A film lives many lives before it ever hits the screen. A script is usually revised multiple times (sometimes dozens) before a single foot of film is exposed (or the digital equivalent thereof). I’m not just talking about smaller stuff like dialogue polishes and the addition or deletion of scenes. Many times the core story is reworked in profound ways. Sometimes it’s downright shocking how different the final film can be from the initial drafts.
In this new (semi-regular) feature for Bloody-Disgusting, I’m going to take a look at some early drafts of scripts for horror films that you may have already seen and discuss the differences, whether they took a turn for the worse, better or just different. There are also a handful of scripts for sequels and remakes that never happened that are worth checking out – just to see what might have been.
These aren’t script reviews, and only rarely will I be breaking the stories down on a beat-by-beat basis. I’m just going to point out some cool, interesting and/or disastrous choices that happened along the way. Each installment will be different, and each installment will be fun. I’ll also be including sample pages (when available)* so you don’t have to take my word for it!
*This applies only to older and previously released films that are already part of the culture. We’re not in the business of leaking or sabotaging projects in development.
My first installment was a look at Joe Dante’s Gremlins, written by Chris Columbus. Next, I took a crack at Zombieland written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. Today – in the longest installment by far – we’re gonna dive into an early draft of A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.
I’m wagering that almost all of you know Chuck Russel’s A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors like the back of your hand. For those who don’t, it follows the story of a group of troubled, institutionalized teens who, in addition to fighting their own demons while awake, are being terrorized and killed by Freddy in their sleep.
In addition, they all have special powers while in the dream world that allow them to take Krueger on. Kristen (Patricia Arquette) can pull other people into her dreams (as well as perform gymnastics). Kincaid (Ken Sagoes) has super strength. Recovering addict Taryn (Jennifer Rubin) is punk-rock beautiful and “bad” with her switchblades. Wheelchair bound Will (Ira Heiden) can walk and turn into the “wizard master”. Unfortunately, the expert puppeteer Phillip (Bradley Gregg) and aspiring actress Jennifer (Penelope Sudrow) don’t make it long enough to fully realize their powers. And poor mute Joey spends the 3rd act largely (and literally) tongue-tied – though he does pull it together for one big triumphant scream.
Rounding out the cast are Craig Wasson as their caring psychiatrist Neil, Heather Langenkamp reprising her roll as Nancy (who is now a dream expert) and John Saxon as Nancy’s dad John (who has sunk into alcoholism following the events of part 1).
But the script used to be very, very different. It’s widely known that Frank Darabont and Chuck Russell did their own pass on the script as it moved closer to production. I’m not sure which additions are theirs – I know they reordered a few things and took Phillip’s existing sleep-walking death and made it a billion times more awesome by adding the vein-marionette conceit. But the first few drafts were done by Wes Craven and Bruce Wagner. I have one dated late July 1986 that is more or less the film you see today (and by more or less I mean it has quite a bit of differences but most of the major story beats are intact). But – just six weeks earlier – in a draft dated 6/16/86 – it was an entirely different movie. Sure, the concept of the “Dream Warriors” was there, so was the hospital and most of the patients. Even a couple of the kills are the same.
So what’s different? Let’s take a look. For instance, this draft of Dream Warriors gives us a look at “Baby Freddy”. A concept we don’t see explored until Part 5: The Dream Child is the very first thing we see here. Also, oddly, the script often spells “Freddy” as “Freddie”.
As you can see from the above page, this original draft also concerned itself with a wave of missing teens from across the nation.
One of the main differences here is that Nancy is the protagonist right off that bat, rather than Kristen (who doesn’t pop up until much later). The film originally opened in a dream of Nancy’s – wherein she stops to pick up a red-headed hitchhiker who makes multiple appearances in the draft.
One thing this draft isn’t short on? Interesting concepts. It’s also not short on iffy dialogue that would have been positively mangled by Langenkamp. Of course – it still has the jumprope sing-songy kids.
