30 years ago today, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors was released into multiplexes across the nation. New Line was running to the bank with one of the highest grossing films of 1987, and Freddy Krueger secured his place in the pop culture pantheon. “Welcome to primetime, bitch,” indeed. Directed by Chuck Russell (The Blob) in his prime, Dream Warriors is widely considered the best sequel of the franchise. The film also represents a huge turning point, sending Krueger down the path of wisecracking super-villain. The script is credited to both Russell and Frank Darabont as well as Bruce Wagner and Wes Craven.
After the mediocre reception to Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, New Line smartly decided to bring Craven back into the picture to help mold the newest installment. In a first draft screenplay, dated 6/16/86 (seriously, “666”?), Craven and Wagner presented a pretty solid structure that didn’t change too drastically in the finished film. The basic premise is all there. Nancy winds up helping a group of troubled teens in a mental institution who’ve become victim to the dream demon.
Seeing as to this was a first draft, it’s far from perfect as to be expected. There are several odd choices throughout. Suspension of disbelief is put the test with major narrative jumps that manage to defy the already loopy internal logic built into the series. In the amazingly exhaustive doc that chronicles the entire franchise, Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, Rachel Talalay (series producer/director, Freddy’s Dead) put it best:
There were no rules. Everybody could do everything. So, it was just the kitchen sink thrown in.
It wasn’t long before both Russell and Darabont were brought in to take a crack at the screenplay. Their take, of course, was more to the studio’s liking as their rewrite turned into the film we have today.
So, what would the original iteration of the film have looked like? A lot has been said that Craven’s original draft was much darker than what made it to screens. Freddy’s perverse tendencies are on full display with profane one-liners standing in for the comedic zingers we were given instead. Lines such as “Give Freddy a little head, hm?” during a variation on the “Freddy snake” scene present Krueger as more of a sexual deviant than ever before. The character of Philip is written as a “frail, thirteen year-old”. His death here is similar, except he’s not strung up like a marionette. Here, Freddy physically leads the boy by placing the child’s feet atop his own, marching him unwillingly towards his demise. Phillip asks, “Why me?” to which Freddy responds, like the true dirty old man he is, “Because, I like you.” Pedophilia was only ever assumed in Craven’s original, and this draft provides plenty of moments to back it up.
Despite the ickier bits, there’s also a saccharine sweetness on display, especially in the script’s third act. When the Dream Warriors finally rally together to take the fight to Krueger, there are Spielbergian levels of schmaltz. The scene actually calls to mind the final scenes of Craven’s own The People Under the Stairs where the entire community shows up to support Fool. There’s even more focus on the romance at the film’s heart between Nancy and Neil. A quick love scene is super cringey. Just peep that dialogue below. Sheesh.
Speaking of Nancy, our returning heroine from part one, she is front and center in this first draft. The film opens to the birth of Freddy by a nameless woman, alone in a secluded ranch home. No mention of Amanda Krueger or 100 maniacs here. Nancy, driving cross country on the hunt for her missing father (which leads to a great exchange between her and Neil, seen below), blows a tire and stumbles upon Freddy’s ol’ abode. When Nancy enters the house she’s thrown into a “waking dream”. Yep, as told to us by exposition dump, John (Nancy’s father), Freddy’s home is a literal gateway to the dream-world. No “zzzs” necessary. After escaping the clutches of Freddy’s home, Nancy is rescued by the good samaritan/doctor, Neil, who takes Nancy under his wing. He also ends up taking her on as his assistant where she seems to have free reign of the institution despite having no medical qualifications at all!
It’s also revealed that John wound up locked inside the loony bin too. He got busted trying to burn down the Krueger home after shaving off his eyelids! Relieved to have located her father, Nancy discovers that he’s been on the hunt for Freddy all this time. John believes that Freddy’s home is the source of his power. Burning it down will put the dream demon to rest for good. Somehow everyone involved, the kids, Nancy, her father, have all been unknowingly drawn to this town because they’re “special”; they’re the warriors capable of stopping Freddy. Yep, we’re not in Springwood anymore. The idea that “every town has an Elm Street” is presented for the first time in this script only never to make it to screen until Freddy’s Dead, 5 years later.
One of the script’s strong suits are the visuals. One finale scene involves a bonus character named Laredo (who ultimately became the wheelchair bound, Will, in the finished film) realizing he has the power to morph into anything he can imagine once up against Freddy. Laredo morphs into a giant gargoyle, Freddy a giant bird. Laredo turns into a net to catch Freddy, only for Krueger to morph into goo in order to slip away. It’s absurd and surely would have played more for laughs, whether intentional or not. Kincaid doesn’t survive this initial draft, and again, the visuals of his death are part ridiculous and part horrific. Kristen, able to pull the warrior from one dream scenario to the next, teleports the warriors from Freddy’s home back to the “reality” of the hospital. Kincaid winds up trapped halfway through a wall. His upper body is screaming for help in the real world while his lower half is fair game to Freddy in the dream world. The punchline involves Freddy’s glove ripping through Kincaid only to pop through the boy’s mouth. The creme de la creme, however, is the final moment of Kristen literally witnessing Freddy’s birth only to battle the evil newborn, bashing it to death against a wall.
It’s some of these insane ideas that probably wouldn’t have worked on screen, but they’re certainly exciting to think about “what if”. Overall, this draft lacks serious character development with Kristen getting the short shrift making way for more screentime for Nancy. There are no group sessions until the end when all the kids prepare for battle. It certainly lacks the emotional heft of the film we know and love. Of course, this was just a first draft, so it’s possible Craven/Wagner could have ironed out these issue before production. What’s more interesting to ponder, would A Nightmare on Elm Street have been the horror juggernaut it was had this script been filmed? Would kids have had Freddy lunchboxes and action figures to play with? Probably not.
The brutal nature of Krueger as written here would certainly please the hardcore set. Freddy disembowels Kristen’s mother and munches on her intestines. Joey actually dies by “seductress Freddy” when their French kiss leads to Freddy’s tongue twisting up into his skull and popping out both of his eyeballs from inside. This script isn’t short on the bloody stuff, that’s for sure. The idea that Freddy isn’t tied to Springfield would have certainly opened up the later sequels to head in different directions. As well, we may have ultimately been given an entirely different backstory for Krueger’s birth.
Nonetheless, this is the reality that we live in. Frank Darabont and Russell were brought in to clean up the original draft and add their own spin to it, and aren’t we happy they did? Nightmare 3 is one of the most imaginative and fun horror films of the 80’s. Yes, this direction did represent the beginning of the series’ downward spiral, but we’ll always have Dream Warriors. Here’s hoping that if a Nightmare reboot ever gets off the ground, they’ll look to this film for the proper balance of fun and horror. So, happy 30th anniversary, Dream Warriors!
For those interested in a complete breakdown of the Craven/Wagner script, check out this 2012 article from Evan Dickson. Is Nightmare 3 your favorite sequel of the series? Would you have preferred this more brutal take on the film?