Skip to main content

The unquiet spirit must be laid to rest. It is an abomination to God, and to man.

A Nightmare on Elms Street 3: Dream Warriors
(1987)

(SPOILERS) It’s easy to see why the third movie in this franchise proved such a big hit. It both boosted the inventive dream sequences/kills in a no-brainer way – Freddy’s Revenge is more than a little “Doh!” in that regard – and added to the lore. More astutely still, it made Freddy Kreuger a quip-meister, from whence his reputation was sealed. But what’s most notable, perhaps, is the manner in which, rather than simply piling on the set-piece deaths the way Jason Voorhees was wont, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors apes the form of a classical horror movie in plotting terms. Ultimately, this aspect peels apart, failing to satisfy, and director Chuck Russell only rarely elicits either true narrative tension or genuine suspense, but Dream Warriors is nevertheless the most satisfying outing to this point.

The Elm Street series is surely responsible for forwarding the “layered reality” idea in the consciousness like no other in cinema. During the ’80s, everyone knew who Freddy was and what he was about, even if they hadn’t the remotest intention of seeing one of his star turns. The (lower) astral is a force that that lives alongside and is capable of intruding into the visible, the tangible, the manifest physical. Elm Street has tended to operate fast and loose rules in this regard, Freddy’s powers generally exert themselves when his intended victims are no longer in a wakeful state and are thus victims to the subconscious. Dream Warriors explicitly denies and rejects the “knowing” of “science” (that is, the pseudoscience – or rather philosophy – that is psychology) with regard to this realm and spuriously positing rational explanations for the invasion of the sleeping mind. Perhaps that knock-on of such spurning was Frank Darabont – in his feature debut – and Chuck Russell – previously scribe of superior dream manipulation movie Dreamscape – feeling they didn’t need to observe coherence themselves (they also pretty much threw out Wes Craven and Bruce Wagner’s original screenplay). To wit.

Mary Helena: If your only faith is science, doctor, it may be you that’s laid to rest.

The Freddy Kreuger backstory here is a most definite bonus, even if, by its nature, it leads the movie down a trail of standard (or, yes, classical if you like) horror tropes: crucifixes; holy water; ghostly apparitions. The scientific sceptic Dr Gordon (Craig Wasson; no panty-sniffing for Craig this time) is led on a dance by a ghostly sister, who informs him, in an indelible description, and as Nigel Floyd in Time Out put it “a suitably tasteless account of his conception”, that Freddy is “The bastard son of a hundred maniacs”. This owing to the rape (in the final twist reveal) of the self-same nun in an insane asylum, giving birth to Freddy’s twisted aberration. One might even see Gordon’s preceding state of ignorance as a metaphor for the entire medical profession, as fostered by Rockefeller materialist dogma.

I’m not as impressed, however, by the junkyard reanimation of Freddy’s skeleton, which proceeds to kill the returning John Saxon – as Nancy Thompson’s dad; no longer a detective, he’s now a widower security guard with a drink problem – and attempts to inter Dr Gordon. Just what is the logic here? How exactly does Freddy take “possession of his own skeleton” (per the Wiki synopsis) with regard to Elm Street lore? If anything, it’s less coherent and more of a leap than anything that transpires in the much-derided Freddy’s Revenge (where Freddy is at least possessing someone alive and already animated).

The sequence also, rather damagingly to the movie’s entire premise, removes the agency from the Dream Warriors themselves, since they have been proving entirely ineffectual in terms of putting paid to Kreuger’s alt-world conquests and it falls to Gordon to effect the crucial blow. There’s a sense here of a flaw Rachel Talalay cited in the original Craven/Wagner envisioning for 3, that Freddy is too powerful and the limits to his abilities are insufficiently defined. We repeatedly see him get knocked down and get back up again in various forms, as “the last of the Elms Street children” evidence that the super-cheesy “In my dreams I can…” scene is just that: cheese immaculate. Perhaps on paper their “heroics” were intended as a false dawn in the way Saxon doing a Patrick Swayze in Ghost is, only to reveal he’s Freddy. Either way, they represent the picture at its daftest, closer to Weird Science than a horror movie.

Nancy: Have you ever done that before? Called someone into your dream?

As has been generally recognised though, the core idea here is not just solid but very good. Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette in her movie debut) is able to bridge the gap in the dreams of others, something recognised by the returning Nancy (Heather Langenkamp, unfortunately not entirely convincing as a more mature grad student). And the setting, post-One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and pre-The New Mutants and The Ward, with an inevitable whiff of The Breakfast Club, is the perfect one for tension of ethos, as embodied by the blindly hissable Dr Simms (Priscilla Pointer).

