One of the most interesting things about the first three parts of this series is how they’re different. Take any of the main slasher franchises (excepting Halloween, as its part 3 was entirely unrelated to the other two movies, but you can use 1, 2 and 4 if you like) and they’re all set in largely the same place, with largely the same sort of people, and the first five to ten minutes of the sequels is spent getting the slasher back from the dead to continue his grim and endless work. What the “Nightmare” movies do is have Freddy do what he does best (murder kids) but change everything else. He’s the guilt of the parents in part 1, repressed homosexuality in part 2, and by part 3 even though he’s finishing off his work from part 1, he does it in a very different way, in a different location. And because he’s dead before the first movie even starts, you don’t have to worry about bringing him back – although those “twist” endings still suck, even here.
Also, thanks to the huge success of parts 1 and 2, a decent cast was affordable for part 3. Not only do we get a debuting Patricia Arquette, there’s Laurence Fishburne, returns from Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon, plus the lovely Jennifer Rubin and a solid supporting cast. Additionally, Wes Craven returned to co-write the script, along with rewrites from a young Frank Darabont; but of course people turned out for Freddy, who in this movie finally becomes the wisecrack-spewing monster he would remain (at sometimes annoying length) for the rest of the series’ run.
A group of kids with severe sleep disorders all wind up in the same rather gothic-looking hospital, under the supervision of Dr Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson, as bland a leading man as ever was). Joining them is Kristen (Arquette), who starts building Nancy’s old house from parts 1 and 2 out of lollipop sticks and seeing Freddy in her dreams; her mother walks in on her slashing her own wrists, and off she goes. Even though the kids are all seeing the same thing, the two people in charge of their care – Dr Gordon and Dr Simms (Priscilla Pointer), seem convinced it’s just some group psychosis and as soon as they get a good night’s sleep, all will be well.
Luckily, there’s a saviour in the form of Nancy! Not only did she survive part 1, but she’s not dreaming any more, thanks to experimental drug Hypnocil. She’s old enough to have mental health qualifications of her own and she’s managed to get a job here, knowing what’s going on – as it’s not crucial to the movie at all, I don’t mind telling you that they’re the last of the “Elm Street children”, the kids of the people who killed Freddy (because he killed kids). Not only does she understand and believe them, but when she’s sucked into one of Kristen’s dreams by Kristen herself, she realises there’s something they can do to fight Freddy – embrace their dream personalities, where they’re strong or have superpowers. Not the worst idea in the world, certainly! We get a wizard (thanks to some of the kids playing D&D), a strongman, and Taryn (Jennifer Rubin) is a beautiful badass with a couple of knives – a difficult sell, given how gorgeous she was before, but I’ll allow it.
I think the problem remains how little anyone seems to know about Freddy Krueger who, if you remember, killed 20 local kids while he was alive; and then showed up after he was dead and killed a few more (the pool party in part 2). Now, the thing about serial killers is they’re pretty famous – I’m sure most of us could name five off the tops of our heads – but Krueger is ignored or forgotten. No-one even suggests that the “group delusion” (which they were suffering from before they met) might have any basis in the reality of the famous local child murderer, who mysteriously disappeared.
This film deepens the backstory as well, if that’s your cup of tea, giving us an origin story for Freddy, “the bastard son of a hundred maniacs”. Dear all other horror movies – that’s how you do it! Origin stories for villains are given movie franchises on their own these days, and they’re almost without exception dull as hell. A couple of lines from a mysterious Nun, and you’re set!
As the film progresses, the attitude of the staff – Simms especially – seems closer to that of a violent teacher than a mental health professional; they’re angry with the kids for not getting better immediately, they call people who commit suicide “losers”…if I was ever as bad at my job as they are at theirs, I’d expect to be sacked on the spot. Oh, and there’s the orderly who wants to give drugs to Taryn, who was hospitalised in part due to an overdose, just to complete the list of truly horrible staff.
Freddy seems to be almost taunting the staff of the hospital into suspecting him, though. One kid is dream-teleported through a padlocked door and walked through the hospital up to the clocktower, where he’s dropped to his death; no-one even wonders how he did it. One unfortunate girl has her head rammed through a TV which a good five feet up, bolted to the wall – when she’s discovered, her feet are dangling off the ground. Quite how she got into that position on her own, and stayed there, is a matter of no interest to anyone, and I’m not 100% sure if the movie realises this and is messing with us, or just shot the deaths really badly.
What it shot great was the opening dream sequence, the sort of scene that nails the weird wooziness of a nightmare very well, and looks amazing too – the dressing of Nancy’s old house at 1428 Elm Street is perfect. For all its flaws, it’s really good looking, through and through.
Even after saying all that, it is a really fun movie. The idea of using dreams as a weapon against Freddy is an interesting one – an idea which would be carried over into part 4, I seem to recall, but we’ll get to that later – and Freddy almost takes on a way more interesting role as the boogeyman for society’s ills. The acting is mostly top-notch, I care about the kids, and while the plot devolves into a poor episode of “Supernatural”- it’s all about laying Freddy’s bones to rest in hallowed ground – it’s still better thought out than almost every other slasher movie. My favourite of the series.
Rating: thumbs up