Feelin’ Spooky: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

By Christian DiMartino

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is the most ambitious but also the campiest of the first three Elm Street films. It had been about 10 years or so since my last viewing and back then I remember thinking it was pretty stupid and goofy. Well… yeah it still pretty much is. The first film, despite the ludicrousness of its premise, was still something you could take seriously. The second one went for a similar tone but it was obviously a misfire. Dream Warriors is when the campiness appears to be in full bloom, and it does essentially set the tone for the rest of the films… but all these years later, I find myself admiring it a bit more.

The film marks the directorial debut of Chuck Russell, who made The Mask and Eraser (and… Bless the Child, but we don’t have to talk about it). It also marks the first screenwriting credit of Academy Award nominee Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile), the acting debut of Academy Award winner Patricia Arquette, and it even marked the return of the original film’s director, Wes Craven (this time serving as co-writer). It’s kinda hard to believe that all of these credentials served up something this goofy, but eh, whatever.

Dream Warriors sets the tone for the rest of the films in the way that Freddy (known mostly as Fred in the first two) becomes more playful of a character. Obviously Robert Englund had fun the first two times, but it’s with this one where he really starts to let it rip. He starts dropping more one liners (this is the one where his iconic “Welcome to Primetime, b**tch!” came from), and his kills become a bit more inventive, letting visual effects do some of the heavy lifting. I really admired the visual effects and the practical effects done in these films, and this film in particular, because they have honestly aged pretty well and still look pretty good. What is somewhat of a flaw though is how goofy things do become this time around, and not even just on Freddy’s end but from the film’s heroes. It’s pure camp and while what they’re delivering might be fun… it isn’t exactly scary. But… there is still fun to be had.

A big chunk of Dream Warriors focuses on Arquette’s Kristen, in that she is pretty much the film’s main protagonist. She is given the film’s opening nightmare too, and following it we see that her, and a few other teens, are in an institution. Their parents must have seen them as mentally unstable since these teens claim to be being viciously attacked by their dreams (though we as an audience know the reason why). Heather Lagenkamp’s Nancy does too, as you’ll recall from the first movie. She returns here and is now a psychologist or something- something in that vein- and she’s very well aware of what these kiddos are currently going through, considering what happened to her and her deceased wino mother (the ending of the first movie has always confused me a little, but I guess it’s tied up here… I guess).

So having an understanding of what they’re going through, Nancy decides to help these youngsters to potentially fight off Freddy Kruger once and for all. She also helps them, through coaching of them sorts, to realize that with the dreaming also comes the power to fight and use the dreams to their advantage. This includes special powers and what not. This isn’t a bad idea, necessarily, but because some of the acting is corny and some of the execution of the powers feels like it stumbled out of a different movie, when they put the powers to use, it just sorta feels silly. But I mean this is about a guy who murders people in their dreams… it’s not exactly grounded in reality.

So, I have an interesting relationship with Freddy Kruger. On one hand, I love him. I bought this sculpture of him in Mexico a few years ago, and when someone at one of my parties broke it, I wept for 30 minutes (I was also white girl wasted). On another hand though, I am so so on his movies. A Nightmare on Elm Street is a movie I hold near and dear to my heart. The only other one in the series I saw as a kid was Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, and even as a kid I knew that it was crap. That’s the 6th movie, if you were unaware, and by that point in the series Freddy Kruger was no longer scary. They’d essentially turned him into a giant joke, and sure, Englund was having fun, but there was no longer anything to be scared about. I have seen the movie since, and it’s pretty hilarious… but still crap.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is a bit better than I remember, but it is certainly on the goofier side of things. But I also have something of an admiration for it. Some of the acting is corny and some of its execution is laughable, but if you want to have a good time at it, you will. Because honestly what the movie does well, it does do kind of well. The deaths are creative, as are the effects, which honestly blew me away during the rewatch. There is one where Freddy lifts up his sweater and there are the faces of the souls he’s taken on his chest. It’s hideous and disturbing, but it’s not done through CGI or anything and it was really well done for its time. That’s not the only one, but it is one of them.

I also admire the way that the film ends. Watching it, you get the sense that this was made as if it were the final film, and it turns out, it was supposed to be (and it would’ve been a fitting one too, before we get the image of Freddy on a witches broom… yes that happens). It ends on a note that does bring the series to a close, but also leaves it open ended. What is most admirable about it though is (spoiler alert? It’s over 30 years old people) the fact that they kill off Nancy. The final shot of the film was originally intended to allude that Nancy is watching over the Dream Warriors from the great beyond or something, but within the context of this movie, you’re just supposed to assume that Freddy is still alive. So they basically just kill off Nancy and she’s not really given justice or anything. I don’t know, I just sort of respect that.

I’m curious to see how the other sequels hold up, because when I last saw them, they didn’t work. Dream Warriors is a better film than I remember it being. It’s campy, sure, but it’s fun enough and on a visual level they really did pull out all the stops. Whether you find yourself laughing at Freddy Kruger or with him, with Dream Warriors, you’re at least having good enough fun with him to get by.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s