Dr Simms: The nightmares are just a symptom of their problems.

She underlines in an almost self-reflexive manner – this is after all the precise mode of analysing horror movies – the unyielding nature of analysis when she denies the patients’ truth: their nightmares are “The by-product of guilt stemming from moral conflicts and overt sexuality”. It’s the perfect recipe for Freddy carnage, as she orders them to be locked in their rooms and sedated. Darabont (who would return to incarceration a number of times in his movies) and Russell (his feature debut as a director) may not ramp up the tension – these movies are notably lacking in tension or effective scares – but the visual palette is leaps and bounds beyond anything their predecessors mustered.

Wagner invoked Bunuel in his envisaging of the material’s surrealistic possibilities, and reviews at the time acknowledged that Dream Warriors was striving for something more: “the feeling is less of down-market pop cinema than of something genuinely experimental” wrote Tim Pulleine in The Film Yearbook 1989. Kim Newman called it a “flamboyant, effects-laden, three-ring circus”, and there’s much here that is genuinely impressive, from the burnt-out opening with Kristen encountering infant Freddy victims (the closest we’ve come thus far to addressing his crimes), prefaced by a Poe quote, to a series of ghoulish and grisly animatronic and puppet effects.

The Giant Freddy head swallowing Kristen may have phallic connotations I missed (although the maquette with lovingly sculpted nude victim tells you exactly what was on the makers’ minds) but it’s an incredibly well realised visual (less when we see the snake form in action). There’s the stop-motion Freddy, who then becomes a puppeteer of his victim via their tendons (again, I wondered on the reality/dream interface here, since Freddy can cut “Come and get him bitch” on someone’s stomach yet the tendons are all in the dream). Also the Videodrome-esque TV interface, complete with the adlibbed “Welcome to primetime, bitch”. Others are slightly less effective: “Let’s get high” with syringes instead of blade fingers. And the Dick Cavett and Zsa Zsa Gabor may be much referenced, but it’s too brief to land.

I wouldn’t consider A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors the unqualified success its biggest advocates do. It’s let down by faulty internal coherence, and Langenkamp can’t really hold the centre ground. But Arquette is very good (what’s the deal with Kristen’s black wallpaper?), while Larry Fishburne, a few years from being in demand, makes an impression as a kindly orderly. The choice of killing off Nancy is an interesting one, but as noted, it’s diminished somewhat by Gordon being the one who puts an end to Freddy (for now). Angelo Badalamenti’s score isn’t perhaps as interesting as one might expect, given his pedigree. Nevertheless, Dream Warriors is a sign of what the horror sequel can do when it opts against resting on its laurels or pursuing slavish retreads.



Popular posts from this blog

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

In a few moments, you will have an experience that will seem completely real. It will be the result of your subconscious fears transformed into your conscious awareness.

Brainstorm (1983) (SPOILERS) Might Brainstorm have been the next big thing – a ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic spectacle that had as far reaching consequences as Star Wars (special effects) or Avatar (3D) – if only Douglas Trumbull had been allowed to persevere with his patented “Showscan” process (70mm film photographed and projected at 60 frames per second)? I suspect not; one only has to look at the not-so-far-removed experiment of Ang Lee with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk , and how that went down like a bag of cold sick, to doubt that any innovation will necessarily catch on (although Trumbull at least had a narrative hinge on which to turn his “more real than real” imagery, whereas Lee’s pretty much boiled down to “because it was there”). Brainstorm ’s story is, though, like its title, possibly too cerebral, too much concerned with the consciousness and touting too little of the cloyingly affirmative that Bruce Rubin inevitably brings to his screenplays. T

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013) (SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight ; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

Do you know that the leading cause of death for beavers is falling trees?

The Interpreter (2005) Sydney Pollack’s final film returns to the conspiracy genre that served him well in both the 1970s ( Three Days of the Condor ) and the 1990s ( The Firm ). It also marks a return to Africa, but in a decidedly less romantic fashion than his 1985 Oscar winner. Unfortunately the result is a tepid, clichéd affair in which only the technical flourishes of its director have any merit. The film’s main claim to fame is that Universal received permission to film inside the United Nations headquarters. Accordingly, Pollack is predictably unquestioning in its admiration and respect for the organisation. It is no doubt also the reason that liberal crusader Sean Penn attached himself to what is otherwise a highly generic and non-Penn type of role. When it comes down to it, the argument rehearsed here of diplomacy over violent resolution is as banal as they come. That the UN is infallible moral arbiter of this process is never in any doubt. The cynicism