Collins’ Crypt: Now I Know Why DREAM WARRIORS Is The Best Nightmare

A big screen marathon of Freddy's adventures reveals even more reasons to love the third entry.

As a frequent scanner of BoxOfficeMojo charts, I knew that the Nightmare on Elm Street series was more successful at the box office than the Friday the 13th series, with Freddy scaring up about 10m more per entry (on average) than his biggest rival. It also had wider marketing, a more fitting TV show, and thanks to Robert Englund, a consistency that the Friday series could never really have for itself. And yet, I still somehow had the impression that Jason was more popular with fans than Freddy (which is of course in NO WAY RELATED to my own personal preference), so I was surprised when the New Beverly's all-night marathon of his original series (up through New Nightmare*) on 35mm sold out in a mere 3 minutes when their similar run of Jason's movies (1-8) took about a half hour or so. And then I was surprised yet again when my friend Jared got in line two hours before the doors opened and found himself further back in line than he was when he did the same thing for the Friday-thon. 

Yes, despite my general "he's just OK" feeling for the character, people love Freddy Krueger, and a limited edition hat and lots of respect were awarded to the 80 or so people who stayed for the entire thing. Since I couldn't even make it through all of my beloved Jason's adventures, it shouldn't be a surprise that I was not among them - I bailed halfway through Dream Master, shortly after my 4th or 5th doze of the evening. My sleepiness (due in part to a teething baby who woke up an hour early that morning) wasn't to blame for my exit; I planned all along to leave then due to the fact that I don't particularly like Dream Child** or Freddy's Dead, and by the time New Nightmare rolled around my baby would be awake again - meaning I'd need to be at home anyway. I can deprive myself of some sleep all I want, but I sure as hell can't deny a 2 year old his morning ritual of watching cartoons with daddy.

Even without the baby I'm not sure I'd have stayed for the whole thing. As I've explained before, I don't particularly enjoy binge-watching, so when tired and uncomfortable (I like the seats at the New Bev just fine, but even my own couch isn't something this restless leg syndrome "sufferer" wants to sit in for twelve hours), it seems insane to sit through two movies I don't even like just to say I did (even if New Nightmare is certainly worth enduring their misery). But the incentives for the ones I DID watch were plenty of reason to overcome my bingephobia - for starters I had never seen the original film on 35mm, and was very much eager to finally "finish" the series on celluloid (I had seen 2-5 at the New Bev over the years, and the others during their original runs). Freddy's Revenge is a blast with a crowd as they can help you pick up on some of the film's infamous homoerotic content (the "No Checks" sign on Jessie's door that has been modified to read "No CHICKS" is one I never noticed at home), and if you stick around long enough during Dream Master you can hear some of Dramarama's "Anything Anything" AND witness the exact moment the series jumped the shark - when Freddy literally turns into a (sand) shark and then dons a pair of sunglasses before offing Kristen Parker. That's when I left, seeing the good era of the series before it turned bad (save for a minor detour back into quality for New Nightmare). 

But really, it was worth the 30 dollar admission just to see Dream Warriors on the big screen again - and in its context with the rest of the series. I had enjoyed seeing the Dokken-fied entry in its theatrical glory before (at a double feature with Fright Night, if memory serves), but I had never watched it back to back with any of the other entries, which revealed some interesting things I never noticed before. In fact, that's true about all of them - I never realized it was actually Freddy's Revenge that introduced the town name of Springwood, and that the town wasn't established as being in Ohio until the 4th movie - before then it wasn't explicitly said but no one made much effort to hide its California trappings (i.e. palm trees everywhere). Freddy's Revenge also introduced the idea that things got incredibly hot in Freddy's presence, a concept that carried over into Dream Warriors (the melting tricycle) - the 2nd film is usually sort of written out of the narrative due to the breaking of established rules, but it IS responsible for some of the series' trademarks, which I never picked up on until this marathon session. And it doesn't mean anything, but I never noticed how over-the-top ridiculous Marge Thompson's drinking habit is until now - I remembered her hiding the bottle from Nancy at breakfast but somehow always missed the insane moment where she pulls one out from under her bed sheets.

However, the big takeaway was that I had even more ammo when (more like IF) I'm ever forced to defend my choice of Dream Warriors as the best entry in the series (or, at least, sequel), because it offered a perfect balance between the series' low budget early days and the bigger budgeted (and thus weaker) later entries. Dream Warriors' budget of $4.5m was more than the first two films had combined - but still a lot less than would be tossed at Dream Master the following summer. It was still low enough for New Line to allow the filmmakers to retain Freddy's darker aspects and keep the subject matter equally bleak - teen suicide/self mutilation is a big theme in the film, plus drug addiction (one character is a recovering heroin addict, the kids are frequently sedated with pills) and even some rape for good measure. Slightly weightier plot points than Michael or Jason ever had to deal with, in other words. This means the movie, while not without some humor, is still actually dark and scary; the idea that these kids face other threats to their lives besides Freddy is a rare concept to this series (Freddy's Dead has some of it as well, with child abuse elements... but it also has Freddy playing with a Nintendo Power Glove and dressing as the Wicked Witch of the West, so).