Nancy and her father. (whose dialogue in the script is alternately attributed to both “Father” and “John” – remember, these were the days when fixing errors like this meant typing a whole new page, not just conducting a find and replace), who has suddenly appeared, investigate a ranch house.
Then, she’s awoken from her dream by Neil – a stranger in this version. Her tire really is flat so he takes her to his place, the idea being that they’ll get her car in the morning. After the events of the first film you would think Nancy would be somewhat guarded about this kind of situation… but no.
Hypnocyl, the drug used in the final film, is also prevalent in this draft. Here, Neil researches it after taking an interest in Nancy – who is sleeping in the other room.
We dive into Nancy’s dream – where we meet our hitcher again. Here, the snake concept is used in a different manner. Neil via Freddy and Nancy instead of Kristen.
A big difference in this draft is that Neil invites Nancy to come check out the hospital. If you remember the finished film you’ll know that she was kind of foisted on him by the staff. Also – the idea of “an Elm Street in every town” is introduced. In the existing series it wouldn’t pop up until Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare.
Turns out the dream hitchhiker was very real. A girl who “committed suicide”. Her hair is used as a recurring visual motif that haunts Nancy, a device that provides sufficient enough guilt to provide further motivation for her helping the kids.
Neil and Nancy head back to go get her car and stumble upon the crime scene. This road is, again, near the ranch house that keeps making a appearance…
… and Nancy’s car has actually been recovered from a nearby grain elevator, all slashed up by Freddy. A weird image.
Neil provides some exposition regarding the current “suicide storm”. I’m not sure if he means to say “county” or “country” since the opening images in the script are of large cities – which one would presume are from across the nation. He also makes mention of Kristen*, who was introduced earlier when admitted to the hospital (I didn’t include an image of this page – the scene plays out similarly to her admittance scene in the film, without the added benefit of being introduced to her dreams, her home life, or her mother yet).
*In this draft she’s “Kirsten”. I’m going to be calling her “Kristen” because that’s how we all know her from the film (and it’s how she was introduced in this piece).
Baby Freddy again. Here he swells into full form for the first time in the draft.
Neil tells Nancy about a “schizophrenic” who has tried to burn down the ranch house. We cut to the house – which clearly contains Freddy’s spirit (or whatever), subbing in thematically for the homemade replica Kristen made in the film.
The “schizophrenic” actually turns out to be Nancy’s father, John. He’s badly burned and hospitalized. In a huge change from the film, here he’s much more proactive. He hasn’t been hiding in a bottle, rather he’s been trying to hunt Freddy down all along. He actually kind of serves as an authority and expert on Freddy to Nancy throughout the script. It’s a far more organic role for his character when contrasted with his introduction in Act 3 of the finished film.
He explains the significance of the ranch house.
Phillip’s sleepwalking scene – minus the cool vein-marionette gag. Freddy’s physically walking him down the hall, with Phillip’s feet on top of his shoes.
In another big change – Kristen is actually discharged from the institution and heads back to high school, where she’s tormented by uber b*tch Sally…
… but it’s all good. Kristen gets some inadvertent revenge when she slips into a dream during class and wakes up, having ripped Sally’s clothes off in her nightmare.
John (here listed as both “Father” and “John” in the same scene) suggests to Nancy that Kristen and the other kids might be more powerful than she is, and that she’ll need their help taking down Freddy.
It should be noted that in this draft Kristen still has the power to pull people into her dreams, which will come in handy later.
Yay! Freddy Dog hunts Kincaid and Kristen in their dreams! I kind of wish we’d seen this.
A strange sex scene between Neil and Nancy. I’m pretty glad I didn’t have to watch this, it’s kind of awkward. And that line… just take a minute to imagine how goofy the below scene would have been on film. Wasson and Langenkamp getting it on would have been the most disturbing nightmare sequence in the entire series.
