I'm going to be writing a lot of reviews for The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise over the next few weeks. They are all R. For all the violence. You thought there was some violence in your other movies? Nope. It's in these movies. Also, a rampant use of the "B" word. That Rick and Morty Scary Terry thing was accurate.
DIRECTOR: Chuck Russell
Well, this is uncomfortable. For the podcast, we're doing a Nightmare on Elm Street episode. I'm the guy who over-researches every topic I talk about. If we're going to talk about one of them, I'm going to watch the whole series and everything else the director has made. The only one in the franchise that I hadn't seen was Part III. It was partially because I could get my hands on it for five bucks and Mr. Henson hadn't gotten his copy of the franchise yet. So the odd order for these reviews is going to be 3, 1, 2, 7, 4, 5, 6, Freddy vs. Jason, then the reboot. I also have to put a giant disclaimer for how much I waste my time. I don't even really like the Nightmare franchise. I'm going to go as far as to say I dislike it, yet I'm watching the series for a second time.
For fans of the series, the idea that I hadn't seen Dream Warriors seems to be complete blasphemy. It's the one that the fans swear by. If you've read my past couple of reviews, you'll see a common theme. Don't tell me if a movie is amazing or terrible beforehand. My expectations take over and I expect something truly great or horribly awful. Rarely, if ever, does it meet that expectation and I tend to savage the movie. Mr. Henson told me that Dream Warriors is the best one. The only one I even kind of liked before was the first movie, so I was excited to get an entry that might change my opinions on the series. I am clearly stating this right now, this movie does nothing for me. In fact, it breaks one of the rules of a horror franchise that I find to be crucial. The movie tried complicating the mythology. Freddy works in the first movie for one reason: he's a mystery. Very much like Predator or Alien, we don't need to know much about him. The whispers that John Saxon puts in the movie are more than enough information. He was a guy that the parents of the town killed when he escaped justice and now he's hunting down their kids in their dreams. Heck, that's already pretty complex, but it is just the right amount of complex. Dream Warriors, as you can kind of tell by the title, is a force to stop Freddy for good. (If you haven't noticed, there's a ton of movies after this so they only succeed in the fact that the movie ends with a defeat sequence for Freddy.)
I'm not really sure why people love this one so much. Perhaps the fact that the franchise gets a little kitsch and self-aware might be the reason why some people like it. There are moments where I really like ironically watching horror. I'm not above it. But the first movie is actually a pretty good film. I didn't realize that Craven really didn't direct a lot of these movies after the first one. Craven kind of understands how he just wants to translate horror movies into a visual medium. By the time Dream Warriors comes around, the movie becomes about murder tricks. Like many of these horror movie franchises, it focuses primarily on what creative way can we vivisect these teenagers. That means that almost every moment in the story is based on novelty. These characters become less fleshed out and just shells of characters. There is little attachment to anyone in the story because as audience members, we're trying to figure out how Freddy is going to kill these kids. To take that idea a step further, these characters become two-dimensional in themselves. There's a kid who won't speak, so clearly his attack will have to do with speaking. There's a kid who likes the equivalent of Dungeons & Dragons, so his attack has to do with that. These characters are simply created to match whatever attack the writers have planned for them. These reverse engineered kids aren't that compelling to watch. As part of that, and I don't completely hate this, the movie becomes about creature effects. The Nightmare series is mostly about creature shop guys in a competition for who can create the most interesting visual effect. But this is also where I get off the train. If I was really that interested in visual effects in this case, I would subscribe to Fangoria. I'm much more interested in the narrative and the narrative is stupid.
The premise of Dream Warriors is that Kristen and a group of teens have been misdiagnosed as suicidal and have been placed in a mental ward. Rather than any kind of tenancies that they might have, they are all actually the final victims of Freddy Krueger. Kristen, for some reason, has the ability to pull people into her dreams. No explanation. I guess after my big shpiel about overcomplicating the Freddy mythology, I should be grateful for this. But Kristen doesn't make a lick of sense and I don't care about her outside the fact that she's played by a young Patricia Arquette. They are all rallied by the worst excuse for a Professor X character, a return of Heather Langenkamp's Nancy from the first movie. Langenkamp has a pretty devoted following, even among my friends. I think she might be the weakest part of the movie. (My favorite part of the movie? The return of John Saxon. I regularly shout out during movies, "Hey, it's John Saxon!" Even if it isn't John Saxon.) The end of the first movie is very ambiguous when it comes to Nancy's fate because of the abstract ending. The second film gives a one line answer saying that she was in a mental institution. But now she is a social worker who has figured out a way to keep Freddy out of her head. This plot slowly feeds into Dream Warriors, but it is oddly dropped. Instead, they all confront Freddy head on. I'm going to complain about this a lot over the course of the next few reviews, but the rules of the Nightmare movies are all over the place. Freddy can do whatever he wants and he is often Nerfed by the end of the movie. (If you don't know what Nerfing is, Google it. It's a great term and it makes you sound hip.) Langenkamp's performances in all three movies she appears in is the worst. She's bad. She's really bad. Ms. Langenkamp, if you are reading this, I'm sorry. I can't handle this performance. I have to imagine that there isn't much to work with, but golly. Sorry if I'm riffing too much on you. I really don't think it is your fault because I can't think of a good performance in the movie...
...outside of John Saxon, who is a national treasure.
The odd part of this movie is that I really have a hard time determining who is the protagonist of this movie. A lot of team movies have a hard time finding a central protagonist with a central conflict, but this movie really plays round robin with the focus. For a good portion of the movie, it seems like Nancy is the focus. She is, after all, the returning femme fatale. But then the focus gives way more importance to Kristen because she has powers. She is the protagonist in The Dream Master, so it kind of makes sense. But then the movie gets weirdly male focused and gives all of the attention to Craig Wasson's Neil. He gets all these moments where he takes control while the other kids are just reactionary. He fights this claymation Freddy skeleton and he finds the backstory about Freddy. I'm a little torn about his part of the story because elements of Freddy's backstory are cool. The child of a 100 maniacs is a cool thought, but it's more of a cool line than it is a great discovery. There's also a weird ghost story that happens with his character. Dream Warriors is not unique in that it has a goofy interpretation of Catholicism, but there are eye rolling moments when it comes to viewing the intensity of the supernatural elements of faith. Neil is the skeptic and he's supposed to be helping Nancy with the plot, but the movie focuses way too much on his throughline, taking away power from characters who actually have more at stake.
Also, Kincaid is annoying.
Anyway, I don't know how I'm going to write a million of these reviews. Dream Warriors might be the perfectly campy horror film for junkies, but I like genuine scares and stuff. Dream Warriors, like many films in this franchise, is all about gore. I don't love pure gore movies. But a year from now, when I push for the Friday the 13th franchise or the Halloween franchise, I'm going to change my tune. I don't know what the difference is, but there is one. Anyway, I hope to be pretty positive about my next review, whenever that happens.
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Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.