The first Nightmare on Elm Street is a classic, and the second and third are each completely different takes on writing a sequel about it. Which is better?
Frequent readers may find it worth commenting that this is the first review of mine to remain in a relatively unaltered form for several years. My first reviews, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Hellraiser, were essentially 400 words on why I liked those particularly movies, to the point that I wasn’t even comfortable submitting them as true reviews once I had converted them to data. As a result, they were subsequently lost. Freddy’s Revenge wasn’t much better, but I did submit that as a review, though I recall making substantial edits to it about a year later. I’m not always as good as I should be at keeping revisions on hand.
As a result, this isn’t one of my best reviews of all time, but it’s one of the most nostalgic. By the time I wrote the first edition of this, I was pretty much as good as reviewing as I would be 3 years later, just with a bit less experience and proofreading. I’d like to take a more in-depth crack at this, but it was never a story with such significant flaws that I ever felt the need to completely dismantle it.
Unlike its predecessors, Dream Warriors focuses on a psychiatric ward, rather than Freddy Krueger’s home. The film acts as both a curiosity in the franchise and its staple: the only one to include elements of what seem to be three disparate series into one film. Like in A Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy Krueger is a dark and vicious killer who stalks his prey in their dreams. Like in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, Krueger has unmeasurable powers, existing in the material world as a demonic and unholy spirit. And like A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 and 5, Freddy has a wit as sharp as the claws he wears for slashing his victims.
You can virtually smell the increase in the budget of this movie by looking at the effects. While the first few Nightmares focused on individual attacks, they almost seem to be playing with their budget by constantly tearing apart the rooms the characters find themselves in when they doze off. Like much of the series, effective stop motion abounds.
The effects and Wes Craven’s directing go hand in hand, a blood splatter in the opening putting Kristen’s survival in doubt and particularly cartoony effects being employed against Krueger with about as much impact as their realism would indicate. These effects are an example of a concept introduced in this film: dream powers, a manner of lucid dreaming that allows an individual to manifest their subconscious in a way that can be used as self defense. This concept takes up the majority of the dream time in this film, and will be further developed in Part 4.
The acting was manageable, if over the top. Not surprisingly, the standout roles are Robert Englund and Heather Lagenkamp, both reprising their roles from A Nightmare on Elm Street. Once again I found the scenes featuring John Saxon to be the least effective ones, although this might have been due to the incredulity of the actors at what exactly that subplot contained.
Story-wise, this entry holds truer to the original film than the second did. Nancy and Donald Thompson are once again vital to the story. Krueger’s history is mentioned and expanded upon. In addition to this, his corpse (now animated) features similar powers to those Freddy did when he visited the world of the living in Freddy’s Revenge. The rat from the end of the second movie, or something much like it, is on a plate in Freddy’s house. The only break from continuity in this movie that I noticed is the complete ignorance of Freddy’s penchant for possession.
While A Nightmare on Elm Street will always be one of my favorite films, I can understand why some fans feel that Dream Warriors is the greatest in the series. This film holds the greatest balance between light and dark, with a cast that plays excellently off of one another before being visited by personalized horrors at the hands of Freddy Krueger. Viewed as part of a series, this is the best a Nightmare film can be, not to mention the theories that tie Nancy’s fate at the end of this film into Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, a film generally believed to have a separate continuity. Perhaps, like Freddy’s dream powers, there are no limits to what this film can accomplish.