Freddy was at his best when he was scary. In Wes Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy Kruger was terrifying. Sure, he might have had a couple of one liners, but they weren’t intended to make anyone laugh. They were intended to send chills up your spine. Then in Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, the character began to lighten up, and some have said that the plot was a bit light in its loafers as well. I never could get into that flick anyway. The whole idea of Freddy leaving the dream world to cause havoc in real life didn’t appeal to me. The next time out they did things right. Nancy was back, it was all about the dream world, and there was a Dokken song! This rockin’ sequel is the shining moment of the series, and I proudly choose it as my Number 5 on the Halloween Top 13 countdown.
Nightmare on Elm Street III: Dream Warriors starts off right into the dream world when Kristin Parker (Patricia Arquette) starts having a dream about Freddy. When her mother finds her, Kristen awakes with a razor blade in hand and her arm slashed. Mom quickly commits Kristin to Westin Hills sanitarium for her attempted suicide. When they try and sedate her, she fights them and cowers in a corner singing a nursery rhyme about Freddy that she heard in her dream. Luckily for her, new therapist Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) shows up and recognizes what is troubling the girl. Nancy gets to know all the kids in the ward, and soon she discovers that they are “the last children of Elm Street.” They devise a plan to beat Freddy at his own game by using their unique dream powers, but when their doctor, Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson) meets a mysterious nun, she tells him the only way to defeat Freddy is to give his remains a proper burial. Nancy knows that there is one person who knows where those bones are, her dad (John Saxon).
Where Nightmare II had only the most tenuous connection to the first film, Nightmare III plays out more like a direct sequel to the first. Well, except this time Freddy’s got jokes, and boy, does he ever have jokes. Most of them, unlike his zingers in later sequels, actually hit the mark this time out. The best, at least my personal favorite, is the iconic line “Welcome to prime time, bitch!” as a half TV/half Freddy pulls a young woman’s head into the screen. It’s not just that the joke is funny. It’s the setup for it as well. I mean first Jennifer (Penelope Sudrow) is casually flipping channels before she lands on Dick Cavett interviewing Zsa Zsa Gabor. Then suddenly Cavett turns into Freddy and goes to slash Zsa Zsa before the channel goes to static. Freddy better watch himself though. I hear Ms. Gabor has quite a strong pimp slap, and she’s never been afraid to show it. (I think that it’s a pity that future generations watching this film will have no idea who Cavett or Gabor are.)Then Freddy becomes half made of a Zenith and does his thing. An interesting thing to note about this scene is that the line was supposed to be “This is it Jennifer. Your big break in TV.”, but on the third take Robert Englund let loose with the improved, and more memorable, line. Director Chuck Russell couldn’t decide which to use so both lines were edited into the final film.
Thinking about the line being his creation makes me want to take a moment to talk about what a serious bad ass Robert Englund is. Here’s a guy who came out of basically nowhere to become irreversibly linked to a character that would become a horror icon. Unlike other actors who’ve tried to shake their status (paging Tony Perkins), Englund has always embraced and reveled in his place in horror history. The main criticism I keep hearing of the remake is that the voice of Freddy is different. Of course it is, it’s not Robert Englund. Now I think Jackie Earl-Haley is quite a good actor and I have great faith in the remake, but there will only really ever be one Fred Kruger in my mind. For legions of horror fans, Englund’s portrayal is the stuff of nightmares, and even if some of the scary stuff had fallen by the wayside since the first film. He’s as good in Nightmare III as he ever was, and I’m here to tell you that’s pretty damn good.
Now there are not a lot of great performances in this film. Let’s be honest as much as I like Heather Langenkamp as Nancy, she’s not the best actress. She does an OK job, but it might just be that next to Patricia Arquette, in her first film role, she looks a lot better. The only really bad performance comes from Craig Wasson as the sleep doctor. He generally just looks confused throughout the film. I suppose his character was supposed to be confused, but there’s a fine line is all I’m saying. Now if we want to talk about good performances, well, you can always count on John Saxon to bring it. He only appears in the last third of the film, but he’s a welcome addition to the cast’s roster. I do wish that Laurence Fishburn had played a bigger role in the film. He doesn’t have much to do as the orderly, but he’s leaps and bounds better than all the “Dream Warriors” combined.
Now about this time you’re probably wondering why I placed this so high on my list if the acting is terrible and the film is filled with cheesy one liners. Well, that’s precisely why. It’s so much dang fun. From the kid who tries to use wizardry in to defeat Freddy (nice try there prehistoric Harry Potter) to the battle between Dr. Gordon and Freddy’s skeleton (calling Mr. Harryhausen your royalty check is ready), this film is a blast. Freddy gets to have needles for fingers, turn into a snake, and menace someone with a spiked wheelchair all in the same film. What could be better than that? Not much, but I also have to say that it’s cool to hear Freddy called the “bastard son of 100 maniacs” for the first time.
Nightmare III really has a lot going for it, and considering this was Chuck Russell’s directorial debut, he did a bang up job. (Russell would return the next year with The Blob, one of the better horror remakes of all time.) It surely didn’t hurt matters that he was working from a script attributed to Wes Craven, Frank Darabont (screenwriter/director of excellent films such as The Shawshank Redemption and The Mist) and Bruce Wagner. There had already been a couple of rejected script ideas before they hit the right formula. At one time Craven was already kicking around the idea that would become New Nightmare (1994), and Robert Englund even took a crack at it though his treatment was rejected. The final product mixed horror and humor well enough that Freddy had not yet turned into the clown prince of deadly dreams. Keeping it on such an even keel gave the flick the power to entertain and still provide scares, and isn’t that what we really want from the best horror films.
At least for me, I’m beginning to think this is true. As I look back over this list there’s so many of these films that provide laughter with their terror and there’s still a few more to come. Nightmare III may not elicit the same visceral fear that the first appearance of Freddy did, but it brought the gore, it brought the laughs, and it brought Dokken with it. Oh yes. I haven’t forgotten you Dokken and your fight anthem “Dream Warriors“. The sheer awesomeness of the song can’t be put into words so I won’t even try. It’s important to remember that while we might have nightmares about Freddy, Mr. Kruger has them about Don Dokken.