A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is a 1987 American horror slasher fantasy film and the third film in the Nightmare on Elm Street series. The film was directed by Chuck Russell, written by original creator Wes Craven and co-written by Bruce Wagner, and starred Craig Wasson, Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund and Patricia Arquette in her first role. It is the sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985) and is followed by A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988).
Six years after the events of the first film, Kristen Parker is scolded by her mother Elaine to go to bed after staying up after 1 in the morning constructing a papier-mâché house. Kristen objects but obeys her mother. As she dreams, she is stalked in her model, which is revealed to be 1427 Elm Street, the home of Freddy Krueger. Running from him, she wakes up in her own bed again and realizes it was a dream. Freddy then appears to her when she goes to wash her face and proceeds to slash her wrists with his claws. Elaine walks in, and Freddy makes the attack to appear as a suicide attempt and has her admitted to the hosptial for help. Going into hysterics after an attempt to sedate her, Kristen is calmed when Nancy Thompson, a newly hired member of the hospital staff arrives and earns her trust by finishing Freddy's nursery rhyme.
Nancy is introduced to the rest of the ward; Philip, who is a skilled puppet maker; Kincaid, a tough kid with a short temper. Aspiring actress Jennifer, former drug addict Taryn; Joey, Rodney Eastman, who was so traumatized by his nightmares he refuses to speak, and Will, who is bound to a wheelchair after a failed suicide attempt. Nancy works closely with Neil Gordon, who is very invested and attached to the kids. One night, Kristen has a nightmare, but this time she calls on a long-forgotten ability and is able to pull Nancy into her dream. Nancy stops Freddy's attack, and Freddy recognizes her immediately and they manage to escape him. Kristen later explains that the ability had come from her childhood, when she would call her father into her bad dreams to make them better. Nancy suggests Hypnocil; a drug designed to prevent dreaming to be prescribed to the children, but Neil declines as the drug is experimental. The following night, Philip is made into a living puppet by Freddy, which is misinterpreted as his normal sleep walking, he is led up to the old bell tower. Freddy severs the lines holding Philip up and he falls to his death in front of the other patients; to the adults it appears as a suicide, but the teens and Nancy don't believe so. Jennifer is allowed by the floor orderly Max to stay in the TV room after lights out as she is too traumatized to go to sleep. But she nods off and Freddy invades the TV, as she approraches to investigate an attack on Zsa-Zsa Gabor, she is grabbed by Freddy who becomes the television and smashes her head into the screen, killing her. During these events, Neil is also being visited by a nun named Mary Helena who gives him the story of Freddy; 'the bastard son of a hundred maniacs' who was conceived when a nun named Amanda Krueger was raped in the ward of the criminally insane when she was actually locked in there over the Christmas holidays.
Nancy lets Neil and the other teens in on Freddy's history, and they are initially skeptical. But using Kristen's power to pull them into her dream and individually they discover their dream powers; Kincaid becomes incredibly strong, Taryn becomes a beautiful punk with a pair of switchblades as her weapons. Will becomes a powerful wizard, and Kristen shows off supernatural gymnastic skills. Meanwhile, Joey has left the room following a nurse he had a crush on, but she turns out to be a trap by Freddy who ties him to a bed hanging over a fiery pit. When the rest of the group wakes up, Joey remains in a coma. The unauthorized hypnosis session and the use of Hypnocil results in Neil and Nancy being fired by the administrator Dr. Carver. Following advice that Freddy must be buried in hallowed ground, Nancy and Neil confront her father Don Thompson who at first refuses to help. After receiving a call that Kristen had an outburst over Nancy's firing and was sent to the quiet room and sedated, Nancy goes to the hospital while Neil successfully convinces Don to show him where Freddy's remains were hidden.
Nancy, Will, Taryn and Kincaid enter hypnosis as Kristen falls asleep and they reunite, but Freddy quickly separates them. Taryn appears in the alley that she presumably had been a junkie in. Freddy appears, and after a brief battle, he pins her down. Replacing his fingers with needles, he injects her needle scars with them, killing Taryn from an overdose. Will appears in a thin hallway as Freddy confronts him about his fear of living in a wheelchair. Will overcomes a torturous wheelchair and attacks Freddy with his powers, but Freddy shrugs the attack off and kills Will by slicing his heart out. Meanwhile, Kristen reunites with Nancy and Kincaid, and they are lured down to where Freddy is holding Joey hostage. They manage to save him, but find that absorbing the childrens' souls have made Freddy much stronger. However, sensing that his bones are being disturbed (By Gordon and Thompson) he leaves before killing Kincaid. Possessing his bones, Freddy manages to kill Don and seriously injure Neil before returning to the dream world. He attempts to separate the group again through a variety of mirrors, but Joey unlocks his dream power, causing all the mirrors to shatter and saving the group. They believe the fight to be over when Don appears to Nancy and tells her he's "crossed over". When they embrace, he reveals himself to be Freddy in disguise by stabbing Nancy and mortally wounding her. Neil awakens to Nancy's screams and manages to consecrate Freddy's bones. Freddy is finally defeated, but Nancy dies in Kristen's arms, who promises to send Nancy off into a beautiful dream.
