When the original A Nightmare On Elm Street first came out in 1984, it was a major hit. The “if you die in the dream, you die in real life” hook was a favorite of moviegoers and critics alike. Plus, it had one of the best horror movie villains of all time with Freddy Kreuger and his clever knife glove. Freddy was so beloved that the series spawned five faithful sequels, two creative spin-offs, and a 2010 remake of questionable quality. With all those movies, it can be intimidating to find a favorite. That’s why I’m here! Here’s the definitive list for why A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is the best of the franchise, hands down. If you don’t believe me now, you will soon.
Beware: There are major spoilers ahead.
Wes Craven Wrote It
This may seem like a given since A Nightmare On Elm Street is one of Wes Craven’s best works, but did you know that he worked on almost none of them after the first? Dream Warriors is the only classic sequel that he wrote. Once the main series was over, he then went on to write and direct 1994’s Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. Considering he’s the master of horror, it’s no surprise that the three he worked on were also the best in the franchise. RIP Wes Craven. We didn’t deserve you.
There’s Bonding In The Sleep Ward
Up until Dream Warriors, the teens of Elm Street were often left alone. Sure, Nancy had a few friends and a boyfriend in the original, but it quickly became a one-on-one battle between her and Freddy. In Dream Warriors, we get a whole group of teens, all bonded from spending time in the teen sleep ward of a mental hospital. That social bond was special and disappeared after this installment. Plus, all these teens were cool. If I could somehow guarantee that I’d be hanging out with a mute, a Dungeons and Dragons nerd, and a puppet maker, I might sign up for a stay in the ward myself.
After the pessimistic ending of the original, it seemed all but certain that Nancy was a goner. There’s no way she could steer clear of Freddy after all that work! Well, she found a way with Hypnocil, an experimental drug that makes it impossible to dream. Fans were ecstatic to have Nancy back, and it’s fun to see her in a motherly role to the sleep ward teens, especially for Kristen who has unarguably the worst mom in the history of ever. Welcome back, Nancy, even though your death is made official by the end of the movie. It was fun while it lasted.
The Group Dream Dynamic Is Killer
The absolute best addition to the Elm Street franchise is the way Kristen, played by Patricia Arquette, can pull people into her dreams. Why fight Freddy by yourself when you can do it as a team? This new mechanic made for a fun way for all these cool teens to bond. Without it, this would have been just another boring sequel.
These Teens Are Living Out Your Fantasies
There’s something so empowering about seeing all these teens become their fantasies in the dream world. When Nancy tells them they can remake themselves in their dreams, it creates some hilarious moments. Kirsten can do gymnastics, Will can not only walk, but has wizard powers. Best of all is Taryn: “In my dreams I’m beautiful…and BAD.” Dream Warriors is the only Elm Street movie where we actually wanted to be a part of the action. This just looks cool.
Freddy’s Personality Is At Its Peak
The first two Elm Street movies featured a relatively quiet killer who often hid in the shadows. The fear came from the shrill scrape of Freddy’s knives against metal boilers and pipes. Later in the series, Freddy’s bombastic personality becomes almost a spoof of itself, providing sometimes cheesy one-liners along creative murders. Dream Warriors has a nice balance for his personality. He gets the fun quips while still letting the teens shine, too. Robert Englund, Freddy himself, truly is a master.
The Death Scenes Are Epic
Just like Freddy’s personality, the death scenes are at their peak with Dream Warriors, too. In later sequels, they get downright silly. Here, they’re equal parts terrifying and fun. Take Phillip’s puppetry death, for example. Freddy guided him through the halls of the sleep ward with his veins as puppet strings. That both fascinated and scared me as a kid. And really, no one can forget “Welcome to primetime, bitch!” Poor Jennifer got her head shoved into a TV.
The Skeleton Special Effects Are Hilarious
Okay, not everything is perfectly done, but that makes it all the better. While most of the special effects are great for the time, someone should have told the producers that a green screen fight with an animated Freddy skeleton was going to look bonkers. I almost feel bad for Craig Wasson for having to “act” alongside that monstrosity. If you need a good laugh, there’s always the junkyard skeleton fight to lift your mood.
It’s no secret that people of color have had it rough in horror movies. If they’re even a part of the cast, they don’t last long, often being the first to kick the bucket. Horror movies, especially the slasher subgenre, really only ever see the “final girl” surviving past the end credits, but A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is a glorious exception. Not only do three of the teens survive, but one of them is arguably the best character: Ken Sagoes’ Kincaid. He defied all the odds of surviving and even went on to the next sequel. Long live Kincaid!