A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors

Dir: Chuck Russell, 1987. Starring: H. Langenkamp, P. Arquette, R. Englund, L. Fishburn, J. Saxon. Horror.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors

My appreciation for the 3rd installment of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise skyrocketed after watching Christopher Nolan's Inception. Yes, it takes itself less seriously. Hell no, it never received any Oscar buzz. Yes, it's outright cartoonish at times, And, no, you can't convince me I've lost my mind for thinking this (if I'm insane you wouldn't be able to win an argument with me anyway). A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors is actually the more sensible, and even more creative film. Re-watching it again recently, I was in awe of its inventiveness with dream logic, and its surreal special effects and production design. It also establishes an idea within two minutes that Nolan completely fails at with 148: that death within a dream has high consequences.

Nightmare 3 ignores whatever happened in Part Two, and so it's not required viewing beforehand (though none of it will make a bit of sense to those who never saw the original Nightmare on Elm Street). The film opens with a teenage artist named Kristen (Patricia Arquette in her first feature-length role). She's mixing coffee grounds with Coke to stay awake, and building a model of a certain creepy house on Elm Street she keeps visiting in her dreams. Soon enough, we're in it with her after she falls asleep, and she's attacked by a razor-gloved, dream-stalking serial killer known as Freddy Krueger. She wakes up in her mother's bathroom holding a razor with slit wrists.

Cut to the next day--Kristen is admitted to a psychiatric hospital for suicidal teenagers. She meets Roland, Joey, Taryn, Phillip, Will, and Jennifer--all of whom are experiencing the same nightmares with Krueger. All the doctors and nurses seem to think the kids are just rich and spoiled, and therefore nuts--except for one, Dr. Neil Gordon, who with the aid of Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp reprising her role from the first film) teaches the kids how to control their dreams and empower themselves with superhuman skills. But as Krueger hunts and kills the kids one by one, Kristen and her friends find themselves needing some unexpected help from the real world.

Here's what I like about this film: half of it takes place within the characters' dreams, and so director Chuck Russell decided to come up with some of the most bizarre, surreal, and whacked-out images captured on film in the entire 1980s. A stale, roasted pig sitting on a silver platter in a dilapidated dining room suddenly comes alive and screams like a human. A 20-ft, extremely phallic-looking Freddy Kruegger attempts to swallow Patricia Arquette like a martini olive. Another character gets strung up by his bleeding veins and controlled like a marionette puppet. Track marks from excessive heroin use open and close themselves like little human mouths and scream, "Feed me! Feed me!" I could write three more paragraphs just describing death scenes from this film. While swathed with doses of tongue-in-cheek humor, many of the visuals still remain unnerving in their strangeness.

A Nightmare On Elm Street 3 does not require any admiration for its depth of emotions or plotline (it makes little attempt to develop either, and is fully aware of it), though it's interesting that the film came out in the era of John Hughes when stories about teenage dilemmas ruled Hollywood. The film is topical for dealing with issues of teen suicide, and if a message can be pulled from it it's that such cries for help should never be trivialized (like Hughes, Russell sympathizes with the POV of the kids, who believe adults do trivialize their problems).

I'm not sure if anyone watching the film today will get much meaning from it, but they will understand the logic of the story immediately: if a character dies in a dream, they die in real life; therefore, the dream world is just as important as the real one. From the very get-go, this is a fantasy film. Inception is a film grounded in reality about people controlling the actions of others through dreams. Whatever action or drama that occurs within the dream, stays within the dream. The real stakes are still within the non-dream world. But--WHOA! We don't always know where the dream ends and reality begins! Here's my one-sentence review for Inception: "For some reason, we're supposed to care."

I'll take A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors more seriously any day.

Posted by:
Paul Losada
Dec 24, 2010 12:32pm
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