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

Of the three big slashers of the 1980s—that is, the ones that went on to seemingly endless sequels—A Nightmare on Elm Street was, for a long time, the only one that held any interest to me. After all, it was inherently tied to the supernatural and the fantastic, which was able to wrestle with my youthful fears of any horror, and even later able to simply bring some interest to me. I’ve seen bits and pieces of them all (having only seen the first and New Nightmare previously, as well as Freddy’s Dead through half-covered eyes at a friend’s house near its release), but most know them, for having oddly watched all of Never Sleep Again, the documentary on the series.

Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette) is struggling with nightmares of an abandoned, boarded-up house—the Thompson house from Elm Street, though she doesn’t know this—and a violent man (Robert Englund, playing Freddy Krueger, of cours) who seems to have it in for her. After her mother (Brooke Bundy) finds her having seemed to attempt suicide, she’s taken to Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital where Dr. Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson, who was busy with Body Double during the first film) is working with a group of allegedly suicidal kids who are struggling with nightmares: Roland Kincaid (Ken Sagoes), Joey Crusel (Rodney Eastman), Taryn White (Jennifer Rubin), Will Stanton (Ira Heiden), and Phillip Anderson (Bradley Gregg). Dr. Gordon and his counterpart Dr. Simms (Priscilla Pointer) have taken on a new grad student with expertise in “pattern nightmares”: Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp).

I did recall having seen pieces of this one years ago sometime, with little parts of it being familiar in a hazy way. Of course, it’s also possible this pointed back instead to watching that documentary—but I didn’t have the full sense that I’d seen the entire movie, at least. I sure didn’t know Craig Wasson before when seeing whatever I saw of this, since Body Double was what made me pay attention to him. I did feel that, as much as Freddy’s Revenge didn’t leave me with a strong sense of itself as time went on, this felt much more like a direct sequel, particularly given Nancy’s involvement. It does seem more like a reasonable sequel, of course: it’s continuing the very idea of the first film with regard to why Freddy is after these kids in the first place.

The choices made in the script (from Frank Darabont and director Chuck Russell, from prior attempts by Wes Craven and Bruce Wagner) all make sense and are a good expansion of the ideas from the first in a solid sequel-y way: they largely acknowledge the first film and build on it without going too haywire (as amusingly weird as the first sequel actually was). The decision to pull in the children of the other parents who torched Freddy is perfectly reasonable and makes a lot of sense, in fact.

Kevin Yagher returns from the second film to do effects again, and this is a solid entry. We’ve got the strange Freddy snake (about which much is made in the aforementioned documentary), we’ve got the (in?)famous television scene, and the rather unsettling acts he performs on Phillip. It’s still inventive, and still dark, not quite reaching the pun-filled absurdities of the sequels as I understand them, but definitely paving the way.

This sequel does come off very weird on the part of Langenkamp: she’s not much older (it’s allegedly six years later, but Langenkamp herself is 23 to her 20 in the prior film) and often comes up like a kid dressing up as an adult. It also shows the limits of her early acting capabilities, which are perfectly tolerable in the first film, but kind of awkward here. With the strength of someone like Arquette in arguably a “more-lead” role, it is a bit of a struggle and makes the return of Nancy a sort of mixed bag.

Still, on the whole, you can tell that Craven hoped to end things here, after not wanting to continue them in the first place. It would’ve made for an interesting little trilogy, too: it takes Freddy’s alleged end in the first film and finds a decent enough way to justify it not having “taken” (albeit a way that’s been used plenty before and plenty since in other films and franchises). It’s a satisfying watch, mostly because, like I said: it’s still not gone off entirely into the “horror-comedy” realms, and the need to find new reasons for Freddy to kill teenagers in their dreams.

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