31 Greatest 1980s Horror Films: Page 8 of 9
2. A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
"It's now or never. I'm not gonna kid you, this is as dangerous as it gets. If you die in this dream, it's for real."
After the pulsating turd that was A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge, slasher fans demanded justice. Freddy Krueger was destined to become one of cinema's most iconic villains after the original 1984 classic, but he desperately needed another run to push him to legendary status. Thankfully, that push was received with A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.
Wes Craven, the creator of the series, having directed the first Nightmare film, never intended for the franchise to live on past Part 1. He skipped out on the second movie but jumped back in for Dream Warriors, perhaps overcome with anguish after witnessing his cherished cash-cow falling ill to sequelitus in Freddy's Revenge. Along with Bruce Wagner, Craven came up with the story, which was scripted by director Chuck Russell and Frank Darabont. The result delivered a fantastic chapter to the beloved series, arguably the best installment and a much more enjoyable continuation to the events from the first film. Returning from the original are three main characters -- Heather Langenkamp as Freddy's greatest nemesis Nancy Thompson, John Saxon as Nancy's alcoholic policeman father Lt. Donald Thompson, and, of course, Robert Englund as the slouch-hat-wearing, striped-sweater-clad, razor-gloved nightstalker Freddy Krueger.
The teenagers of Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital are being terrorized in their sleep by an unspeakable evil and it's up to Nancy, now a specialist in dream therapy, to save their souls. Sensing that Freddy has returned once more to prey on the vulnerable kiddies, Nancy attempts to bring the juveniles together to banish the malicious spirit forever... or until Part 4. The various teens fill their roles appropriately; just glance at them and any seasoned horror movie lover can predict which ones will ultimately fall to Freddy's blades -- Taryn is a former heroin junkie just looking for a second chance at life; Will is the obligatory nerd-type who enjoys nothing more than a riveting game of Dungeons & Dragons; Joey never speaks (until a pivotal scene late in the film); Kincaid is the token black guy, surrounded by whitey and armed with a raging temper. Last but certainly not least is Kristen Parker, played by the adorable Patricia Arquette in her first starring role.
Nancy immediately bonds with Kristen after discovering the lass's unique talent of pulling others into her dreams. With the help of fellow researcher Dr. Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson), Nancy assembles the ones fortunate enough to have survived the first half of the film and formulates a plan to use their individual in-dream powers (Will's wizardly magic spells, Kincaid's super-strength, etc.) to send Freddy screaming back to the underworld. This concept of obtaining new skills during slumber breathed new life into the franchise and was applied to future sequels (as well as the infamous 1990 Nintendo game adaptation). When the final showdown between Nancy & Co. and Freddy eventually unfolds, the satisfying climax presents an ending that by all rights should've closed out the series for good, or at least until Wes Craven's New Nightmare was released in 1994 to commemorate the tenth year anniversary of the first movie.
A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is great for lots of reasons. This was the last film to showcase Freddy's twisted sense of humor before it became overly cheesy throughout the remainder of the original movies. Director Chuck Russell was chastised by some critics for turning Freddy from a take-no-shit child murderer into a burnt-faced knucklehead, but he stood confident, claiming that he thought Freddy should be more entertaining. After all, the immortal entity always seems to take great joy in his killings, and knowing that Freddy can never truly be laid to rest, why wouldn't he have a couple of laughs along the way? Allowing Robert Englund more control over the character he helped create gave him more incentive to return for later installments, especially since he must have been physically exhausted from all those hours in the make-up chair. Need another reason why Dream Warriors rocks so hard? Dokken did the soundtrack.
For my money, the Nightmare On Elm Street series doesn't get any better than Dream Warriors. The death scenes are some of the most creative to come out of an entire decade's worth of horror films, most notably Phillip's human marionette fatality and Jennifer's "big break in TV." The movie holds the record of being the third highest-grossing of Freddy's adventures after the following year's A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master and 2003's Freddy vs. Jason. If you're craving a total crowd pleaser this Halloween season, Dream Warriors puts all other horror sequels to sleep.