Troubled teens join forces in a psychiatric hospital to tackle the demons haunting their dreams and the ones looming over their waking lives. This is the perfect setup for a Nightmare on Elm Street film. It literalizes what the franchise’s titular nightmares have always been — therapy sessions. Freddy Krueger is as much a shrink as a bogeyman. He conjures up fever-dream reflections of teens’ everyday fears and cuts to the core of their adolescent angst. Their scars bind them together.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors opens with Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette in her film debut) sent to the aforementioned hospital after a slice to the wrist from Freddy makes her appear suicidal. She soon meets other teens terrorized by the razor-fingered dream stalker.
In addition to pulling off surreal tricks like transforming into a giant snake, Freddy torments them in ways that hit close to home. For example, during a dream battle with a former drug addict named Taryn (Jennifer Rubin), he turns the blades on his glove into hypodermic syringes, stinging her with the reminder of her past drug abuse. Another memorable sequence finds him popping out of a television set and attacking the aspiring actress Jennifer (Penelope Sudrow), taunting the teen about her “big break in TV.”
Seamlessly blending otherworldly spectacles with the teens’ all-too-real struggles, these scenes rank among the best and most imaginative in the series.
At the heart of the film is Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp), the franchise’s main heroine. Here she serves as the hospital’s dream specialist, guiding the teens through their nightly encounters with Freddy.
As I discovered when I interviewed Langenkamp a few years ago, her character has helped countless people overcome real-world obstacles. I’ll never forget the story she told about a disabled woman who approached her at a horror convention and revealed that she watched A Nightmare on Elm Street every day while recovering from the car accident that left her paralyzed.
“It was therapeutic to watch someone other than me going through a nightmare,” the woman confessed to Langenkamp.
This story completely changed the way I viewed horror films, opening my eyes to the cathartic power of the genre. As series creator Wes Craven once said, “Horror films don’t create fear; they release it.”
When I was a kid, my attraction to horror was more about morbid curiosity. Peeking around the corners of the horror section at Blockbuster and braving the sight of Freddy’s ugly mug felt like a rite of passage. The VHS covers were macabrely beautiful and oddly alluring; I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. Freddy reeled me in like some kind of wicked wizard. The fact that such an otherworldly figure was wreaking havoc in familiar suburban settings was terrifying and exciting, like finding a real monster in my neighborhood on Halloween night.
I still find Freddy fascinating, but I’m now drawn closer toward the people fighting against him. I see myself and my friends in them. Characters like Nancy bring a sense of warmth to the chilling series. When I interviewed Langenkamp, she described her as “a rare combination of sweet and badass.”
Even the way Nancy defeats Freddy in the first film has a surprisingly wholesome, uplifting quality to it. She simply turns her back on him, refusing to give in to her fear.
“Nancy was really courageous and direct in how she wanted to handle Freddy,” she said during our interview. “That response to fear is rare. Most of us are just totally in denial about the stuff that’s going to get us. Let’s all be more like Nancy. Let’s try to face our fears with eyes wide open.”
That’s precisely what the dream warriors do here in the third installment. Sure, they don’t all succeed, but it’s still thrilling to see them standing up to Freddy rather than simply getting picked off. They’re into survival.
A few members of the cast reunited for a panel discussion at the Days of the Dead convention in Indianapolis early this summer. The conversation culminated in the point that their characters are ultimately grappling with growing pains more than anything. That’s evident in Nancy’s lingering trauma, Kristen’s estrangement from her mother, Taryn’s recovery from drug abuse, etc. Their connection to Freddy compels them to explore these deeper issues.
Horror fans are similar. Within this macabre world, they open up and the genre becomes a backdrop for trips through their rocky pasts. At the horror conventions I’ve attended, I’ve heard fans spill their guts about love, loss, illness. The list goes on. Bogeymen like Freddy break them out of their shells. A room full of horror fans feels like a shelter from the storms of life.
I took refuge in horror films and conventions as my father was fighting cancer. The surreal nature of the genre helped me escape the harsh realities at home. I curled up in my bed and used every slasher flick as a security blanket. At the time, and after my dad passed away, I ended up writing a lot about the Nightmare franchise for NUVO Newsweekly. In addition to interviewing Langenkamp, I chatted with Mark Patton of Freddy’s Revenge, wrote a tribute to Wes Craven and reviewed the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street. The world of this franchise eventually felt like a second home to me. Watching these characters reach deep within their hearts and minds to fend off Freddy helped me face my own fears and challenges.
Dream Warriors may well be my favorite film in the series. With spellbinding spectacles, a mesmerizing monster and a group of characters that feels like a family, it’s spooky yet comforting. It always leaves me inspired to fight for my dreams and find strength in my nightmares.
For most of his life, Evan Dossey has generally avoided horror films. The genre makes him profoundly uncomfortable. This means he has enormous gaps in his cinematic knowledge. Each year, he asks friends and family which essential horror movies he needs to see in order to fill those gaps and spends the better part of October agonizing over them, tossing and turning over them … and writing about them. This year, he’s sharing the month with those friends and family — letting them offer their own thoughts about the tales that terrify (or perhaps just titillate) them. This is everyone’s No Sleep October.
NO SLEEP OCTOBER 2018
Blue Sunshine — James Ledesma
Spoorloos (The Vanishing) — Andrew Kimmel
The Devil’s Candy — Joshua Hull
FYFF Horror Marathon 2018 — Evan Dossey
The Child’s Play Series — Salem
The Shining (1980) — Dave Gutierrez
Hellroller — Richard Propes
Poltergeist III — Greg Lindberg
Scream — Heather Knight
The Witch — Rick Dossey
The Frankenstein Cycle — Lou Harry
Eastern Horrors — Alex Holmes
Unfriended — Austin Lugar
Freaks (1932) — Alys Caviness-Gober
As Above, So Below — Jonathan Curole
The Beyond — Nick Rogers
The Dentist — Mitch Ringenberg
The Halloween Franchise — Evan Dossey