Updated: Apr 30, 2020
Most horror fans have their favorite slasher series. While I have an appreciation for the entire genre, I've always been a Friday the 13th kind of guy (even though the films defy all logic). My wife gravitates towards the Halloween movies, and the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise is my friend Luke's jam. For years, he encouraged me to take a walk down Elm Street. I've now seen the entire series, minus the 2010 "re-imagining" which Luke walked out of during its theatrical run.
There are six cannon A Nightmare on Elm Street films. Wes Craven's original 1984 masterpiece amped up the suburban horror pioneered by John Carpenter's Halloween, and theatrically grossed about fifty-seven times its million-dollar budget. The official Elm Street narrative concluded with 1991's Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare. Robert Englund's Freddy character would have other outings, including Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994) and 2003's "love or hate" Freddy Vs. Jason. But let's not kid ourselves, the original six Nightmares are a story arch and the movies which followed were cash-in entries which succeeded to varying degrees. Granted, some of these installments were better than the canonical films: Few Freddy fanatics would favor A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child over Wes Craven's New Nightmare. But I digress. A story is a story, and Freddy's teen-slashing tale is neatly ended in the first six movies. Among those, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) ranks as a fan favorite, and it's my top pick for the franchise. Yep, even better than the first one! This review contains only mild spoilers, because I wouldn't want to ruin everything.
Dream Warriors offers up a buffet of impressively-disturbing imagery and plenty of creative gore: A memorable sequence involves little mouths on a junkie chick's arm opening up for Freddy's hypodermic-needle claw. The film also marks the return of Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon as original Freddy victim Nancy Thompson and her father Donald, who has turned to the bottle to cope with life after Mr. Kreuger's chaos. One of the film's most impressive set pieces involves a junkyard showdown between Donald and Freddy, whose bones are brought back to life via stop-motion animation.
In Dream Warriors, a group of troubled teens (including Patricia Arquette) ban together in an attempt to permanently fight off everyone's favorite fedora-sporting serial killer. These kids, residents of a halfway house, must contend with the horror trope of disbelieving authority figures. Thankfully, Nancy works at their group home: She sought employment there specifically for the day when Freddy might decide to return to Elm Street kids' dreams. Her guidance and protection represents the best chance of survival for the societal outcasts. Nancy, a fan favorite, faces her greatest trials in this Elm Street installment. The audience feels for the character as she does her best to ensure normal futures for the misunderstood kids, who had enough issues before Freddy!
The movie is famously backed by Dokken's "Dream Warriors" song, which is the definition of hair metal. I ended up purchasing "Dream Warriors" on cassette at an awesome record store, and let it loop while I was delivering pizza. Because of our cross-country arcade game move, I'm not sure where the tape is at the moment, but here's where I first came across it. My cassette didn't make it into frame at the time, but you can see a couple of other Dokken tapes chilling in there.
The Dream Warriors poster is infamous, due to it having little similarity to anything in the movie: Neither the guy with the bat nor the dude with the Medieval flail are in the film at all. Nor do either of their weapons appear, and to top it off, the flail guy is standing on nothing! The artist also cheated a little, by giving the thumb a kinda-sorta blade to support the bat guy. And what's up with Freddy's left eye? It looks like it's wedged in HTML code. I recently picked up a hat based on this artwork, and I'm wearing it everywhere.
I'm a big fan of the hat; it inspired this article. How epic would a fedora be with this design? As long as you wore it with confidence, it wouldn't be overkill!
As we've seen with such great horror flicks as George A. Romero's Day of the Dead and Slugs: The Movie, practical effects are the lifeblood of the genre, and Dream Warriors totally delivers. The film also has a very strong story which almost redeems the quickie sequel, A Nightmare on Elm St. 2: Freddy's Revenge. Although, basically any movie with "revenge" in the title is going to be lame. (Godzilla's Revenge, anyone?) Dream Warriors was such a memorable entry that a line from it opened Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare, released three movies later. While the Elm Street films are bizarre by default, Dream Warriors ups the ante with cameos by Zsa-Zsa Gabor and Dick Cavett.
Here's that Dokken song, featuring Patricia Arquette in the video. According to legend, the band snorted lines of cocaine from the Freddy claw blades during the video shoot. If that story is true, it may be the most '80s thing ever to happen.
If you're looking to expand your horror palate and want to dip your toe into one film of every major slasher franchise, you should make Dream Warriors your Elm Street movie. There's talk of yet another Elm Street reboot to be released before the end of 2020. Rumors are also circulating concerning a new Elm Street TV series, Freddy's Nightmares (1988-1990) being the first and only thus far. Because of Hollywood's penchant for ruining legacy franchises, and the abandonment of the practical effects that made these films effective, it's my opinion that Freddy should be the one put to sleep.