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

a nightmare on elm street 3 the dream warriors

“In my dreams I’m beautiful. And bad!”

The Scoop: 1987 R, and directed by Chuck Russell and starring Heather Langenkamp, Patricia Arquette, and Robert Englund

Tagline: If you think you’ll get out alive, You must be dreaming.

Summary Capsule: Freddy haunts the dreams of Nancy and the last batch of the Elm Street kids.

Justin’s rating: A rare example of an excellent horror sequel

Justin’s review: In the Freddy lexicon, it’s well-known that there are the “good” Nightmares and the “putrid horrid rip-off boorish” Nightmares. Or so I say. You’ll just have to take my word for it. It comes as no surprise that the good Nightmares were written by Wes Craven and/or directed by him. These include the first Nightmare, New Nightmare, and this review’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (written in part by Craven).

Dream Warriors firmly reestablishes itself as part of the classic, non-hokey Freddy universe. Kristen (Patricia Arquette) begins the film crafting a dilapidated version of the Elm St. house with tongue depressors, then falls into a pretty freaky nightmare. She encounters a little girl in the furnace room who tells her, “This is where he takes us.” In trying to rescue the girl, Kristen finds her feet plowing through molasses and stumbles upon a room full of hanging corpses. Her behavior ends her up in a mental hospital, where intern Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) is working. The two girls discover that Freddy’s nightmares have spread through the population of the mental hospital, and a group of the teens there band together to fight the menace.

Although the Nightmare series was firmly established by this point, the Craven-inspired story fortunately doesn’t fall into the well-beaten paths and plot lines, but forges ahead with something fairly original and fun. The decision to move the locale from Elm Street to a mental institution is definitely a good one (after all, how many times can kids be cut up and go crazy in this one house before the National Guard decides to drop a tactical nuke in?). The hospital is also pretty symbolic when compared to the reoccurring horror theme: whenever teens are most threatened by the bad guy, non-understanding adults take their freedom away and, by doing so, put them in worse danger. Since Nancy’s pretty much an adult at this point, having Kristen take the role as the head Freddy fighter is also good (and listen to Arquette’s pipes — that girl can scream!).

Pretty much everything improves on the first Nightmare. Not only does Freddy pull people into his demented dreamworld, but now the teens can control their entry, exit, and appearance (the Dream Warriors, as they take shape, range from wizards to biker chicks). Elements of the nightmares are not just there to attack the characters, but also to draw a picture of what a true nightmare is (I don’t know about you, but the things that always scare me about my nightmares are usually set dressing). Finally, the history and background of Fred Krueger himself is expounded upon, giving us new dimension to what was previously a paint-by-numbers villain.

And, for horror movie characters, this ensemble is pretty entertaining. Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix) is about the only understanding adult, and he does show both responsibility for the position and a general good humor. There’s a silent kid who is more expressive than some of the talkers, a Dungeons and Dragons freak, a rebellious black kid, and a girl with Really Tall Hair named Taryn (remember when it was fashionable to use “y” instead of “i” in your name? Neither do I.). They’re all nice and interesting enough so that you are rooting for their survival (who makes it and who doesn’t is a pretty controversial list, but I won’t spoil it for you). The deaths are more elaborate and the special effects much better, but the best moments of this series are always in the beautiful touches of horror that have nothing to do with outright blood and knife-type things.

It’s become standard, ever since Scream, to note horror movie clichés. I have my own list, naturally, but I always seem to note different aspects of horror films, mostly dealing with the plot pacing. For one thing, once the cast has been whittled down to just one or two good guys left, there will always be a tediously long “chase” sequence (I put that in quotes, because the chase can often come in the form of a character creeping ever so slowly into the bad guy’s den). It’s way too tempting just to fast-forward these parts on video, thus skipping the building suspense and going straight for the final confrontation. The other thing I always notice is perhaps one out of every two horror movies features a point where our hero/heroine gets way too fed up with being pursued and attacked, and decides to fight back. Sometimes you get the “boobytrap overkill” mentality (see the first Nightmare), sometimes you get the development of new powers or skills. It’s always fun to have these turnaround scenes, because then you’re suddenly filled with hope that the character has a fighting chance (instead of winning by default, by killing the bad guy through what amounts to a lucky accident). Freddy has his hands full with this bunch — they’re scared, but they’re also mad!

