Director : Chuck Russell
Year Of Release : 1987
Principal Cast : Heather Langenkamp, Patricia Arquette, Robert Englund, Jennifer Rubin, Craig Wasson, Ken Sagoes, Rodney Eastman, Bradley Gregg, Ira Heiden, Laurence Fishburne, Penelope Sudrow, John Saxon, Priscilla Pointer, Clayton Landley.
Approx Running Time : 96 Minutes
Synopsis: Survivors of undead serial killer Freddy Krueger – who stalks his victims in their dreams – learn to take control of their own dreams in order to fight back.
Nancy? You’re back?
The third film in the Nightmare On Elm Street franchise sees creator Wes Craven return to a more active role as both producer and writer (he wanted nothing to do with the earlier sequel, Freddy’s Revenge, saying he never wanted a franchise to be born – funnily enough, this sequel, Dream Warriors, was Craven’s attempt to end the series…lolz) and Freddy Krueger once again torment a bunch of high-school teens. Only this time, Nancy Thompson returns from the original film, to combat Krueger’s evil with some of her own abilities. Featuring early appearances by Patricia Arquette (whose brother David would go on to star in Wes Craven’s Scream franchise a decade or so later) and “Larry” Fishburne (yeah, it’s Laurence these days), Dream Warriors’ contention for a trilogy-capper isn’t quite the blockbusting affair the Nightmare franchise deserved.
Young Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette) is tormented by the presence of Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), and committed to a psychiatric hospital by her mother (Brooke Bundy). While in hospital, she meets Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp, returning from the original film), who now works as a doctor. After calming Kristen down following a panic attack, in which she injures hospital orderly Max (Laurence Fishburne), as well as psychiatrist Dr Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson), Nancy is introduced to some of the patients being treated for what Dr Gordon calls a “group delusion”; all the teenagers dream about Freddy Krueger, and it’s up to Nancy to aide them to use their powers to thwart Freddy’s malevolent desires.
Made on a budget of just over $4 million, Dream Warriors, the third of the Nightmare on Elm Street films became the most successful of the films to that point – it earned over the combined box-office of the previous two – and solidified the franchise as a worthy entrant into the horror genre. Co-written by both Wes Craven, director Chuck Russell (who made his debut here) and future Shawshank Redemption helmer Frank Darabont, Dream Warriors was successful largely on the back of its terrific visual effects. Both practical and photographic, the effects drive the story beyond mere blood-thirsty gore, evoking a strong sense of fantastical terror even more than the largely effective Freddy’s Revenge. Although the film relies on your knowledge of the previous films, those coming to this cold (silly people) will pick up most of what’s going on in any case.
As with the previous films, Dream Warriors follows the Nightmare template with a nubile teen, played by Arquette, terrorized by Freddy, only to eventually find that she’s not alone – a bunch of kids are having the same dream. The film uses its ensemble well, with a slew of young actors becoming cannon fodder for Krueger’s terrifying attacks, both within and without the dream world. With the addition of Langenkamp returning as Nancy, the film’s callback to its own history is nicely handled, although it’s hard to stomach the actresses inability to act once again (seriously, she’s wooden as a gatepost). Having Nancy back validates a lot of what happens here, as a way of joining the dots for the panicked, skittish ensemble. The kids making up the ensemble of hospital “inmates”, a lot like One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, are a rag-tag band of cripples, rebels and upstarts, although largely forgettable as characters other than the way they’re killed. Craig Wesson’s disbelieving Gordon, as well as Priscilla Pointer’s hospital head Dr Elizabeth Simms, provide the “we don’t believe you” aspect of the story that gives a lot of the early film its frustrating edginess, but the film’s real stars are the frightening effects.
Freddy’s arrival in the film is heralded by an almost Spectre-like omniscience; within the kid’s dreams, hell even as he appears to be in the physical world, Freddy’s power grows with each day that passes. An early sequence sees Krueger manipulate one of the kids like a puppet (using his veins as strings) until he falls to his death, while another is yanked into a television screen in one of the more shocking moments of brutality. The physical manifestation of Krueger’s powers are superbly realized – yes, even for 1987 technology – and the impact this stuff has is visceral. It works so much better than today’s CG-enhanced lame-duck material. Robert Englund’s commanding performance as Krueger only enhances the skin-tearing, blood-spurting, body-rending actions he’s committed to take as part of the story. If anything, Krueger’s humor – he’s got worse puns than James Bond – are a key factor in the character’s charisma. It may surprise you to learn that the Queensland government banned this film at the time – apparently, they didn’t appreciate a sequence involving a recovered drug addict being injected with Freddy’s finger-syringes, as it promoted drug abuse (what the hell?). Thankfully, the ban was lifted a few years later, allowing all the kids to view this thing. 🙂
Chuck Russell, who would go on to helm films like The Blob, Eraser, and The Scorpion King, uses the frame wisely, commanding genuine chills and a sense of the macabre from the varying scenarios. While it’s not as punchy as modern films, Dream Warriors is particularly epic with the on-show effects considering the minuscule budget Russell had to work with. A $4 million budget would barely cover a Michael Bay film’s coffee requirements, let alone a film that has as much effects work as this one, so the end result is not only surprising, but incredibly impressive. Dream Warriors takes the Nightmare franchise in an interesting direction, and is a really entertaining entry into the saga – if this were to be the concluding chapter, it would have been a cracker. Boasting better effects than the original, and a decent plot that furthers the franchise rather than regurgitating what came before, Dream Warriors is good stuff indeed.
© 2016, Rodney Twelftree. All rights reserved.