The genre is about control, or rather the lack thereof. The usual horror boilerplate follows oblivious teens partying in the woods, who, despite their circumstances, can still exert enough free will over what happens to them. They have various means of escape, whether it’s by vehicle, to disappear into the woods, or to use weapons on their assailants.
In this third Nightmare (and the Nightmare Series for that matter), there’s a distinct absence of autonomy. Here, the victims’ movements are curtailed (they’re in a psychiatric ward of a hospital), they have no sovereignty regarding what they ingest (they’re subjected to an experimental drug), they are told what to think (in a touchy-feely ineffectual group therapy) and most importantly, cannot escape their subconscious when they sleep. This is a brilliant conceit, extending the subtle safety metaphors from Wes Craven’s rip-roaring original, where the vehicle of choice is the notoriously safe Volvo, Nancy’s father is in law enforcement and the Elm Street address has bars for windows.
They could’ve simply had an evil child-killing antagonist visiting kids during their nightmares. However, adding these little touches underscores just how helpless the victims’ circumstances really are and help to turn the horror dial up to 11.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 is practically a Spaghetti Theory of horror — every possible fright thrown at the wall to see what sticks: haunted houses, needles, heights, knives, pills, sleepwalking, and that’s just for starters. There’s also the extremely sinister origins of Freddy’s conception. And we haven’t even gotten to the fear of sleep.
The actors are so game. Unlike the screamers yelling into the wilderness in a cabin in the woods slasher, there’s real cast camaraderie and charm on display here. The viewer really feels like they’ve gotten to know them after 90 minutes. And how many times can that be said in a typical horror?
Dream Warriors puts the series right back in the fast lane after the second effort’s engine flooded.
Apart from sliding a bit toward the back end with some hokey skeletal effects and some cringe-worthy Harry Potter teen empowerment, the bulk of Dream Warriors is an absolute master-class in horror. Some of the series’ most iconic kills are here, including the marionette “suicide,” one of the creepiest scenes in the pantheon of horror. And Freddy’s verbiage is kept to a minimum while the thrills are at their maximum.
****1/2 (out of 5)
[LISTEN TO OUR PODCAST DISCUSSION ABOUT A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET]