Saturday, August 18, 2018

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

... aka: Freddy 3 - Les griffes du cauchemar (Freddy 3: The Nightmare Claws)
... aka: Morderisk mareridt 3 (Murderous Nightmare 3)
... aka: Nightmare 3
... aka: Nightmare 3 - Freddy lebt (Nightmare 3: Freddy Lives)
... aka: Nightmare 3 - I guerrieri del sogno (Nightmare 3: Dream Warriors)
... aka: Pesadilla en la calle del infierno 3 (Nightmare on Hell Street 3)
... aka: Terror på Elm Street 3: Freddys återkomst (Terror on Elm Street 3: Freddy's Return)

Directed by:
Chuck Russell

Wes Craven neither intended nor wanted his mainstream breakthrough A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) to become a franchise, but producer Robert Shaye insisted the door be left open for a sequel. That insistence resulted in the original's ending being changed, Craven signing over the rights and some bad blood between the two men. Because of that, Craven had no direct involvement with the first sequel: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY'S REVENGE (1985). I don't know if he was even asked to be a part of it. It's hard to tell exactly why Craven decided to return to the series for Part 3. I suppose he and Shaye mended fences. But for Craven it probably had a lot to do with restoring his name and again establishing himself as a bankable commodity after a few missteps. In the three years since the original, Craven hadn't been involved in anything nearly as successful. In fact, he was relegated mostly to TV, directing episodes of the revived The Twilight Zone series, a Disney special and the poorly rated TV movie Chiller (1985). His one theatrical release was Deadly Friend (1986), a silly film about a killer robot girl which didn't do particularly well, financially or critically. Realigning himself with the Elm Street brand he created was his best bet at this stage in his career.

Instead of directing, Craven wrote the original story (with Bruce Wagner) and co-scripted (along with the director, Wagner and future Oscar-nominated director Frank Darabont), plus served as executive producer. Lots of other big names were brought on board, including Angelo Badalamenti to do the score and a virtual who's who of make-up and effects artists like Kevin Yagher, Mark Shostrom, Greg Cannom, R. Christopher Biggs, Screaming Mad George, Robert Kurtzman, Everett Burrell, John Vulich, Hoyt Yeatman, Peter Chesney and Doug Beswick to provide some brief but cool stop motion fx for several memorable sequences. While the first two films had some great effects here and there, Part 3 was to be a virtual special effects bonanza.

"Sleep. Those little slices of death. How I loathe them." - Some guy who's not Edgar Allan Poe that the title card says is Edgar Allan Poe

Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette) also loathes them, seeing as they've gotten so bad she's reduced to washing down coffee grounds with her Diet Coke in order to stay awake. And she's about to have a doozy of a nightmare after her self-involved mom Elaine (Brooke Bundy) forces her to turn off the lights and go to bed while she's, uh, entertaining a male guest. As soon as she nods off, Kristen is at the boarded-up former home of the Thompson's, which is now Freddy Krueger's (Robert Englund) playground. Little girls jump rope out front reciting an all-too-familiar rhyme. Red flag? Of course.

But the strange thing about dreams is that you feel like you have some control over them while you're having them yet you never really do. If Kristen did, she certainly wouldn't follow a little girl right into Freddy's house. Inside she encounters a blazing furnace, a room full of hanging corpses, a floor that turns to black sludge and a skeleton girl. Oh yes, and Freddy is also in there chasing her around. When Kristen comes to, or so she thinks, she rushes to the bathroom. Freddy appears in the mirror and her sink knobs turn into his trademark claws. By the time her mom barges in she's greeted to the sight of her daughter with slashed wrists holding a razor blade.

Surviving the ordeal, Kristen is taken to the Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital, where she finds some kindred spirits. Other kids there are having the same exact issues she is. Sleep deprivation. Freddy dreams. Near-death experiences. And adults / parents / doctors who just don't understand and blame them for self-inflicted wounds and suicide attempts. In fact, Springwood has recently been plagued with teen suicides. Dr. Elizabeth Simms (Priscilla Pointer) thinks the dreams are "bi-products of guilt" and the best compassionate Dr. Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson) can come up with to explain what's going on is a shared "group psychosis." But a new intern is hired on as a staff member who may be able to shed some light on what's actually going on. Her name is Nancy Thompson and she's played by one Heather Langenkamp. Perhaps you've heard of her?

