Saoirse’s Cult Corner #15: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

In this column, cult columnist Saoirse takes you on a biweekly jaunt through the obscure annals of the cult film world. We’ll touch on everything from Giallo to J-Horror to Wakaliwood & so much more. If it’s a low budget genre film, or even a big-budget flop with a dogged audience, or even an undiscovered gem, it belongs here. 

This week, we take a look at the underrated gem in 80s Slashers, one of the few truly great slasher sequels, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors .

cw/ reference to self harm, addiction & heroin details, discussion of mental health

Hello everybody and welcome to the Cult Corner. I hope you feel welcome. This week  we were going to cover Dario Argento’s chiller Opera. We were always going to cover A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors but with the passing of John Saxon I felt we needed to move it up the schedule. We’ll do Opera next time, I promise. 

So let’s start at the beginning. I love the original, A Nightmare on Elm Street. It’s an incredibly formative film for my taste and I still get chills at certain key moments whenever I watch it. I can’t stress this enough, I care a lot about A Nightmare on Elm Street. That being said, even before then I knew the image of Freddy Kreuger holding up his iconic knived hands to reveal they have turned into luminescent needles as actually being from A Nightmare on Elm Street, but no, it’s in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Even then, it’s an image that’s really just burned into my head, especially now I’ve seen the movie twice and know it so well in context and have lived with it. 

So… so then we have A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge… Now, I understand that a lot of people have a lot of love for this movie, and I’m really sorry, but I don’t get it. I know that A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors ret cons a lot of original Freddie lore anyway, but at least it’s a fucking competent movie with a really effecting story, it gets a fucking pass. I will say this other thing once and I won’t say it again, (of course I’ll say it again, if I ever talk about the Fast and Furious movies in some weird circumstance). Having a dearth of non-objectified women in your movie, does not make it queer. I say this as a queer person, now shut up. 

Anyway, so what actually is A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors? It picks up with totally new characters, the first of whom is played by Patricia Arquette, (the first in a stacked cast that you just don’t expect of these movies), who, in a near miss with Freddy in her dream ends up cutting her own wrists and her absent mother puts her in a mental institution where the first in a long line of “the very last, I super double promise this time of the Elm Street kids” team up to fight off Freddy with the help of an all grown up Nancy who’s now interning at the institution. 

The film has many strengths, the first one I want to talk about that I will come back to is probably the cast. Of course we have Heather Langenkamp as Nancy who is just ethereal and and it’s always lovely to see her on screen. Patricia Arquette is a really committed performance. She flips between strict gravitas and brood to hyper intense screaming and anger whenever the script calls for it and makes all these really intense tone changes work cohesively, which is a real challenge for an actor that she really pulls off. We also have Laurence Fishburne in a really early role, credited as ‘Larry’ Fishburne strangely. So in Patricia Arquette & Laurence Fishburne, we have two actors at the start of their careers who normally are, to put it lightly, kind of in a calibre of actor that doesn’t normally show up in films like this. I mean we have Larry in Hannibal and that too is a really dramatically strong but ultimately silly horror but outside of that… you see my point. The cast is rounded out by a nurse doing her best Nurse Ratchet impression, (fuck off Ryan Murphy), and the rest of the young cast who are just, immediately charming and lovely. 

The immediate charisma of the cast is helped immensely by the sharp and emotional script, co-written by none other than Frank Darabont! That man really doesn’t get the horror creds he fucking deserves. Anyway, it’s witty, acerbic, and really scary! There is also though, a really sentimental family fantasy adventure movie at the centre of this story? Like, each of the kids gets a special power in their dreams, a thematically appropriate one, of course. They also though, get to become all the people they want to be, be that a wizard or a punk. This is ultimately about young people learning to self actualise after a cruel Reaganesque system has beat them down, (seriously do some research about A Nightmare on Elm Street, Reagan, and the closing of mental institutions for the sake of profit leading to an increase in serial killers directly, that happened, and this movie is kind of about that). That all being said though, the thing is about self actualising, is that wherever you go, your past still follows you. This is best articulated in the dream sequence by an old bar with an ex heroin addict. It’s got the iconic needle fingers moment. It’s got track marks that, in a Cronenbergian way, pulsate in little sucking mouths. Ultimately, it’s just one of the quickest, and saddest, and most shocking moments of tragedy ever put to horror cinema. Also, it’s just fucking terrifying. 

So no, ultimately, in the metaphor, not everything is sunshine and roses but it is the trying that is treated like this angelically beautiful thing. Also believe your fucking kids goddammit. 

It is also worth shouting out the production design which is astonishing, and bold, and Cocteauish, and gothic, and colourful, and post Suspiria, and gory, and wild, and imaginative, and I have nowhere near enough superlatives for it. It is superior horror production design of the highest order. 

There is also John Saxon, God, is there also John Saxon. I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to watch this movie after his death again without feeling profoundly emotional seeing him. I mean, I think that’s gonna be true in so many films. He was always a profound love of mine. He always was a ray of golden light in any film he was in. Just go watch Tenebrae to see the amount of exuberant energy he brings to that movie, or Enter the Dragon and his effortless cool, his strong gravitas in Black Christmas. This, this was all in my mind watching A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, and y’know, John Saxon is here, and he’s playing this father full of self hatred, and regret, and guilt, and he’s just this washed up old man who can’t make a connection with anyone, let along his daughter, and hardly even gets a redemption, he tries and fails, but he tries, and as the film has told us, it is the trying itself that is beautiful. So those are words to live by I think. Trying is beautiful. 

Fuck I’m gonna cry if I keep doing this. 

So, Rest in Peace John Saxon, your talent deserved so much more. 

Watch A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors everybody, the film that shows all other slasher sequels that you really don’t actually have to phone it in, it’s not a rule book or something.

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