A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors (1987) Movie Review

The first thing you notice about “NOES 3: The Dream Warriors” is the seamless transition from waking scenes to dream scenes. Director Chuck Russell (“Eraser”) handles the camerawork fluidly, which is one of many reasons “NOES 3” is so much better than Jack Sholder’s “NOES 2”. Also of note is the screenplay by then-newcomer Frank Darabont, who would go on to make a career out of adapting oddball Steven King stories into critically acclaimed movies.

It’s now many years after the events of the original “NOES”, and Freddy is once again on the rampage. This time he’s targeting a group of troubled teens in a mental hospital. All the teens suffer from terrible nightmares, so much so that they will do anything to avoid sleep. The adults, of course, are of no help whatsoever. Enter Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp), now all grown up and a doctor to boot. (Apparently her status as a mental patient ala exposition in the previous sequel was just bad rumors?) Nancy arrives at the hospital and begins to teach the kids how to defend themselves against Freddy.

Besides offering up a slightly higher bodycount (although not that much higher), “NOES 3” proves to be a lot more ambitious in its “dream world” renderings. The special effects employed for the surreal dream experience is quite remarkable, even pretty good for 1987. Director Chuck Russell is able to bring out the over-the-top nature of the dreams in ways that Craven couldn’t in 1984. Besides being visually more stimulating, “NOES 3” also sheds light on the history of Freddy, courtesy of series founder Wes Craven, who returns to contribute the story. The screenplay also returns the series back to its roots, including ground rules like staying awake at all cost or risk death.

Of course “NOES 3” doesn’t completely erase the memory of “NOES 2”, as can be concluded by the silly ending involving the re-animated skeletal remains of Freddy Krueger. (If Freddy was originally burned to death, shouldn’t his skeletal remains also have been burned to ashes?) Also, the presence of Freddy’s psychokinetic powers, which surfaced in the last sequel, shows up again when Freddy turns a car junkyard into a carnival in the waking world. While “NOES 3” doesn’t completely undo all the strange abnormality of Sholder’s sequel, it does enough good things to give the series renewed life, as well as returning a better sense of what the series is all about.

While original series Fair Hair Lead Langenkamp returns as Nancy, the new Fair Hair Lead in “NOES 3” is Patricia Arquette (“Nightwatch”), who plays Kristen, a teen who has the power to “pull” people into her dreams. At the hospital, we meet the other teens currently being stalked by Freddy, including tough guy Kincaid (Ken Sagoes) and ex-junkie Taryn (Jennifer Rubin, “Screamers”). The subtitle, “Dream Masters”, refers to the teens as they learn to master their dreams, becoming fantasized versions of themselves. For instance, Kincaid dreams of being super strong, while Taryn dreams of being a knife-wielding badass.

None of this is to say that “NOES 3” is a perfect sequel. It still has a number of problems, many of which stems from the “dream powers” concept. As Morpheus said to Neo in “The Matrix”, these kids haven’t yet learned to “free their mind”. While the characters acknowledge that in their dreams they can do anything, they are still nevertheless easy pickings for Freddy. Sure, they fight back, but they’re still too “human” in comparison to Freddy, who makes all sort of crazy things happen in the dream world. Granted, the kids are new at this, but how far is the distance between a guy who turns himself into a wizard and going all the way from there?

The acting in “NOES 3” is decent across the board, although returning heroine Heather Langenkamp does look a bit silly with that white streak in her hair. I guess the streak was meant to indicate that she had grown up, although I think she was still in her mid-20s when the film was made. Anyway, Langenkamp is too stiff in the role, coming off as a weak thespian, a fact that I abhor having to make especially since I reveled in her character’s return. Unfortunately I’m forced to admit that she’s not a very good actress back in 1987. (She makes a second return to the series in “NOES 7”, so I’ll have to see if she’s improved since.)

Besides Langenkamp, also returning is John Saxon in a lengthy cameo as Nancy’s father. Now a drunk and security guard, Saxon helps psychiatrist Craig Wasson locate Freddy’s remains in order to bury it, and (supposedly) kill the supernatural killer for good. Although an obvious adult authority figure, Wasson’s character gets exemption from the Stupid Adult Syndrome on the basis that, in an attempt to get into colleague Nancy’s pants, he trusts her. The rest of the adults, needless to say, are as useless as Anna Nicole Smith in a round of “Jeopardy”.

It must be mentioned that “NOES 3” seems like a world away from “NOES 2”, and not just in the story, but also in the look. Made two years after Sholder’s sequel, “NOES 3” is so much more polish and expensive-looking. Is it possible that this second sequel had a bigger budget, or were the filmmakers just better this time around?

Chuck Russell (director) / Wes Craven, Frank Darabont, Chuck Russell, Bruce Wagner (screenplay)
CAST: Heather Langenkamp …. Nancy Thompson
Craig Wasson …. Dr. Neil Gordan
Patricia Arquette …. Kristen Parker
Robert Englund …. Freddy Krueger
Ken Sagoes …. Roland Kincaid

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