Director: Chuck Russell
Writer: Wes Craven, Bruce Wagner, Frank Darabont, and Chuck Russell
Producer: Robert Shaye
Cinematographer: Roy H. Wagner
by Jon Cvack
After a disastrous sequel, Dream Warriors returns as arguably the Four Horsemen’s greatest sequels; matched perhaps only by A New Nightmare (1994), though I’d argue that Craven’s return was more cinema exploring slasher horror rather than slasher horror alone. Dream Warriors provides an entire film of what the first Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), only half provided; a brilliant set up for a horror film involving a horribly burned man, possibly the devil, who exists in the dreams of young teenagers, killing them off one by one. The premise was based on an article Wes Craven read about kids allegedly dying in their dreams. It’s a simple and perfect setup; requiring little beyond knowing you have to kill him in real life to destroy him.
The issue with the original is that it shifts away from this premise - bending or breaking its own logic in order to serve an overwrought premise that would have benefited from simplification. The second half plays like a fourth or fifth film in a series; explaining something that we’re not yet interested in. How Freddie can escape into the real world.
Dream Warriors recovers this problem, focusing entirely on the initial plot of teenagers experiencing the dreams and slowly discovering a way to battle the monster as he gets closer to kill each of them off. Moving beyond the suburbs and high school students it turns to an asylum where a group of young people experience various forms of mental illness; one by one having their nightmares. The only mystery is why them, but the question isn’t important. It’s supplemental. Regardless of who they are, Freddy Krueger’s targeting them.
The story opens with Patricia Arquette Kristen Parker who’s up in the middle of the night, building a creepy house out of popsicle sticks, glue, and dark paint. Her mom enters the room, wearing a dress, wondering what Kristen is still doing up; asking if she’ll go back to bed. A man downstairs then calls up. It’s a scene that reminds me of the first; providing the littlest bit of information to describe a home life using a combination of wardrobe, character type, make up, and attitude to show a relationship. It takes no more than a minute because it needs no more than a minute.
Kristen then falls asleep and dreams of Freddy Krueger. She enters the bathroom and grabs the faucet handles which are in the shape of claws which shift into Freddy’s hands in a beautiful effect, entirely holding up on BluRay. It grabs her wrist while the other rises up, its pipes now gaunt bone with raw bloody muscle. It turns into claws and slices Kristin who then wakes up. Her mother enters the bathroom, finding her daughter with cut wrists.
She takes Kristin to a mental institution run by Dr. Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson) who examines her for suicide. When they try to sedate her, Kristin freaks out, requiring the orderlies to come in to restrain her. Dr. Gordon then tells her mother that he needs to retain her indefinitely.
Although only made three years afterwards, Nancy Thompson returns as Heather Langenkamp, six years after the first film and now training to be a psychiatrist. She meets the rest of the patients who are some of the best supporting cast in any horror sequel, a crazed aspiring actress Jennifer (Penelope Sudrow); Kincaid (Ken Sagoes) as the explosively volatile kid from the streets; Philip (Bradley Gregg ) as the frequent illustrator, puppet builder, and somnambulist; the paraplegic and subsequently suicidal Will (Ira Heiden); a struggling heroin addict Taryn (Jennifer Rubin); and a trauma victim Joey (Rodney Eastman) who hasn’t spoken since.
Each character is as unique as the other, provided with full and vibrant personalities and situated within an environment that allows us to get to know them and their relationships. As grim as the place and as tragic as the events, it feels more like their schoolmates rather than patients.
Dr. Gordon is one of the film’s most complex characters. He's a kind and gentle man, single and in his mid-40s. Entirely dedicated to his work. He then meets Nancy, and as predatory as their professional relationship is, Craig Wasson makes it seem pure and honest; a mixture of genuine attraction over her care and mind, along with his instincts to help. While reluctant at first to buy Heather’s theories on the matter, he’s soon swayed.
Philip is the first to fall asleep, and in the film’s coolest sequence, one of Philips puppets shifts via stop motion into Freddy Krueger, who cuts himself free and walks up to Philip’s bed, cutting open his forearms and removing his tendons, pulling him like a puppet out and up into the bell tower. The group yells to wake him up, only seeing his arms raised, then watching as he falls to his death.
The episode makes Dr. Gordon desperate and he agrees to try Nancy’s approach; having them all fall asleep together in order to learn how to unite and beat Krueger. Before they fall asleep, Nancy explains that each of the children are descendants of the remaining Elm Street families. It’s a point that simply lays the foundation; requiring no more than a few seconds explanation and reaction. It serves no grander purpose than allowing us to understand why these particular children were selected. They then fall asleep and find themselves still in the group therapy room which starts to burn down all around them as Freddy is heard on the other side of the wall in all directions. When they wake up, a woman fires Dr. Gordon, providing one of a handful of weak plot points. I’m not sure what sudden authority this person had. It places Nancy in care of the patients and gets Dr. Gordon out of the office where he investigates beyond the hospital.
Continue to Part 2...
BELOW: Heroin fingers
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