On the 30th Anniversary of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: DREAM WARRIORS, We Take a Look Back at the Film’s Enduring Legacy
The 80s are often referred to as “The Golden Age Of Horror” and for good reason. A good chunk of the iconic Horror characters and movies that are so beloved today, came during the decade. One character that became a pop culture icon during The Golden Age was Freddy Krueger.
Freddy was an instant hit with audiences when he debuted in 1984 in the late, great Wes Craven’s masterpiece A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Audiences made the film a sleeper hit for the fledgling studio, New Line Cinema, and the horror genre has never been the same since. It also is responsible for introducing the world to a then unknown young actor named Johnny Depp. Although New Line Cinema was eventually purchased by Warner Bros, the studio will forever be known as THE HOUSE THAT FREDDY BUILT to all genre fans.
With the success of NIGHTMARE, it made New Line one of the 1st “Mini Majors” in Hollywood. A Mini Major is a small independent film studio that will churn out dozens of films and usually see a robust profit on the back end, think Lionsgate with the SAW series. New Line began putting out and distributing more and more genre films since the release of NIGHTMARE, so it was only fitting a sequel would be made to capitalize on the film’s success. A year later, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE was released, and the reception of the film was lukewarm at best. While FREDDY’S REVENGE has gone on to become a cult classic (especially within the Gay community), the fans wanted another shot with the Springwood Slasher.
They would have to wait 2 years, when an old friend would return to his roots on Elm Street and breathe some much needed new life into the budding franchise.
1,2 FREDDY’S COMING FOR YOU…
Wes Craven, who intended for the original film to be a one and a done, was truly unhappy with how FREDDY’S REVENGE turned out. While he did decline to direct the next trip to Elm Street, he did write the script for the film along with Bruce Wagner. New Line was so impressed with the script, the immediately green lit to be put into production. Prior to turning in the script, Craven pitched an idea to Robert Shaye (former Head of New Line Cinema), where Freddy would invade the real world and terrorize the actors and filmmakers making an Elm Street sequel. Shaye wasn’t sure that audiences were ready to handle that type of meta horror film just yet and rejected the idea. Hmmm, that’s an interesting idea. A meta horror film where the characters know they are in a horror movie being stalked and murdered by a killer, with Wes Craven calling all the action? Nah…that would never work as a movie.
Now if you’ve never had the pleasure of reading the original script for DREAM WARRIORS, I implore you to seek it out immediately. It’s drastically different than the final product. It is much darker in tone and it is really vulgar compared to the original. The characters are different as well, as they are all completely different in this original script. For example Freddy is not the pun master he is in this film in the original script. In fact he is much more brutal, violent and graphic with how he speaks to the kids. The one element that was agreed upon, was giving the kids special “Dream Powers” when in the Dream World with Freddy. Craven’s thought process was why would Freddy be the only one to have powers here? So the Dream Warriors were born. A re-write was ordered of the script and finally everyone was happy with it.
Now came time to cast the film…and it would feature 2 familiar faces.
YOU ARE THE LAST OF THE ELM STREET CHILDREN
It’s no secret that the character of Nancy Thompson existed in all versions of the DREAM WARRIORS script, with the intent to bring Heather Langenkamp back to the series. Langenkamp returned to the franchise and showed us a different, more mature side of Nancy. Gone was the shy girl from the original who had to dig deep inside her to face the monster, now she was a survivor and she is the only adult authority figure that actually believes the kids. She takes on a more maternal role in this film. As she genuinely cares for these kids and has a special bond with them, particularly Kristen Parker.
It’s almost a passing of the Final Girl torch between Nancy and Kristen. An unknown actress would make her acting debut in DREAM WARRIORS, however it was just the chance she needed. While many auditioned for the role, Patricia Arquette eventually won the part. Arquette bought a spunky, almost defiant attitude to the character. A main character is only as good as her supporting characters and this one has the best of the best. Ken Sagoes was cast as the brash and somewhat emotional Kincaid. Kincaid has gone on to be a huge fan favorite in the franchise, and Ken is someone I am proud to call my friend in real life.