At the funeral service, Neil sees Mary Helena again and rushes to meet her, but only discovers the gravestone of Amanda Krueger, who was also called Sister Mary Helena. That night, Neil sleeps peacefully in his bed with Nancy's Malaysian dream doll on his dresser along with the papier-mâché house, when suddenly the lights come on in the house and Freddy's laughter is heard, hinting that he hasn't been defeated yet.
- Heather Langenkamp as Dr. Nancy Thompson
- Patricia Arquette as Kristen Parker
- Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger
- Jennifer Rubin as Taryn White
- Craig Wasson as Dr. Neil Gordon
- Ken Sagoes as Roland Kincaid
- Rodney Eastman as Joey Crusel
- Bradley Gregg as Phillip Anderson
- Ira Heiden as Will Stanton
- Larry Fishburne as Max Daniels
- Penelope Sudrow as Jennifer Caulfield
- John Saxon as Donald Thompson
- Priscilla Pointer as Dr. Elizabeth Simms
- Clayton Landey as Lorenzo
- Brooke Bundy as Elaine Parker
- Nan Martin as Amanda Krueger/Mary Helena
- Dick Cavett as Himself
- Zsa Zsa Gabor as Herself
Elm Street creator Wes Craven, who did not participate in the first sequel and did not want the first film to evolve into a franchise, intended for this film to end the series, but its success prompted a continuation.
Craven's very first concept for this film was to have Freddy Krueger invade the "real" world, emerging to haunt the actors filming a new Elm Street sequel. New Line Cinema rejected this metacinematic idea at the time, but years later, Craven's concept was finally brought to the screen with Wes Craven's New Nightmare.
The "dream suppressant" drug Hypnocil which Neil researches is also featured and written into this film, yet more prominently figures in Freddy vs. Jason and is mentioned in Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash. The psychiatric hospital Westin Hills reappears in both A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child and Freddy vs. Jason.
In interviews with cast and crew in the DVD extras, it is revealed that the original idea for the film centered around the phenomenon of children traveling to a specific location to commit suicide, with dreams of Freddy Krueger eventually discovered to be a common link between the youths. Suicide, at the time, was a taboo social issue and this led to the abandonment of that storyline, though some aspects remained within the filmed version which still depicts suicide and self-mutilation, though they were deemed less controversial because these acts are committed with Freddy's distinct influence, inserting enough fantasy into the acts to remove it from the supposed controversial exploitation of disturbed youths in America.
In the original script by Wes Craven and Bruce Wagner the characters were somewhat different from what was eventually filmed. Nancy was not a dream expert or any kind of mental health professional, Kristen stayed in the institution for only a while and had a father, Neil's last name was Guinness and is much younger, Dr. Simm's last name was Maddalena, Taryn was African-American, Joey was the one who built the model of a house and has trouble getting around (although did not use a wheelchair), and Philip was a thirteen year-old. Will's name was originally Laredo, with long hair, did not use a wheelchair, and the one who made the clay puppets. This script also showed the ranch house where Krueger was born, and is the house that shows up in their dreams rather than the Elm Street house. Contrary to the film, Lt. Donald Thompson knows from the start that Krueger is real and still alive. He had been missing and Nancy was intent on finding him, she finds him and learns that he was obsessed with finding the Krueger house and burning it down. In the original script, there is a romance between Nancy and Neil and they eventually have sex. There are scenes and lines that are very reminiscent of the first film. There is no talk of Krueger's mother having been a nun or Freddy being "the bastard son of a hundred maniacs", and both Joey and Kincaid are killed. The deaths in this script were much more grotesque, with Krueger not as talkative and more vulgar. Freddy is killed by Nancy by using his own glove, not by holy water. In Jeffrey Cooper's novelization The Nightmares on Elm Street Parts 1, 2, 3: The Continuing Story (1987), the original Craven/Wagner version of the Nightmare 3 script is adapted, rather than the Russell/Darabont rewrite. Thus the book version of the story is fairly different from the finished film.
The film released theatrically in the United States by New Line Cinema in February 1987. It opened in 1,343 theaters, grossing $8.9 million and debuting at number 1 during its opening weekend. It eventually made $44,793,222 at the domestic box office, making it both the highest grossing film for the studio that year and the 24th highest grossing film of 1987. It is the third highest grossing of the original Nightmare movies after Freddy vs. Jason (2003) and A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988).
The critical reception of The Dream Warriors was positive, especially when compared to the first sequel. It has an approval rating of 74% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 33 professional reviews. It is almost unanimously considered the best Nightmare film after the original, but still received some negative reviews from critics because of the comedic themes present in the film; director Chuck Russell said in an interview he felt it needed to be taken down a different path, making Freddy fun to keep the audience entertained instead of being dark tone and scary over and over again.
Many fans of the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise cite this film as their favorite out of the series, specifically for its special effects, a new comedic-tone for the character of Freddy Krueger, the return of Nancy Thompson from the original film, a theme song with the same name by rock band Dokken, celebrity cameos such as Dick Cavett and Zsa Zsa Gabor and Wes Craven returned as co-writer and executive producer. Both Robert Englund and Heather Langenkamp have both stated that this film is the fans' favorite.