Today is a very special day because I turn 28 today! I jest, of course, it’s actually the 30th anniversary of what is arguably the best
entry sequel in the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (seriously though, it is my birthday). Dream Warriors is lauded by fans of the franchise as being one of the very best horror sequels ever made, and rightfully so. Hell, some would argue that it’s one of the very best sequels ever made, horror or otherwise. Let’s celebrate this film together, shall we?
***SPOILERS for a 30-year-old film to follow***
The road to Dream Warriors was a bit of a complicated one. After all, it wouldn’t have been the same were it not for a certain film. 1985 saw the release of the franchise’s most controversial entry, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. While the film was a box office success (it grossed nearly $30 million on a $3 million budget), critical and audience reception was mixed to say the least. While it was technically a direct continuation of the franchise, it was not exactly the film fans were wanting to see. Not only was Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) MIA, but the tone of the film took a much darker and sinister tone than the original film. Not that Wes Craven’s original wasn’t dark and sinister, but there was just something off-putting about Freddy’s Revenge (it ranks above Freddy’s Dead and Dream Child for me, but it’s still one of my least favorite entries) that didn’t sit well with audiences.
Series creator Wes Craven never wanted his original film to have sequels, because he didn’t think it was capable of spawning a franchise (boy, how wrong was he?), but the commercial success of Freddy’s Revenge convinced him to return to the franchise. Interestingly enough, Wes Craven’s original concept for the third installment of the franchise was to have Freddy Krueger enter the real world and stalk the actors in the franchise. As many of you know, this idea did not come to fruition until 1994, when Craven wrote and directed the seventh installment in the franchise, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. After his meta idea was rejected, he wrote the first draft of the script for Dream Warriors with Bruce Wagner, which you can read here. Craven was unable to direct the film so New Line Cinema brought in Chuck Russell, who re-wrote the script with his buddy Frank Darabont. Russell would go on to direct the exceptional remake of The Blob whereas Darabont would go on to direct pretty much every great Stephen King adaptation known to man. The final product of Dream Warriors is significantly different than the film Craven envisioned, but that doesn’t make it any less great.
The importance of Dream Warriors to the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise can’t be emphasized enough. This was the film that began featuring a more comedic Freddy Krueger. Whereas the iconic villain had the occasional joke and one-liner in A Nightmare on Elm Street and Freddy’s Revenge, this was the film to really lay the groundwork for the Freddy that many people know and love today. It branded him the bastard son of a hundred maniacs, giving him the backstory that many were craving for (that particular backstory, interestingly enough, was not in Craven’s original script).
Dream Warriors would be nothing if it wasn’t for the cast. While Roger Ebert may have thought that the film never generated any sympathy for its characters, I must respectably disagree. Character development may not have been at the front of the four screenwriters’ minds, but they most definitely (along with the actors) created a wonderful cast of characters that have been ingrained in moviegoers minds for three decades. The return of Heather Langenkamp, who was sorely missed in Freddy’s Revenge, has a lot to do with the success of Dream Warriors. Despite being in just two of the films in the franchise (I’m leaving out New Nightmare since her character isn’t Nancy in that one), Nancy Thompson is the heart and soul of A Nightmare on Elm Street, and bringing her back helps make Dream Warriors have the impact that it does. How Ebert felt nothing when Freddy kills her is something I will never understand.
The supporting cast of teenagers are all equally likable. Though they are all stereotypes, they are probably the most memorable characters out of any of the other characters in the franchise. Only Bradley Gregg’s Phillip gets the short end of the stick, as he dies before any truly distinguishing characteristics can be established (all we know about him is that he likes puppets and he sleepwalks). But from Jennifer Rubin’s badass Taryn to Rodney Eastman’s demure Joey, the characters all make lasting impressions and each get their moment to shine (I always had a soft spot for Penelope Sudrow’s Jennifer…..she just wanted to be on TV!). This makes it all the more upsetting when (SPOILER ALERT) the survivors all get unceremoniously killed off in the first half of The Dream Master, but c’est la vie.
One cannot mention Dream Warriors without discussing its magnificent special effects. This is the film that put the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise on the map when it came to special effects (though The Dream Master may take the cake when it comes to that subject). The Freddy Snake, the Freddy TV, Taryn’s gaping track marks and Phillips veiny marionette strings are all examples of the creativity that was employed to make the film. Special makeup effects sequences director Greg Cannom was at the top of his game with Dream Warriors, and his work is easily a series highlight. Contrary to what Ebert thought though, the characters made the film, not the special effects (though they played a huge part in its success).
You also have the theme song, which was written and performed by heavy metal band Dokken. Released on February 10, 1987, “Dream Warriors” was a huge hit for the band, but they decided to take six months off before unleashing the album “Back for the Attack”, which became their most successful album (it reached number 13 on the charts). Is it possible that the success of “Dream Warriors” have an impact on the success of “Back for the Attack”? Maybe (probably).
Dream Warriors didn’t actually face that much controversy like the Friday the 13th films did at the time. Since it wasn’t as graphic as many of the Friday the 13th entries and many of the deaths were fantastical, the film was under less scrutiny. That being said, the Australian state of Queensland did ban the film because of Taryn’s death scene. There was a more conservative idea about drug use in that state, hence the ban, but it was abolished just three years later.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors opened in the number one spot with $8.8 million the weekend of February 27-March 1, 1987. It was kicked out of that spot the following weekend by Lethal Weapon, but still managed to gross gross $44.7 million on a $4.5 million production budget during its entire theatrical run. That made it the highest grossing film in the franchise at the time and the 24th highest grossing film of 1987 (The highest grossing film? Three Men and a Baby with $167.7 million). Those stellar box office returns put a sequel immediately into production, despite the fact that Dream Warriors was intended to be the final film in the franchise. That sequel, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master would surpass Dream Warriors‘ box office gross and earn $49.3 million, making it the highest grossing film in the franchise until Freddy Vs. Jason came out in 2003. That film grossed $82.6 million, becoming the highest grossing film in both the A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th franchises.
We should all be grateful that Dream Warriors was made. Were it not for the success of that film, we probably wouldn’t have had any other A Nightmare on Elm Street films. Sure, none of the sequels we did get ever matched the quality of Dream Warriors or the first installment, but they all have their merits (except Freddy’s Dead…just don’t tell John Squires I said that). Movies like Dream Warriors are why I love the horror genre. It’s just that special. Where does Dream Warriors fall in your ranking of the A Nightmare on Elm Street films? Do you love it? Or do you think it’s overrated? Let us know in the comments below!