31 Days of Horror: ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors’ rules!

SAN ANTONIO, TX - SEPTEMBER 26: Actors Heather Langenkamp (L) and Robert Englund attend day one of the Alamo City Comic Con at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center on September 26, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/WireImage)
SAN ANTONIO, TX - SEPTEMBER 26: Actors Heather Langenkamp (L) and Robert Englund attend day one of the Alamo City Comic Con at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center on September 26, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/WireImage) /

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (or just A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, or just Dream Warriors) is a horror film released in 1987 and is the third installment in the A Nightmare on Elm Street film series. For some horror fans, it’s one of those films you put on when you get the munchies and just chow down and enjoy the ride; comfort movie, comfort food. For movie history buffs, it really helped New Line Cinema earn its nickname as “The House that Freddy Built.” The flick grossed $44.8 million domestically on a budget of a little over $4 million! Yowza!

The film was directed by Chuck Russell and written by Wes Craven, Bruce Wagner, Frank Darabont, and Chuck Russell, and the result indicates that these people cared about quality. It was also significant that the film’s original creator returned to continue the story of “the last of the Elm Street kids.”

Wes Craven co-wrote the screenplay and had a significant influence on the film’s plot and direction. While A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985) has fans and is a movie that grows on people over time, it really took the third film to expand the legend of Freddy Krueger and the dream universe into something more mythic and more action-oriented.

Plot summary of “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors”

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images) /

Though A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors deals with some complex issues and story elements, it still unfolds pretty easily and naturally, thanks to likable characters and the almost built-in logic of interactive dreams. Basically, because we know that Freddy has a way of warping the lines between reality and dreams, an imaginative viewer doesn’t even see (or feel) plot holes as such, but recognizes them as part of the bizarre power and presence of Freddy Krueger — a chaotic force who routinely bends reality to his sinister will.

The story takes place several years after the events of the first film, and really just sets the events of the second film aside. We also know that, by this point, Freddy has been successful at slashing up Elm Streeters left and right!

The initial main protagonist, Kristen Parker, is a teenager who starts experiencing terrifying nightmares involving Freddy Krueger, a vengeful spirit (or “boogeyman”) who haunts the dreams of young people on Elm Street. Kristen discovers that she has the ability to bring others into her dreams and, after being transported to Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital after a supposed suicide attempt, she joins a group of fellow troubled teenagers, known to us as the “Dream Warriors,” to confront Freddy and end his reign of terror. It’s like the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, only if there was a group instead of one primary “survivor girl.” What a concept!

Main characters of “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors”

  • Kristen Parker (played by Patricia Arquette): The initial main protagonist with the ability to pull others into her dreams.
  • Freddy Krueger (played by Robert Englund): The infamous antagonist and vengeful spirit of a child killer who haunts the dreams of Elm Street’s teenagers. The American Film Institute ranked him 40th on its “AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains” list.
  • Nancy Thompson (played by Heather Langenkamp): A returning character from the first film, now a therapist helping the Dream Warriors confront Freddy. Shannon Keating of The Atlantic called Nancy “one of the most progressive female representations in the teen horror genre.”
  • Dr. Neil Gordon (played by Craig Wasson): A psychiatrist at the psychiatric hospital where the Dream Warriors are treated, who ends up being a key ally to Nancy and the Dream Warriors.
  • Phillip Anderson (Bradley Gregg), Roland Kincaid (Ken Sagoes), Taryn White (Jennifer Rubin), Will Stanton (Ira Heiden), Joey Crusel (Rodney Eastman), and Jennifer Caulfield (Penelope Sudrow): Members of the Dream Warriors group who have unique abilities in their dreams.
  • Donald Thompson (played by John Saxon): Nancy’s father, who returns from the original film to provide some unexpected assistance to his daughter, involving the bones of a certain child murderer.
  • Dr. Elizabeth Simms (played by Priscilla Pointer): A main staff member at Westin Hills who means well, yet inadvertently makes decisions that make the Dream Warriors more vulnerable to Freddy’s attacks.
  • Last but not least: Nan Martin plays a mysterious nun with a bit of an interesting story to tell. Is this an underrated performance? Well, that’s a bit like asking “Do ducks quack?”

Legacy and reception

Aside from some prominent critics like Roger Ebert, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors was pretty well-received by critics and audiences for its creative storytelling, impressive special effects, and engaging characters. That being said, it’s like any horror film in that anyone can pick apart certain perceived flaws.

Obviously, practically any horror flick known to man gets accused of having some lackluster performances, even if you or I think they are fine. If I wanted to be nitpicky, I would say the skeleton Freddy animation sequences could have probably been done a little better. Still, the film’s success helped solidify Freddy Krueger as a horror icon, and it remains a fan favorite in the franchise.

The lore of Freddy Krueger is built upon significantly in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. We learn that creative thinking and teamwork can be applied against Freddy, and Freddy also unleashes one of his trademark curse words a few times in this movie, for the first time! Of course, this was before it became sort of a tired Freddy cliché. It’s a movie that, for most people, has Freddy successfully being creepy and menacing while also being playful and oddly (and disgustingly) somehow likable.

Its success also led to the creation of more sequels in the A Nightmare on Elm Street series. On that note, I want to issue a sort of challenge to the detractors of this film, and to those who dislike Freddy overall: Imagine conceptualizing a character like Freddy Krueger — complete with his child-murdering backstory, his unique, jarring-yet-catchy style, and trademark razor glove — and making him a pop cultural icon. Could you imagine it in a million years? Yet here we are today, and it’s all because Wes Craven and a small movie studio decided to take some chances. The success was really no accident; some might even call it a bit of genius.

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