When I was 7 years old, my neighbor Crystal (who was 9) came over to play. I had the biggest crush on her.
As we sat on my playground (practicing our backflips on the one support beam), she began telling me the story of Freddy Krueger and this new movie Nightmare on Elm Street. Even though I’m sure it was not a 100% factual recount of the movie, what she told me both thrilled and frightened me. I knew nothing of Freddy’s trademark sweater or hat, but I knew about that glove. I knew he was horribly burnt. I knew he wanted to hurt children. My imagination went into overdrive. In fact, I’m pretty sure I never had seen a picture of Freddy until the second NOES came out (I believe it was a full page ad in the newspaper.). A few years later, she could rap the entire song Nightmare on My Street. I still might have a crush on her.
The first Nightmare I ever sat down and watched was Dream Warriors (1987).
Dream Warriors plays like a fantasy adventure (and less like a horror movie). The cast is enjoyable to see interact, and even though we came to see Freddy dominate, we rooted for them to survive. There’s some issues (especially towards the end), but for the most part the dark humor and special effects work well.
The third installment picks up a few years after the first one. Kristen (Patricia Arquette) is having nasty dreams of Freddy, and he manages to slit her wrists in one. Kristen’s mother has her admitted to Westin Hills Hospital (which has got to be the scariest hospital I’ve ever seen in my life). Kristen meets Nancy (from the original NOES) who immediately recognizes that the teen is being tortured by her old foe. She meets a group of teenagers that are also suffering from nightmares.
The teens bond in their suffering and band together with Nancy (and their doctor Neil) to take on Freddy.
Although Freddy is a horror icon, Dream Warriors plays more as an fantasy adventure. This is the first movie that Freddy begins torturing the kids with their weaknesses. He was pretty straight forward in NOES, and he attacked the kids with horrific images. (For the sake of this review and our fond memories of Freddy, we’re going to pretend that NOES 2 doesn’t even exist. But….Freddy didn’t play with his prey before he caught it in that one either.) In this one, he knows what hurts each kid. He attacks Kristen by playing on her insecurities about her mom’s feelings about her. He uses a junkie’s addiction against her.
In contrast, the kids realize that they have special powers in their dreams. This “levels” the playing field and sets up additional sequels in the series as the kids do battle with Freddy on his turf. Even as a kid, I remember my mom telling me to do the same thing when I nightmare. It makes sense, and it works perfectly. It’s not “some kid learns martial arts while rocking out to Dokken’s Dream Warriors” montage. It’s what every kid does when they sleep: Dream we are bigger and stronger than what we are. It helps us connect to the characters.
There are quite a few memorable kills in Dream Warriors. We have the marionette kill, the television kill (which I still can’t figure out how they consider that a suicide–her feet are a good foot off the ground. How’d she swing that??), and the syringe fingers. All 3 of these rank high on style points for Freddy’s career.
The end does fall apart a little bit. For some reason, Neil has Nancy’s drunken father driving him around town. The hospital allows Nancy and Neil to be in contact with the kids despite blaming them for the deaths thus far. Freddy rips off his sweater to show off his abs (or should I say “soul patch”) for no relevant reason. Nancy declares victory waaaaaaay to early.
What I loved best about this third installment is that it starts to build the Freddy timeline. We learn that he is the “bastard son of a hundred madmen” (which has to be the greatest title bestowed upon an enemy ever). We learn about his mother, and we see the series take a turn from dark shadows to dark humor. Freddy peaked in this one as he managed to ride the fence between being scary and funny. Parts 4 (Dream Master) and 5 (Dream Child) really try to capture the magic this one had unsuccessfully, and Part 6 (Freddy’s Dead) was just way too campy.
NOES 3: Dream Warriors is classic Freddy. If you are looking for a perfect popcorn slasher film, this is a good one. It plays like an adventure. You can relate to the cast. Most importantly…it’s fun. It does fall apart a little at the end, but it’s ok. It is definitely worth a look.