Tuesday, 6 April 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

In 1973 The Exorcist was a box office phenomenon. Its 1977 sequel has next to nothing to do with the original story. The result was a critical disaster[1]. Hollywood, much like history, is prone to repeat itself.

The Exorcist and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises mirror each other – at least for the first three films. Both suffered cash-in sequels (eg Freddy’s Revenge 1985). In both franchises the original writers returned for the third films to explore and further the narrative. Exorcist 3 is ‘the true sequel to The Exorcist[2].

It is the best horror film ever made.

Sleep, those little slices of death;
Oh how I loathe them.
- Edgar Allen Poe

Regular readers will know of my hatred for the misuse of the curtain raiser – de rigueur for horror films. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors uses the curtain raiser to its narrative optimum; it integrates it into the main plot. Furthermore during the course of the film the scene is referenced and mirrored. The effect is (momentarily) discombobulating to the main character and to the viewer. It is an assured start.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 1984 has a trick ending. It was imposed by (then) owner Robert Shaye. Wes Craven hated it. Alas he was in no position to negotiate. Dream Warriors marks Craven’s (first) return to the franchise albeit solely as writer. He was going to finish what he started.

There are three other (credited) writers including a pre famous Frank Darabont[3]. The quality shows onscreen. The resulting story harks back to the beginnings of Freddy. This is legend. This is the pupa of myth. In a masterstroke Craven brings back the character Nancy Thompson (Heather Lagenkamp). Freddy is after all her nightmare.

Hero - a person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life:
- thesaurus.com

Nancy was an industrious teenager in A Nightmare on Elm Street. She returns in Dream Warriors as the dragon slayer. A quieter but no less determined Dr Loomis. She is a woman in bloom. The kids trust her. Dr Gordon believes her. Not so the other adults.

When Nancy goes to Kristen’s home to pick up her belongings Kristen’s mother is sharp and unsympathetic (her nightmares have gotten worse “since I took away her credit cards”). Dr Simms is accusatory (“What has she talked you into?”). Dr Carver sacks her. Nancy is the kids’ champion – their protector.

Adults provide no haven. What the system they have created doesn’t understand will be deemed insane, pumped full of drugs and/or isolated. The victims will be left defenceless in a rubber room. If said victim is underage it will be done with the acquiescence of the parents.

The die is cast.

Nancy and Freddy meet again - to their joint surprise. To his malice. He has taken the form of a gargantuan serpent and is having his way with Kristen. These are not new powers(note the extended arms scene in the original) but an expansion of his capabilities. This monster is maturing in his role. He is more inventive. He used to be a man.

 “The bastard son of a 100 maniacs.”
- Sister Mary Helena

Craven is at his finest in this exposition scene. In the original Marge told the story of his death. Here Mary Helena tells the story of his birth. This is the scene that propels Freddy into myth. This scene propels the imagination of millions of viewers worldwide over two generations. It is not sympathy that fuels the story. It is horror.

The original’s lore is used as parameter with added innovation: main character Kristin has the power to pull others into her dreams. Led by Nancy the last of the Elm Street kids invade Freddy’s nightmare world to kill him.

From the opening sequence to the group therapy scene this film has the best dream transitions in the franchise. The standouts are Kristin in her room at the Westin Hills mental facility, Freddy waking Phillip and Jennifer watching TV.  It also has powerful (movie) moments; Nancy’s entrance, her confession to the kids during therapy. It also has good deaths – Phillip. Jennifer. Above all this film has closure. John Saxon returns as Nancy’s father. He returns to redeem himself as a father. He killed Freddy before. He’ll try again.

The actors in this film match the story telling. Their performances cement the reality of the horror. The aforementioned Saxon, Craig Wasson, Priscilla Pointer, Brooke Bundy, Laurence Fishburne. Alas with the exception of Penelope Sudrow (Jennifer) and Bradley Gregg (Phillip) the young actors aren’t up to par.

I forgive them.

Wes Craven wanted this story to end with the original. In narrative terms he succeeded in ending it with Dream Warriors. In financial terms these films will go on and on like Frankenstein. Freddy Krueger is a creation of inspiration.

Dream Warriors[4] is the true sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street.
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