Nancy’s dad urging her to storm the ranch house with the Dream Warriors. While it’s cool that he’s more proactive in this draft, his scenes are repetitive and laden with exposition. I have a hunch they would have become seriously annoying in the film.
The Dream Warriors – including Laredo, a character omitted from the film – gather to storm the ranch house. Naturally this is all in a dream, and they’re all brought there by Kristen. I like the imagery of them gathered on the hilltop, preparing for battle.
Another difference is the presence of Joey. By this point in the final film he’s already tongue-tied to the bed. Here, he’s seduced and abducted during the 3rd act siege (instead of his “ransom” providing the catalyst for the 3rd act as it does in the film). In the 1986 draft, the tongues on the bed literally pull him apart, like four horses, killing him,
As in the final film, Nancy’s dad is brought into the 3rd act dream battle, but the mechanics of it are different. Also note – there’s no junkyard in this script. There’s also no Sister Mary Helena/Amanda Krueger. There’s no mention of her being locked away and there’s no mention of Freddy being the bastard son of a 100 maniacs.
Here, John seemingly dies.
Taryn is significantly different in this draft. For starters, she’s black. Her powers are different and so is her demise. Her grandmother (Freddy, naturally) opens up her stomach and eats her alive. Wes Craven’s handling of “urban dialogue” makes me uncomfortable sometimes.
Laredo, the Dream Warrior we never got to meet, turns into a gargoyle. This happens right after Freddy appeared to him as Toby, the little brother who drowned on Laredo’s watch (and whose memory still haunts him). Laredo’s wise to this though and kicks the little boy in the nuts, turning him into Freddy. After that happens the gargoyle bit comes into play. This sequence would have looked awesome. It makes little to no sense for someone to have gargoyle power though. In the finished film the kids’ dream abilities were to escape their real world damage, inadequacies and physical constraints. “Not being a gargoyle” isn’t exactly a real-life problem. Still, it’s a cool sequence (that was likely too expensive to film anyway).
Laredo is taken down by Freddy’s canny use of power tools. We can really see his penchant for one-liners taking shape in this draft. It’s an element that worked in this film, but pretty much destroyed the subsequent entries. The “screw you” here is something straight out of The Dream Master.
In another big change, Kincaid dies a fairly inventive, nasty death. Maddelena, by the way, is sort of this draft’s version of Priscilla Pointer’s Dr. Simms, only not as b*tchy.
John, Nancy and Kristen are transferred from the ranch house into the boiler room from the original film. Nancy instructs Kristen that the only way to take down Freddy is to turn your back on him and take away his power. Of course this is how things played out in the first film, and it’s an odd choice by Wagner and Craven because they spend a lot of time earlier in the script setting up the idea that the kids have a better way of destroying Freddy than Nancy does. It kind of comes out of nowhere.
Then, as it is in the final film, it turns out that Freddy is actually posing as John and he stabs Nancy in the stomach with his claw. The big change is that as she’s dying she plunges a steel blade into his chest – severely weakening him and making him melt/dissolve. Eventually he turns to ashes and blows away.
But he’s not dead yet… Kristen “wakes up” back at the ranch house. And, in the basement, we revisit the film’s opening scene depicting Freddy’s gruesome birth. Again, while Amanda Krueger (and her rape and pregnancy) are never mentioned – I suppose her uterus makes a cameo.
Here, Kristen kills Baby Freddy straight out of the womb.
Neil and Kristen are the only survivors. They awake together in a field covered by the ashes of the ranch house. Months later they’re having dinner together, and Neil reveals that Nancy still visits him in his dreams. It’s a sweet touch.
There you have it. All in all, Dream Warriors is probably my favorite of the Elm Street movies. However, I can’t help but wonder if I would have liked it better if this draft had been filmed. Both this script and the final film have their share of weaknesses, so it’s kind of a toss-up – with the final film winning by a hair I guess. Probably because it’s infinitely more focussed, as later drafts always are.
What do you think?