I grew up on 80’s horror. With easy and free access to a video store, I had everything at my fingertips. Somehow, Freddy Krueger and the Nightmare on Elm Street series commanded my full attention out of all of the horror available at the time. Director Wes Craven had successfully created one of the best slasher franchises of all time with his invention of the dream-invading villain Freddy Krueger. Of course, these days even the most basic and uninitiated horror fan knows who Freddy Krueger is and we have this film, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, to thank for that.
Aside from being the film debut of Patricia Arquette as our final girl Kristin Parker, this particular entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise is still a film everyone talks about and for so many reasons. This film catapulted Freddy Krueger into a household name. There were literally dolls of Freddy Krueger, pop culture references, songs like Dokken’s “Dream Warriors” and “Nightmare on My Street” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince (Will Smith, for those unaware), and so many different pieces of merchandise - oddly enough directed towards young people. I was happy with that but stricter parents, film critics, and even politicians cracked down on this, but as all Freddy fans know: he’s hard to kill off. This film saw the debut of Freddy’s famous one-liners (can we say “Welcome to prime time, bitch”, anyone?).
My brief overview of the film should bring across the masterful impression this film gave off. It begins with our final girl Kristin (Patricia Arquette) dreaming of Freddy Krueger and ending up slashing her wrists; an act that sends her to Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital under the care of Dr. Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson). Neil has several teen patients under his care with similar issues like Kristin: seemingly suicidal and with severe sleep issues with a focus on intense nightmares. These teens are tough Kincaid (Ken Sagoes), shy and mute Joey (Rodney Eastman), rough former junkie Taryn (Jennifer Rubin), funny puppeteer Phillip (Bradley Gregg), aspiring actress Jennifer (Penelope Sudrow), and nerdy paraplegic Will (Ira Heiden). They are the titular Dream Warriors.
Upon Kristin’s arrival at the hospital, she is ordered to be sedated and begins screaming and fighting the staff to keep herself awake until the final girl from A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Nancy - now a psychiatrist specializing in dream therapy - enters the room and sings the lullaby chant associated with Freddy Krueger:
1,2, Freddy’s coming for you
3,4, better lock your door
5,6, grab your crucifix
7,8, better stay up late
9,10, never sleep again
Kristin calms down and immediately clicks with Nancy because, for the first time ever, an adult understood her fears and believed her. Nancy is new to the hospital and very eager to work with the teens who refuse to sleep out of their fears of Freddy Krueger. With her past experience with Freddy, Nancy knows how to handle the issues, but the rest of the staff don’t trust her. Although, after the strange and horrifying deaths of Phillip and Jennifer, Neil starts taking what Nancy is telling him seriously about Freddy Krueger - especially as he is experiencing visions of a nun who tells him of Krueger’s beginnings (I’ll leave that to the viewer to research) and that the way to be finally rid of Freddy Krueger is to lay his bones to rest. It also bears mentioning that Craven intended for the film to be the end of the franchise.
Wes Craven is also masterful in returning the character of Nancy’s father Donald Thompson (played the the recently late and always great John Saxon), now a washed up drunken security guard. Neil goes with Nancy to find out where Freddy’s bones are and while Nancy rushes back to the hospital to deal with patient Joey in a coma and Kristin sedated against her will, Neil and Donald deal with getting Freddy Krueger’s remains and consecrating and burying them as the nun had instructed Neil to do. The rest of the movie plays out with high tension and some amazing moments with the Dream Warriors taking on Freddy. There is also some tragedy that is best left experienced by the viewer.
R.I.P. John Saxon
When covered on my podcast The House That Screams, I was a little surprised to discover that this film is not as beloved in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise as I had thought. Our episode will be released soon and definitely is worth a listen as all of us speak of our takes on the status of what I personally think is one of the best entries in the franchise. I believe this film is the “Goldilocks” film of the series. Everything is just right about it: the scares are great, the tone is perfect, Freddy’s quips were top-notch and not overdone, and the acting and cast are superb.
If you haven’t revisited this film in awhile, I urge you to review it and take in all of the aspects I mentioned. I’m eager to hear your thoughts.
🕷 Stay Spooky! 🕷
Candy “The Final Girl” Allison