone, how about the TV to the dome death scene? Un-f*cking-forgettable! You know the deal. Poor Jennifer falls asleep in front of the television set. Soon she’s been summoned up to the tube by Freddy, who shoots metallic robot arms out of the side of the box, squeezes Jen by her temples, lifts her high off her feet, pops his own head out of the TV before clowning: “Welcome to prime time, bitch!” before smashing the girl’s head dead into the monitor. Her lifeless body dangles from the tube!

We could drone on and on enduring violence of DREAM WARRIORS, but without such a sterling script, none of it would play as well as it did then and does now. Again, we can’t overstate how important Wes Craven’s return to the franchise was in 1987. He basically wiped his hands clean of the material in FREDDY’S REVENGE two years earlier, and when that flick ended up as a risibly homoerotic bore fest that sullied his namesake, he immediately got back involved. He conceived of this story with partner Bruce Wagner and penned versions of the screenplay before ultimately bringing in a hired hand. It’s true, Oscar nominated scribe Frank Darabont made his screenwriting debut with this film. And it shows. The pedigree here has never been better in any ANOES flick.

The specific script plaudits that deserve mention include not only bringing back Nancy, but ending her arc as well. We get both a call back to the past and a prelude to the future with the inclusion of her character, one that offers a nice sort of symmetry linking this flick to the first. Second, by inverting the mythology of Freddy through Kristen’s character…allowing her to pull subjects into her dreams just as Nancy was able to pull Freddy into the real world in the original…is a fresh distinction that offers newly tilled ground. No simple retreads or do-overs. And last but not least, the revelation of Freddy’s troubled past added interesting shading to a character starting to border on self-parody. That is, by learning Freddy was the “bastard son of a thousand maniacs” – the unidentified offspring of a nun who was raped by a legion of mental patients, we’re given at least a multidimensional perspective into the past of a monster. A monster who could have otherwise remained unsympathetically one-note.

WHAT BLOWS NOW: Honestly, not a whole lot. Given all the superlative merits mentioned above, it would take an awful lot of inferior filmmaking to undo what’s good about DREAM WARRIORS. That said, because of the climate of CGI at the time, many of the practical FX appear to have some wear and tear today. The claymation sequence in particular doesn’t hold up all that well, especially considering how far animation has come in general the past 30 years. And while I still absolutely adore Angelo Badalamenti’s original score, let’s be real, that power-metal-ballad “Dream Warriors” by Dokken now eats more loads than a busted washing machine. Seriously. How are you going to be the official Freddy Krueger anthem and rock a nasty feather-mullet even Bon Jovi would scoff at? Jesus.

THE VERDICT: It’s crystallized folks. 30 years later and DREAM WARRIORS still holds rank as the preeminent ELM STREET sequel. Not a whole lot has deteriorated, certainly not enough to knock it off such a pedestal. There's a reason why it took a $4.5 million budget and grossed $45 million (tenfold), good enough for the third highest grossing entry in the franchise (behind FREDDY VS. JASON and ANOES 4: DREAM MASTER). With the return of Wes Craven originating the story, with Frank Darabont on the keys, Oscar caliber talent like Patricia Arquette and Larry Fishburne onboard, with the wildly exorbitant death-scene set-pieces, the return and ultimate end of original heroine Nancy, with the swift and stylish direction of Chuck Russell, the well-worn comfortability of Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger and the intricate screenplay…what else is to be said…A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS has well withstood The Test of Time!



Extra Tidbit: How do you think DREAM WARRIORS has held up over the past 30 years?
Source: AITH



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