The 13th Floor

Retrospective: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS Turns 30 This Month

When we celebrate the anniversary of a film, there’s a good reason. Only the classic pictures leave a mark on our psyches, and that’s why it was a natural decision to celebrate the 30th anniversary of one of the greatest sequels in history, and one of the absolute finest in the A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchise: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS.

My first theatrical experience with Freddy Krueger brought about a horror of which i was incapable of expressing. Just as Krueger snuffed Jennifer’s dreams of being an actress, he snuffed my ability to voice my fears to my father, and when I did muster the courage to admit to my fears I was met with a cold “if the movie scared you, then it worked.”

It took me some time to process that statement, and there’s an understanding now that wasn’t quite as evident 30 years ago: my father was unnerved by that film as well. And rightfully so, it’s not only a terrifying sequel, it’s one of history’s greatest sequels, in general.

From Mike Elizalde’s puppeteer work to Greg Cannom’s grasp of epic special effects sequences, DREAM WARRIORS was special. And that sublime quality wasn’t limited to special effects work alone, Wes Craven, Bruce Wagner, Frank Darabont and Chuck Russell’s script pushed the envelope, but it also illustrated character personalities with perfection; of the group that Nancy comes to help cope with their tribulations, none go unnoticed or neglected. Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette) was perfectly highlighted as the tough-as-nails heroine, intelligently sharp enough to truly rival Krueger. Ken Sagoes’ Kincaid was confidence personified, and he gifted his peers with a belief in victory. Jennifer Rubin’s depiction of Taryn gave the troubled youth hope, seeing a recovering junkie muster the gusto to tangle with Krueger in an intimate setting that seemed designed to see Taryn fall with no resistance. But she didn’t, she fought back, and she gave her all in toeing the line with Freddy.

The ensemble, believe it or not, was superior to every single ensemble ever featured in an A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET film. And this group of performers was particularly impressive because of their variety – there were no cardboard cutout characters here, they were each true individuals, and that left viewers with no choice but to cheer for these doomed children. They were relatable, and because of that we wanted to see them survive.

Future A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET installments failed to give their victims voices and personalities. As a result, viewers had a more challenging task of investing in the featured protagonists. But DREAM WARRIORS got it right… in fact they got it more than right, and that’s something that – in the landscape of horror franchises – is virtually unseen. In fact, it can easily be argued that no other picture in this particular series has succeeded on the character front in the way that DREAM WARRIORS managed.

And that’s likely a major reason that the film was a financial success, in addition to a success in the eyes of viewers. There was a lot riding on A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3, but when the franchise needed a high point to ensure future success, they got it, in spades.

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS defied numerous odds. First, it was an enormous success with fans, for the reasons already highlighted in this article. Second, it signaled the moment that Freddy Krueger solidified himself as a true pop culture icon with genuine longevity; the first film was great, the second film was a lazy mess that put far too much emphasis on sexuality over horror, but DREAM WARRIORS proved that Freddy could still be terrifying, he could still be creative, he could still be menacingly humorous and he still had engaging victims to target. The franchise, post 1987, transformed into a full blown pop culture phenomenon. And, for the record, the picture was also quite the commercial success: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS debuted in the #1 position at the box office with an opening weekend take of $8.8 million dollars. It would go on to gross nearly $45 million at the domestic box office, remaining a fixture in the top 10 for seven consecutive weeks.

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS featured elaborate set pieces and grandiose death scenes drenched in extremely impressive practical effects. It was anchored by a sublime script that – for the first time – elaborated, in believable fashion – on the origins of Freddy Krueger. But in the end, it was a combination of astounding effort and truly hard work that made the film special. It was Wes Craven handing over most duties, but clinging closely to one of his finest creations that empowered DREAM WARRIORS in such mind boggling fashion as to establish it a classic sequel… a sequel that still remains influential enough to acknowledge it on its 30th birthday.