Penelope Sudrow as Jennifer, the young girl obsessed with TV and becoming an actress in Hollywood. Ira Heiden as Will, the young man confined to a wheelchair who is a huge nerd for Dungeons and Dragons. Bradley Gregg as Phillip, a young man who makes marionette puppets out of clay. Jennifer Rubin as Taryn, a former heroin addict looking to stay clean and sober. Rodney Eastman as Joey, the mute one of the group , with a love for the ladies. Rodney is also a friend of mine in real life, and he is awesome. Of course some adult supervision is needed besides Nancy, so Craig Wasson was cast as Dr. Neil Gordon, colleague and love interest for Nancy. The great Brooke Bundy is Kristen’s mother, Elaine. Priscilla Pointer as Dr. Simms, in a role that I feel has been misinterpreted over the years. While yes, Dr. Simms is a bitch, she’s only doing what she feels is right to help the kids. Max the orderly is played by a really young Laurence Fishburne, in one of his earliest roles.
Are you noticing a trend with how this franchise launched a few careers? The incomparable John Saxon, returns as Donald Thompson to the series to finish the story arc. And finally, who else in the world would be back to play the Dream Demon himself than the one and the only, Robert Englund. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him quite a few times now. And when I tell you he is beyond proud of this character and what it has bought him in life, is a severe understatement. This man loves Freddy, and he loves that you love Freddy. If Robert or Ken or Rodney or Heather are appearing at a con that is close to you, do yourself the favor and go meet them. In fact if anyone from this movie is doing a con, go meet them. I promise you will remember it forever.
3,4 BETTER LOCK YOUR DOOR
DREAM WARRIORS would be the first film in the franchise, where the action does not primarily take place on Elm Street. In fact it takes place in Westin Hills, psychiatric evaluation center. If you’re wondering where you heard that name before, it was seen again in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5: THE DREAM CHILD, and of course it plays a bigger role in FREDDY VS JASON. It seems that with all the recent teen deaths in Springwood, the adults are convinced that it’s a mass teen suicide epidemic. To save their children, the parents commit them to Westin Hills for treatment.
In fact, teen suicide was (and still is) a major issue of the time and was a sensitive subject to even tackle in film and television. This is yet another reason why the horror genre is so beloved, because where others are afraid to mention a taboo subject, horror faces it right on. DREAM WARRIORS was a clever PSA at its heart for teen suicide, drug addiction, the FDA and broken families, disguised as a horror movie. This is not unlike George A Romero’s Dead series, which were also social commentaries of their time. This is also the first time that we hear about the drug Hypnocil in the Elm Street universe. Hypnocil is a drug that suppressed dreams, thus rendering Freddy powerless. The medication is in it’s early experimental phase in DREAM WARRIORS, and the side effects are not clear until Joey slips into a coma. The drug would be a major plot point in the 2003 film FREDDY VS JASON, as the answer to why Freddy needs Jason in the 1st place.
ALL THE LITTLE PIGGIES HAVE COME HOME
DREAM WARRIORS greatly benefited from the success of the first 2 films. The budget was increased, and it shows in the impressive dream sequences and what was written in the script as Freddy Hell, where Freddy is holding Joey as a prisoner. No longer though were the teens helpless against Krueger. Now thanks to Nancy, each one discovers their special dream powers that will need to come in to play when sleeping.
We first see one of Kristen’s dream powers when she is being eaten alive by a giant snake that happens to have Freddy’s face and head. During the scene, Kristen pulls Nancy into her dream to save her (as well acrobatic skills). After a 3 year hiatus, the old foes come face to face again as Nancy is able to save them both. The other teens have some cool abilities as well: Kincaid has superhuman strength, Taryn is beautiful and bad, Will can walk and has wizard powers, and Joey…well, while we all know Joey acts like B Rabbit at the end of 8 MILE and finally finds his voice, the truth is Joey’s dream power is his ability to get hot girls naked and hook up. Don’t believe me, please go back and watch DREAM WARRIORS & DREAM MASTER for further proof that Joey is a stud.
WELCOME TO PRIMETIME, BITCH
Would this be a horror film or A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET film if Freddy wasn’t able to do what he does best? This installment’s death scenes range from basic to elaborate to downright shocking. DREAM WARRIORS boasts 2 of the biggest fan favorite Freddy Kills in the entire saga. Poor Phillip meets his maker when he falls asleep and Freddy turns him into a gruesome and grotesque marionette puppet with his veins and arteries as the strings. He brings Phillip to the roof and “cuts the strings”, making it appear as if he jumped off the roof committing suicide.