It’s a shame that Wes Craven departed the series for the next three films. If you’re smart, you’ll view parts one and three back-to-back, and then get New Nightmare for an excellent epilogue.


Kyle’s rating: Okay, now THIS is a real horror classic. Patricia Arquette rules!

Kyle’s review: More so than any other film in the Nightmare series, just edging out New Nightmare, Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors stands out as an impressive and worthy addition to the accumulated collection of True Horror Classics. Not even the first film serves so well as an efficient and effective film first and horror movies second. Wow!

Despite what some other reviewers might think (I’m looking at you, Master Reviewer Ebert), Dream Warriors works because all of the characters are rather sympathetic and realistic. Assembling this particular cast was the first step towards greatness; getting charismatics like Patricia Arquette, “Larry” Fishburne, and Craig Wasson together to work on material such as an Elm Street sequel was a masterstroke. I’m aware that sentence might sound like a joke, but it’s meant in all seriousness: to tell this story, this is an exceptional cast that knows what they’re doing. Consider The Matrix with Orlando Bloom as The One or Pirates of the Caribbean with Tom Cruise as Captain Jack Sparrow. Both intriguing (sort of) but plainly wrong. Maybe. You’ll have to dream about it instead! Ha ha! I literally just thought of that one. Forgive me.

I don’t care much about talking about plot or setting or anything. Dream Warriors is just great, especially when you don’t know what to expect. Like I said, I’m not sure that any other film does so well blending all the various strengths of the Elm Street story and the Freddy characters together into one cohesive movie. New Nightmare is a great take on the making of these films, but it’s best to see Dream Warriors first.

How impressive is this movie? All the characters are richly defined, and most importantly we care whether or not they get killed off. Bringing back the first film’s heroine Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) was a nice touch, and effectively delivers the necessary background to the other characters when they need to know. At the same time, the surroundings and plot twists are believable and cinematically valid. Compare the sanitarium settings of Part 3 to the neon madness of Part 6, and you’ll get a kind of sense of the immense variation in quality that exists between those films.

I don’t want to oversell it, but see Dream Warriors if you never have before. Seeing Part 1 ahead of time is probably a good idea, but if you can only rent one for some reason, go with Part 3. It’s a lot of fun, it’s got the biggest names in the series, and no other film arguably does it better. Just have fun with it!

This is what a lot of kids see when they go to the doctor


  • Laurence Fishburne in the credits as “Larry Fishburne”
  • The scene in which Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson) is thrown into the grave and partially buried by the skeleton of Freddy is a tribute to Body Double, in which Wasson’s character is similarly buried alive.
  • The movie that on TV that Jennifer watches is Critters
  • Nancy’s hair streak is seen on the right side, when it was on the left side in A Nightmare On Elm Street
  • When the clay puppet face turns into Freddy’s, special-effects man Doug Beswick used stop-motion animation. Filming began with a clay Freddy face that was made plainer in each frame. The result was then run backwards, and that is what appears in the final cut of the film.

Groovy Quotes

Taryn: In my dreams I’m beautiful. [Flicks open a switchblade] And baaad!

Will: In my dreams I can stand. My legs are strong. In my dreams I am the Wizard Master.

Freddy Krueger: You’re mine now, piggy.

Nancy: His name is Freddy Krueger. He was a child murderer before he died, and after he died… well, he became something worse.

Freddy Krueger: Welcome to prime time, bitch.

Will: [after Nancy explains Freddy Krueger’s history] That’s crazy. Mom and Dad never mentioned any…
Taryn: Oh right, that’s the sort of thing parents tell their kids…”Goodnight darling. Say your prayers. Oh and by the way, your father and I torched some maniac last night”.

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