Recommendation by Matt Hudson
This time in the HORROR ZONE, I’m recommending A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.
When Wes Craven gave the world A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984, he likely had no idea that the movie would become the horror classic it is today, lest that it would spawn a legion of sequels and create a pop culture icon in Freddy Krueger (Krueger actually being a child killer is another story, mind).
But, despite boasting long-armed Freddy, bloody bed Johnny Depp, and one of the great final girls in Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy Thompson, for me, the original is only the second-best entry in the franchise. Instead, on top of the pile is the third entry, Dream Warriors.
Now, this isn’t quite the hot take that casual movie fans might think it is. Within the horror community, Dream Warriors has a strong reputation (and one that steadily continues to grow over time) and is widely regarded as one of the better Nightmare entries. For me, it marks the ultimate version of Freddy Krueger also – he’s still menacing here and only skirts the edge of the MTV Freddy he’d subsequently become…but that’s not to say we aren’t treated to some killer one-liners from everyone’s favourite fedora-wearing killer.
Chuck Russell helms this entry, and, for the majority of it, we are away from Elm Street itself and, instead, in the sterile walls of Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital. The story follows Kristen Parker (future Oscar-winner Patricia Arquette in her feature debut), who is admitted to the hospital by her parents after an incident following, you guessed it, a NIGHTMARE. In the facility, we are introduced to our motley crew of protagonists who, together, all have a few things in common and one shared destination – to become the eponymous Dream Warriors. The movie also brings back Nancy Thompson, now acting as the hospital’s intern therapist, to add a great layer of connectivity with the original – something A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge didn’t really feel like focusing on – alongside her on-screen father, the late, great John Saxon as Donald Thompson.
The ensemble as a whole brings plenty of spunk, pizzazz, and fun to the story, whether sparring with Krueger or with each other, and there’s a real feeling that they are a well-worn dysfunctional family. In fact, the actors behind the Dream Warriors have appeared together at conventions across the world regularly over the past few years.
Of course, Freddy won’t let everything just be hunky dory, and here he is afforded some of his most memorable moments in the franchise. He’s at times terrifying, and at others quippy, all leading up to his starring part in the cruel finale. Dream Warriors feels like the film where Robert Englund became Freddy Krueger. That’s no shade on his previous performances, but here everything feels that bit more natural, that bit more comfortable. To me, this is the quintessential Freddy Krueger movie.
Despite having plenty of pop culture flair running through it, the movie still retains a strong horror backbone to it. Dream Warriors maintains a consistent atmosphere throughout, helped by frequent David Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti’s score, and there are plenty of wince-inducing moments to keep horrorheads happy. One, in particular, haunts me to this day, as I recall vividly changing the TV channel as a kid, just as one particular sequence reached its peak…
Dream Warriors offers an imaginative deviation from the first two installments. Its premise is clearly bonkers (which becomes more apparent when you watch the Dream Warriors in action), but this only allows it to stand apart stylistically, though it never feels disconnected at all from the wider picture. You can easily watch Dream Warriors as a standalone horror movie, but having to watch the original to further appreciate the character of Nancy isn’t such a bad thing at all. It’s dark, it’s fun, it’s bloody, it’s campy, and it’s great!
Finally, the theme song by Dokken absolutely rips!
Welcome to prime time, indeed.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is available to rent on Apple TV+, Amazon, YouTube and more in the UK, and Apple TV+, Redbox, DirectTV, and Vudu in the US.