Retro Rewatch: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream WarriorsPoppaScotch
Retro Rewatch is an ongoing editorial that takes a look into certain films, conventions, crazes, and characters of the horror genre years after their heyday. It is an effort to try and put the magnifying glass up to the horror world with the much needed luxuries of time and perspective applied in order to fully understand the impact and social significance of these projects/themes/ideas (if any). So for this installment of Retro Rewatch, I give you arguably the best sequel in the Nightmare on Elm Street series: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.
A Nightmare on Elm Street hit the scene in 1984 as a low budget horror film that nobody expected to become the landmark genre film that it has become over the years. People flocked to the theaters to see it and it expanded slowly theatrically until it became a phenomenon. Friday the 13th proved four years earlier that there was an audience for these types of films for the 80s teenager audience. The second installment of A Nightmare on Elm Street was rushed into production t capitalize on the success of the first part which in hindsight may have been a mistake. It wasn’t a bad film by any means, but it lacked the originality of the first film and the feminine qualities of the main character, although a noble effort at subverting the genre’s expectations and identifiable characteristics was a look into the genre that just didn’t work out to the planned vision. Two years later however, the third installment subtitled "Dream Warriors" took the whole series in bold and new direction.
Dream Warriors gave the audience a different slant on the entire series. Of course you still had Freddy and his menacingly creative kills, but the story itself had quite a change in perspective. We no longer followed a single teenage character as they struggled to combat sleeplessness and the physical manifestation of their inner demons into a murderous pedophile who was destroyed via vigilante justice. We also got to see the story played out through the perspective of a doctor at the insane asylum (Dr. Neil Gordon) who after multiple deaths by the hands of Freddy, (and the aid of Nancy Thompson, our hero from the first installment) begins to believe that these children’s stories have some relevance and can’t only be chalked up to their guilt and psychological scars.
I feel that the most interesting aspect of the sequel was to let Freddy have his way with a select group of children that are already in a mental institution (although the kids all mention that they have been having dreams with Freddy in them before they were admitted here). When they start dying off, their deaths get explained by their previous mental illnesses, and in reality who could blame the doctors? Which do you think is more believable to a tweed jacket wearing psychologist? Do you think that these kids have finally succumbed to their mental illnesses and gave up on life, or would you believe that a dead child murderer is killing them in their dreams? Well, I suppose now with the inclusion of Freddy into the popular culture, you and I would probably think twice about that question, but in the world of the film you can probably understand the thoughts and mindsets of the adults in question. It isn’t until Nancy shows up that the people in charge actually start to believe the reality of the situation.
For the better part of the movie, there is a complete failure of authority embodied by the hospital staff. They have become desensitized to the delusional behaviors of the patients to the point where their ramblings hold no weight at all. They are seeing Freddy in their dreams, he is killing them off, and no one (i.e. no adults) believes them. This is a bit different than a Halloween or Friday the 13th failure of authority whereas the cops, parents, and local elder residents become easily dispatched by the villain. This is more of a societal rejection of younger generation’s beliefs and on a certain level, their ideals. It is very different, but the core idea is the same that adults are powerless to help the teenagers that are tormented, then again it is the adults (Nancy and Dr. Gordon) who not only help the teenagers realize their fears are founded, but also come to their aid. Is this a different interpretation of the failure of authority? I would say it is because no one else in the movie is willing to help out Dr. Gordon and Nancy because their methods seem to be a little unorthodox. It kind of makes you think about why the teenagers are in the hospital in the first place.
The teenagers all had parents who took part in the killing of Freddy, so it’s very possible that the deaths of all the kids in their school are still very fresh in their minds. I guarantee that with any high school, the rumors that a man is killing your classmates in their sleep accompanied with a number of deaths is enough to make any kid think twice about calling it a night. Could it be that the inherent fear of death is what really drove out their suicidal tendencies/drug habits/anger issues and magnified them to the point where they were a threat to themselves or the people around them? I would say that it is a pretty good assumption considering that the entire reason the final girl Kristen (Patricia Arquette) is placed in the asylum is because Freddy made it look like she was trying to take her own life. This is another layer to the popular series theme that there are consequences to your actions.
In the end, I felt that A Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warriors was not only a fitting sequel, but also a great movie that elevated the inherent themes, ideas, and societal fears that the first film brought to light, rather than just repurpose them. Although it becomes a bit ironic when you realize that the following three installments of A Nightmare on Elm Street added absolutely nothing to the series on an intellectual level other than all the interesting ways that Freddy could dispatch his victims. So by breaking the mold, the third installment created a new mold that would then be used over and over again rather than challenged. Hopefully the remake and its subsequent sequels can learn a thing or two from the original series.
Is it a cult classic, a fitting analysis, or complete forgettable?: The inclusion of a young Patricia Arquette, an iconic horror figure, and Dokken make me say that this is a cult classic. But don’t let that fool you, this is a much heavier movie than it appear to be on the surface.