Another thing it perfectly delivers on is the nightmare element, and how the filmmakers (Chuck Russell and Frank Darabont) could let their imaginations run a little wild with some money - but not so much that the scenes became the only thing in the movie worth watching. The first two films couldn't really do much in the way of elaborate dream sequences - the opening bus bit in Freddy's Revenge is an exception, but otherwise there's a lo-fi quality to them all - which I don't mean as a dismissal. No, I actually quite like the relative normalcy of the dreams in these two films (more the first than the second, where the lines are blurred to the point of confusion), settling for things like a random goat running down the street to sell the "anything goes" idea of a dream instead of anything fancier. And the later films were too concerned with creating the setpieces first and stringing them together with a weak storyline (and equally weak characters), to the extent that they no longer represented legitimate nightmares you or I might have. But here, they nail the balance - Phillip's "human puppet" one is a terrific example, as it involves costly effects but still a rather believable nightmare (falling), not to mention the sleepwalking angle that reinforces the "going to sleep is dangerous" concept.

It also showcases the film's idea to present Freddy in a variety of shapes and sizes, something the other movies hadn't really done (and would do so sparingly in later films, now that he was an "icon"). In the film he appears as a stop motion puppet, a snake, a sort of projected ghost (above Phillip when he cuts his "strings"), a skeleton, and a TV/robot hybrid thing. Sure, Robert Englund more than earns his paycheck for his appearance, no doubt, but I like the idea that all of his victims have the same general idea of Freddy but see him in different ways (and no, not dressing up as "Super Freddy!" or whatever the hell). Like Jennifer, the girl who is welcomed to prime time (bitch) - she sees a standard Freddy on the TV (morphing from Dick Cavett!) but when she's actually killed they go the extra mile, with freaky robot arms bursting through the side of the box and pulling her through its screen. He doesn't even use the glove! And even though he doesn't actually score a kill in the moment, the Freddy snake thing attacks without any arms at all - I champion anything that gets them away from "and then he slashes him/her with his glove", especially if its another form of Freddy entirely. 

Plus, and this I always knew but it was really emphasized in the marathon setting - it was the last time he was really scary. I only watched two reels of Dream Master and in that time I heard five Freddy quips but saw zero legitimate scares, and I know from memory it just gets worse (at least until New Nightmare). But Dream Warriors, again, while not without some quips ("What's the matter Joey? Feeling TONGUE TIED?"), still gives us the guy we can be afraid of, where even some of the one-liners have a real mean streak - taunting Will about his disability before killing him always seemed pretty harsh. And the scares that aren't Freddy-centric also work - the little skeleton girl freaked me out, and I remember being terrified at the pig on the dinner table (as an older viewer I realize why it worked so well - the editor teases it out just a little longer than you'd expect for a jump scare). However, what I HADN'T noticed before was that this was the first one that really let you see him - he's kept in the dark for his (limited) appearances in the first two films, presumably due to a mix of keeping him vague (like a dream) and hiding less than perfect makeup. But they had the dough here, and so when he shows up for big moments you get a really good look at him and the outstanding makeup work, which has some added "features" like the souls on his chest.

And when it introduces a fantastical concept, it keeps it in the dream world. Nancy helps the kids unlock their dream powers - Kristen's acrobatic skills, Kincaid's strength, etc - but they're still unable to do those things in the real world. In Dream Master, Alice is somehow able to gain her geeky friend's science know-how, her brother's karate skills, etc. when they are offed (oddly enough, a concept Craven would explore in My Soul To Take), but displays those abilities when she's awake, which goes too far into straight-up fantasy for my tastes (there are also a couple instances of Freddy intruding on the real world, like leaving slashes on a locker during the day when no one is sleeping). I like the idea that someone like Will, unable to walk in the real world, would almost welcome being in a dream state with his friends like a normal kid, even if it meant facing certain death. We also learn, in a rather clunky way, one of Freddy's limitations - he's unable to be in two places at once, having to abandon a kill-in-progress to teleport to the junkyard in order to protect his skeleton from John Saxon (which I don't quite fully get - Saxon wasn't asleep? Was Freddy's power just getting that strong?). 

Most importantly, I confirmed I wasn't wrong - it really is above the others. Marathon viewings can often yield surprises; my friend Jared walked away with an appreciation for New Nightmare that he never had, and I suspect several people were won over by Freddy's Revenge (my friend Mike is an exception, but that guy thinks Freddy's Dead is better than the original so who cares what he thinks). It can also work the other way - at the Friday the 13th All Nighter last fall, I remember a few folks realizing how much Part 3 pales when sandwiched between two of the series' best entries. But I found Dream Warriors just as near-perfect when stacked against its brethren as I always have on video by itself (and that's a lot of viewings, seeing as it's the first movie I ever owned) - if anything it just looked that much better. However, this marathon format revealed some of the reasons WHY it's always worked for me over the other sequels (and even the original in some aspects - particularly in the pacing and "satisfying ending" departments), things I may have only known subconsciously or never picked up on at all if I wasn't once again willing to put my anti-binge attitude aside for an evening. Maybe there's some merit to this behavior after all? Can someone really put this idea to the test and show all eight original Halloween films theatrically? I'll stay for the whole thing, I promise! 

* Strictly rom a narrative standpoint, Freddy vs. Jason would have made more sense as a capper than New Nightmare, since the latter isn't really a direct sequel whereas FvJ is, but the closing narration from Wes Craven in New Nightmare has taken on more poignancy since his passing, so it was, bittersweetly, a PERFECT way to send fans on their way.

** And yes, I hosted a screening of this one two years ago. Even though I'm not a fan of that particular entry, we did Dream Master the year before and it was a success so I promised to the sold out crowd of Freddy fans to give its followup the same treatment for its 25th anniversary. In fact, that was another reason I didn't want to stick around, because my promised screening turned out to be the end of my series at the theater, something I still am quite sad about not being able to do anymore. So I didn't need the reminder!