Chris Nashawaty
November 04, 2006 AT 05:00 AM EST

An unexpected treat at the bottom of the Halloween heap

Halloween isn’t kind to the lazy. For starters, procrastinators hunting for the best candy, like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, York Peppermint Patties, and the rest of the A-list, wind up with unwanted bags of Bit-O-Honeys and Zagnuts. And then there’s nothing but disappointment at the video store.

Everyone loves to program his own little fright-night scream fest at home this time of year — a late-night double- or triple-feature of slasher movies to enjoy along with those last lonely Zagnuts. But usually a week before the Big Night, the horror aisle is picked clean. All that’s left are tumbleweeds and copies of Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood. The movies you really want, tried-and-true classics like Dawn of the Dead, Saw, My Bloody Valentine, and, of course, Halloween, are long gone, thanks to those annoying, early-bird-gets-the-worm types.

Well, I’m here to tell you that not all leftovers are crap. Sometimes there are little sleepers in crap’s clothing. Take A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. If you had to decide whether or not you wanted to rent this one based on the title alone, you’d have every excuse to take a pass. After all, a Part 3 is usually unwatchable. (Remember Friday the 13th Part III, the one in 3-D? Ooof.) Then there’s the added fact that Wes Craven’s Nightmare franchise didn’t exactly age like a fine wine. Long before Freddy was summoned to battle Jason in their ”long-awaited” 2003 grudge match, both series had gone to the birds. And can anyone tell me what their alleged grudge was in the first place?

Still, Nightmare 3 is quality stuff. And trust me, it’s probably still sitting on the shelf at Blockbuster. You’ll want to hunt it down, stat! Here’s why: First of all, it’s actually got some stars. A young, pre-True Romance Patricia Arquette in her first film role plays Kristen Parker, a girl whose exasperated, boozy-floozy mother ships her off to a mental hospital for seemingly psychotic teens all haunted by the man with razor claws in the striped sweater. The sympathetic orderly is played by Laurence Fishburne, back when he was still unpretentiously calling himself ”Larry Fishburne.” There’s some unexpected talent behind the camera, too: Among the film’s writers is Frank Darabont, the now-classy writer-director of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. And the director is Chuck Russell — not exactly Bergman or Fellini, but he did graduate to working with big-time stars like Jim Carrey (The Mask) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (Eraser).

Darabont and Russell may have moved on to Hollywood High Society, but they clearly once knew their way around its low-budget charnel house too. After all, Dream Warrriors is a bloody, bloody film. And funny as hell, too. As the kids in the psych ward share their dreams with their doc (played by Body Double‘s Craig Wasson) and his new intern, the original Elm Street scream queen Heather Langenkamp (rhymes with ”I drank Tang in camp”), they get offed one by one in some deliciously nasty scenarios. In one, a mute kid falls asleep and dreams that he’s being seduced by the hospital’s resident hot nurse. And as they start to make out, she turns into Freddy, bites his tongue out, and lashes him to the bed with it. Sweet.

Then there’s the ex-junkie goth girl (played by Jennifer Rubin, an actress I’m convinced Angelina Jolie ripped off for her Oscar-winning performance in Girl, Interrupted), who meets her maker when Freddy’s fingers morph into syringes and he stabs her to death while cackling, ”What a rush!” That’s classic stuff, ladies and gentlemen.

The best addition to the film’s body count, though, happens when one of the booby hatch girls, the one who dreams of being a soap opera star, falls asleep while watching TV. As she sinks into REM comfort, the TV grows Freddy arms, grabs her, and smashes her head through the screen, with the insta-catchphrase ”Welcome to prime time, bitch!” Oh Freddy, you’re incorrigible.

Two other highlights before I’ll stop writing and you can go rent this thing: First is the kid who looks like a teenage Yaphet Kotto and talks like Urkel. His nickname in the film is ”Cool Breeze.” And before trying Langenkamp’s radical new therapy, wherein the kids will learn to battle Freddy in their dreams (thus becoming the titular ”Dream Warriors”), Cool Breeze tries to psych up his fellow haunted patients with the line, ”Let’s go kick the muthaf—a’s ass all over dream land!” It’s my favorite line in the whole Freddy franchise. Well, second favorite, after the one that comes about five minutes later, when the Dungeons & Dragons nerd in a wheelchair says, ”In my dreams, I am the Wizard Master!”

Of course you are. And in my dreams, I’m not the lazy sack of lard who gets beaten to the horror aisle every October. Still, that don’t make it so, champ.

What’s your favorite overlooked scary movie?

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