Twenty-eight years later, the message behind Chuck Russell’s 1987 cult classic A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors still rings clear: parents need to listen to their kids. The second feature, Freddy’s Revenge, gets sidetracked using Krueger as a metaphor for the person inside of Jesse, desperate to get out, and loses steam when it breaks its own rules and has Fred out in the open, roaming a pool party instead of dreamland. The third installment, however, puts the fear back in Freddy, by getting back to basics, and reiterating the lesson that the original film sought to teach — the consequences of pushing a child’s concerns aside; and dismissing their woes as immature and fleeting.
As the opening credits roll, we dream Dream Warrior Patricia Arquette using the power of cocoa powder, soda, Dokken, and paper mache to stop herself from nodding off. It’s quite obvious that this isn’t the first time sweet little Kristen has used this questionable combination to stay awake, and as her mother enters her room all dressed up and ticked off, it soon becomes clear that this also doesn’t mark the first time her mom has come home late. When her mother, Elaine, demands an explanation for her antics, Kristen reveals that she’s only trying to avert her bad dreams, and the man with the burnt face that waits for her in the realm beyond consciousness. It’s obvious that Elaine has heard this all before, and she has much more important matters to attend to, like the man she’s brought home, waiting downstairs, calling to her to join him in drunken negligence. Despite her pleas, Kristen’s mother leaves her in darkness, doomed to meet the shadowy figure with razor fingers yet again, who’ll steal her sleep, and her youth.
Kristen’s latest dream puts her in her own bathroom, where Freddy smiles back at her from her mirror. Suddenly, her appliances spring to life, as her sink begins to grow, and razors pop out from the handles, and, to her horror, extend like arms reaching out to grab her. As Kristen screams in sheer terror, she awakens, and sees her mother entering the bathroom. As reality settles, we see what’s really been happening, or at least what Kristen’s mother sees: Kristen, wrists slit, holding a razor, and crying for help. As soon as her little outburst occurs, Kristen’s mother ships her off to the psych ward, where she meets other teens like herself, who also suffer from terrible nightmares. At the first sign of real trouble, Elaine throws her hands up in the air, abandons her responsibilities, and blames the victim, by concurring that Kristen has brought all of this drama on herself, and therefore can only fix it herself. While it is true that Kristen must find the strength within her own mind to conquer the demons that plagues her thoughts, without the aid of another, she’ll be just like the rest of the poor souls Krueger has claimed: paralyzed in fear and unable to shake herself awake.
Enter Nancy Thompson; the sole survivor of Fred Krueger. She may have been absent in the second film, but Nancy returns to the third installment with a role that’s both appropriate and necessary, as the helping hand. Through the use of booby traps and bravery, Nancy managed to outsmart Krueger in the past, and now she’s back to teach other kids how to do the same. Although she starts as the intern at the ward, it’s not long before she’s helping the children work through their fears, simply because she’s the only one who will take their issues seriously. Kids are dying left and right, but the other authority figures keep ignoring their cries and sedating them, only further putting them in harm’s way. It’s not until Nancy steps in and begins listening to the kids that things begin to change for the better.
Slowly, as Nancy ushers in the aid of Doctor Neil Gordon, the origin story of Freddy Krueger is revealed, as the ghost of Fred’s mother, Amanda Krueger, tells of how she was kidnapped and tortured many moons ago. While she was working as a nun at the institution, Amanda was accidentally locked in with the rest of the maniacs over the holidays, and was viciously raped hundreds of times, until she was pregnant with evil himself. Upon her rescue, she gave birth to Freddy, who went on to wreak havoc and ruin countless lives, just as his fathers had before him. However, this startling revelation isn’t the only expansion that Dream Warriors adds to the franchise. Not only does the third installment offer a background for its infamous villain, but it also shows the true strength of his powers. Freddy’s been known to play with people’s dreams, and distort the R.E.M. cycle to his liking, within the parameters of a dream world, but the third film is the first time that he uses his skills on dry land, so to speak. Sure, there’s been cliffhanger endings, that leave the film open for a sequel and leave the viewers to debate what really happened, but for the most part, Freddy never displayed real power in actual reality until he exerts force at the junk yard. As he causes the cars around Neil and Nancy’s dad Donald to come to life, Freddy’s bones gather and rise, creating a walking skeleton that attacks the men, proving that he not just the ghost of a man who was burned alive, but the spirit of evil, living on long beyond the afterlife. This doesn’t just make the series more frightening again, but it also gives the franchise room to grow.
Even with these major accomplishments, Chuck Russell and Frank Darabont still aren’t done. The writing duo also use Dream Warriors to hand over the torch to a new female lead, and declare Kristen the new lead of the franchise of the house that Freddy built. With Nancy’s passing, as she dies romantically in Freddy’s arms; for they always were characteristic of dramatic lovers, Kristen is placed on the throne in her place, as Craven’s newest Scream Queen. It’s a shame that Arquette didn’t come back to revive the role in the fourth film, but Kristen lives on, regardless.
After all of the other gems that Dream Warriors offers, there’s one last theory that it subtly tosses around. Nancy tells the little warriors that they’re the last of the Elm Street children, and that’s why Freddy Krueger makes appearances in all of their dreams. Aside from the severity of their nightmares, most of the kids are dealing with their own individual problems, too. Taryn is an ex-junkie, Will is paralyzed from the waist down, and Joey hasn’t spoken in years. What if these kids all experienced a traumatizing childhood that led to their demise because their parents were part of the ones that helped to burn Fred Krueger alive years ago? Maybe the reason why Kristen’s mom drinks and brings home strange men is because she, too, can’t cope with her nightmares. She can’t forgive herself for what she’s done, and neither can the rest of the parents, and as they slowly unraveled in front of their young, the kids acted out, got in in trouble, got hurt, and wound up at the psych ward. After all, if they truly are the last of the Elm Street kids, chances are they at least know someone who has suffered in some way from the thrashings of Freddy Krueger. Either way, the message remains, year after year, brightly lit from the screen, and only growing more relevant: listen to your kids. Even if you think they’re only going through the motions of young adulthood, remember what its like to be their age, and how every breakup, every petty fight with a friend, and every night terror can feel like life and death. They may lash out, they may curse your name, but in the end, children crave attention and discipline, for it is their parents that shape them, and keep them out of the darkness, away from strange forces that seek to hurt them in the blackness of night.