Among the traumatized teens / Freddy fodder are Kincaid (Ken Sagoes), whose sarcasm, emotional outbursts and big mouth frequently land him in the "quiet room" and former debater Joey (Rodney Eastman), who's now timid and mute. There's also recovering heroin junkie Taryn (Jennifer Rubin), wheelchair-bound fantasy role-playing nerd Will (Ira Heiden), neurotic aspiring actress Jennifer (Penelope Sudrow), sleepwalking artist Phillip (Bradley Gregg) and, of course, Kristen, who has the special ability to bring others into her dreams. After two of the "last of the Elm Street children" are killed under mysterious circumstances, Nancy convinces Neil and Elizabeth to allow for the usage of an experimental psychoactive drug called "Hypnocil," which is said to help with psychotic disorders by suppressing dreams and thus blocking the occurrence of night terrors.

There's an animated Freddy doll, a giant Freddy snake, an even-bigger Freddy larger than a bell tower, veins ripped out and used as puppet strings, a head slammed into a TV screen, animated junkie tracks, a wheelchair from hell, a talking decapitated head, a battle with an animated skeleton in a junkyard, Freddy killing Zsa Zsa Gabor on Dick Cavett's talk show, people pulled into mirrors, someone getting seduced by a topless nurse and then "tongue-tied" to a bed over hell and a lot of other creative special effects scenes. Enough to overlook some clunky dialogue, a few extremely corny moments ("I am the Wizard Master!") and several awkward performances that, strangely enough, come from two of the better-known cast members? Sure. There are enough cool moments in here to overcome that.

One issue I had that wasn't so easy to overlook was was the unnecessary addition of Freddy background history... as if being a child murderer turned into a supernatural dream slayer with virtually unlimited power wasn't enough already! We now learn that Freddy's mother was a nurse who was accidentally locked up in an insane asylum and impregnated after being gang-raped "hundreds of times" by the patients, thus making Freddy "the bastard son of 100 maniacs." This information is relayed to Dr. Gordon by a ghost nun named Mary Helena (Nan Martin) who shows up from time to time. All of this additional background information, combined with the increase in wisecracks and one-liners, basically destroyed any chance for Freddy to be creepy and mysterious in the future.

Adding a bunch of religious mumbo jumbo to the mix also didn't help the series any as it bled over into most of the sequels from here on out. Dr. Neil, which the script makes sure we know is an atheist, is shown the right way by the nun, who actually says "Sad choice" when Neil claims he puts faith in science. I often wonder if people who write such nonsense dialogue just rely on their faith whenever they're sick or injured and refuse to ever go to a hospital. I also wonder if they even realize one can actually have faith in two different things at once and it's not always an either / or type of situation. Before long Neil is on a ham-fisted "rediscovering my faith" mission which involves him visiting a church and then helping to put Freddy down by dousing his remains with holy water on freshly hallowed ground.

This is also the film that added the angle that Freddy becomes stronger with each kill because he's captured the "souls" of his victims. While that makes for a cool Freddy chest-plate full of screaming faces, it's also the laziest possible way to explain away a character who - as the first two films proved - didn't even really need thoroughly explained in the first place. A big part of me thinks the excessive religiosity was Darabont's contribution to the script as it fits his usual m.o. While these elements fit this particular entry just fine, they'd prove to be detrimental to the series as a whole as many later entries would try to pacify fans with endless one-liners, exposition and religious imagery because they had no clue what else to do.

John Saxon gets to reprise his role from the first film in a couple of scenes, only this time he's a drunk apprehensive about revealing the whereabouts of Freddy's remains. There's also an early appearance from "Larry" / Lawrence Fishburne as an orderly. A brief clip of Donald Pleasence in New Line's first release, ALONE IN THE DARK (1982), is seen on a TV set.

Initial reviews were pretty mixed but no one cared. Dream Warriors became a huge success, debuting at #1 and going on to make nearly 45 million dollars in U.S. theaters alone. That's 20 million more than the original and 15 million more than Part 2. It also became a fan favorite over the years, with many viewers even preferring it to the original. The title theme song "Dream Warriors" by Dokken became a minor hit on the rock charts.

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