Jennifer arguably has the Number 1 death scene in all of the Elm Street films. It’s beauty doesn’t just lie in it’s simplicity, it’s all Freddy…and really it’s all Robert Englund in this particular scene. Jennifer is trying to stay awake and watch television in the TV Room. Max comes in to tell her it’s lights out. She begs him to let her stay up a little bit longer, as she is still grieving the loss of Phillip. He reluctantly agrees and warns her if she is caught that he will deny ever seeing her. She agrees and Max leaves. She lights a cigarette and burns herself to stay awake. She is watching THE DICK CAVETT SHOW with special guest Zsa Zsa Gabor.
Dick is interviewing Zsa Zsa. During the interview, he turns into Freddy and slashes at Ms. Gabor. The reception becomes white noise, while the distorted sounds of screams and an all too familiar nursery rhyme come thru the speakers. Jennifer approaches the set hanging on the wall and tries changing the station with the knob. When that fails she smacks it. Suddenly a razor clawed mechanical arms bursts through each side of the set, picking Jennifer up off the ground. A head with 2 antennas comes from the top of the box and delivers what is the signature line of the series, “This is it Jennifer, your big break…”
Now it is said that this scene was tough to shoot, as it was missing something. Robert Englund improvised this next line…”Welcome to Primetime, Bitch!” And just like that a catchphrase was born, and Freddy developed more of a twisted sense of humor in the next set of sequels.
Taryn’s death scene is still to this day considered one of the most controversial death scenes in the whole franchise, as Freddy turns his fingers into syringes and shoves them into her arms causing her to die of a drug overdose. This scene was so controversial, the film was banned in Australia upon initial release. However, it’s since been released with the scene fully intact. Will’s death scene was planned to be more elaborate, with Freddy turning into a dragon and swallowing him. But due to budget restraints, we have the equivalent of Harry Potter vs. Freddy Krueger, sans the magic.
Perhaps the ballsiest death scene is that of Nancy Thompson. While she does go out a hero and successfully passed the torch to Kristen as Elm Street’s newest savior, it was a shocking moment in the franchise that no one saw coming. In fact, the series has never had a more shocking moment than the death of Nancy.
DREAM WARRIORS LEGACY
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS was released on February 27th, 1987, and it opened Number 1 at the box office. The film was a hit with critics as well, with praise going to the script, special effects, and acting. It made its budget back and turned a nice profit for New Line Cinema. It solidified Freddy’s status as a horror icon and one of the best slashers in the genre.
The film is insanely popular with NOES fans and horror fans in general. While THE DREAM MASTER is the highest grossing film of the franchise (not including FREDDY VS JASON), it is widely considered the best sequel in the franchise. Some have even stated it is the best NIGHTMARE movie of them all. In fact, Robert Englund himself has stated that if you introduce someone to the NOES movies they should only watch the first, third and fourth films.
It is held in the same regard as FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER as one of the greatest horror sequels of all time, and it is always in the Top 50 Best Sequels of All Time lists. It successfully launched the career of actress Patricia Arquette, who would go on to star in films like TRUE ROMANCE, LITTLE NICKY, and BOYHOOD, which she won her 1st Academy Award for Best Actress. Laurence Fishburne also benefited greatly after this film, from playing Ike Turner in WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT, to Morpheus in THE MATRIX TRILOGY and currently playing the Daily Planet’s head honcho, Perry White, in the DC Cinematic Universe.
The title song from the film by metal group Dokken has become a cult favorite amongst horror fans. The 8 Bit Nintendo game is based on many elements of this movie , including gathering Freddy’s bones and the players gaining dream powers when they fall asleep. There has since been a slew of merchandise released to commemorate the popularity of the film. From NECA making action figures, t-shirts from Cavity Colors and Fright Rags, to Funko releasing a Hot Topic exclusive Pop figure with the syringe fingers, and art prints by London 1888 done by the insanely talented Christopher Ott, to name a small few.
Is the film flawless? No. There are a few issues and one in particular that should be touched up if Warner Bros ever does a proper box set. If you go back and watch the movie, you’ll notice Freddy’s voice is different depending on the scene. This is a bit distracting, but doesn’t take away from the viewing experience.
30 years later and the film is widely considered one of the best horror films of all time and for good reason. This is arguably one of the best horror films ever made and it actually expands on the mythology of Freddy Krueger and it is aging well.