Little Slices of Death: ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors’ (1987) – Retro Review

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is one of the best movies ever. If you disagree, I pity you as much as Mr. T pitied fools — if not more so.

February 27th marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. This movie has just about everything a horror fan could want. Honest! There is, of course, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) — one of the most unique and iconic villains of all time. And what a villain! On top of how memorable his look is, the Freddy of Dream Warriors is more imaginative, and takes significant advantage of the dream realm — adopting many different forms relating to the personality and state of mind of each victim. Not only does Freddy want revenge for being burned alive by his victims’ parents, but he was obviously a sicko to begin with. Now, give that burnt-faced sicko’s ghost some magical dream powers and you really have something.

To add layers to this film, you have classic elements of a haunted house story, all sorts of psychological topics (collective unconsciousness and shared dream states), questions of vigilante justice and revenge, the expanded legend of Freddy’s sinisterly birth, and memorable action and special effects sequences. Besides, how could you not love that glove? You have to respect Wes Craven for the basic weapon concept alone.

A creative variation on the Freddy glove.

But wait, there’s more! You have mini-topics addressed, such as teen suicide. When Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette) is found in the bathroom with her wrist slashed, her mother believes she was merely suicidal. Not only does this imply that parents are out of touch with their kids, but it’s interesting to consider total conflict avoidance, and how it harms both parents and child. Also, more simply, there’s the interplay between reality and these Freddy-infested dreams. How much of what happens in the dream will happen in the outside world? Would Kristen’s wrist have been slashed without Freddy bringing her to the straight razor? Where does Freddy’s control end and reality begin? There are countless questions that the movie presents.

Then there are all the kids’ hopes, dreams and fantasies that Freddy dashes against the rocks, such as movie stardom, artistic greatness, and reforming one’s image and reputation. At the same time, when these kids team up and take on Freddy, they themselves become a force to be reckoned with.

Such is the power of dreams.  On that note, the Freddy franchise even has a brilliant, built-in method of filling any plot holes: For all we know, everything we are seeing could be a dream, or intermeshed with the dream world, so we should expect some confusion. The very premise of the movie is about bending reality. For example, someone might watch a Freddy dream and say, “Why in the hell would she go in that house?” That sounds like a valid critique, but you have to consider that it’s all taking place in a dream.

How much control does the average person have in their dreams? Quite often, it’s very little. In fact, even normal, non-Freddy dreams can take us to all kinds of freaky, Freudian, violent places that we don’t wish to visit. Add a malevolent child killer into the mix and, well, you see the potential. Unless we have truly mastered our minds, we will certainly lack control. Who says your bad dream after watching a Nightmare on Elm Street movie isn’t actually Freddy creeping into your head? That’s what makes the Freddy story so interesting.

Seriously, though. Do not go into that house.

At the same time — as tough as it is to believe — the movie never takes things too far in this direction. It’s almost like a perfect balance is struck, so this movie (generally) does not feel like fantasy fluff. There is somehow a realness to it and a jagged edge.  Yes, there is a nerdy Dungeons and Dragons-type kid here, but he’s not too over the top.  The fantasy elements are there, but they are always checked by some reality. Similarly. even though Freddy has some wise-cracking moments, Dream Warriors happened before Freddy really started to over-saturate the pop culture marketplace.

Also, for those concerned that a wise-cracking killer isn’t scary, try seeing it this way: What is scarier than your death being the butt of someone’s bad joke? For example: Imagine someone tearing out your tendons, turning you into a puppet with them, and walking you off of a building. Freddy does that to someone in Dream Warriors, and it’s not a case of Freddy being a wise-cracking goofball. It’s sick humor yet it’s serious and it looks pretty horrific:

Ouch! Pinocchio’s life was never quite this brutal.

That aside, Dream Warriors is a popular horror movie. You have to expect some cheese and fluff for balance (the most fluff is saved for the end credits, where Dokken plays the “Dream Warriors” theme in all its 1980’s glam-metal glory).

Then, of course, there are the Dream Warriors themselves. I already mentioned Kristen, but we also have Heather Langenkamp’s return as Nancy Thompson. Then there are the ass-kickin’ Roland Kincaid (Ken Sagoes ), the deaf-mute Joey Crusel (Rodney Eastman), former junkie chick Taryn White (Jennifer Rubin), and Will Stanton (Ira Heiden), who was Harry Potter before there even was Harry Potter. Another key Dream Warrior: Dr. Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson). I suspect he’s the most downplayed hero of the bunch, simply because he wasn’t a teenager. Nevertheless, his commitment to the kids and his willingness to believe earn him a star on Elm Street’s walk of fame.

You also have memorable performances from Laurence Fishburne as Max Daniels, Penelope Sudrow as Jennifer Caulfield (the TV girl), Bradley Gregg as Phillip (puppet boy), John Saxon as Nancy Thompson’s dad (and one of the original killers of Freddy), and memorable appearances by Priscilla Pointer, Dick Cavett and Zsa Zsa Gabor. Put it all in a blender and you end up with some red and green magic.

In summation, I suggest you occasionally watch the movie alone without much distraction. Just think about what is going on. Appreciate the depth of the Freddy legend – the bastard son of a hundred maniacs – his creative dream incarnations and the scenery. You’ll be able to tell that people cared about Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. They did their best to make it work, and I believe they did. It is not only a great sequel, but the film can stand on its own. Others may not agree, but to them you can echo the immortal question raised by Freddy Krueger: “Who gives a fuck what you think?”

About wadewainio

Wade is a wannabe artist and musician (operating under the moniker Grandpa Helicopter), and an occasional radio DJ for WMTU 91.9 FM Houghton. He is an occasional writer for Undead Walking, and also makes up various blogs of his own. He even has a few books in the works. Then again, doesn't everyone?

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One comment

  1. Perrrrfect