According to Heather Langenkamp and Robert Englund, Dream Warriors is the fan favorite of all the sequels and it’s easy to see why. With a budget as big as the first two put together (admittedly though that’s still not much), and Wes Craven back as executive producer as well as co-writer (with an assist from Bruce Wagner, Chuck Russell, and Frank Darabont), Dream Warriors took Freddy and his mythos in yet another direction.
Patricia Arquette, making her screen debut, stars as Kristen, and as the movie begins, we see her making a papier-mâché house that looks all too familiar. After being told to go to bed by her horny, inebriated mother, Kristen is chased by Freddy in the house she was making, which is, of course, the former residence of Nancy and Jesse. She wakes up, goes to splash water on her face and sees him in the mirror. He slices at her, and when her mother barges in, we see Kristen has slit her wrist.
This leads us to where the bulk of the movie takes place, a psychiatric hospital. Kristen freaks out when they try to give her a sedative, and by sheer luck the newest doctor happens to pop in and calm her down. Just when you thought it was safe, Nancy Thompson is back! How she manages to come back after the ending of the first NOES is as mysterious as how Freddy seems to keep coming back, yet we learn to roll with the punches and set aside logic.
We then have the obligatory scene where Nancy is introduced to everyone and we then see perhaps every clichéd character you could ever hope to see. The only one missing is the dumb jock, and he’s saved for movies 4 and 5. Her colleague, Neil is very involved with the kids, and the two of them work together to do what they can for the patients.
The next night, Phillip, one of the kids and a pretty good marionette maker is sleep walking. Though in his dream Freddy has ripped tendons from his hands and feet and using them as strings to guide Phillip to the edge of a bell tower, where he jumps to his death.
The next night Jennifer (the “I’m going to be a star” cliché), sees Freddy coming out of a TV and he smashes her head into it, giving us the immortal line, “Welcome to prime time bitch!” Probably the least annoying of his one-liners that would pollute future sequels. With two deaths in two days, Nancy realizes what’s happening, and we have the setup for the final confrontation. For those who have seen the movie, which would be most reading this, I would assume, here is the original plot for the first draft Wes Craven had written, and as much as I like what they went with, I think this has some intriguing ideas.
The following is taken from the Dream Warriors page from Wikipedia: “In the original script by Wes Craven and Bruce Wagner the characters were somewhat different from what was eventually filmed. Nancy was not a dream expert nor any kind of mental health professional, Kristen stayed in the institution for only a while and had a father, Neil’s last name was Guinness and he was much younger, Dr. Simm’s last name was Maddalena, Taryn was African-American, Joey was the one who built the model of a house and had trouble getting around (although he did not use a wheelchair), and Philip was a thirteen-year-old. Will’s name was originally Laredo, he had long hair, did not use a wheelchair, and was the one who made the clay puppets. This script also showed the ranch house where Krueger was born, and is the house that shows up in their dreams rather than the Elm Street house. Contrary to the film, Lt. Donald Thompson knows from the start that Krueger is real and still alive. He had been missing and Nancy was intent on finding him, she finds him and learns that he was obsessed with finding the Krueger house and burning it down. In the original script, there is a romance between Nancy and Neil and they eventually have sex. There are scenes and lines that are very reminiscent of the first film. There is no talk of Krueger’s mother having been a nun or Freddy being “the bastard son of a hundred maniacs”, and both Joey and Kincaid are killed. The deaths in this script were much more grotesque, with Krueger not as talkative and more vulgar. Freddy is killed by Nancy by using his own glove, not by holy water. In Jeffrey Cooper’s novelization The Nightmares on Elm Street Parts 1, 2, 3: The Continuing Story (1987), the original Craven/Wagner version of the Nightmare 3 script is adapted, rather than the Russell/Darabont rewrite. Thus, the book version of the story is fairly different from the finished film.
As you can see it veers away from the final version quite a bit. Yet in spite of that, it still works. Well, mostly. Patricia Arquette is fantastic as the besieged Kristen, and it’s obvious that her acting abilities are several notches above everyone else’s. I think it’s safe to say, she elevates the movie to the highs it does achieve. Anyone else in her role and the movie would have been average at best. Not only is she sympathetic, but she’s a bit of a bad ass too, and carries herself well.
I was rather harsh about Heather Langenkamp in my assessment of the first movie, and all I can say about her in Dream Warriors is my opinion hasn’t changed much. She’s not nearly as annoying as I found her in the first, but neither did I buy her as a doctor either. I know I;m pretty much in a minority when it comes to my opinion of her, and I can’t really pin point why, but when I see her on screen, I have the urge to punch myself in the balls.
The others in the hospital are all fine and do well in their respective roles, even though none of them are what I would call well-developed characters. Hey it’s a Freddy movie, they’ll all be dead soon enough anyway, I suppose, so characterization may not be a big deal.
Craig Wasson as Neil pretty much owns his scenes. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time and was really glad to see him here. He brings a certain believability to the movie and acts as the audience’s bullshit detector. As he begins to believe Nancy, it allows the audience to as well. His scenes with the always reliable John Saxon are some of my favorites from the movie.
Chuck Russell, making his directing debut does a surprisingly good job for a rookie, and knows how to ratchet up the tension and scares without relying on cheap jumps. He keeps the pace at a nice clip and there are no slow spots, at least for me. Music is by David Lynch’s longtime collaborator, Angelo Badalamenti, and it’s one of my favorite scores from the series.
The makeup effects are top rate, and while I like the use of stop motion, it still takes you out of the movie a bit, as the motion is still too off to be realistic or even believable. Even some of the effects that could have looked silly, like the Freddy snake that tries to swallow Kristen, manage to be frightening.
Is Dream Warriors perfect? No. If there’s anything to blame for the cartoon that Freddy becomes in later movies, it is the fault of Dream Warriors. Chuck Russell said he wanted to have a bit of humor in the film to not make everything so dark. He certainly could have done that without making a great villain like Krueger into a Henny Youngman, king of the one-liners. The hypodermics for fingers scene is absolutely godawful, Freddy’s Revenge took a lot of heat for “breaking the rules”, but somehow Dream Warriors gets a pass for doing the exact same thing. Since when was Freddy able to manipulate physical objects like puppets and TV’s? How does he have a psychic connection to his remains? And how did he come back after the end of Freddy’s Revenge.
Like most of the series, there are plotholes large enough to drive a truck through, but in a way, that’s what makes them so enjoyable. Dream Warriors is the last of the great sequels. What follows range from awful to rage inducing bad. Tomorrow’s installment is of the rage inducing bad variety, and it’s the one movie that made me not want to finish this series of essays. Renny Harlin, you have some ‘splainin’ to do!