Sunday, April 25, 2010

Long Week On Elm St.: Part 3: Nightmare On Elm Street 3 The Dream Warriors

Nightmare On Elm Street 3, opens with a sure sign that the series high minded ideals have returned, with a crimson quote from Edgar Allen Poe. Making the second part of the “trilogy” along with New Nightmare and the original (and also confusingly kickstarting its own trilogy of sorts alongside 4 and 5) The Dream Warriors made the smart move of going back to the basics. Bringing back Craven for script duties (why he didn’t direct has never been made quite clear to me), reuniting John Saxon and Heather Langenkamp (again proving that she's smarter then the average final girl) from the original, and stocking the cast with ringers like Patricia Arquette and Laurence Muther Fucking Fishburne (his given name), and bizarrely Zsa Zsa Gabor. The Dream Warriors is a movie that appears to do everything right.

And yet, it never quite came together for me. Maybe its just heightened expectations. The Dream Warriors reputation precedes it as a movie far better then the average slasher sequel. But there’s something else nagging me here. Most mark the next installment as the one where the franchise went well and truly off the tracks. Marking the moment when the bulldog pisses on Freddy’s ashes and the series remaining dignity as its nadir. But to my mind, the seeds of the series problems are all sown here. They may not become as extreme or as eye gougingly bad as they’d later become but they’re all here. The uncomfortable fact is, that while Freddy’s Revenge is a movie that never wanted to be anything then a shitty horror movie that gouged gullible fans from their money, The Dream Warriors is a movie that desperately wants to be more and fails.

You gotta give the movie credit, its trying. The script and actors try to create characters who are more then mere body bag fodder. The film is paced like a real movie, the difference between Elm St. 2 and 3 is the difference between slow and slow burn. Dream Warriors takes time to build its rules and its characters so when things get crazy at the end, it matters. The first fifteen minutes or so are golden. Craven cooks up a dream worthy of the original Nightmare. By keeping him off screen for the first ten minutes rather then cramming him in every shot, they allow a real sense of dread to build around Freddy. You can see Englund and Craven trying to build him into a real threat again, as opposed to the goofy jackass of Part 2.

The problem is simply put the mother fucker talks too much. Freddy has such a reputation as joking killer, that people forget that Englund was quite in the first Nightmare. Oh he had lines, and he made them fucking count. But that was because they where so seldom. Starting here he doesn’t shut up.

Of course the dreams around him aren’t as good as they used to be either. The concept of the Dream Warriors itself is a good one, and interestingly pre Matrixy. And it solves the problem of having the characters be able to last against Krueger, rather then just helplessly die like they did in the first two. The problem is it’s the start of the theme dreams. Where every dream sequence is wrapped around one central gimmick.

An undervalued piece of what makes the first Elm Street work, is how dreamlike the dreams are. Oh it’ll pull out the big images when it needs to. But most of the dreams subsist on the lapses in logic, odd details, and rationalizations that real dreams are built on. Of course my boyfriend whose supposed to be awake is behind that tree, of course theirs a dead pile of leaves inside my school, of course the hall moniter is threatening to kill me and I don’t really care. Logic gets suspended. Dream Warriors on the other hands turns into a literal haunted house movie by the end.

Its in the real world that logic gets suspended. We get a bizarrely involved back story for Kruger (Even if it doesn’t make any biological sense the phrase “The Bastard Son Of A Thousand Maniacs.” is pretty awesome.) And it also features the sight of John Saxon (in what I actually think is one of his best performances) fighting the stop motion (and like 8 foot tall) skeleton of Freddy Krueger. Which is one of those sights that manages to be completely awesome and completely fucking stupid at the exact same time. In either case to say it’s a jarring tonal shift is an understatement.

I feel like I might be being to hard on this movie (Then again after Nightmare On Elm Street 2 it might feel like I'm being too hard on any movie). What we have is a horror sequel with cool effects, a better then average cast and story, and some genuine imagination. But its still not enough to bump it from better then OK to actually good. Maybe I’m just being tough on this film, it’s the kind of sequel I usually like, that imaginely expands on original while staying true to its spirit.

But at the end of the day. A Nightmare Before Elm Street 3 is one of those annoying films that is both more then it has to be and less then it should be.


Unknown said...

I dunno, maybe it's my weakness for a young and adorable looking Patricia Arquette AND Laurence Fishburne kicking ass that makes me love this film so. yeah, Freddy is a real chatterbox in this film but I think it works because it seems like Robert Englund is having so much fun with the role and that translates in fun for the viewer (one would hope). Nothing's going to beat the first film in the series and, to a certain degree, NEW NIGHTMARE, but I'd rank this one right up there.

Bryce Wilson said...

I agree its definitely on the top of the heap so to speak. I feel like if the movie was just a nudge better or worse I'd have an easier time defining my position on it.

Marcus said...

Yeah, definitely my third fav of the series. How can you not like "Welcome to Primetime, Bitch"?

Bryce Wilson said...

Oh well lets not get crazy here. Englund delivers a bitch like its nobodies business.

I just prefer him when he's actually scary.