New Line Cinema’s second sequel to its smash horror hit A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET was a crucial one, as it marked the transformation of its dream-weaving serial killer Freddy Krueger from terrifying screen villain to comical folk hero. With the addition of humor to the scares, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS became less frightening, but also more appealing to a mass audience, which began buying Freddy souvenirs and action figures.
It’s a step up from PART 2, in spite of the jumbled pre-production involving four screenwriters. Elm Street creator Wes Craven was invited to script Part Three with his partner Bruce Wagner (WILD PALMS), though it was heavily rewritten by Frank Darabont (later to direct THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and THE MIST) and the series’ new director, Chuck Russell, the DREAMSCAPE author making his debut behind the lens. The story offers more than a few imaginative setpieces and a definite surprise or two near the end.
Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp), returning from the original film, is an intern at an asylum, where she works with suicidal teenagers with nightmare disorders. From their symptoms, she recognizes them as victims of Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) and works with a skeptical Dr. Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson) to prevent Freddy from attacking them through their dreams.
Patricia Arquette, later the star of MEDIUM, plays Kristin, Freddy’s main nemesis. A fatherless teen with latent psychic powers, Kristin is able to invite others to participate in her dreams. Only by calling together Nancy and the surviving teens into her latest nightmare do they have a chance to destroy Freddy.
Of course, the fantastic premise provides plenty of opportunities to showcase imaginative special effects, and Russell’s crew is more than up to the task. Kevin Yagher, Greg Cannom, and Mark Shostrom create the icky makeup effects, and Dream Quest Images and Doug Beswick handle the practical effects, which include a gigantic phallus-shaped “Freddy Snake” that swallows Kristin and a stop-motion Freddy marionette. Englund surprisingly has little screen time, but the script and cast keep him always in the forefront of the audience’s mind.
Brooke Bundy, Larry Fishburne (THE MATRIX), Nan Martin, and Priscilla Pointer add steady adult support to the young cast, helping to ground the fantasy in something tangible, as does John Saxon, returning as Nancy’s policeman father and the worse for wear. Jennifer Rubin (making her film debut; oddly, her next movie was BAD DREAMS!), Bradley Gregg, Ken Sagoes, Penelope Sudrow, and Ira Heiden are good as Arquette’s fellow patients. And, yes, that really is Dick Cavett and Zsa Zsa Gabor making cameos.