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30 Years of ‘Dream Warriors’: The Freddy that Almost Was

Nightmare on Elm Street 3 - Primetime, Bitch!

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.

Nightmare on Elm Street 3 - Marionette

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!

Nightmare 3 - Script Page

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.

Nightmare 3 - Script Page

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.

Nightmare on Elm Street 3 - Joey Death

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?


17 Comments
  • Munchie

    Next time my girlfriend asks why I’m crying during sex, that’s the answer I’m giving her.

    • Seriously, though, could you imagine Langenkamp having to deliver that line?

  • rogXue

    “downward spiral”? You and I have differing opinions of Nightmare on Elm Street 4….

    • I like 4 a lot (and most of the sequels to varying degrees, for that matter). I just feel that after Dream Warriors, the humor was amped up more and more with each consecutive entry.

  • Geno1987

    Nightmare on Elm Street 4 was when the franchise peaked. It was the most successful financially, had Freddy at the height of popularity, and had the most elaborate of kills of the series.

  • New Nightmare is my favorite sequel but I do love Dream Warriors.

    • Darnell

      New Nightmare has not held up well with time at all. I watched it a few weeks ago..Omg is it bad. The special effects are atrocious and acting is weak.

  • Tiger Quinn

    Some of this made it into the novelization.

  • Abandoned_Being

    Yes, A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 3 is my favorite sequel of the franchise. A New Nightmare comes in second.

    • Saturn

      Funny thing is, that most people’s favourite sequel is number 3 – whereas I’m one of those weirdo’s who (although I love 3, but perhaps am tooooo familiar with it these days) actually prefer Freddy 2, as Fred was still “creepy” in that one.
      I actually consider the films to progressively get worse over the franchise – the first is still the best, and Freddy’s Dead is still a shit sandwich.
      New Nightmare was an improvement, but I actually find the movie to be quite annoying in places.

  • Jesse Hammer

    While I think “Warriors” was the beginning of the end, setting up Freddy as you say the “wisecracking super-villain” instead of a the brutal pedophile/child murderer he was in the beginning and continued to be in the short-lived Marvel comic, this is still an awesome movie which I’ve probably seen more times than I would care to admit. I’m just sorry that the series took all the wrong cues from it and ran it into the ground. “Freddy’s Dead” was beyond stupid.

  • WhistleBleepBlip

    Dream Warriors will always be my favorite.
    Sure, this was the high point of the series but I don’t think the decline afterwards is as drastic as some folks.
    Dream Master was still pretty solid and even Dream Child worked because I liked how it stuck close to the timeline.

    It wasn’t until Freddy’s Dead that I thought that we reach this movie is just bad status. Poorly written, poorly directed and Freddy was just a Looney Tunes character.
    The only praise I can give it is the line “Every town has a Elm Street”.
    That one line of dialogue was/is fantastic. It’s too bad there wasn’t a way to work that idea into more sequels.

    • And that one line was directly lifted from this draft of the script. It appears that some the only thing they took from a raven for Freddy’s Dead.

  • Carl Chrystan

    Not for me, this one, I’m afraid. Switched off when it came to part 3. I thought that once the films stopped being either scary or gay then there’s not much else you could do with the franchise!

    • Saturn

      The Elm St films were pretty good for the 1st 4 movies, 5 was when the rot started to set in – and the less said about Freddy’s Dead the better!
      New Nightmare, I know a lot of people loved it, but for me? Meh.
      I remember seeing it at the cinema (I saw them all from 3 onwards at the cinema back in the day) and pissing myself laughing that

      ********POTENTIAL SPOILERS********

      Freddy could be defeated by a frickin’ fairy tale

      ******END OF SPOILERS*******

      FvJ, although far from a great movie, was the best of the franchise since the 4th.

      When Elm St gets it right then it’s great stuff – but when it doesn’t?
      It’s a burnt dog turd sandwich.

  • EvilHead1981

    I read the 1st draft and novelization (which is based on Wes’s later draft before Russell and Darabont took a swing at the bat). There are a lot of bad things (“the Dream Warrrior pep rally”), but there there’s also some things I would’ve loved to see. Becky Freeman’s character (and presence) was so damn creepy. I also love the scene where Nancy wakes up and goes the bathroom, only to find the bathtub filled with blood, flesh pieces and bone fragments, and through the shower curtain, she can see the faces of the dead (Phillip, Jennifer) press through the curtain, calling out to her. Also, little subtle things, like wind chimes taking the appearance of human fingers, or as Freddy’s blades hanging from twine. That kinda of shit, in horror movies, does a LOT to make the mood.

    Seemingly, from the first draft to the “final” draft Craven (and Bruce Wagner) did (which proved the basis for the novelization), they changed “Freddy’s house” from being some “ranch-styled house” out in the middle of nowhere back to Nancy’s house, giving some history to why that house is significant. Shame THAT wasn’t put into the movie, because it is pretty interesting.

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