The Spirituality of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

Wait a minute. Let’s get this straight. The idea that an eighties slasher sequel is somehow spiritual? Can even I make such a claim with a straight face?

Well, yes and no.

I’d have to go back to the original reasons that I began to love horror. Reasons I didn’t even know existed at the time.

When I examine my lifelong obsession with the horror genre, I try to consider why I would choose such a dark subject matter. Isn’t it all about evil and suffering? Violence and terror? Yeah, sure, some look at it that way, but I think I was attracted to it for different reasons.

Most of us grapple with notions of life and mortality at very young ages. We know that we are in this situation: breathing, controlling our bodies, struggling with making sense of our surroundings. And we learn that someday it will all end. It’s an uncomfortable thing to contemplate.

I always loved science fiction. It took me away from the tedious realities of my own life and the world I was in. But SF is about speculation of the possibilities of the future. Horror, on the other hand, is about something else.

Horror opened up different sorts of possibilities for me. It demonstrated that maybe there is something more than what we see and hear and feel. Maybe that old house really has ghosts in it. Which means that death isn’t necessarily the end. Perhaps someone can be possessed by a demon. That would prove that there is something beyond this veil. If there are monsters prowling through the nether regions of the world, what other miracles exist?

My first tastes of horror came from the Universal classics. Take Dracula.  He was cursed to hunt for blood in the night and retire to his casket by day, but at least he wasn’t dead and gone.

Or the werewolf. Another curse, yes, but one that took poor old Lyle Talbot out of his frail body and into that of an upright wolf. Despite his suffering, the Wolf Man showed us that there really is such a thing as magic.

The Mummy came back to life after centuries of rest to do his job. Frankenstein brought a dead man back to life through the use of science. Which puts the story in the SF genre by default, but death was still conquered.

I grew older and I reached my young adulthood as the slasher movie cycle emerged. While most of these weren’t based in the supernatural, they still allowed viewers to confront death and walk away unscathed. To watch these movies was a way to stand up and face violence and loss of life.

By the mid-late nineteen-eighties, I was a full-blown, died-in-the-wool, completely obsessed horror nut. It was a spectacular time to be a fan, and there was innocence in those days that cannot be revived.

Stephen King of course reigned over the literary landscape of horror, and his bloody pen carved a path through movies as well. But when it came to horror movies, Freddy Krueger ruled them all.

Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street struck a chord in moviegoers like few other genre movies ever did. The idea that a disfigured child murderer could stalk and kill us in our own dreams was radical and terrifying. It’s a ripping good horror movie, but if you look at the subtext, it really hits close to home for a lot of people. Children undergoing psychological torment caused by demons unleashed by the deeds of their parents. That’s pretty common ground for all of us.

Most people liked the first Elm Street sequel, even if it is considered to be out of step with the rest of the series. Jack Sholder is a good director, and he did well with the material at hand, but David Chaskin’s screenplay went against the logic of the character.

The second sequel, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, was exactly the movie that fans wanted.

The anticipation for Dream Warriors was palpable. Fangoria devoted a lot of space in its pages to pictures and news about the movie as it was being made. The footage looked incredible, and the end result lived up to all the hype. Sure, Dream Warriors is a lot jokier than the first two movies, but by that time fans wanted a thrill ride with Freddy in the driver’s seat.

I saw Dream Warriors twice in walk-in theaters, and I caught it at least once as the second feature at the drive-in. I’ve seen it numerous times on home video, both on VHS and on DVD. I know this movie as I do few others.

I always loved the cinematic look of Dream Warriors, especially in the dream sequences. The effects were state of the art, and nearly fifty artists were used to create the makeup, the props, the mechanical creations, the stop motion animation, the puppetry. They pulled off all the stops and it all worked. Dream Warriors was a huge hit for New Line Cinema.

The producers (all seven of them) wisely brought back horror heartthrob Heather Langencamp and genre favorite John Saxon to reprise their roles from the first Elm Street movie. It certainly didn’t hurt having Frank Darabont as one of the screenwriters.

At the time I was a teenager who happened to be in my mid-twenties. I felt like a spiritual brother to the teens of Dream Warriors. I wanted to be friends with the guys, and I liked the girls. Especially Jennifer Ruben and Patricia Arquette, who both had their screen debuts in the film.

Those troubled kids banded together to battle the emotional scars they inherited from their parents. Was it really all that different from me and my friends as we partied and tried to find our ways in a world filled with pitfalls?

Dream Warriors isn’t really scary. At least it isn’t to me, and I don’t think it is to most serious horror fans. It’s a roller coaster ride with spectacular sequences, laughs, outrageousness, and fun. We went to see Freddy strut his stuff, yet we also liked and cheered for the titular warriors. In my mind, at least, their plight was my plight.

I look back to the group of friends I had then. Some are survivors and others, well, they didn’t fare so well. On the nightmare-filled road of life we encountered drug perils, financial predators, emotional vampires, and even well-intended investments in love ended in physical ruination. And, yes, we all were as crazy and pissed off as the battered group of warriors in the movie.

I watched A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors recently, and while I did enjoy the visuals, I mainly looked back to the person I was when it was released. I was in a doomed relationship. Doomed because I was far too immature and irresponsible to be in any kind of real one. I was too insecure to even consider my own potential. I hid in the tides of alcohol far too often.

Dream Warriors gave me a measure of strength. It helped me to realize that confidence and unity with others would lead to the path of personal and professional success. And that I could defeat the demons who stalked me through both my day and nightmares.

Horror fiction has the power to do these things. Classics like It, Swan Song, The Light at the End, Ghost Story, Watchers, Summer of Night, and dozens of others can give readers hope and strength. Even soul-numbing horror like The Girl Next Door can steel us to face the very worst of humanity.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is a highlight of the horror boom of the 1980s. Hands on effects, comedy, teens—these were the staples of the era, and few did it as well. Sure, I adored others, like Evil Dead 2, Night of the Creeps, The Blob, The Fly, The Lost Boys, and so many others, but Dream Warriors defined the period to perfection. And I continue to be inspired and moved by it.

Mark Sieber learned to love horror with Universal, Hammer, and AIP movies, a Scholastic edition of Poe’s Eight Tales of TerrorSir Graves Ghastly PresentsThe Twilight Zone, Shirley Jackson’s The Daemon LoverThe Night Stalker, and a hundred other dark influences. He came into his own in the great horror boom of the 1980’s, reading Charles L. Grant, F. Paul Wilson, Ray Russell, Skipp and Spector, David J. Schow, Stephen King, and countless others. Meanwhile he spent as many hours as possible at drive-in theaters, watching slasher sequels, horror comedies, monster movies, and every other imaginable type of exploitation movie. When the VHS revolution hit, he discovered the joys of Italian and other international horror gems. Trends come and go, but he still enjoys having the living crap scared out of him. He can be reached at horrordrivein@yandex.com, and at www.horrordrive-in.com.

2 thoughts on “The Spirituality of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors”

  1. Great article, and I couldn’t agree more. Growing up with horror movies, especially A Nightmare on Elm Street, helped me face my fears and taught me that I could eventually overcome the monsters in my life and the demons within myself. Dream Warriors exemplifies this, and it is still one of my favorite films of all time.

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