Well as advertised by many of your comments last week, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) is a massive improvement over the second entry into the series and not too far off matching the first. The return of key creative figures such as Wes Craven and Heather Langenkamp, in addition to a sense of continuity with the first film, go a long way to achieving what is a cracking sequel.
The film opens with the Edgar Allan Poe quote “Sleep. Those little slices of death. How I loathe them.” It is a fantastically dark note to open on and permeates the opening act of the film. Perhaps the only thing that prevents A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 from joining the first film as a true classic of the genre is that the film does descend into silliness for about half an hour through the middle. There are definite joys to this silliness, but it does detract from the overall film. The early parts of the film show that Freddy is back once again and this time he is making kids commit suicide during their dreams, targeting descendents of the people who burned him alive. This leads the return of the main character from the first film Nancy Thompson, played by Langenkamp, as a young psychologist. This is a great ‘in’ into the main narrative for the audience and will also excite fans of the first film. The casting is all pretty good with Robert Englund sufficiently menacing and the younger kids all solid, led by a young Patricia Arquette who gives a really good performance. A young Laurence Fishburne (credited as Larry) also pops up in a small supporting role.
The opening half hour is really atmospheric, perhaps the most successful at creating a sense of dread out of any of the films so far. This is a film that for me took itself a lot more seriously than the second and it pays off. As the killings escalate, the action does go into some silly and absurdist territory. But just when the film feels like it is losing its way, a seemingly random subplot really brings that attitude back as a mysterious nun gives a lot of insight into the genesis of Freddy. One thing this film does is show off a lot of strong imagery, often gothic, often Freddy showing his increasing power, and these stark pieces of photography definitely stick in the mind. It is not hard to create chilling, iconic images with the character of Freddy and his distinctive look and thankfully this film does not waste that potential and we are treated to Freddy as a TV, a puppet master, a huge head/slug/vacuum cleaner thing and plenty more.
It is exceptionally difficult for any sequel to both invoke aspects of an earlier film in the series and to also feel fresh. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 manages this invocation through the use of imagery, soundtrack and the recurring character of Nancy, whilst the quite chilling (at times) content lends the film a freshness. Whilst the tone lightens at various points, any time a film is focused on the suicide of teenagers, that is some dark stuff right there. The mysterious nun subplot nicely recalls the combination of genres that the first film excelled at. I was genuinely intrigued with where that was all going and the payoff ends up being the creepiest moment of the entire film as the audience gains more of an insight into Freddy’s mortal past. There is an interesting reinforcement as well of a Christian worldview in the latter stages of the film, with holy water and the cross exhibiting great power. I am not sure what the film is saying with that, I definitely do not think it is intended to be evangelical. But the references do stand out in comparison to the rest of the series so far. It is interesting to see the imagery and references in the films evolve in such a way, something I would love to see continue (though I have my concerns it won’t) in the fourth film.
Given that this film wisely ignores that the first sequel ever really happened, if you are going to start exploring these films, I would advise you to just go straight from the first to this one. Dark, dripping in imagery, atmosphere and adult themes, this is a cracker of a horror film, even if you are not a particular fan of the series. Highly recommended.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny