Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

Well, here's the demarcation point for the Nightmare on Elm Street series, the point at which Freddy Krueger began changing from legitimately scary boogeyman to a one-liner spouting M.C. and his kills went from brutal to ironic.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), following the uneasy change of direction in Part 2, finds the series back in the dream territory and proves to be a stronger entry, and unlike Part 2, it actually feels a continuation of the plot threads and themes of the original. Wes Craven is back in the fold as a producer and one of four credited writers. The other writers include director Chuck Russell and Frank The Shawshank Redemption Darabont.

Freddy (Robert Englund of course) is stalking teens in their dreams and killing them horrible ways, and the last of Elm Street children are locked up in the nuthouse by the adults and psychiatrists who are convinced their dreams of a boogeyman are a shared delusion. Fortunately, Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp), the one person to defeat Freddy, works at the clinic and knows what they're up against. Plus, Kristen (Patricia Arquette) has the power to pull others into her dreams, and the group hatches a plan to gang up on Freddy.

This is arguably one of the more interesting casts of the series. John Saxon turns up as Lt. Donald Thompson, the sheriff who led the vigilantes against Freddy in the first place. Laurence Fishburne plays a sympathetic orderly who chalks up the dreams to LSD. Craig Wasson is a doctor who wants to help but isn't sure he can believe the idea of Kruger. Dick Cavett and Zsa Zsa Gabor turn up as themselves .... Wait! What?

See, one of the victims, Jennifer, announces her intention to become an actress and TV star. One night, she's watching television, which features the aforementioned Cavett and Gabor. Cavett turns into Freddy, slashes at Zsa Zsa (after asking her, "Who gives a fuck what you think?" which is probably the nicest thing Freddy has ever done), emerges from the TV set, grabs Jennifer, yells "Welcome to prime time, Bitch," and pulls her headfirst through the screen, killing her. Funny? In a dark, sick sense, sure. Scary? Not really.

This becomes the template for Freddy going forward. The movie introduces a character with an obvious trait or quirk for Kruger to exploit and follow with a pun-filled one-liner. Strapping down a mute boy with a bunch of tongues, Freddy taunts him with, "What's the matter? Tongue-tied?" He chases after the paralyzed kid with a monstrous wheelchair.

To be fair, at least in Part 3, some of these kills are rather inventive and exploit the nightmarish quality of the story marvelously. Poor Philip crafts puppets, so Freddy transforms him into a human marionette, leading him up the bell tower by the veins in his arms and legs to throw him to his death. When Freddy confronts Taryn (Jennifer Rubin), a recovering junkie, his fingers turn into syringes, and the needle tracks on her arms become gaping mouths, calling for a fix.

There's other imagery one expects from nightmares that the movie conveys well: the twisting maze-like hallways, the floors that becomes muck. In Kristen's first encounter with Freddy, she tries to rescue a little girl who becomes a skeleton in her arms, and she finds herself in a room filled with the hanging corpses of Freddy's victims. Spooky. We return to the boiler room and the old Elm Street house and get a few glimpses of Hell along the way. Freddy also turns into a giant snake and tries to eat Kristen, and in a really cool hall of mirrors scene, Freddy attacks from multiple mirrors to grab each kid separately.

The problem is we start seeing and hearing too much of Freddy. England's great as always, but Freddy's officially out of the shadows, and we get some nice long looks at him. Out in the open, he's not as menacing or as mysterious. Watching him fight a dorky kid in a wizard robe or a tough biker chick in a faux-hawk or getting beat up by the gymnastic skills of Kristen, and it's hard to believe this is the same guy who sucked Johnny Depp down into a bed and barfed him up in a geyser of guts or held up his claw and declared, "This is God." He can make you laugh, but he won't make your blood run cold.

The movie proceeds from one fantastical set piece to another. When we're in the dream world, it's easy to get lost in the movie and not become distracted by what's become of Freddy. The waking world is boring. Most of the adult authority figures are useless and stupid, and these scenes where they insist Freddy is a delusion just bog the movie down.

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