Dream Warriors is masterful in its manipulation; it’s the very definition of franchise building. Screenwriters Wes Craven, Bruce Wagner, Frank Darabont and Chuck Russell wrap what appears to be particular kind of narrative–after a film away, Heather Langenkamp–the original’s protagonist–is going to be the focus. Only she’s not. Then it’s like the character who opened the movie–Patricia Arquette–is the actual focus. Only she’s not.
And no one’s going to think Craig Wasson’s the focus, even though he at least gets to participate in it–the focus is building a mythology around Freddy Krueger, a mythology with nothing to do with the actual narrative and entirely self-contained. According to the IMDb trivia page, Craven had it just the opposite; so either Russell or Darabont went in and separated things out. The screenplay is admirably constructed. It’s bad and dumb, but it’s well-constructed for what it’s trying to do.
But Dream Warriors isn’t just masterful in that type of manipulation. Whether it’s getting away with tons of fantasy special effects in a mainstream horror movie or turning the audience’s passive dislike for a character into a tacit approval of Robert Englund’s terrorizing of them, the whole thing is an expert package.
Mood is very important here because, as a director, Russell never wants to show his hand. There’s a certain respectability Dream Warriors is going for, what with having Dick Cavett and Zsa Zsa Gabor in the opening titles, which are a very classy sequence of arts and crafts from Arquette, set to Angelo Badalamenti’s (initially) way too good–for the movie–score. Roy H. Wagner’s photography reminds of giallo, with its shadows against the strong colors of the sets. Except Russell’s rarely ambitious in his direction. Editors Terry Stokes and Chuck Weiss have some effective cuts with Badalamenti’s music, but none of them have to do with Englund’s villain or even the sensational dreamscape where most of the big action takes place. Instead, they’re for the setup, when Dream Warriors is trying to appear sincere.
The acting is mostly bad. Often because of the script’s silliness. Expert construction or not, it’s silly. Langenkamp suffers the worst, except for maybe Priscilla Pointer, who plays the head psychiatrist of the Dream Warriors–a bunch of teens Englund is haunting. Pointer’s character isn’t just played as mean, she doesn’t even get anything to do with it. Arquette’s a little better than Langenkamp but not much. Craig Wasson plays another psychiatrist and even roughs up John Saxon at one point. Saxon’s so out of it he doesn’t look embarrassed in that roughing up scene. John Saxon was in Enter the Dragon. Craig Wasson shouldn’t be able to rough him up.
The rest of the supporting cast is a low mediocre. Except for Larry Fishburne. Larry Fishburne’s excellent. Movie should’ve been about him.
But it’s not made to be excellent, it’s made to further a franchise–and it succeeds. It even gives Englund some occasional good moments amid his otherwise one-note, sensationalist routine.