A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 (1987)

Director: Chuck Russell

Starring: Heather Langenkamp, Patricia Arquette, Larry Fishburne, Priscilla Pointer, Craig Wasson, John Saxon, Dick Cavett, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Robert Englund

Just as I can’t jump on the hate bandwagon against “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2,” I also take a pass on boarding the love train for “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3,” which some fans see as their favorite of the franchise. Don’t get me wrong. “Dream Warriors” is still a great sequel. But I can’t help thinking how much greater it could have been. The few problems I have are similar to the ones I had with the original “Nightmare,” only this time they are magnified.

Six years after the events of “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” we look in on Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette, in her first starring role) building a replica of the house on 1428 Elm Street. Playing loud music and eating coffee grounds washed down with Diet Coke, Kristen is told by her mother to get to bed, as Mom has a boyfriend waiting impatiently downstairs. Kristen does eventually fall asleep, winding up inside the 1428 Elm Street house. Kristen’s dream leads her back to her own house, where the bathroom sink comes alive and slashes her wrist. In the waking world, Kristen’s mother finds her daughter appearing to have sliced open her own wrist with a razor blade.

Off to Westin Hills we go, where Kristen reacts violently to the thought of sedation and is only calmed down when Nancy Thompson, a new staff member at the psychiatric hospital, enters the room and finishes the familiar Freddy nursery rhyme that Kristen begins. Afterwards, we become acquainted with the rest of the cast in a group therapy session. In addition to Doctors Neil Gordon and Elizabeth Simms (Craig Wasson and Priscilla Pointer), we also meet the other patients who, together with Kristen, make up the last of the Elm Street children (i.e. the children of those who originally killed Freddy). This is where “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3” shows off one of its strong points; very few horror films in the late 80’s had casts of characters with such distinct personalities and backgrounds. We have Joey (a mute), Will (a paraplegic whose condition is the result of a nasty fall), Kincaid (who suffers from perceived behavioral issues), Taryn (a former drug addict), Phillip (a sculptor who specializes in clay puppets), and Jennifer (an aspiring actress with delusions of grandeur).

Purely by accident, it is revealed that Nancy has been taking an experimental drug called Hypnocil, used for dream suppression. She wants Neil to prescribe this drug for the kids, but Neil balks at the idea of administering a drug that the FDA won’t even approve. After another dream in which Kristen is attacked by Freddy and then demonstrates her ability to pull others into her dream with her by calling for Nancy, Freddy and his nemesis are reunited. Subsequently, Phillip is killed when Freddy causes him to sleepwalk up to the hospital’s highest point and then cuts him loose, having used Phillip’s tendons as marionette strings. The next day, Jennifer is killed in a scene which couldn’t possibly be interpreted as a suicide, yet is. When Jennifer falls asleep in the TV room, Freddy interrupts a talk show hosted by Dick Cavett. Jennifer goes to the TV to try to fix the scrambled signal, but then Freddy’s head emerges from the top and two mechanical arms extend from the sides, pick up Jennifer, and then ram her head into the TV screen. Max (Laurence Fishburne), the head orderly, finds Jennifer with her head indeed smashed through the TV screen. The trouble is that she would either have had to run at the TV, jump and then headbutt the screen, or at least get something to stand on first. Considering no chair or footstool is in sight, I’m guessing the hospital staff went with the even more ludicrous explanation.

All the while, visions of a nun named Sister Mary Helena convince Gordon to go along with Nancy’s recommendation of giving doses of Hypnocil to the children. He also decides it would be best to try group hypnosis. Within the ensuing dream, the kids all discover they have powers unique to them. But the hypnosis experiment backfires, resulting in Freddy trapping Joey in a coma, and Dr. Gordon and Nancy both being fired. They soon head for a local bar to confront Nancy’s father, estranged from his daughter ever since the death of her mother. Nancy knows her father is the only person who can tell them where Freddy’s remains are hidden, as Sister Mary Helena has told Neil that burying said bones are the only way to put Freddy to rest for good. Lt. Thompson is less than cooperative, so Neil sends Nancy back to the hospital while he convinces her father to take him to the auto graveyard.

Nancy makes it back to the hospital, hoping to help Joey and Kristen, who has been sedated and placed in isolation after freaking out over Nancy’s firing. Max stands in her way, but she convinces him to let her visit with the others one last time. It is here that she gathers Taryn, Will and Kincaid for one final group hypnosis, warning them that death in the dreamworld means death for them in the waking world as well. Only Kincaid and Nancy manage to survive to free Joey from Freddy’s clutches while Neil and Lt. Thompson remove Freddy’s bones from the trunk of a Cadillac and proceed to dig a hole to bury them. Now here’s where the movie sinks from being as good as or even better than the original into bitter disappointment.

Before Lt. Thompson and Dr. Gordon can finish their task, Freddy’s bones come alive, impale Nancy’s father against the Cadillac and knocks Neil unconscious with his shovel before collapsing again. Most occurrences like this in the series can be attributed to the characters falling asleep without them or the viewer knowing it, but the way this scene plays itself out I have to believe that Freddy somehow reanimated his bones in the waking world. What happens next, however, may be even worse. After Joey reveals his dream power to have been the use of his voice in screaming so loud that it appears to drive Freddy away, Nancy automatically assumes the danger is over. She even becomes complacent when her father appears in the dream without having been pulled in by Kristen and tells her he has “crossed over.” Nancy believes this lie so thoroughly that she doesn’t notice anything is amiss until she feels the four blades of Freddy’s glove in her abdomen. Freddy also traps Kristen in the room with them, and although she uses her gymnastics dream power to evade him briefly, he does catch up to her and appears ready to take her out until a mortally wounded Nancy sneaks from behind and forces Freddy’s gloved hand into his own chest. Neil also wakes up and shoves Freddy’s bones into the grave and consecrates the ground, apparently defeating him. But victory comes with a price, as Nancy dies in Kristen’s arms. Later, at Nancy’s funeral, Neil discovers that “Sister Mary Helena” was the assumed name of Amanda Krueger, Freddy’s mother.

As originally conceived, “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3” was to be much darker and more violent. Freddy himself was to be much more vulgar, instead of the wisecracking persona he adopted and has since become known for. In fact, Wes Craven’s first idea for the movie had had Freddy emerging into the real world to invade the dreams of actors filming the latest “Nightmare” film, a concept he would later have the chance to revisit in seven years’ time. The final product, the subject of rewrites from three additional sources (including Frank Darabont and director Chuck Russell), still manages to be the best written of all the “Nightmare” sequels. It also contains some of the series’ best nightmare sequences, and features an undeniably catchy hit tune in “Dream Warriors” by Dokken.

So why can’t I love it the way that most fans do? Much like the first “Nightmare,” the ending to this one is downright frustrating. It’s not that big a deal that Nancy dies. Heroes die in horror movies all the time. It’s the WAY she dies that’s such a bring-down. Nancy had demonstrated in the past that she’s too smart to fall for the trick which seals her fate here. Compounding the situation is the awful dialogue given to the otherwise talented Patricia Arquette in this, the series’ saddest moment. Because we know now that “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3” would not be the final “Nightmare,” her death is ultimately in vain, turning what had been a fun movie up to that point into a most depressing affair indeed. Tonally, it would have worked better in Wes Craven’s darker, original draft. If this movie had been terrible, I wouldn’t even care. I would just ignore the fact that it exists. But it’s not terrible. It’s actually very entertaining and inventive, and that’s why it’s so disheartening that it doesn’t quite have the ending it deserves.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Hmmm. The return of some of the original actors and actresses might make this one worth seeing.

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